From the September 2006 issue of Car and Driver.
The arrival of a new Porsche 911 Turbo is an event that’s as significant and riveting for car enthusiasts as the winner of American Idol seems to be for the majority of adult Americans. The Turbo is important because it has resided at the pinnacle of the 911 line since it first went on sale in the U.S. in 1976 and has thus been a perennial contender for the title of best darned sports car on the planet.
The 2007 Turbo is a development of the Type 997 version of the 911, which was introduced two years ago in Carrera and Carrera S forms. Externally, there’s little chance of confusing it with its lesser brethren, thanks to a huge biplane rear wing, wider rear wheel arches, stunning 19-inch wheels, and more scoops than a Baskin-Robbins shop. Inside, leather swathes seemingly every surface, but otherwise the car is differentiated from cheaper 911s only by Turbo graphics on the sills and gauges and a unique shifter.
Of course, the real reason the Turbo’s base price of $123,695 is about 40 grand more than that of a Carrera S is because it’s a showcase for Porsche’s most high-tech performance pieces. The horizontally opposed 3.6-liter engine isn’t actually the same one found in the Carrera but is a development of the dry-sump unit fitted in the previous-generation Turbo and GT3 and the new GT3. It has a bigger bore and shorter stroke than the Carrera engine and also uses a separate crankcase and cylinder blocks. (The Carrera engine is cast with the crankcase and cylinder blocks as one unit.)
In common with the outgoing turbo engine, VarioCam Plus variable camshaft timing is used to alter valve lift and timing, and the exhaust valves are sodium filled to aid cooling. Unlike in the previous engine, the twin turbochargers feature variable vanes. At low rpm, the vanes close to speed up the exhaust gases and reduce turbo lag, but they open at higher speeds for maximum power. The turbo bearing cases are now water cooled. The upshot is an output of 480 horsepower and maximum torque of 457 pound-feet. (With the optional Sport Chrono package, there’s an overboost function that increases turbo pressure by about 2.9 psi, giving maximum torque of 502 pound-feet.)
Like all 911 Turbos going back to the 1995 993, this one has all-wheel drive. The outgoing model used a center viscous coupling, but the new car features an electromagnetically controlled clutch pack at the center differential. This is a major component of the Porsche Traction Management system. Reading data from the onboard sensors, PTM shunts torque between the front and rear axles to reduce understeer or oversteer, to preload the clutch for maximum traction at launch, or to minimize wheelspin on slippery surfaces. The Turbo also has the Porsche Stability Management (PSM) and Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) stability-control and electronic-damping systems. A rear-locking differential is optional (our car had it) on models fitted with the six-speed manual transmission, but not on cars that have the five-speed Tiptronic manumatic.
Taking its cue from the Carrera GT, the Turbo has six-piston front-brake calipers, which here act on 13.8-inch-diameter vented discs. There’s the option of even larger 15.0-inch discs with the $8840 ceramic composite option. Thanks partly to aluminum doors, the new Turbo weighs about the same as the outgoing car, but it’s still the porker of this group at 3514 pounds.
We were expecting the ’07 Turbo to be special, but just how good is it? To find out, we traveled to Germany and brought along a Ferrari F430 and Chevrolet Corvette Z06 for comparison. Those both provide similar amounts of horsepower and performance for wildly differing amounts of money — a base of $65,690 for the 505-hp Corvette and a whopping $174,535 for the 483-hp F430.
For various reasons, Ferrari couldn’t provide us with a car because the company was at full stretch with the launch of the 599GTB, but we suspect it was gun-shy about putting its car up against the Corvette. However, Gerrit Schumann, an Internet entrepreneur we know in Germany, generously lent us his car for a couple of days. He wasn’t too keen on our running standing starts, having fried a clutch when using the launch-control function, so we took the standing-start acceleration and braking results from our “Lords of Envy” comparison [C/D, August 2005]. In Europe, we stormed the German autobahns and back roads and tested at the magnificent Papenburg facility in northern Germany, which features a 7.6-mile-long high-speed oval and a replica of the short course at Hockenheim, home of the German Grand Prix.
