That’s a bold statement, right? It’s a title I’ve given a lot of thought, and not to be used like some form of click-bait piñata. I actually believe it to be true. We’re not just talking about the newest 992 Turbo in isolation, either. But rather comparing any vintage 911 Turbo with another.
I can already hear 930 purists inhaling sharply, 993 aficionados rolling up their sleeves to fight, and the paint-to-sample GT brigade sharpening their perfectly manicured claws. Stick with me through this, let’s see if I can convince you.
The 911 Turbo is Porsche’s consumer-level technological showcase. It’s where the public can sample the latest lessons learned from the race track and other innovations dreamed up in engineering. Ever since its introduction in late 1974, the Turbo has stood as a symbol of power and technology. Looking back now, it’s hard to imagine a non-intercooled, 4-speed, air-cooled Porsche as being high-tech. But just over 10 years ago we were looking at our phones without Instagram. Times change, fast.
Even the original 930 Turbo – with 260bhp and 3.0-litres – made way for a more refined 3.3 version with 300bhp in 1978. Porsche themselves were willing to move with new ideas and build on their newest design. Complete with an intercooler, the 3.3 version was positively cutting edge. In 1978, if you had the old Turbo you were behind the times. The new Turbo was king of the hill. This is the way of the Turbo.
All through its life the 930 was tweaked, refined and adjusted. By 1986 the Turbo SE slant nose had been introduced with 330bhp and all ‘regular’ models received Bosch Motronic engine management. Even the last model year of 930, 1989, brought serious changes in the form of a 5-speed ‘G50′ gearbox. I tell you this not to reel off nerdy model updates but to set the scene; Porsche were pushing the envelope at every opportunity with the Turbo. They were seeing just how far the public would let them go. After 45 years of innovation it’s an attitude that’s landed us with the 992 Turbo and a face-warping 0-60 time of just 2.6-seconds. Progress is good. Very good.
It’s not so much that the latest generation of 911 Turbo is better than the last, it simply must be. You can’t market a new car that is slower, less refined, or less luxurious than its predecessor – it just doesn’t make sense. But we’re not just talking about marketing ploys, each new generation of Turbo brings with it real innovation.
Let’s take these three cars here as mile markers in the Turbo story. Each is plucked from Porsche’s own Museum collection. We assembled in the dead of night and paraded the trio through Stuttgart in the name of Speedhunting, to find out what makes the Turbo bloodline tick.
Benjamin ‘Beny’ Marjanac, friend of Speedhunters and Porsche Museum’s Social Media Manager, would be our Stuttgart tour guide for the evening. Beny, Ben and I are all huge 911 fans with each of us now owning a different flavour of 996, so we’re somewhat invested in that generation. Beny opted to jump in the stunning 996 Turbo S. Ben, being a complete magpie, chose the 992 Turbo, and I wandered towards the unique Amazon Green Metallic 964 Turbo. Mark, who only operates in megapixels and dynamic range, took refuge in the photography-spec Cayenne (complete with panoramic roof).
The 964 Turbo came along in 1990 amidst a confusing time for the Turbo. Porsche had piled cash into the (unrealised) 965/969 concept that would’ve boasted twin turbos, a double clutch transmission and four-wheel drive. The intended market for this new car was the USA, and an unfavourable exchange rate meant it couldn’t progress into production, despite being publicly announced.
So, when the 964 Turbo arrived in 1990 – with its updated version of the 3.3-litre 930 engine and ‘just’ 320hp – that may have seemed a touch underwhelming for some. It was more than just a power upgrade, though. Coil spring front suspension replaced a torsion bar and ABS brakes came as standard, both huge leaps forward in modernising the Turbo. There’s no denying the 964 Turbo was a better car than the 930 and it started to look more modern too.
The 964’s image is greatly helped of course by being used in the film Bad Boys. Michael Bay’s iconic 1995 film saw a black 3.6 turbo battle it out with a Shelby Cobra in the opening scene. It is as much a star as Will Smith or Martin Lawrence in it, so much so you’ll find pretty much any 964 Turbo owner on the internet referencing the film in every upload.
You can tell that the movie car is a later 355bhp 3.6 version by the Speedline wheels, however, the car pictured here is an earlier 3.3 model, green not black, but you better believe I still felt like Mike Lowrey.
The pedals hinge from the floor, most of the interior knobs and buttons don’t make any discernible sense, and you have to have your wits about you to find the door handle just to exit the car. Everything about driving the 964 Turbo is an experience. It’s so far removed from my own 996 Turbo that it forces you to concentrate, yet at the same time it also feels strangely familiar. It’s this gradual change and constant evolution that drives Turbo progress. Each building upon the last.
Jumping from 964 to 996 obviously misses a very important evolutionary step, the 993. After a short production run the 964 Turbo made way for the 993 Turbo in 1995, and this is where things really start to take flight. Two turbos and four-wheel drive was quite a lot for purists to stomach. Add drastic new styling to that and you’ve got one of the biggest step changes in air-cooled 911 history.
The Turbo model was absolutely at the forefront of this. ‘Modern’ environmental regulations were closing in on the 911 and noise/exhaust emission targets would be the air-cooled engines biggest stumbling block. Carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon emissions could be dealt with by catalytic converters and digital fuel injection, but nitrogen oxides (NOx) caused by high cylinder temperatures required sophisticated engine management to regulate. The 993 Turbo was the Porsche to incorporate OBD2 in order to combat emissions.
