2017 Porsche 911 brings more torque to the track with twin turbos

In the 50-odd year history of the Porsche 911, the formula for that iconic car has largely stayed the same: engine at the back, round headlights at the front, room for four somewhere in the middle. However, the variables in that equation have changed a little with each subsequent generation, and in 2016 we'll see one of the biggest adjustments yet: turbochargers across the range.

Turbocharging means more power, more torque and greater efficiency for the base 911 Carrera, but it also means a very different driving dynamic. Rather than a high-strung flat-six engine begging to be pushed to the rev limit, the new motor makes peak torque at just 1,700 rpm. How does it feel on the road, and at the track? That's what I went to Germany to find out.

Beneath the skin lurks a new, 3.0-liter, twin-turbocharged motor. Tim Stevens/CNET

The changes

The motor is by far the biggest of the new features in the 2017 911 (code-name 991 II, if you were wondering), so let's get that out of the way first. It's a new, 3.0-liter six-cylinder engine in the typical flat, horizontally opposed configuration. This is down from the 3.4- or 3.8-liter engines in the outgoing 911. Porsche calls insists this isn't downsizing, instead calling it "right-sizing," but even ignoring the semantics, you can't argue with the numbers. The base 911 Carrera now makes a healthy 365 horsepower, up from 345 in the outgoing model.

For the higher-spec Carrera S, power raises to 414 horsepower from 395, while torque climbs to 369lb-ft from 325 before. Unlike years past, all the internals on the Carrera S are the same as the base Carrera. Now it's the turbochargers that change, the pair of compressors on the Carrera S growing by 2mm to deliver a suitable increase in boost. Exhaust changes as well, stepping up to a model with a duct that opens for easier breathing -- and louder howling -- at full-song. (A separate, even throatier Sport exhaust is available as an upgrade.)

Given the nature of modern tuning on turbocharged cars, it's easy to imagine owners of the base 911 achieving similar power levels with just a visit to their local ECU hacking guru, but only time will tell for sure on that front.

The new car rides 10mm lower than before. Sport brakes, or ceramic brakes, are optional. Tim Stevens/CNET

The new active PASM suspension settles the car 10mm lower than the outgoing 911, while the optional PASM Sport drops you another 10mm. If you're worried about what this means to the sanctity of the car's nose, an optional front lift system is available, providing an additional 40mm of on-demand front clearance for speed bumps, entrance ramps or frightened woodland creatures. Rear wheels are now a half-inch wider, to help put that extra torque down, and for the first time, rear wheel steering is available. This improves stability at high speeds and agility at lower ones. This, too, is an option, but Porsche says the 2 degrees of active control over the rear wheels alone is worth two seconds around the mighty Nurburgring race track.

All that added together, plus a reconfigured gearbox with a new clutch and myriad other tweaks and fiddlings, help make the car an impressive eight seconds faster around the 'Ring than the outgoing 911. That's despite being roughly 20kg heavier, and offering an estimated 14 percent boost in fuel efficiency.

Yes, it's always a shame to see a sportscar getting heavier, but it could have been much worse. The twin turbochargers, plus the intercoolers and other required pipes and bits, actually added 35kg to the car. Porsche clawed most of that back with dozens of little tweaks, like replacing more steel components with aluminum and switching from an aluminum oil pan to one made of plastic. (A Porsche engineer verified its durability, saying they tested the thing by dropping an entire engine assembly from a height of three feet. It survived.)

Interior advancements

A new 7-inch infotainment system brings Apple's CarPlay to the 911 for the first time. Tim Stevens/CNET

Thankfully it isn't just the engine that's receiving some extra horsepower. The in-dash infotainment system receives a significant upgrade, a fourth generation of the Porsche Communication Management system. A 7-inch, capacitive, multi-touch display is the main interface, and it is relatively snappy, supporting gestures like pinch-zooming on maps.

