How do you update an icon? If you’re Porsche, you take the six-decade-old 911 platform and turbocharge it. So how does the new car stack up against its ancestors? We spent a week behind the wheel of the 2017 Porsche 911 Carrera S to find out.
If It Ain’t Broke, Why Turbocharge It?
The benefits of turbocharging are many, among them greater power flexibility, better fuel economy, and cleaner emissions. Government pressure has put the squeeze on car manufacturers to meet tighter standards, and most have reacted by packing engine bays with the small, snail-shaped devices that use exhaust gases to help inject fuel and air into the engine.
Turbos are not new to Porsche; the ballsier, more expensive 911 Turbo model has featured the technology since the 1970s. But the Carrera lineup has an entirely different demeanor than the ‘capital letter T’ Turbo cars, embracing more terrestrial levels of performance and usability. While the “Turbo” badge still gets slapped on the pricier, more powerful model, every Carrera variant — and there are currently no fewer than ten of them — is now twin-turbocharged for the first time. That change is also sweeping across the Boxster/Cayman lineup, triggering fresh debates about the turbocharged engine’s character, power delivery, and sound — the sorts of performance minutia that sends sports car fanatics into a tizzy.
By shrinking the engine to 3.0 liters, the new package sucks less fuel. It’s also more powerful, delivering 20 more horsepower in each variant — 370 hp in the standard model, and 420 hp in the S. But torque is the kind of power you feel in the seat of your pants, and the new 911’s torque curve reveals a dramatically different contour: a peak of torque that starts at only 1,700 rpm, and maintains its plateau until 5,000 rpm. And the effects are huge.
We spent several days driving through Napa Valley’s kinky canyon roads in the 2017 Porsche 911 Carrera S, punctuating our drive with a 500-mile trek to Los Angeles. As routes go, our varied path was a near-ideal way to test the 911’s driver-focused sensibility. Our tester, finished in stunning Graphite Blue Metallic paint, sat low and mean, and per our request, came equipped with the Luddite-friendly manual gearbox, not the (admittedly brilliant, but arguably less involving) automatic, dual-clutch PDK paddle shifter. Priced at $122,000, our 911 had a few niceties (like a sport suspension and adaptive cruise control), but lacked options like the Sport Chrono Package, which enables the engine to match revs when downshifting with the manual.
The latest generation of 911 feels noticeably bigger on the inside than its ancestors, and the larger footprint makes it more planted and stable on the road. In spite of that more substantial impression, the new turbocharged car feels noticeably gruntier and more eager to punch through space. Rather than resorting to a downshift in order to pull away quicker, it’s now easier to drop the pedal in whatever gear you happen to be in, hold on, and zoom away. Equipped with the PDK transmission, the latest 911 S can scoot to 60 mph in only 3.7 seconds, quicker than some not-too-distant versions of the Turbo model. The accessibility of the power is significant enough to boost the S model’s lap times around Germany’s famed Nürburgring Nordschleife by a full 10 seconds — an eternity on a track, and a significant interval by any standard. On our personal circuit, the lonely backroads of Napa County, the 911 felt glued down, focused, and ultra responsive, with an uncanny ability to communicate how its four tires were communicating with earth below.
While the Carrera’s acceleration is undeniably intense, a few questions still remain. First, the sound. The previous, non-turbocharged 911 engines produced a delicious auditory experience that subtly changed tone and timbre as the big red tachometer needle crept upward. Though it still sounds sporty, the new car lacks those harmonious layers, and, for better or worse, produces a barely audible turbo whine when the windows are down. The optional Sport Exhaust (which includes a button to boost engine sounds via an exhaust flap) helps, as does ordering a cabriolet, which brings those engine sounds nearer to driver and co-pilot. But still, sonically, something has been lost in turbo translation, a change diehard Porschephiles will no doubt debate and critique endlessly. There’s also the question of throttle response, the connection between the moment you press on the accelerator and when the engine revs. While the new 911 delivers better-than-average response for a turbocharged engine, there is still an inevitable (if incremental) slip in throttle response.
Ask hardcore Porsche fanatics what they think about the new turbocharged 911, and some might side with the late, great naturally aspirated engines that were less powerful but arguably more soulful. More extreme sects might even point to old air-cooled engines as the holy grail of ultimate Porschedom (full disclosure: the author is an air-cooled 911 owner.) But when viewed through the spectrum of modern sports cars and the ever-escalating horsepower wars, the turbocharged 911 steps up its game considerably, tussling with potent competitors that cost considerably more.
With the introduction of turbocharging, the 2017 Porsche 911 Carrera has evolved into a 21st-century beast, one whose capabilities are broader and bolder than ever. The Faustian trade-off for those athletic gains are sensual, namely in the form of a flatter exhaust note and a slightly elasticized throttle response. Are the speed and efficiency worth it? That answer is entirely individual, and depends on how fine a point you place on the intangibles delivered by naturally aspirated engines. One crucial point about these quicker cars: Despite the warp speeds attainable by the new 911, the sensation from the driver’s seat is surprisingly tame. If you choose to embrace the future of 911, keep your foot on the accelerator and your eye on the speedometer — this baby flies righteously, devouring the road in the grand sports car tradition.
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