Zeros and Ones infiltrate the latest incarnations of the 911 Turbo
to deliver a form of autonomy that can be described as shocking…
LATE 1974, and the world was a very different place. Richard Nixon had just resigned amid Watergate, the average new car in the US was just $3750, Germany had just won the World Cup (err…. so what’s changed?), and Porsche had just shown the world the first 911 Turbo – an analogue and intimidating beast. It started life as a 260hp homologation special to qualify entry for an FIA race series, incorporating race tech from track-only models, and despite predictions of low volume sales it was soon a smash hit.
We know the story thereafter. No other car in the class has come close to such durability, and after 40 years of constant development Porsche has evolved the 911 into one of the most technologically advanced cars of our time.
There’s an irony that the car with arguably the oldest shape on the roads is probably the most technologically groundbreaking, now a truly digital experience. The latest model has accelerated these technological advances beyond all peers and become a sportscar that belies normal description to instead suit a more exotic title with military overtones. Maybe the 911 Skunk Works is a more apt name. Some bemoan the alleged neutering effect of the many aids and devices which adorn today’s supercars, but I believe the opposite: it’s a phenomenon worth celebrating.
SEPARATING MAN FROM MACHINE
When we experienced the new 911 Turbo and Turbo S we delved into the tech that nestles below those old lines, and at the risk of dishing out a triple dose of high-tech nanowaffle I’ll opt for the ‘important stuff’ version.
Basically there are supercomputers making corrections every thousandth of a second to adjust suspension, adaptive aerodynamics, gearbox tuning, engine performance and power, dynamic engine mounts, all-wheel steering, steering feedback, and even cockpit-perceptible engine sound. System upon system upon system, all interacting and negotiating like a mathematician’s dream to derive the perfect equation for that moment in time irrespective of the variables.
I probably missed something but all of these adjustments are being applied constantly as you drive, watching over you like a hawk whether you’re a racing driver or town toodler. The original was famed for being fear-inducing; the new are bewildering for different reasons.
For the true test of acquainting ourselves with the new Turbo we drove it to some of the most famous driving roads in the world, in the south of France. Not only are they (and the consequent 2000- mile-plus roundtrip) a great test of a car they are also some of the most beautiful in the world, and pretty famous too featuring in classics like To Catch a Thief and Diamonds Are Forever and evocative of so many celluloid moments. [Like the Porsche such classics have been digitised and remastered, and I can only recommend them, by the way.]
Whatever your viewpoint on this bounding technology of the automotive world – as said, some dislike it – you would have to be dead behind the eyes not to be impressed by the raw and relentless power of either the Turbo or Turbo S. The punch is instant and seamless all the way through the rev range and when I was familiarising myself with the car I was comforted by switching on all the lazy settings to assist my exploratory outings in this new model.
As you start to get a feel you can start to dial out the traction control and dial up the real driving experience, but finding these limits in the dry on normal roads is a faintly ridiculous pursuit probably best left to the few who will take their cars racing.
Most drivers will appreciate the help modes, especially in wet or slippery conditions when you can feel the systems earning their money searching for the best wheels to lend a hand. It’s comforting and exciting at the same time, and goes a long way to making cars this powerful an entirely everyday proposition.
The original 911 Turbo was a serious physical and mental workout. It did 60mph in around 5s on 1970s brakes and suspension, and went a long way to handing the 911 its fearsome tail-spinning reputation. 260bhp is nothing outlandish now, but then… phew.
But despite what dulling effect you might think the cloak of technological safety does to the newest Turbos, they are just as much of experience – just in a different way. The 560bhp Turbo S is a full 300hp more powerful after all, and that’s never dull.
Back to the haters who claim the modern supercar is an anodyne experience: what a load of nonsense. Even with every aid left on, the physical experience is almost unsettling when the wick is turned up. Turn the aids off, and it’s as psychologically daunting as the old car – perhaps more so, given the inherently higher chassis limits before it does all go wrong.
