2010 Porsche 911 Turbo S 997.2 road trip
The 991 and 992 Turbos may well boast technological superiority, but has the 997 Turbo S really been knocked off its pedestal? Total 911 headed for the mountains to find out…
The 991 and 992 generations may be technologically superior, but is the 997 a high water-mark for the modern-day Turbo S?
From where I’m sitting right now, it can’t get much better for an exuberant 911 fanatic. Suitably nestled into the carbon-backed bucket seats inside a 997 Turbo S, perched high above the Yorkshire Dales, I’m on what appears to be the very zenith of a beautiful, sweeping valley overlooking the sleepy village of Hawes. My vantage point offers a breathtaking view.
“Its sheer velocity throws you back in your seat time after time”
However, I might add there’s only Ali Cusick between me and a tantalising drop down – yet the unflappable photographer is continuing to beckon the car forwards. Unperturbed, I allow the 997 to crawl inch by inch over the uneven grassy terrain towards Ali, as my trust in the esteemed photographer battles with nerves heightened by no longer being able to see the floor in front of the 911’s headlights. Yet, as Ali finally signals for me to stop the car and kill the engine, I marvel at how the Turbo S has accomplished this potentially tricky task at low speed so admirably. There were no engine jolts and no strain in my left thigh from trying to manually balance some overtly heavy clutch, typically designed to revel in extremes of torque rather than near-idle speed. I say this as I’ve been at the wheel of other similarly powered high-performance sports cars marred by such problems when failing to remain composed in stop-start commuter traffic, let alone on an uneven plinth halfway up a small mountain. However, the 530bhp Turbo S allowed me to negotiate the small path – at a speed of no more than 2mph – with zero fuss or issue.
“Porsche’s point of perfection in the context of its Turbo lineage can be found here in the 997”
It might seem bizarre that I’ve opened my account of an absurdly powered range-topping sports car by discussing its merits at miniscule speed, but it’s this demonstrable practicality, twinned with outstanding performance when called upon, that’s the reason we’ve brought the Turbo S back out for review. You see, it may have long since been replaced, but with the 997 Turbo S already assured as an incredibly accomplished sports car, the question is has it been knocked off this metaphorical perch by the 991 and 992 in the day-to-day world? After covering approximately 1,450 miles in the 997, I’d find it hard to believe. Sure, I can hear some crying for a mention of the equally impressive 991 GTS as the everyday high-performance Porsche 911, but the extra 80bhp of the Turbo S means it enters the realms of a 500bhp+ sports car category that the GTS can’t touch.
As Ali and I finish the opening photos and climb back in the 997 to tackle the superbly engaging Buttertubs Pass nearby, the performance merits of the outgoing Turbo S become apparent from the off. For starters, the 997 is full of the sheer brutal performance the Turbo S at large is famed for. Kicking out 530bhp (30bhp more than the 997 Turbo, found slightly higher up the rev range), the Turbo S gathers pace at an astonishing rate with little turbo lag from the Ma170S engine. In terms of torque, the 997 delivers an impressive 700Nm of it without the need for an overboost function, which the 997 Turbo relies on to achieve such figures. But figures are just pub talk, and true to form these only tell half the story here. Even in basic Drive mode, the sheer velocity of acceleration throws you back in your seat time after time, continually providing a warm glow right in the pit of your stomach. The new 992 Turbo S may boast 120 more horsepower over this model, but when you’re already dealing with absurd power figures, you’ll struggle to hop out of the 997 Turbo S and deem it slow.
Switching into Sport mode however, the 997 Turbo S comes alive: PASM with dynamic engine mounts stiffens the car superbly and provides the 997 with even more poise. You can feel every small characteristic in the road while the throttle becomes noticeably more responsive, giving you a much more raw driving experience. On the Turbo, this function is activated only after the driver floors the accelerator pedal or releases it briefly – on the Turbo S though, it’s activated immediately without any change in the position of the accelerator. The Porsche Traction Management gives superb agility through its rearbiased drive torque distribution, and PSM enables you to play with the car more before it intervenes. As we push on through the Pass, the grip afforded to us by the N–rated Bridgestone Potenzas is astounding and the car feels incredibly planted as we duck and dive along the many dips and varying road cambers, opening up the revs through long straights. It makes for a sublime driving experience, even on public roads, and better still this package is all straight out of the box in Turbo S guise.
