Another Power Grab by Porsche’s Engineers

FAST COMPANY The 911 Turbo Cabriolet performs very much like the coupe. More Photos »

Published: July 1, 2010

TESTED: 2010 Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet

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2010 Porsche 911

Additional research from The New York Times and its content partners.

GETTING PERSONAL If price is no object, there are plenty of options, including a leather-covered mirror.More Photos »

WHAT IS IT? Two-door drop-top supercar with all-wheel drive.

HOW MUCH? Base price, $144,750. As tested, $161,085 with Sport Chrono Package ($3,830), Torque Vectoring ($1,320), Doppelkupplung transmission ($4,550) and sport steering wheel with shift paddles ($490).

WHAT MAKES IT RUN? 3.8-liter horizontally opposed 6 (500 horsepower, 480 pound-feet of torque); 7-speed dual-clutch transmission with manual mode.

IS IT THIRSTY? The E.P.A. mileage rating is 16 m.p.g. in the city, 24 on the highway, good enough to avoid the federal gas-guzzler tax.

PORSCHE likes to tinker. Whatever the model, there’s always some update just around the corner. Sometimes, the differences are subtle (Hey, are those new turn signals?) and other times the changes significantly alter the car’s personality. The new 911 Turbo falls into the latter category.

A new direct-fuel-injection system adds 20 horsepower, putting the 911 Turbo in the 500-horsepower club. And that’s a fine club to join. But the tweaks further down the driveline probably have more effect on how the car feels and performs.

The new 7-speed dual-clutch PDK transmission lops a couple tenths of a second off the 0-to-60 time all by itself (but you can still order a conventional 6-speed manual). Active motor mounts filled with magnetic fluid can transform instantly from cushy to solid, depending on the driver’s aggressiveness. And the torque-vectoring rear end uses the brakes to slow the inside wheel in a corner, thereby sending power to the outside wheel.

That software-reliant approach may be less elegant than the mechanical systems used by Audi, BMW and others, but, boy, does it work. Power into a 90-degree turn, and the 911 Turbo will pivot on its inside front wheel and rotate to the desired heading, basically within its own length. It’s quite exciting, the first time you’re turning left across traffic and realize it can do that.

So the 911 Turbo can find its way down a slalom course, but its personality is dominated by the motor’s capacity to crush your skull against the headrest. Step on the gas and the 3.8-liter flat 6 makes a noise as if someone opened a drain at the bottom of the ocean — a great stereophonic gargle of suction as the turbochargers try to inhale oxygen from adjacent time zones. Internal-combustion engines are basically air pumps, and this one is particularly good at what it does. A pair of 911 Turbos drag-racing in Los Angeles could stall a weather system over Nebraska.

The 911’s list of options borders on the ridiculous — leather-covered rearview mirror ($675), air vent slats painted in the exterior color ($1,010) — but the Sport Chrono package is a must-have. Not because of the nifty but mostly useless stopwatch that protrudes from the upper dash, but for the extra power that’s unlocked when you push the Sport Plus button that is part of the package. Instead of a producing a quite-adequate 480 pound-feet of torque, the engine can go into “overboost” mode and belt out 516. Here is a philosophical question worthy of Nigel Tufnel: If the motor can produce that level of torque without blowing up, then why is it called “overboost”? Isn’t it just a new level of regular boost?

Whatever you want to call it, overboost works, to the point where the 911 Turbo’s acceleration times don’t have much room for improvement. While Porsche cites times in the low 3-second range with the PDK transmission, tests by independent magazines have dipped into the high 2s. That verges on the blast-off performance of a Bugatti Veyron — or a Formula One car.

Traction, not horsepower, is the limiting factor. Even without using launch control (which gives you a violent high-r.p.m. start) the 911 Turbo will casually spin all four tires while rolling along in first gear. On dry pavement. With the top down.

Yes, I drove the convertible. Which normally would have warranted earlier mention, since convertibles tend to be slower, heavier and less rigid than their hardtop counterparts. But the 911 Turbo Cabriolet’s numbers are right on top of the coupe’s, so close that it makes no practical difference — the Cab is a tenth of a second slower to 60, but in a drag race it will still be right there next to a Ferrari 458 Italia.

This car’s main drawbacks, and there are two, are a matter of context rather than content. First, the 911 Turbo causes everyone to hate you. A car like a Rolls-Royce or a Lamborghini is so over-the-top that bystanders get a kick out of it. But a 911 is within the realm of what many people can imagine for themselves. Except, chances are, it’s still out of reach. That just causes resentment.

You see the evidence every day. Nobody yields. People go out of their way to box you in at parking lots. And I’m pretty sure the landscapers next door to me took extra care to launch a fusillade of lawn clippings in the general direction of my driveway, because I later found the Meteor Grey 911 pasted with flecks of grass and dandelions. That didn’t happen the week I was driving a Nissan Versa.

The second issue is Cabriolet-specific. And that is, its power is so overwhelming that it’s nearly unusable. Not from a dynamic standpoint, but a legal one.

From a standstill, a 911 Turbo Cabriolet can exceed the speed limit anywhere in the country in a matter of seconds. Yet, because it’s a convertible without fixed roll hoops, you can’t really drive it on a track. With Porsche’s blessing, I took the Turbo Cab to my local drag strip and nearly got kicked out after the first run — for speeding, essentially.

At this strip, convertibles need a roll bar if they’re running quicker than a 14-second quarter-mile. Knowing this, I hit the brakes before the end of the run, in an attempt to sandbag my time. But I still ran a 12.8-second quarter — at 75 m.p.h. That’s crazy. A Dodge Challenger SRT8, with a 425-hp Hemi V8, is a 13-second car. And the Turbo is quicker than that with the brakes on.

So the 911 Turbo Cabriolet makes everyone jealous, and it’s too fast. All cars should have such problems.