Third Place: Chevrolet Corvette Z06
On paper, the Z06 Corvette is the best car here. It accelerates as quickly as the 911 Turbo through the quarter and wastes both the Porsche and Ferrari at speeds above 120 mph. How about 0 to 150 mph in 17.7 seconds? That’s up there in Ford GT territory, if not as stupid fast as a McLaren F1. The Z06 has the most grip at 1.01 g and the best braking performance. On an autobahn, it was still accelerating while the Ferrari was topped out in sixth gear at 186 mph. Around our road course, it was an easy victor, 1.7 seconds quicker than the Porsche on a near-76-second lap. It does all this for about a third of the Ferrari’s price. The Z06 is the best performance value in the world, period.
Highs: Fantastic V-8, performance and sound, surprisingly practical, a racetrack missile.
Lows: Poor seats and interior quality, tricky to drive at the limit, a ride that’s choppy on broken pavement.
The Vette is also highly usable. It has the biggest trunk, by some margin, and it’s easy to drive around town, thanks to masses of torque and reasonably good outward visibility (the high liftgate, however, makes reversing tricky). Fuel economy of 12 mpg is hardly going to drive it into Al Gore’s good books, but it was the best here, and we were driving like crazy men most of the time. Okay, make that all the time.
When you get on the throttle, the engine is sensational, emitting a growl under hard acceleration that’s almost as loud and proud as a NASCAR stocker’s. When technical editor Dave VanderWerp was doing his acceleration runs at Papenburg, you could hear the Vette from miles away.
But impressive as it is, the Z06 just isn’t as good as the two others. It might stop from 70 mph in the shortest distance—146 feet—but the brake-pedal feel isn’t as good as the Ferrari’s and Porsche’s. The shifter is a bit crude and requires relatively high effort. The steering has plenty of weight but isn’t very linear and lacks feel.
Around the handling course, light weight works to the Corvette’s benefit, but it is tricky to drive fast, and you had better be able to deal with power oversteer. If you can, it’s a lot of fun. In the wet, with the stability system disengaged, the car is a horror show, understeering on turn-in and snapping into oversteer with power. Correct, hold the attitude on the throttle, and—whoa!—the car snaps back the other way as you straighten, a corollary of the slightly numb steering and vicious torque reaction. At speed on the highway, we didn’t think it was as stable as the other cars here, the way the hood and mirrors flapped around was disconcerting, and the ride was choppy over broken pavement. Hit a bump in the middle of a corner, and you can become a passenger.
Also on the debit side, the interior looks decidedly low rent in this company. Sure, it’s the cheapest car here, so we will cut it some slack, but we’re confident that Z06 buyers would be willing to spend an extra five grand for an interior that has plastics and leather that are comparable with the Porsche’s. And although the seats are comfortable enough over long journeys, they lack lateral support and feel flimsy.
The Verdict: The best Corvette ever and a performance-car bargain for the price.
So the Corvette places last, but being a strong contender in this company is a victory for Chevrolet. Look at it this way: Finishing third in this test is like getting a date with Jessica Simpson rather than Claudia Schiffer or Monica Bellucci.
2006 Chevrolet Corvette Z06
505-hp V-8, 6-speed manual, 3186 lb
Base/as-tested price: $65,690/$70,940
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 3.5 sec
100 mph: 8.3 sec
150 mph: 17.1 sec
1/4 mile: 11.7 @ 123 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 146 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 1.01 g
C/D observed fuel economy: 12 mpg
Second Place: Porsche 911 Turbo
As the test numbers prove, the 911 Turbo is monster fast, flashing through the quarter-mile in 11.7 seconds and hitting 100 mph from rest in just 7.8 seconds. The 0-to-30-mph time is an incredible 1.1 seconds, compared with 1.7 seconds for the two other cars. Midrange performance is equally impressive, the Turbo running 50 to 70 mph in top gear in just 5.4 seconds. It matches the Corvette up to 120 mph, then the Z06 pulls away.
