The Swiss Army Knife of the sports car world

porsche997t_1_2_49400cc7e7445-lightboxAs a young boy, rather than being put to bed with a Teddy Bear, I preferred Matchbox die-cast model cars (sad, but true), and my favourite was the original 1974 Porsche 911 Turbo, complete with ‘whale tail’ spoiler, in a very 70’s bright green. Little did I know that almost thirty years on, I would own a full size 911 Turbo…

Determined to fulfil my dreams in style, I was privileged to lose my Porsche virginity on my 30th birthday itself by collecting the keys to my first 911, a brand new 996 Carrera 4S. The Turbo was beyond my means at the time, but I had heard that there was a 997 in the pipeline, and inevitably a Turbo version, so on that very same day I handed over £1,000 to the dealer in return for a place in the queue for a 997 Turbo.

Two and a half years later, July 2006, and the Carrera 4S was to give up its place in my garage for one of the very first 997 Turbos in the UK. As the dealer’s demonstrator had only arrived a couple of weeks before, I had never driven or even seen one in the metal, which made collection day all the more special, and an occasion I will remember vividly forever. My car’s flawless metallic black paintwork sparkled under the bright white lights of the showroom, the 19″ wheels under huge rear haunches accentuating the tauter, more aggressive body compared with the ‘softer’ look of the 996.

The scope for personalising your 911 is as wide as your pockets are deep, but I was quite restrained with the options list, specifying the essential ‘sports chrono pack’ (more of that in a later entry) as well as heated adaptive sports seats, park assistance, garage door openers, a thicker sports steering wheel, and several bits of interior plastic upgraded to finest cow and tin. I passed on the CD-changer (an iPod connection has to be the way forward) and phone kit (fiddly to use and overpriced) that I had specced on my previous car. The final damage was £101,780 on the road. In fairness, Porsche have improved the standard specification over the 996 Turbo, which now includes DVD satellite navigation, the PTS tracking system, Xenon headlamps and electric sunroof, so it’s not strictly necessary to part with quite as much cash as this.

Stepping inside, the interior of the 997 is a vast improvement over the 996. The switchgear, particularly the column stalks have a chunkier, more tactile feel, and there is greater use of quality leather and metal as oppose to plastic. In keeping with the exterior, the interior has a sharper, more purposeful look than before, and just enough of a nod toward nostalgia with details such as the floor hinged accelerator pedal, oversize central rev-counter, italic ‘turbo’ script, downward facing air-vents and carpet-trimmed lower door panels. It all feels very well screwed together, as it should. Although no match for an Aston or Bentley in terms of sense of occasion, at least the interior holds it’s own with the best that BMW, Audi or Mercedes have to offer.

One major criticism for me of the 996 was the driving position. The steering wheel and seat were not adjustable enough, so I always felt compromised before even setting off. The narrow seats did not offer the greatest support, and in my opinion, the steering wheel was slightly too large and thin-rimmed. All these points have been addressed with the 997, at least when specified with the adaptive sports seats and sports steering wheel. The seats offer more support in every area and seem infinitely electrically adjustable. When you eventually find a position that suits, it can be memorised, as can those of two other drivers (if you trust two others to drive your pride and joy). The steering column now adjusts for rake and reach and the wheel itself is just the right size and thickness.

So what is it like to drive? Obviously, the 996 Carrera 4S is a tough act to follow, but first impressions were…well… quiet! My 4S had a factory fitted sports exhaust which masked the slightly dull note of the flat-six at low engine speeds, yet could be ‘turned down’ so as not to become tiresome at higher speeds or on long journeys. Without this option (not yet available for the 997 Turbo), I couldn’t help thinking that the soundtrack was a little lacking in character and volume. It’s not a bad noise, just not one befitting a £100k Supercar.

But that initial moment of disappointment became irrelevant when I hit the loud pedal for the first time. The torque… my god, the torque is astonishing! In any gear, from ridiculously low engine speeds, once the brace of turbos spin up the car simply launches for the horizon like something possessed. You find yourself changing up quickly, diesel style, to avoid the relatively low-set rev limiter, but the power is relentless. Even in top gear at speeds well into three figures the car is pulling hard, not just gaining speed, but accelerating. I have never experienced genuine thrust like this before. I had plenty of smiles driving the 996, but the huge dollops of torque available with the Turbo have literally had me laughing out loud at times!

Initially, the Turbo felt a little light at the front with slightly more tendency to understeer compared with the 996, but now I wonder if that was an illusion created by higher corner entry speeds and even more grip from the colossal 305/30/ZR19’s at the rear. With PSM active, in the dry, you have to be brutal, reckless or both to coerce the rear out of line, a far cry from the original 1974 version I gather! As with the 996, the optimum cornering technique is a controlled entry speed, then to unleash the power just after the apex, taking full advantage of the traction available from the intelligent four wheel drive system. Essentially, the unique handling characteristics of the 911 remain; nimbleness, balance and wonderful steering precision and feedback. Combined with the torque, traction, fantastic brakes and compact size, this is a devastating B-road tool.

My car is not a cosseted play-thing, it’s used and occasionally abused every day. During the last eight months and 6,000 miles, as well as my 25 mile-a-day B-road commute, it has regularly performed the school run (my five year old fits in the back perfectly), the weekly food shop (my wife finds it as easy to drive as her Audi), several long motorway trips, negotiated central London and swallowed numerous Christmas presents including a poker table! For short journeys, the small rear seats are even quite acceptable for adults as long as they are not burly 6-footers. Every time it has performed faultlessly. It is a grossly over-used phrase by journalists when writing about 911’s, but this really does have to be the ultimate everyday useable supercar. We even call it ‘the practical car’ in our house (OK, so the other one is a TT)! So far it has been 100% reliable, the only trip back to the dealer being to cure a rattle in the centre console. With servicing intervals at 2 years / 20,000 miles, I am hoping we won’t be back there for a while either.

As complete a package as the Turbo has proven, it is not without flaws. Tyre noise can become obtrusive at high speeds, so far it has averaged just 14.9mpg (OK, I do tend to drive ‘enthusiastically’), the satellite navigation screen is set too low and still doesn’t accept postcodes, and the DVD player for said sat nav protrudes into the already limited front luggage area as if someone forgot about it until the day before launch day.
For me, it’s perhaps a little too discreet especially without a sports exhaust; only those in the know show real interest and they are usually driving Porsches. Certainly a red Ferrari of any vintage would attract more admiring glances. I think too that although no other car with such a blend of accessible performance and practicality exists, I sometimes question whether £100k represents fair value compared with a Carrera 4S for £75k or even a Cayman for £50k.

Now that the honeymoon period is over, I’m looking forward to thousands of miles getting to know and understand the Turbo and will be writing more about how this masterpiece of engineering, the Swiss Army Knife of the sports car world works in the real world. I am hoping that this will include a ‘Porsche Driving Experience Day’ (‘free’ when you spend £100k with Porsche GB) and a track day later in the year. That is… unless the enticing lure of the “other” prancing horse gets the better of me!

 

 

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Darren Stokes