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Porsche's poster-worthy 911 Turbo gains more muscle, infotainment smarts

In my childhood bedroom in Ohio, several Lamborghini Countaches jostled for wall space with a Ferrari Testarossa, a Lotus Esprit, a Pantera GT-5 S and even the Vector W2, a wedgy American oddity whose total production run probably racked up more photo shoots than miles driven.

But my favorite poster car, a Porsche 911 Turbo, somehow felt more attainable. It was a 1980's 930, photographed from a trailing vantage as it literally flew through the air, its suspension unloaded, groping fruitlessly for tarmac. The poster appeared unordered and out of the blue, arriving direct from Porsche, addressed to a younger, more idealistic me. Upon unfurling this mysterious wonderment from its shipping tube, I immediately noticed the rear license plate had been personalized with my last name on it. This was intense voodoo marketing the likes of which few '80s companies had attempted before.

Predictably, it worked. Not only did I even keep the cardboard tube the poster came in, I've always had a soft spot for Porsche's teardrop-shaped coupe. And given skyrocketing air-cooled 911 values, it appears I'm not alone -- a clean '80s 930 Turbo will buy you a brand-new 2017 911 Carrera with plenty of change left over for options, fuel and track rubber. These days, Porsche may sell more SUVs than it does 911s, but the rear-engined sports car is still the German automaker's heart, its high-performance moral compass. Just as importantly, it's still the yardstick against which all other high-dollar premium sports coupes are measured.

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Few cars look at home on a racetrack as a Porsche 911.

Manuel Hollenbach/Porsche

Today, I still can't afford one, but in my chosen profession, I'm fortunate enough to drive examples now and again. You can understand my enthusiasm, then, when Porsche handed me the keys to its latest version, the 991.2, in top-flight Turbo S spec, complete with a two-day-old South African racetrack to play on.

Back in my youth, the Turbo was the 911's highest-performance distillation, full stop. These days, it comes kitted out with all-wheel drive, a seven-speed PDK dual-clutch gearbox and plenty of creature comforts, so it's more of the range's grand tourer, leaving hardcore trackday missions to models like the GT2 and GT3 in favor of luxuriant, long-legged cruising. A mid-cycle refresh of the generation introduced in 2012, the 991.2 has a brace of distinctions that further advance its performance and notably, its cabin tech.

As you'd expect of a model range that has exhibited the most careful of evolutions over decades, the changes for 2017 don't leap off the sheet metal and shout about being neu, but there are many meaningful and handsome alterations all the same. The front has been reworked to incorporate revised air intakes and LED cornering headlamps, and the back end gets the 991.2 Carrera's 3D-effect LED brake lights, an engine cover with newly longitudinal vanes and revamped exhaust pipery.

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Porsche's latest 911 Turbo gains a revised front fascia and new LED cornering headlamps.

Manuel Hollenbach/Porsche

Out on Johannesburg's crowded city streets and highways, the Turbo's dual-clutch gearbox and engine displays the sort of low-speed tractability that can be tough to come by in high-powered cars. Its stop/start system proves well mannered in rush-hour traffic as we make our way to the racetrack, cutting power unobtrusively and firing back up as congestion eases. Given that our group is driving Euro-market, left-hand-drive cars on right-hand-drive roads, this sort of dependable refinement is that much more appreciated.

Predictably, even though the Turbo weighs in excess of 3,500 pounds in full battle rattle, it still runs like a spooked greyhound when prodded. Its 3.8-liter twin-turbo flat-six now makes 540 horsepower and 523 pound-feet of torque thanks to new injectors, higher fuel pressure and reworked intake ports. The even-more-powerful S reviewed here uses unique turbos with bigger impellers to realize 580 hp and 553 pound-feet. Regardless of whether your Turbo has an "S" script on its rump or not, all those numbers fail to characterize how that power arrives, which is seamlessly, in one fat, quicksilver slug. Turbo lag is not an issue.

For most situations, you needn't fiddle with the Turbo's new drive-mode selector dial, let alone the Sports Response button in the center of it (which girds the car's various systems for 20 seconds of maximum acceleration), as there's plenty of power for all occasions. That's just as well, because the SR button isn't particularly well placed for spur-of-the-moment use on the 918-Spyder-style steering wheel.