Highs: Blistering performance, incredible refinement, as easy to drive as a VW Beetle.
Lows: Like to wag its tail when you lift off the gas, not as exciting as a 911 GT3.
In real-world driving, midrange torque is even more spectacular. The 911 pulls seamlessly from low revs to crazy speeds in sixth gear—so effortlessly, in fact, that you have to glance sideways at the scenery flashing past to appreciate that you’re going as fast as the speedometer indicates. The impressive acceleration is accompanied by a relatively muted but evocative wail that swells in volume with engine speed but is never as intrusive (or as compelling) as the sound of the Ferrari or Chevy V-8.
At 150 mph on the autobahn, the Turbo is as stable as Mt. Everest and rides beautifully if you keep the dampers in the comfort setting. Switch to the sport setting, and the ride can become jarring, although we set up the car that way when driving hard on back roads because it reduces body roll. Our tester had the Sport Chrono package; pressing its sport button gives more boost and sharpens the throttle response.
Around town, the shifter seems notchier than that of most Porsches, and the lack of clutch-pedal linearity caused everyone who drove it to stall at some point. Against that, this is the easiest car of the three to place, with compact dimensions, good mirrors, and a lack of blind spots. It also has the most comfortable seats of the trio. The Turbo’s interior is nicely wrought, but the center console has way too many small buttons, and the five gauges in front of you can become confusing. Despite the 911’s reputation as a usable supercar, the luggage space is limited: There’s a decent trunk up front, but you have to fold the kid-size rear seats to get more than a couple of medium-size bags on board.
Get onto twisty roads, and the car is impressive rather than exciting. The steering is a paragon, managing to be linear, accurate, full of wriggly feel, and decently weighted. Drive fast, rather than at gonzo speed, and you’re always amazed by the way the car just grips and goes, with no noticeable understeer or oversteer. You’re even more surprised when you start pushing and discover that it remains implacably neutral in most circumstances. The tail will swing wide, however, out of tight second-gear corners under power or if you come off the gas in a hurry mid-turn. Unlike the Corvette, wet pavement doesn’t turn the 911 into a monster. Indeed, the Porsche is composed unless you’re clumsy or very aggressive with the throttle. The braking performance might not match the Corvette’s, but the pedal feel is linear and reassuring in a way the Corvette’s can’t match.
The Verdict: The supreme supercar when conditions underfoot get tricky.
The new Turbo is a mighty fine vehicle, but there’s something lacking. It is incredibly fast and rewarding to drive at almost any speed, thanks to beautifully weighted controls, but it doesn’t get the juices flowing or stir the soul. You are impressed by it, rather than in love with it. It’s a car you can use everyday, rain or shine, in the city or on the open road, but we would rather save 20 grand and buy a 911 GT3, which sounds better and is a purer driving experience.
2007 Porsche 911 turbo
480-hp flat-6, 6-speed manual, 3514 lb
Base/as-tested price: $123,695/$130,265
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 3.4 sec
100 mph: 7.8 sec
150 mph: 19.1 sec
1/4 mile: 11.7 @ 121 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 151 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.97 g
C/D observed fuel economy: 10 mpg
First Place: Ferrari F430
The Ferrari is the most expensive car here, but we’d argue that the extra money is worth it just for the car’s soundtrack, which is amazing. You tend to drive it around town with the windows rolled down just to hear the 4.3-liter V-8’s array of rasps and farts and barks. On the handling track at Papenburg, it sounded like an F1 car from the 1960s, the V-8 howling under power and popping back on the overrun. We reckon fuel consumption suffered because we were always downshifting just to hear the engine at full chat.
Highs: Marvelous engine, paddle shifter, and handling; more soulful than the entire Tamla Motown back catalog.
Lows: F1 shift could be more refined in automatic mode, poor visibility, astronomical price.
