Coronavirus can’t stop our test of the hottest 911.
Forced induction swept the Porsche 911 lineup with the advent of the 991.2 generation just four years ago, making all 911s turbocharged, save for a few special editions like the GT3 Touring and Speedster. Given this relatively new world order, the arrival of the 2021 Porsche 911 Turbo S presents a fresh challenge to P-car enthusiasts and product planners alike.
Ready to share the new Turbo’s skillset with the world, Porsche invited a few journalists to WeatherTech Raceway in Salinas, California… until a rogue pandemic struck all automotive get-togethers off the calendar. In lieu of the global press launch, Porsche followed up with a contactless delivery of a lightly equipped 2021 Porsche 911 Turbo S in GT Silver Metallic for local testing. I crisscrossed some of Southern California’s gnarliest canyons in a sort of dynamic quarantine to find out how Porsche’s latest range-topper fits into the 911 family.
All The Power
You may recall from our 2020 Porsche 911 deep dive that the eighth-generation 992 Carrera models expand upon the decades-old platform with a wider stance, more tech, and incremental improvements reflecting more evolution than revolution. Interestingly, the 992 also marks the first time in history that both base and S variants share the same widebody, Coke bottle-inspired hips (a minor impingement on the Turbo model’s visual distinctiveness) in the lineup. For those keeping track at home, the Turbo S’s hips are 74.9 inches wide, which is 1.7 inches beefier than the Carrera S’s flanks and 0.8 inches more voluptuous than the previous Turbo S.
At least on paper, the new Turbo S stands tall against the next-most-powerful Carrera S model, producing a stunning 640 horsepower, nearly 200 more horses than the 443-hp Carrera S and 60 more than the previous-gen Turbo S. The MSRP climbs to $203,500, and the 0-to-60 time drops to a scant 2.6 seconds with the standard Sport Chrono package’s launch control system engaged.
In person, the new Turbo S has plenty of presence, its wide hips punctured at the sides with the model’s signature air intake duct and its active rear spoiler delivering up to 375 pounds of downforce, 15 percent more than before. Sitting within those hindquarters are infinitely variable flaps for the air intake system, which now provide charge-air cooling in conjunction with airflow through the rear decklid grill. Bigger turbos now route through symmetrical plumbing for greater airflow, while the cylinder liners are now iron-coated. A new optional sport exhaust system offers on-demand auditory enhancement, while the eight-speed PDK gearbox brings a modified final rear-axle ratio, reinforced clutches to handle the 74-lb-ft torque increase (to 590 lb-ft) and one more forward gear compared to the 991.2.
As before, active aerodynamics include a chin spoiler and a rear wing. But the front element is now multi-stage adjustable, working in conjunction with the rear wing (which can also act as an air brake). Suspension refinements include new adjustable shocks that consider 200 calculations per second, and brakes have been bumped up to massive 10-piston front calipers biting larger, 16.5-inch, carbon-ceramic discs.
Stance And Style
At rest, the 2021 Porsche 911 Turbo S sits a bit differently to the trained eye: the 1.6-inch increase in front track appears to have broadened and flattened the entire nose of the car, making it appear a tad more blunt than before. You probably won’t notice it at a glance, but stare intently and you might see a few odd angles between the straight cut lines of the hood section and the broadened proboscis. Essentially everything aft of the A-pillar is more harmonious, with an elegantly muscular flow that inspires you to run a finger over its complex curves.
Climb inside and it’s classic 911 – well, a modern interpretation that is – with the familiar analog tachometer front and center but flanked with twin digital screens. The intention of offering two customizable 7.0-inch screens is honorable, but driver’s arms block the view when holding the steering wheel. Aside from that shortcoming, the new 911 Turbo S’s cabin is an efficient, livable space that combines comfort and functionality in that effortless Porsche way.
Twist the left-hand “key” that’s embedded into the dash, and the flat-six starts with a thrum that might be quieter than you expect. My tester wasn’t equipped with the sport exhaust option, which should make the 3.8-liter engine sound a bit more uncorked in Sport mode than its standard configuration.
