Test Driven: Porsche 997 Turbo S (9.5/10)

Porsche 997 Turbo S

The Porsche 911 Turbo has become an icon over the years, offering full on supercar performance, but in the same package as a basic 911. The car we have here is the fastest 911 Turbo produced to date, the 997 Turbo S. Its performance literally rivals some of the fastest cars on the planet, including the mighty Bugatti Veyron in many respects. I am not usually one for defining a car around its performance figures but here are some numbers to wrap your head around before we continue: 0-60mph in 2.6 sec, 0-100mph in 6.3 sec, the ¼ mile in 10.7 sec @ 129mph, 1.02g on the skidpad, 73.3mph in the slalom, and a supposed top speed of 195mph but I would guess it is capable of 200+ (seeing as how a normal Carrera S can do 188mph with far less power). As far as performance goes this 997 Turbo S is about as serious as they come, and I knew this going into my drive at Exotics Racing in Las Vegas. Excitement and a whiff of intimidation were pumping through my veins as I took the wheel of the quickest production Porsche ever built.  

On the surface the Turbo S doesn’t look like much, in fact most people probably couldn’t really distinguish one from a standard Carrera on the street. Those of us who know Porsches can spot the side intakes for the intercoolers on a 911 Turbo a mile away, but to most people it is just another Porsche 911. It is understated for a car with this sort of performance, it will blend in where most supercars would stop people dead in their tracks; for some buyers, a major plus. That said, it is still a Porsche 911 in appearance, quite a pretty, and a well proportioned one at that, so it is hardly lacking in its own visual appeal; it just isn’t as extreme as a Lamborghini or a Ferrari. However, in this day and age with the 99% movement and all sorts of anti-elitist sentiments, maybe you are better off letting most people think you spent $70k on your car instead of $170k.

It is more of the same story in the cabin as well. All of the standard tried and true bits of the 997-generation are there, and honestly, from the inside, there is very little to remind you that you are indeed in a 911 Turbo and not just a mere Carrera. Again though, this is not a bad thing at all because the standard Porsche interior is among the best out there when it comes to material quality, finish, and design; so why fix something that is not broken? Porsche also offers almost unlimited customization for customers wanting to add whatever flair they may want to the interior, so you can have your yellow seatbelts and “turbo” badges should you desire. The car I drove was pretty plain Jane though, and in many ways this aided my perception of the Turbo S as a car.

This commonality with lesser 911s keeps the Turbo S grounded in its identity. It really still is a Porsche 911, and you never forget that for a second. Because it is still just a 911, you don’t run into all of the silly logistical problems that other supercars have like scraping on speed bumps, worrying about width on tight roads, or having no luggage space. In fact you have a large trunk in the front of the car, and room in the back seat for any things you may want to bring with you on a trip; although only very short people will actually be able to occupy the back seat with any decent degree of comfort. Overall though the car is quite comfortable to be in, there’s plenty of space, and all of the gadgets you would expect in an expensive car. The added bonus of course is that everything works and will continue to work because Porsche has one of the best reliability records of any car company out there, in contrast with most supercars that are in the shop most of the time. Make no mistake; this is a car that many people could easily use everyday.

All of this unassuming familiarity makes it that much more astounding when you finally step on the gas pedal, the surge of acceleration is biblical. The power comes on instantaneously, thanks to the variable geometry turbos, but it is also unbelievably smooth in its delivery, like riding a Tsunami. You hear a whoosh as the speed rapidly increases, and the shifts are so quick that the onslaught goes uninterrupted. This Porsche is pure insanity in the way it moves, so much so that I found it matched the speed of the Lamborghini Aventador on the track’s main straightaway, a car that supposedly has quite a bit more power than the Turbo S.

This is where I say whole-heartedly that I believe that the power of the 997 Turbo S has been greatly underrated on paper. Look at all of the magazine tests, it blitzes cars, like the Ferrari Italia, that weigh less and supposedly have more power. I could understand if it was just a good all wheel drive launch that got it to 60mph so fast, but it continues through the ¼ mile and on. Even on the main straight, it clocked the same 135mph that I managed in the Aventador, and that is well into the realm where horsepower is king over low-end torque. I have seen a dyno result of a stock 997 Turbo S that put down 471awhp, that means it is actually making 580-620hp assuming 20-25% drivetrain loss. These power figures more adequately explain the tested performance of the Turbo S as observed by most magazines, TV shows, and myself. As for the reasoning behind this vast underrating of the car’s power on paper, I suspect they did it to not take anything away from customers who purchased a GT2 or GT2 RS. Although they are very different cars, it doesn’t bode well when a $170k model matches the power of a $300k model. Keep in mind the Turbo S has a 3.8L verses the GT2’s 3.6L engine. This claim is not official by any means, but I am personally convinced it is true from what I have experienced for myself.

