Among gearheads, it's the ultimate bar-stool conversation: If you had money to burn, what car would you buy? The Porsche 911 Turbo S—top of the line of what is arguably the most iconic sports car of all time—always comes up. So recently, I got my hands on one to find out if in fact it was the one. The rare, all-wheel drive automobile lists at just under $188K. My test-drive car, which came courtesy of a friend and not Porsche, was sparkling new (367 miles on the odometer) and optioned up well over $200K. My goal: To wring as much out of the car as I could on the streets and highways around Chicago without getting slapped with a set of handcuffs. Ignition!
WHAT IT IS: All 911s are built with a split personality. In normal driving, the car offers a luxurious interior and a smooth ride. In other words: It's a perfect daily commuter with room in the back for a set of post-work golf clubs.
Throw it in Sport Plus mode, however, and it becomes a rocket ship, packing so much performance that only a track-trained driver can get it anywhere near its limits.
CRUISING: On the road, I marveled over the comfort of the seats and the full field of vision. Most sports cars in the $200K-plus range offer little ability to see behind you. (We're looking at you, Lamborghini Aventador!) Not so in this car.
The dash gives you instant command. You can flip through digital readouts as if you were flipping through numbers on your phone: tire pressure, torque split (tells you how much power is going to the rear wheels and how much to the front), G-force measurement, torque curve. Plus, you've got all the usual digital instrumentation, from GPS to hands-free phone blabbing.
One example of this car's voodoo: The rear wheels turn as well as the front. At low speed, the rear wheels turn in the opposite direction as the front wheels, essentially shortening the car and thus its turn radius, making parking lot K-turns a breeze. At high-speeds, the rear wheels turn in the same direction, so you can power more smoothly through corners.
SHIFT CHANGE: Click to Sport Plus at the touch of a button, and you instantly hear the engine bark to life as it remaps the torque curve. The chin spoiler drops down, the rear spoiler pops up, the Porsche Active Suspension Management tightens up the ride and the transmission shifts to paddle-shifted full manual. It's as if you just ducked into a phone booth and removed that tailored suit, revealing a superhero leotard beneath.
Hammering up a highway ramp, you can feel the front wheels reaching out and grabbing pavement. The PDK transmission (optional on many Porsches but standard on the Turbo S) is as close to a Formula 1 gearbox as you can buy. To shift, you click a paddle with your fingers about a quarter of an inch. The new gear engages seemingly before the paddle completes that quarter-inch travel. It's absolutely instant, and the song is glorious.
Speed trap? No worries. My test Turbo S was rigged with an aftermarket radar system that senses electronic speed traps and flashes bursts of LED lights on the license plates at the moment the speed-trap camera clicks, obscuring the plates from the camera. If you get caught in a speed trap, the cops will be left with a photograph of a beautiful Porsche with a blurred-out license plate. It's the automotive equivalent of sharks with friggin' laser beams.
STOP SIGN: One of the most enjoyable things about this car is the driver's ability to gun the engine, experience the thrill of the space shuttle-like blast off, then jam the Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes (PCCB). You have so much control over the car that you can experience the agility even in traffic with short bursts of speed and braking. On other Porsche models, PCCB is about an $8,500 upgrade (you could buy a decent used car for that money). On the Turbo S, it's standard equipment.
STATS: Rear-mounted 3.8-liter turbo boxer six-cylinder engine, 560 hp at 6500, 516 lb/ft torque, 2.9-second zero-to-60 (faster than a considerably more expensive Ferrari 458 Italia), 177.4 inches long (96.5 inch wheelbase), electronically limited 198 mph top speed. MPG: reported 17 city/24 highway—pretty impressive for a car that can go from zero to 100 mph and back to zero in the space of half a city block.
IS IT THE ONE?: Back to my original question: Is the Turbo S the car I would buy if money were no object? The answer is yes, in addition to a Ferrari 458, a 1960s-era Ford GT40 and a Mercedes-Benz CLS63 AMG for family trips to the ski lifts. This Porsche is a stellar engineering achievement. Too bad I had to hand back the keys.
A.J. Baime is the author of Go Like Hell and the forthcoming The Arsenal of Democracy: FDR, Detroit, and an Epic Quest to Arm America at War. Reach him at www.facebook.com/ajbaime.
Photo courtesy of Porsche
Photos courtesy of Mercedes-Benz