"Porsche execs now admit that its 10-second-faster sub-7:30 time is still a second behind the latest Nissan GT-R. But they won't answer any questions about an upcoming GT2 version."


Michael Bettencourt

Special to Globe and Mail Update Published on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2009 10:10AM EST Last updated on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2009 10:13AM EST

The question hung over the room at the 2010 Porsche 911 Turbo's trackside press intro as if everyone knew it was coming, and at least a few – namely, Porsche AG executives – seemed to be dreading it.

The question? Whether the heavily revised 911 Turbo was faster than the latest Nissan GT-R around the Nurburgring's 23-kilometre-long north circuit, the “green hell” that's quickly becoming a crucial performance-car yardstick.

A little back-story for those not aware of the corporate soap opera behind the question. Last year, Nissan made major PR waves by claiming that its all-new turbocharged GT-R four-seat sports car could lap the Ring in 7 minutes, 29 seconds, which was faster than the seriously pricier Porsche 911 Turbo. An in-car video of the lap featuring the time in the top corner lent serious credence to the claim and got widely circulated in enthusiast circles.

Porsche was not happy, with execs grumbling that the time could not be accurate, suggesting that perhaps the GT-R was run on special tires for the circuit. The German company added fuel to the fire when it publicized that it had bought a U.S.-spec GT-R to test on the Ring and that GT-R's times clocked in well behind those of the latest 911 Turbo and rear-wheel-drive GT2, closer to a 7:54.

Nissan countered that it would be happy to offer Porsche's testers driving lessons. One of the car world's most bitter rivalries was officially on.

For 2010, the 911 Turbo receives more power, loses weight, and becomes a quicker track tool around the Ring. With an all-new engine, styling tweaks, and the old Tiptronic slush-box replaced by the new PDK dual-clutch automated manual, this Turbo is not quite a new-generation model, but has enough major changes to credibly call it new.

Both coupe and cabriolet Turbos will arrive in Canada in January, with prices for the fastest 911 starting at about $165,000 for the hardtop, and 178-large for the cabriolet. It was the drop-top that we spent most of our time in, but after swapping back and forth on the road and track at various points over the car's two-day launch in Portugal, it was amazing how closely the two performed in handling, acceleration and comfort in both environments.

The exterior design changes are limited mostly to new wheel designs and LED lights, both at the rear and replacing the previous conventional fog lights, while the LED strips along the front intake remain the same. You really have to know your Porsches to spot a new Turbo, parked or moving.

The big news inside is that the optional new PDK transmission finally becomes available in the Turbo, following its arrival in regular 911s last year. The Turbo introduces real shift paddles as an option now on the PDK – yes, a paddle option on the automatic option. This might seem like option overkill, except that you may yet be thankful to order the PDK option without those paddles, since they also come with a sport steering wheel that does away with any stereo or convenience buttons.

Porsche claims that it was more journalists than buyers complaining about the PDK's two shift buttons on the steering wheel hub, which can each be used to shift up or down by pushing forward or back, but are easy to mix up. These paddles will soon be available on other PDK-equipped Porsches, hopefully with the real-world conveniences on the steering wheel as well. All Canadian 911 Turbos that come with the PDK will also receive the Sport Chrono package that comes with launch control.

With the top down, a long empty stretch of closed-off track in front of us, and launch control engaged, the Turbo Cab became an instant facelift machine, the interior a vortex of wind and G-forces pushing us back in our seats.

The car's all-wheel-drive and launch-control electronics paired up to reduce wheel spin or any bogging-down at the line, resulting in a clocked 3.4-second blast from 0-100 km/h in a coupe at the event, same as Porsche's official time. This also laid credence to Porsche's 3.5-second time for the new Turbo cab, although the hurricane wind inside made it actually feel as fast – if not faster – with the top down.

Granted, the AWD and launch control helped lower this time, but of course the real hero behind this acceleration – and this car – is the engine. It's the first all-new engine in a 911 Turbo, says Porsche, although it remains a turbocharged, horizontally opposed six-cylinder.

It's grown in size from 3.6- to 3.8-litres, and puts out 500 horsepower and 479 lb-ft of torque. An overboost function helps pump up that liftoff feeling to the tune of 516 lb-ft of thrust, for a maximum of 10 seconds at a time.

Despite the larger and more powerful engine, consumption of the premium fuel is reduced up to 16 per cent in official figures, which means when driven gently, of course. Porsche estimates that the Turbo uses 2.2 fewer litres of fuel per 100 km, down to an overall average of 11.4 litres/100 km in European test cycles, making it the only car in its class to avoid the American gas-guzzler tax.

A further nod to everyday usability of the new Turbo can be felt on the road, with suspension tuning that's adjustable to Sport and Sport Plus modes, leaving the default setting a firm but not bone-rattling ride.

A fellow tester with a bad back complained about the optional non-adjustable sport seats, but our adjustable ones offered a great balance between comfort and curvy road snugness. But manual seats? On Porsche's top-of-the-line technology leader? Okay, so the backrest angle was powered, but a manual fore/aft adjustment is surprising these days on a well-loaded Volkswagen, the mainstream car maker that is set to take Porsche under its corporate wing. In a six-figure Porsche 911, unless we're talking a stripped-down racer, it's just wrong.

And that question at the press conference? Well, this car is obviously far from a bare-bones speed machine, with comfort and sophistication taking on increased priority. So much so, that Porsche execs now admit that its 10-second-faster sub-7:30 time is still a second behind the latest Nissan GT-R. But they won't answer any questions about an upcoming GT2 version.