408bhp was available to the 993 Turbo customer and in just over 20 years Porsche had come a remarkably long way from the original car’s 260bhp. Technologically the 993 Turbo was a powerhouse. I’ve never driven one but I can imagine this generation of Turbo being the missing link between past and present. Values have always remained high for these cars and they’re considered the highest evolution of the ‘air-cooled’ Turbo.
Things got properly interesting for the 911 next. We all know about the 996’s scandalous headlight design and how every YouTuber on the planet describes this model as unloved, ugly or cheap. Well, the joke is on them because I’m all about the underdog and the 996 Turbo’s time is absolutely now.
I’m obviously biased here. I mean, you couldn’t have chosen anyone less impartial to write this article other than Beny himself. But I’ll try and keep level headed; I just really like the 996 Turbo and this one pictured happens to be a Turbo S.
Turbo S means this particular car is packed to the rafters with options. To round off the production of the 996 Turbo, Porsche loaded everything including the kitchen sink into it. Amongst more subtle steps forward in tech, the 996 Turbo was the first time we got a glance at Porsche Carbon Ceramic Brakes, and they were made standard issue for the Turbo S. It’s not the first time we got yellow callipers though, that was on the steel disc’d 993 Turbo S.
It was also the first time the Turbo premiered the multi-height rear spoiler. Designed to sit low at rest and mimic the form of the 993 Turbo, the 996 Turbo featured a hydraulic system to raise the upper element at speed for more downforce. This was carried over to the 997 but with an even wider element. See what I mean about each generation building on the foundations of the last?
The stock manual 996 Turbo came with 420bhp and sprinted to 60mph in about 4.2 seconds, with the X50 optioned Turbo and Turbo S making 450bhp and capable of hitting 60mph in 4 seconds on the dot. That’s in 2005. Fifteen years ago. It’s mind-boggling when you think how far tyre technology, mobile phones, and home entertainment has come since then. We didn’t even have iPhones until 2007; now it seems hard to think of a time without them. This 996 Turbo S even had a telephone handset in the interior, much to Ben’s amusement. Despite the world changing around us at an alarming rate, the 996 Turbo has stayed relevant as a sports car.
Here’s something to wrap your head around: I am 32 years old and the 911 Turbo was first seen on UK roads 13 years before I was born. I probably don’t remember seeing one until I was about 12. Me clapping eyes on a 3.0-litre 930 Turbo at that age is the same as a 12-year-old kid seeing a 993 Turbo on the street for the first time today.
I realise I may have lost you there, but my point is the fact these are classic cars now. They are from another era. Younger car enthusiasts must look at them in a ‘how the hell does that work’ steampunk wizardry sort of way. These cars don’t really fit in with the modern world, but feel like the perfect antidote. In much the same way vinyl, cassette tapes and CDs all came and went, automotive technology is very much of the time and will come back around once again. Give it a few more years and the world will be craving 2000-era turbo cars.
Speaking of wizardry, let’s gloss over the advent of VNT turbochargers, direct fuel injection and PDK gearboxes that the 997 generations gave us. Instead, we’ll head straight to the active rear-wheel steered, 8-speed and active aero-equipped computer era of 911 Turbo.
The 992 Turbo S represents our modern era. Everything is ultra-highly developed and algorithmically served to you in a precise and palatable way. I’m sure it knows more about the way we drive than we do. The infotainment is perfectly poised at your finger tips; its convenience and ease of use is striking but doesn’t detract from the brutality of the tool. It’s funny I mention the infotainment first as I don’t even think the stereo got switched on in the 964. We demand more of everything and the 992 Turbo S delivers, without fuss.
With 641bhp it’s almost 2.5 times more powerful than the original 911 Turbo. It has twice the driven wheels, twice as many turbos, and technology 1975 couldn’t even predict. LED matrix headlights? What the hell are those. 410mm carbon ceramic brakes? The 930s wheels were only 381mm in diameter. On paper the 992 Turbo S is a space ship, but to tell the truth it is a different tool designed for a different landscape. Besides, I’m not a 992 Turbo S customer. If Porsche were making this car to suit my exact taste they would be seriously limiting their potential market. If anything the 911 Turbo dynasty tells us more about society itself than anything else.
The reason I love 911 Turbos is because they show us how far we have come. We started with a laggy 3.0-litre with four gears and no intercooler, literally blowing hot air straight out of the turbocharger and into the engine. Now look where we are. I’ve got absolutely nothing to do with the development of these cars, but I cant help but feel proud in a way. It’s on par with seeing your favourite sports personality doing well. Go on Turbo, good for you dude, I want to see you win.
The question should not be whether the latest 992 Turbo is ‘better’ than the last model. I think we’re looking at the data all wrong. It’s only natural for it to be better, in all the ways Porsche deems necessary. It’s a piece of technology, it’s designed to be devastatingly efficient, comfortable and safe. It’s supposed to be faster than the last, it will be bigger than before, and it’s likely it might weigh more too. To focus on such inevitabilities is to miss the point.
This is what progress looks like. You might not love or appreciate it to begin with, but there will be other versions of 911 that benefit from this progress later down the line. For example; Porsche Active Aerodynamics comes on pretty much everything now, including the 718 Cayman. Much like when choosing a new laptop, get the car that has the features you need. Ten years ago I hated the 996, and now here I am gushing about it all over the internet.
Things develop soul over time; you warm to them and often your tastes and needs change too. For now let’s rejoice in the fact that Porsche still makes the iconic Turbo model in 2020. It is a staggering unbroken lineage, and at 45 years old it’s only just getting into the prime of its life.
I wonder where we’ll be in another 20 years? Maybe I’ll have moved on from the 996 and will find myself behind the wheel of a ‘retro’ 992 Turbo; stranger things have happened.
Photos by Mark Riccioni