Those maps now look considerably better, thanks to Google Earth integration. If your car has an active data connection, either with an integrated SIM or by tethering to your phone, the nav system will pull down satellite information, along with other niceties like 360-degree Street View images and real-time traffic updates. (No word yet on US carrier options, nor data plan costs.)

The other big boost comes from the integration of Apple's CarPlay. This means you can plug in an iPhone and let it take over infotainment duties. Android Auto is not officially part of the plan, but here's hoping it'll be coming soon.

On the track

More torque means more go out of the turns on the track.

A switch to turbocharging means potentially massive changes to the character of the car. Turbos can slow down throttle response, which is bad, and can mute the glorious sound of internal combustion, which for some is even worse.

Sadly, I was not allowed to drive the new 911 yet, as the only cars available today are very early pre-production models, but a short ride on the track certainly assuaged my fears. You can't really evaluate throttle response from the passenger seat, but the car is plenty urgent, even during a 20kmph roll-on in third gear. You'd probably grab a lower gear or two on the road, or let the dual-clutch PDK transmission do that for you, but Porsche engineers did say there's some engine management trickery going on here to keep those turbos spinning. Specifically, the intake is left slightly open, even when your foot is off the accelerator. This ensures enough of a breeze is cascading through the system to keep the impellers spinning, ready for you to get back on the throttle.

When you really need to pass that car ahead of you right now, the steering wheel features a new Sport Response button. Push this and, for 20 seconds, the car immediately kicks into the optimal gear for your current speed, engages a sportier throttle mapping and builds pressure in the turbos. A counter on the digital dash counts down to zero, at which point the fun is over -- though you can just use the new toggle wheel to engage the (now more enthusiastic) Sport Plus mode, and keep on driving like a loon.

The Carrera and Carrera S will have distinctive exhausts, and an optional Sport exhaust is even louder. Tim Stevens/CNET

If your car is equipped with a suitable exhaust, selecting either the Sport or Sport Plus drive modes opens a flap that drastically increases the volume of the car on the outside. On the inside, it opens up what's called a "sound symposer." There are two of these small tubes that run from the engine's intake, through the firewall and into the car, channeling a tunable amount of sound right into your ears. It's a bit of a crude way to deliver extra shock and awe to the cabin, but it's certainly preferable to playing fake engine noises through the speakers.

And it works. The 911 sounds rough and ready from inside the cockpit when revving the engine at a standstill, exhaust popping and crackling as has become the norm for high-end sportscars these days. But, get the thing in motion and the tone changes, offering the same sort of deep roar that you've come to expect from a Porsche flat-six engine. Sure, it's a bit more muted now, and the subtle whistle of a wastegate venting on throttle lift is a constant reminder of what's new, but the overall sound will surely get the hair standing up on the back of your neck.

Tim Stevens/CNET

Legacy, continued

It's too early to make a formal conclusion, but after spending a day in and around the 2017 Porsche 911 in its native land, it's easy to see this is still very much a car worth envying. And, while the visual refreshes are subtle to the extreme, spend a few minutes pondering the fenders on the new Carrera and you won't be left wanting.

But, of course, such things in life don't come cheap. The new 911 starts at $89,400 in coupe form, $101,700 for the drop-top Cabriolet. The Carrera S, meanwhile, is $103,400 with a metal roof, $115,700 without. (Pricing for the UK and Australia were not available at this juncture, but the US prices convert to about£57,950/AU$126,250 and £65,900/AU$143,600 for the 911 models, respectively, while the Carrera S configurations work out around to £67,000 /AU$146,000 and £75,000/AU$163,400.) As ever, options packages on these cars are incredibly comprehensive and it won't take much to push those prices quite a bit higher, so do make sure you're well-prepared before chipping away at that piggy bank.

CNET accepts multiday vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews. All scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms. However, for this feature, travel costs were covered by the manufacturer. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. The judgements and opinions of CNET's editorial team are our own, and we do not accept paid content.

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