Test Drive: The 2021 Porsche 911 Turbo

Test Drive: The 2021 Porsche 911 Turbo


MONTICELLO, N.Y. — The 2021 Porsche 911 Turbo S plots our escape from New York, luring me to play hooky from coronavirus home-schooling. The latest, wide-hipped version of the classic sports car burbles happily in eighth gear. I relax in the sculpted embrace of sport seats, Fiona Apple’s new album chiming through a Burmester audio system, and allow S.U.V.s to pass me on Manhattan’s West Side Highway. For now.

Then we arrive at Monticello Motor Club, and the Porsche’s personality transforms on this 4.1-mile private racetrack in the Catskills. Suddenly it’s a German assassin, in a stunning metallic-blue coat and gray leather trim. Holstered in the rear, a twin-turbocharged, 3.8-liter flat six is the murder weapon, with a mad 640 horsepower and a 205-m.p.h. top speed.

Porsche’s record 256,000 global sales last year remain a blip in the VW Group’s 10.8 million total. Yet the brand earned a staggering $4.75 billion operating profit, an average of about $18,500 per car, for a 16.6 percent net profit that tops every mass-market automaker. The brand’s blue-chip value, including at resale, is highlighted by another impressive statistic: More than 70 percent of all Porsches ever built are still on the road — and since 1964, more than a million 911s have been made.

The horsepower in the 911 I’ve settled into is 60 more than the previous model, a gaudy 10 percent gain. The flip of a dashboard toggle opens flaps in the sport exhaust system — a gotta-have option, even at $3,490 more than the base price north of $200,000 — to free that engine’s intoxicating bellow and bark, via pretty oval tailpipes. Porsche’s new electric Taycan sedan is a marvel in its own right, but its digital spaceship warble can’t match this soulful sextet of cylinders.

Within minutes, I’m hanging Porsche’s signature winged tail sideways through Monticello’s snaking turns, its gummy Pirelli tires howling and smoking. Unlike some supercars, it requires no acclimation: This is a Porsche, a car that feels structurally impregnable and unerringly “right” from the instant one grabs its confidence-inspiring wheel. Even compared with its immediate predecessor — not to mention the original 1975 Turbo, nicknamed the Widowmaker for its death-tempting handling — this new-generation model lets even amateur drivers feel like superheroes.

At Monticello, a typical track day brings out a mouthwatering assortment of Italian or British supercars, racecars and vintage classics. Yet more than 90 percent of its 500-plus members own at least one Porsche or BMW, far more than any other brands, and often in addition to flashier fare, said Ari Straus, the club’s chief executive and managing partner. People who join track clubs are a self-selecting group, he said: They’re not simply car enthusiasts, but driving enthusiasts.

“Porsche is the car you buy because you love driving,” Mr. Straus said. “The owners care about the experience more than the image, the way they look in the car.”

“The brand,” Mr. Straus added, “represents durability in a high-performance environment. The car is meant to survive on a racetrack, and therefore it can survive on the street.”

It sure shines on the track, though. Several club members have “graduated” to driving their own race-prepped Porsches — with welded-in roll cages, fire suppression, data acquisition and other gear — in amateur and even professional events, after steadily improving their skills with Monticello’s pro coaches.

With the track working toward reopening during our test in May — a visored racing helmet might beat a cloth mask — and its members aching to be turned loose, our test and photo shoot in May was limited to the club’s shorter North Course. Even on its truncated straightaway, I consistently hit 142 m.p.h. before it is time to mash the standard carbon-ceramic brakes and thread the needle into an uphill S-shaped corner. But based on past experience on this rollicking circuit, I’m convinced the 911 would easily nip 170 m.p.h. on the full straightaway, lap after thrilling lap, as fast as any McLaren, Ferrari or other megapriced car I’ve tested here.

Since its 1974 debut at the Paris Motor Show, the Turbo has represented the apogee of road-going 911 performance and tech, as Porsche transferred its turbo-driven dominance of Can-Am racing to the street. America saw its first Turbo Carerra in 1976, with 234 horses and acceleration that seemed monstrous at the time, as did a base price of about $26,000 (roughly $117,000 in inflation-adjusted dollars), compared with just $7,600 ($34,000) for that year’s Chevy Corvette.

So how fast is this German rocket? By your third “Mississippi,” the Porsche will have already beaten you to 60 m.p.h., which takes 2.6 seconds.

The automated launch control system takes all the guesswork out of an impromptu drag race. That launch control proves as addictive as a lab rat’s favorite button. Tested at Monticello, it’s akin to the transporter on “Star Trek” — one second you’re there, the next you’re here, with a similar disintegrating effect on human molecules.

At any time, another steering-wheel button triggers a 20-second screen countdown, during which the Porsche readies systems for maximum responsiveness; Porsche suggests it can be used for passing a semi-truck. When you consider the Turbo’s routine acceleration, this may be the most superfluous button in auto history.

The Porsche is packed with technology, including active aerodynamics to stabilize the car or maximize fuel efficiency. Magnetic shock absorbers sense and adjust to driving conditions several hundred times a second. Acoustic sensors in front wheel arches detect moisture on roads, and cue the driver to select a special “wet” mode to optimize traction and safety.

Complaints are minor. The march of that technology has stomped an optional manual transmission. And the 911’s new console shift lever, a stumpy, metal vestigial limb, only reminds you of the clutch-whomping joy you’re missing.

As consolation, Porsche offers what may be the world’s greatest automatic: The eight-speed, dual-clutch PDK transmission (for “Porsche Doppelkupplung”) is programmed so precisely that even human operation of its steering-wheel paddle shifters becomes superfluous — though I still do it for pure entertainment value. But in modern Porsches, even world-class racers are setting their fastest lap times by simply leaving the transmission in “Drive” and letting it grab gears as magically as a rabbit from a hat.

The interior is impeccably crafted, but as stark and remorselessly functional as a supervillain’s lair. Porsche has steadily stripped away traditional switches and knobs in favor of screen-based interfaces. A touch of warmth would improve the German-lab-coat vibe, though options such as red leather, patterned in homage to the first 911, help the cause.

The 911 Turbos are historically expensive as well, and this one takes the kuchen: $204,850 to start, or $217,650 for the soft-top Turbo S Cabriolet. A rich menu of options, including a stiffer sport suspension — not recommended for owners who regularly tussle with potholes in New York or Detroit — lifts my coupe’s out-the-door price to $234,500. It’s relative, I suppose: One competitor, the McLaren 720S, starts from $300,000 and can soar past $350,000 with options.

The Porsche, and its peers, seem to push the limits of what internal combustion can practically achieve. The Taycan has already set new benchmarks in electric performance, so the clock may be ticking. This 911 Turbo S seems likely to join other end-of-era Porsches — such as the vaunted air-cooled models that ceased production in 1998 — as a prized collectible. In a run-up that has shocked even the keenest aficionados, such classic 911s have doubled or even tripled in value over the past 15 years, with the rarest models fetching $1 million and more.

That today’s 911’s are primed for similar success is suggested by a coming revolution, not just evolution: Porsche executives have confirmed that an electrified 911 is in the works.



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