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The Turbo's new steering wheel was obviously influenced by that of the 918 Spyder.

Manuel Hollenbach/Porsche

That didn't stop me from sampling all of the Turbo S' functionality on Kyalami circuit just outside of Johannesburg, of course. My far-too-brief 911 drive came just days after the former F1 road course's reconfiguration and repaving had been completed, but an uncharacteristic overnight rainstorm left rivers of running water in countless inconvenient locations around the circuit. The new surface was flawless, but its drainage was not. Thankfully, the Turbo brings bags of grip and retuned stability control programming to the party, and despite 20-inch Pirelli P Zero tires that are a half-inch wider than last year's Turbo (9 inches wide up front, 11.5 inches at the rear), hydroplaning was manageable. The Turbo never felt unnerving, even with rear-wheel steering to make it pointier.

When the track eventually dries out, wheelspin is minimal, and acceleration is delivered right damn now -- the Turbo S is immediately discernible as next-level powerful compared to the Carrera 4 model sampled earlier in the morning. Better still, the Turbo displays the sort of mid-corner grip that makes Velcro Co. lawyers mull patent-infringement lawsuits.

Porsche's traditionally conservative acceleration figures call for 0-60 to fall in 2.9 seconds (2.8 for the S), with a top speed of 198 mph (or 205 for the S), all of which suggests this 991.2 will preserve the 911's tradition of humbling exotic cars far more expensive and exclusive.

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A new engine cover with vertical strakes shrouds the 3.8-liter flat-six and its revised turbos.

Manuel Hollenbach/Porsche

Most importantly, the Turbo's performance still feels special. That's not to be taken for granted, especially now that for the first time ever, even base 911s boast turbocharged power. Given that a standard, 365-hp Carrera 2 rings up at $89,400 and a base Turbo is $159,200 before destination charges, there needs to be a clear performance gulf between the Turbo and its lesser stablemates, and at least on a fast closed circuit, there is. (The S model, not incidentally, commands a hefty $188,100, but much of that is explained by the presence of its carbon ceramic brakes and dynamic roll control, which are costly options on the standard Turbo.)

If you're lamenting buying last year's Turbo, don't despair, you won't really notice a big difference in real-world performance -- a tenth lost to 60 mph will rarely materialize in street use. What you'll be far more likely to covet is the 991.2's aesthetic changes and improved convenience trappings -- namely its updated infotainment system, which now features Apple CarPlay and a truly snappy 7-inch glass screen with pinch and swipe gesture control. The updated navigation system includes Google StreetView and Earth imagery as well as real-time traffic updates, and it can also accept handwritten inputs. While Android Auto remains conspicuously MIA, this system is still a huge leap forward.

There are other livability improvements, too. There's a new nose lift feature that raises the car's chin by 1.5 inches to accommodate driveway aprons and speed bumps, standard cornering LED headlamps, an optional lane-departure warning system, and an available Wi-Fi hotspot that works with a Porsche smartphone app to forward addresses from your contacts list directly into your navi system. Automatic post-collision braking is a new safety feature as well, a smart play to avoid secondary impacts in an accident.

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A snappy new 7-inch infotainment system incorporates Apple CarPlay, plus Google Maps and StreetView.

Manuel Hollenbach/Porsche

Fuel economy figures have not yet been released, but they're not expected to stray much from the pre-facelift car's 17 miles per gallon city and 24 mpg highway numbers. Expect to see those metrics soon, as the first Turbos are slated to arrive in dealers in April.

I'll need more street time to fully suss out the latest Porsche Turbo's merits and weaknesses, but even from my brief wheel-time, it's clear the 991.2 remains a giant slayer, holstering all-weather performance well above its lofty price point. Surprisingly, however, its most significant improvements may actually be its upgraded infotainment and convenience features.

For the moment, the Turbo still has the goods to command plenty of childhood bedroom poster real estate, but there's little doubt that the excellent new turbocharged Carrera 2 and 4 models are creeping up in its rearview mirror...

 

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