Just how strong is the Porsche Turbo brand?
It’s so strong that Porsche has decided to use it to convince people that the all-electric Taycan is actually a car that you should care about. Of course, anyone with enough technical knowledge to change a lightbulb will be wondering why an electric car would have a turbo…
Of course, it doesn’t. The name is nothing more than a marketing gimmick. Sad, huh?
As Porsche’s first electric car, they really needed to find a way for the car to appeal to the average 911 customer. So, out came the Turbo badge.
This tells us three things. The first is that the electric sportscar is here whether we like it or not. The second is that it makes proper car companies like Porsche nervous about alienating die-hard petrolheads. The third is that the Porsche Turbo brand is among the most iconic nameplates in all of motoring.
There was a time in this world when motorsport was the primary reason for road cars being developed, rather than the other way around. Homologation specials were the defining feature of a generation of bedroom walls for young petrolheads and garage collections for the fortunate few. The 911 Turbo owes its birth to this phenomenal period in motoring history.
The first 911 Turbo was the 930, a missed opportunity as the official car of the Hermanus Whale Festival with the enormous rear spoiler. The design was pure 80s, including huge rubber bumpers (unfortunately).
Aesthetically, we don’t think the 930 has aged particularly well to be honest, but there was no denying the performance – 191kW in the launch version was potent back then and still more than respectable today.
The car carries a fearsome widow-maker reputation, which is a glamorous way of saying that it handled like a pig and had major turbo lag. To be fair, we haven’t driven a 930 Turbo and experienced this ourselves, which is something our wives probably feel happy about.
Although it probably wasn’t the ideal track weapon, the original Turbo was a giant killer in robot-to-robot dicing, or the traffic light grand prix depending on where you live in the world. Not much has changed.
There are a number of things about a Porsche 911 that you won’t forget. You won’t forget your first experience actually driving a 911 (any 911), when all the hype immediately makes sense. You certainly won’t forget the first time you feel the impossible grip levels of a GT3. Perhaps most of all, you won’t forget the sheer brutality of a 911 Turbo’s acceleration.
This is a Porsche 996 Turbo. Much has been written about how the 996 was Porsche crossing the Rubicon from air-cooled into water-cooled engines. Although we look back at the furore around this and think “ugh, purists,” we also can’t help but feel far more aggrieved about the transition to electric.
Perhaps in two decades people will look back on us in the same way…
Regardless, the Turbo as we know it is an endangered species. With a manual gearbox like in this example, it’s on the red list for conservation purposes.
The 996 Turbo is powered by the Mezger engine, which means oodles of motorsport heritage and no IMS failure issues like in lesser 996 models. In fact, the engine internals are strong enough for even more power than stock…
…which you absolutely don’t need. Really.
The 996 Turbo has around 310kW, which for purposes of comparison to something modern is only slightly less than a BMW M4. Unfortunately, the Turbo is almost the same weight as a modern M4, despite having vastly less kit in terms of fancy electronics and safety features.
This is thanks to the four-wheel drive system that is probably the only thing keeping you alive in a Turbo.
A 996 GT3 makes do with 30 kW less power. Importantly, it weighs about 160kgs less than the porky Turbo, primarily because it is rear-wheel drive. This equates to only a fractionally better power-to-weight ratio for the GT3, but the difference it makes to the car is enormous.
The Turbo will smoke the GT3 between the lights, but the GT3 will run circles around the Turbo everywhere else. The GT3 is a scalpel where the Turbo is a blunt instrument.
This is the trouble with the Turbo – the best way to enjoy it is to utterly blast it.
The “whoosh” experience of an accelerating Turbo is something that all petrolheads need to experience at least once. It feels like catching a wave and hanging on for dear life as it carries you to shore. If you aren’t careful, you’ll end up being unceremoniously dumped on the ground, wondering what went wrong.
The gearbox has a long throw and the brakes are average at best, so attacking the corners like you would in a GT3 just isn’t an option here. Taking it the track will only make the situation worse rather than better. You would rather be in the Turbo down the back straight, but the GT3 will mutilate it everywhere else.
On public roads in countries with speed restrictions (i.e. almost everywhere), the most fun you’ll have with the Turbo is embarrassing far more expensive machinery at the lights. The acceleration is highly entertaining, making you laugh right from the belly. By that stage, your belly feels like it is somewhere in the boot.
Ultimately, the 996 Turbo is a car that you have to own very responsibly or you can get yourself into serious trouble. The chassis is so capable and the acceleration so brutal that you can give yourself a proper scare when you see the speedometer reading. Like with many German sports cars, the Porsche’s refinement is perhaps also its Achilles heel.
Some motoring commentators have declared the 996 Turbo to be a great driver’s car, but (and this may come as a shock) this isn’t true. It’s a straight-line weapon of note, which means you may as well have a good automatic gearbox in it. This isn’t something we say very often.
We are driving purists rather than air-cooled vs. water-cooled purists. For that reason, we wouldn’t recommend the 996 Turbo if it will be your only sportscar in the garage, purely because the driving experience is too blunt for our tastes.
But, and this is a big but, we do recommend adding it to any collection, especially if you’ll be parking the Turbo next to a 996 GT3. No matter what mood you are in, one of those cars will be perfect. The Mezger engine is probably a safe bet as an engine that will be collectible even as electric cars start to infest our roads like cockroaches.
Life is short. Do it.