Re-entering a degree of civilisation in our environment, we return to Drive mode as we approach a small clutch of quaint country houses. With PASM off, the suspension eats up the anomalies in the road surface and comfort returns to the cabin. We successfully negotiate a series of cattle grids (how many 500bhp+ sports cars can do that without damaging their undercarriage?), before pushing on back up the other side of the valley, where the impressive PCCBs are called on several times to halt the car immediately when sheep are found meandering across the rural carriageway. Sport Turbo Plus is lost on anything but a track and as we’re testing the day-to-day practicality of the car, the coveted button is left well alone. Comfort is the name of the game and that’s exactly what we get during the resulting five-hour journey back from the mountainous roads of rural Yorkshire down to the capital city of London, furthering the Turbo S’s worth as a great GT cruiser.
The 997 Turbo S is an absolute machine and despite no longer conjuring the pizzazz of being the latest Turbo 911, the 997 still has a lot to shout about. Its PDK transmission turned out to be rather a precursor for the highline Type 991 models and, much like those 991s, is effortlessly intelligent here: rarely do you find a need to override the system with manual input. Although even the Turbo S utilises a longer seventh gear in normal Drive mode, you can simply tap the accelerator pedal with your foot to prepare the motor when you want to overtake another vehicle, to which the transmission duly responds by instantly dropping down a couple of gears. It’s a constant reminder that brute power is only ever milliseconds away.
Likewise, Variable Turbine Geometry, as found on the 991 and 992 Turbos, was also first deployed on the 997 Turbo, a technology using electronically adjustable guide vanes feeding air to the 3.8-litre engine’s twin turbines. This system provides higher boost pressure, even at a lower RPM, meaning that huge power is always near-instant. Despite these similarities in evolution, there are areas of the 997 generation that still hold key elements of quintessential 911. The prime factor here, of course, relates to its steering. Subsequent Turbo and Turbo S models have adopted electric-driven steering, while the 997 is the last Turbo model to hold onto its mechanical-pump-driven steering – a surefire settlement in its likability factor, the wheel delivering glorious amounts of feedback.
The 997 also has a more traditional chassis that favours the purist and in many years to come will only aid its collector charm. A full 100mm shorter wheelbase than the 991 and 992s, there is no rear-axle steering here, protecting the direct relationship between car and driver.
Inside, the 997 cabin maintains a precedent set by every Turbo S over the last 20 years of being abundant in Porsche luxury. Rather refreshingly, the layout here does not feel dated (no doubt aided by the presence of a PDK gear stick and paddle shift behind the steering wheel), though familiarity in the 991-generation’s layout means we can see the beauty in the Panamera-esque centre console, which ensures that reaching for the PASM button, for example, isn’t then hindered by an annoying obstacle by way of the gear shifter.
Even on the outside, the 997 Turbo S doesn’t yet look particularly dated. While not appearing quite as aggressive as the new 991s, the gaping intakes in the rear fenders strike fear into those who know what they signify and wonder to those who don’t. No doubt helped by the Turbo Aero Kit (a £3,500 option) and the exclusive shade of Brewster green from Porsche paint to sample, the Turbo S even turned many heads through the hustle and bustle of central London’s city streets after its teardown in the quiet Yorkshire Dales. Would the 991 or 992 Turbo S turn more heads? I’m not so sure. Certainly, the 997 Turbo S already appears to tick every box in a real-world environment. The 991.1 Turbo may be quicker to 62mph than this top-spec Turbo S for similar money, but it just doesn’t feel as special as this run-out 997.
The 997 Turbo S feels traditional, but not dated – in both aesthetics and technology. Its PDK gearbox isn’t as intelligent or as quick as subsequent generations, but it’s still light years ahead of its comparatively draconian Tiptronic predecessor.
It’s not exactly a coal burner, either, returning a more-than-respectable 27mpg over the 1,450 miles of varied driving, proving its worth – if indeed it matters – as an economical yet rapid powerhouse. With that, I believe the message is clear. There’s no denying the 991.1 Turbo and Turbo S are astounding 911s, and possibly the best value 911s in terms of bhp per GBP, but for all their might as a useable GT car capable of savage performance and brilliant practicality, those newer models arguably lack an edge over the 911 Turbo S 997. Why? Because for all their technological superiority (further extended for the 992), those ‘modern-day’ Turbos can’t deliver the same feeling of involvement and accomplishment evident in the 997.
The 997 Turbo S requires more effort, more thought, to pedal fast, its explosive performance and feelsome steering rewarding you handsomely when you get it right.
Adaptive aerodynamics and rear-axle steering in the 991 and 992 Turbo S undoubtedly provide a noticeable edge in lap times, but in my opinion Porsche’s point of perfection in the context of its Turbo lineage can be found here in the 997. The 997 Turbo S is simply the zenith of what defines a usable sports car. The pinnacle of the Porsche Turbo? Absolutely, and for a long time yet.
Being able to still see the engine on the 997 is refreshing, while an interior without the huge 991-esque centre console is considered to be more traditional 911.