Ah, the Ferrari’s F1 transmission. This paddle-shift sequential manual unit is so good that we wonder why anyone chooses the standard manual gearbox. Most of the time, you leave the tranny in manual mode and use the fixed paddles to make instant shifts—left to go down the ratios, right to change up. On the track, the lack of a clutch pedal is a boon because you can use your left foot to brake, thus saving time. In town, it’s also handy because your left foot never gets tired from having to pump the clutch. The automatic mode is a bit clunky but works sufficiently well when you’re not in the mood to move your digits.
Via the steering-wheel-mounted manettino, five different CST (“control, stability and traction”) modes—ice, low grip, sport, race, and CST off—affect shift speed, throttle response, adaptive damping, differential settings, and levels of traction and stability control. “CST off” disables the stability control, whereas race and sport have progressively higher levels of intervention. Race and “CST off” are more firmly damped than sport and shift faster. The manettino tweaks the electronic diff setting, too.
But the F430 isn’t just an engine and transmission looking for a car, which could be said about Ferraris of yore. Like the Porsche, control weights and feel are superb: The steering is a touch light but compensates with its accuracy and feedback, and the brake pedal is solid and linear, allowing you to modulate the powerful ceramic-composite brakes with precision. (The $22,000 option was fitted to this car, but our test numbers came from an F430 with the standard steel brakes.) You expect such a racy, hard-edged car to ride like a Roman chariot, but the F430 is supple on the highway in sport mode, and it tracks down the road with unerring accuracy. While I was white-knuckling my way to an indicated 207 mph in the Corvette, VanderWerp was relaxed and at ease while maxing the Ferrari to 186. And although the engine is happy to be revved to eight grand, it also pulls from as low as 2000 rpm without hesitation.
On the track, the F430 was the slowest of our group but the most fun to drive. (If it had had the Pirelli P Zero Corsa race tires that Schumann fitted after our test, it likely would have been faster.) The F430 has the most entertaining and predictable chassis of the three, with mild understeer on turn-in, a neutral demeanor mid-turn as you apply the power, and power oversteer on corner exits. But thanks to a more predictable throttle and more accurate, lively steering, the oversteer is progressive and easily controlled, unlike the Corvette’s. With its beautifully balanced chassis, instant shifts, rabid soundtrack, and stunning brakes, the F430 is a riot on the track and makes you feel like Schuey for an hour or two.
The car does have its downsides—but not many. The beautifully sculpted rear haunches that mimic the Le Mans-winning 250LM race car look great in the rearview mirrors but make reversing a royal pain, and the rear pillars create massive blind spots. The seats lack lumbar support, and their thin padding and firm thigh bolstering caused VanderWerp discomfort on a long haul. The navigation system, even without the added complication of being in German, is adequate but doesn’t provide a map, as do the two other cars.
But you tend to forgive the F430 for any faults. It has the best-looking interior of the three, a simple yet ergonomically effective layout that has just the right amount of spot-on race-car cues, such as the carbon-fiber center console and the anodized manettino switch. It is also practical, the spacious front trunk being augmented by an area behind the seats that will accept a set of golf clubs.
You could argue that the Porsche is the more complete car or that the Corvette should win because of its enormous value for the dollar, but—bank account willing—this is the car we would take out of this trio. It is an astonishing achievement for such a small automaker, because as well as providing so much excitement and entertainment, it is also a perfectly good daily driver. The mere existence of this car brings us to question why you would want (or need) a Bugatti Veyron or a Porsche Carrera GT, or even a Ferrari 599GTB. It is that good.
The Verdict: The best sports car in the world, and the most charismatic.
2006 Ferrari F430
483-hp V-8, 6-speed auto-manual, 3344 lb
Base/as-tested price: $174,535/$192,545
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 4.1 sec
100 mph: 9.4 sec
150 mph: 23.8 sec
1/4 mile: 11.7 @ 121 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 162 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.97 g
C/D observed fuel economy: 11 mpg
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