With 520-560hp (Turbo/Turbo S) life can get pretty hectic quickly and you will experience one of the fastest cars on the road today. 0-60mph in 2.9s with the launch control. The technology works both ways and in it’s most comfortable form the new Turbos deliver a serene ride that is silent, comfortable, and even relaxing: only a glimpse in the mirror and the sight of those massive wheel arches and the Turbo logo on the dash reminds you of the car that lies beneath the button.
THINKING FOR YOU
Porsche have developed a car that can effectively make decisions for itself depending on the driver and how it is driven, so with the future of autonomous cars taking centre stage in the news at present I did consider what a great car the Porsche would make in a fully auto state. Close your eyes and press the button this time and you could be in for the ride of your life without even touching the wheel or pedals.
The truly autonomous car is not quite with us but it is also not that far off. In aviation we have had the luxury and safety of allowing aircraft, flying at 500mph plus to transport 500+ passengers into a fully automated flight, including take-off and in-flight autopilot following through to a fully automated landing.
Nothing new here then. Dassault Falcon has fine-tuned the fly-by-wire on the new 5X to the level of constantly and instantly adapting its wing shape to counteract any disturbance, and it is surely only a small software tweak away from fully autonomous flight if they wanted to.
These are technologies that have been in existence for a long time in aviation and in some ways I’d like to see them rolled out for the automotive industry… partly for a selfish, fun aspect but also a part of me wants to see everyone try the digital chauffeur.
Imagine a world where we can just relax in the back of our own cars and work, read, talk, or relax – and when we decide, change the attitude, press the sports button, and enjoy the drive. Porsche have, maybe, developed the greatest not-quite autonomous car yet, and I can’t think of many cars that come close to the level of in-drive tech that Porsche have successfully shoehorned on the new Turbos.
There should be no misunderstanding here: the latest cars are engaging and entertaining at the same time but they have the ability to interject and advise on what you do depending on what button you have pressed and this can’t be a bad thing for the future.
The problem of autonomous cars starts here then. Like morality and art, where do you draw the line? Why wait for a tepid Google self-driving car we say. Can you imagine a car like the new Turbo being semi-autonomous and would you like that experience?You’re at the start line of the Nurburgring and all you have to do is hit the ‘Webber’ button and the car will take you around the Ring in a millimetre-perfect replication of how Mark Webber would, and it would never go wrong.
They say that one of the common problems with automation in aviation is that airliners land so exactly in same place every time it creates a build up of rubber on one landing area of the runway; can you imagine the corners at a circuit used by digital car laps?
If I was Porsche I would send out a fleet of self-driving 911 Turbos with all the tech possible, and make them perform consistent, regular fast laps of the Nurburgring in a promotion of what’s great about the new Porsche cars, and the most cutting edge tech. They are amazing performance cars regardless of whether you want full control or not.
In its basic form a car is just a machine: we press pedals and it does what we want, mostly. We are so used to having all the input it can be for some a difficult pill to swallow having the car ignore you and make its own decisions – but you don’t get this feeling from the Porsches, which have all the vigour and spirit of the original Turbo. Technology Porsche-style is a whole lot of fun. It’s a world away from 40 years ago and that sits well with me: the world has changed and so has the 911 Turbo.
OK, so now I’m off to try and track down an original 1976 911 Turbo to park right next to the 2014 911 Turbo S – a car to show me how they did it, and a car to remind me of why they did it. Wish me luck!
Porsche 911 Turbo
Top speed 195mph
0-60mph 3.4s (3.2s with Sport +)
Engine 3.8 litre 6-cylinder
Max power 520hp @ 6000rpm
Max torque 660-710Nm @ 1900-5000rpm
Fuel Consumption Combined: 29.1mpg
Weight 1605kg Unladen
Price (Basic) £120,598, (MRSP) $151,100
Porsche 911 Turbo S
Top speed 197mph
0-60mph 3.1s (with Sport +)
Engine 3.8 litre 6-cylinder
Max power 560hp @ 6500rpm
Max torque 700-770Nm@ 2100-4250rpm
Fuel Consumption Combined: 29.1mpg
Weight 1605kg Unladen
Price (Basic) £142,120, (MRSP) $182,700