The stubby, knurled shift knob engages with a positive bump, and in the default ‘Normal’ drive mode, forward motion doesn’t betray the Turbo’s 640 horsepower promise of fierceness; you’d never guess you’re driving a 195-mph land missile when you’re at one-third throttle. But press the small button within the steering wheel-mounted mode selector dial, and the Sport Response mode drops gears, amplifies the drivetrain, and readies the 3,636-pound sled for a seat-slamming, head-snapping, internal organ-shifting bum rush for the horizon.
There is, of course, the oldest party trick in the book for max thrust: launch control. Simply dial the wheel to Sport Plus, hold the PSM button until the stability control goes offline, and squeeze both pedals. Revs rise and hold at 5,000 pm, and a ‘Launch Control Activated’ graphic announces that you’re ready to party. Release the left pedal, and your steed becomes a slingshot slug on a hellbent trajectory ahead. Should you choose to stop again and repeat the thrill ride, those 10-piston carbon ceramics work wonders in deceleration, bringing the Turbo S to a swift halt.
The suspension’s adaptability comes through on canyon roads where surfaces aren’t always pristine. Equipped with the $1,510 PASM Sport Suspension option, which drops the car 10mm (and produces a pleasingly hunkered-down stance), the ride quality feels firm and controlled, but never jostled or harsh. In fact, there’s a surprising amount of compliance given the 911 Turbo’s extreme performance capabilities. Unlike countless stiffly-sprung, hyper-focused sports cars and exotics (everything from the Nissan GT-R Nismo to the Lamborghini Huracan comes to mind), the Turbo S soaks up most bumps and cracks in the pavement. Even in its mildest mode, there’s enough body control to whip around corners confidently, with no evidence of wallow or sloppiness.
I grew accustomed to the Turbo’s outstanding grip levels and composure during three separate drives through Angeles Crest Highway. But just when my confidence levels were highest, a surprise rainstorm dumped a decent layer of water on the road. Shortly after the precipitation started, a graphic popped up suggesting I switch to “Wet” mode, which I promptly did. The flatter torque curve and lower thresholds for ABS, stability control, and traction control didn’t choke the experience; rather, they revealed that the 911’s grip levels are actually higher than you might think, giving you confidence to nudge closer to the limit without becoming an unwitting YouTube sensation.
Do I feel robbed realizing that I was barely tapping into the Turbo’s reserves when it got wet? Porsche has dialed in this chassis remarkably well, enabling it to feel planted solid despite the seemingly destructive sources of entropy – unexpected precipitation, shoddy road surfaces, and the odd-but-inevitable Prius that enters the roadway unannounced, requiring quick avoidance maneuvers and abrupt braking. Even better, full power is still there for the asking if you bury the pedal in Wet mode, leaving no FOMO on the table for going the safe route.
Is there any car out there that can pull off the 911 Turbo S’s combination of twisty-tormenting agility and interstate-devouring ease?
When the weather clears it’s time to pour it on again, and the spoiler’s visibly raised position in Sport Plus mode suggests the hardware is more than ready for a game of Time Attack in the Hills. With the elevated revs and more immediate throttle response, the Turbo S feels sprightlier and sharper in its seemingly untiring pursuit of apex after apex. And when you’ve had enough of the neck-tiring G-forces, dialing it back down reveals a relatively well-insulated cabin and tractable road manners.
The home stretch of freeway from the canyons to the city is a placid ride, with none of the concrete joint–induced chassis shock or neck-wobbling stiffness you’d find in full-aggro 911s like the last-gen GT2 RS. The contrast between the comfy high-speed dynamics and the day’s earlier extreme G-forces raises the question: Is there any car out there that can pull off the 911 Turbo S’s combination of twisty-tormenting agility and interstate-devouring ease? I’d be hard pressed to come up with contenders; if a more road-trip-worthy canyon carver comes to mind, please elucidate in the comments below.