While the power may be the most surprising aspect of the Turbo S, the handing is really what set it apart from the other cars I drove on the track that day. It is so nimble and feels alive from behind the wheel. Everything seems connected to you, the steering is quick, the chassis responds crisply to inputs, the brakes work smooth and solid, and the PDK gearbox makes shifting nearly telepathic. Many people dislike having a rear engine, but having had a lot of experience with my Dad’s Carrera, I loved it. It gives a unique balance to the chassis that Porsche has been perfecting for decades. The car is light and quick to turn in when you are off the gas and feeding out the brake pedal, but then has an unbelievable amount of grip once you get back on the gas, shifting the car’s weight rearward, to accelerate out of the corner. Porsches require a slightly different approach than a typical front-engine, rear-drive setup, but once mastered there are rewards to be had. The car can be a bit touchy at times though, and I had one hairy moment, when I turned in a little too hard and going a little too fast, when the rear just let loose on me and I had to correct, fighting the stability control system, in the slide. The car handled the incident well, and was pretty communicative of what was happening as it stepped out. Having some power being sent to the front wheels also helped pull me out of the slide, and overall I felt the all wheel drive system was great on the track (only 20-30% of power is ever sent to the front wheels anyway). Rear wheel drive should be the choice for really great drivers, but for more average people the all wheel drive really helps to make a Porsche like this more accessible. Even with around 600hp on tap the Turbo S never really struggled to put its power down to the pavement, so it is all useable power thanks to the all wheel drive, and that is probably why it is so darn fast.

Of the cars I drove that day at Exotics Racing, the Turbo S gave me my fastest lap times by far, as well as being the most consistent too. It offers a level of overall performance that exists in few other cars. In the real world, point to point, this car rivals the fastest cars you can think of, yet it does it all with such a finely chiseled level of refinement as well. It is this refinement that something like a Nissan GTR does not match (I drove the GTR right before the Porsche), everything about the Porsche seems just right in purpose and function. The PDK transmission is probably the best example of this in how it is so smooth in how it works, yet somehow retains the mechanical feel that separates a DCT from a slush box. It is by far the smoothest DCT I have ever driven, with no jerkiness whatsoever when starting from a stop, and a seamless action to the way it shifts on the move. It still keeps you feeling connected to the car from the driver’s seat though, and that is imperative to any car wearing a Porsche badge.

So, how does the Turbo S compare to its rivals? I liked it better than the Nissan GTR, but not to the point where I would ignore the price difference altogether. If you have the money then it is not worth saving money for the GTR, but its also not worth going beyond your financial means to have the Turbo S. I don’t really see the GTR and Turbo S as market rivals though because of their price difference. In the real market the Turbo S finds its biggest competitor in the Audi R8 V10, and in many ways it is a toss up between them. The Porsche greatly outperforms the Audi, but the Audi is more striking and sounds better, appealing to the intangible side more. The same is true when compared to more expensive exotics like the Ferrari 458 or the Lamborgini Gallardo, except that compared to them the Turbo S is a huge performance bargain. So, if speed is your main concern, buy the Turbo S over the more exotic stuff.

This brings me to my only issue with the Turbo S and that is that it is too quiet. When I was accelerating at full throttle, the wind was louder than the engine. When a car has this kind of power and performance I want my ears to know it. The aural experience is very important to me in a car because it is something you get to enjoy all the time while driving, and it is also another way a car communicates with you while driving. I understand that the sound is all coming from far behind me in a 911, and that turbos tend to quiet down a car quite a bit, but the exhaust here needs work. If I am ever able to by a Turbo S, an aftermarket exhaust is a must have. Porsche flat sixes sound incredible when opened up, and the Turbo S should not be an exception to this. This is not to say that the Porsche is devoid of emotion by any means though, in fact over time it has continued to stay in my thoughts quite a bit; on the whole I loved driving it.

There is little doubt in my mind that this 997 Turbo S is probably the best car I have ever driven. It is so well rounded, so beautifully refined, and its performance so savage, yet it retains all of the great practical aspects of the basic 911. No other supercar I can think of can match this mix of real world usability and real world performance. If you are looking for a streetcar, any other option will ask you to compromise something by comparison. Sure it may not be quite as stunning as a Ferrari or a Lamborghini, but there are both advantages and disadvantages to that, and many people do not want all the extra attention an exotic brings. Its performance is all totally useable on both road and track aswell. Imagine the fun to be had with this car, squirting from 40-120mph instantaneously, in your daily routine. I would buy one, you should buy one, everyone should have this in their life, but unfortunately it still costs as much as a house. So, if you have money, buy one, and the rest of us can all just have yet another thing to work for in life.

You can experience this epic 997 Turbo S, and many other exotics at Exotics Racing in Las Vegas, NV. They just built their own track, tailor made for their business, and I can tell you that it is truly awesome. The main straight is right next to the main highway, and it is hilarious to be passing traffic beside you as you go flat out on the track. It is a great experience and I recommend it for anyone who loves, or even just likes, cars because it is by far the safest and most affordable way to get your hands on your dream car. I am not just saying that either, we made a deal that I would drop a link to their site in this article but everything else I’m saying comes straight from me.

WoM Score: 

Primary Function: Performance: 2
Secondary Functions: Luxury (2) Practicality(2), MPG(2): 2
Visual Appeal: 1.5 ….. Still looks the same as lesser Porsches, at this level that holds it back a little…. but its the only thing.
Build Quality: 2
Value for Money: 2

Final Score: 9.5/10

-Nick Walker

Video and more pics below (some NSFW language in the vid):

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