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Supercars that make sense: 911 Turbo S

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh  January 26, 2011 05:05 PM

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(All photos: Phil Atiyeh for Boston.com)


One in a three-part tour of the Porsche 911 Turbo S, Chevrolet Corvette ZR1, and Ferrari 458 Italia.

Only one of these three-character nameplates — 911, 458, ZR1 — is iconic by itself. Ferrari's 458 is but a year old, and refers to the engine's 4.5-liter displacement and eight cylinders. The ZR1 is a '90s child. Then as now, it was the fastest, most technologically advanced Corvette ever made, but was named like an option package on the average Chevy. Although nothing more than a company project number, the 911 — originally 901, before Peugeot complained that Porsche infringed on its middle zeros — has lasted 47 years.

In essence, the 911 has always been a highly refined version of the company's first sports car, the 356, itself a modified Volkswagen Beetle. Hence the rear-engine layout, dramatic curved tail, and flat crankcase motors. Up until 1998, when Porsche switched to modern water cooling, most 911s sounded like lawnmowers, with rough idles and rattling revs. Just like Mexico City's yellow cab, the Beetle.

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To mere outsiders, our black Turbo S is just another 911. Yet it's clear, from the widened rear fenders, 19-inch center-lock rims, oversize exhaust outlets, and two-piece spoiler, that this conservative design is concealing something wicked. And under the dinky hatch, there it is. While looking nothing at all like Ferrari's glass-enclosed sculpture of a V-8, this twin-turbo flat-six spools up 530 horsepower from just 3.8 liters. Active mounts keep the motor stable as a 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox contains the backdraft, forcing all 516 lb.-ft. of torque through the all-wheel-drive and super-sticky Bridgestone Potenzas.

The Turbo is controlled terror. Engage Sport Plus on the console, left foot on the brake, right foot to the floor. Revs surge to 5,000, "Launch Control" illuminates on the wheel, and release. In a few blinks and a smidge of wheelspin, you've engaged three gears on course to 195 mph. (Don't try this on I-95).

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Clifford Atiyeh finds Launch Control in the owner's manual, which turns the Turbo into a drag racer.


Of the three cars, the Turbo has the best steering feel; it's not as precise as the Ferrari's, but its hefty, natural weighting is most reassuring as speed builds. There's no roll whatsoever, and traction feels infinite. You could drive a Turbo daily — it's got the most luxury, space (hey, two back seats for the kids!), and refined powertrain of any supercar. But the rock-hard suspension can't absorb bumps. Even in "Normal" mode, it's knocking the wheel from your grip over rough surfaces, and can't match the balance and comfort of the magnetic shocks in the Ferrari and Corvette.

Pity. It needs a house off a runway, instead.

Leveling with the modern supercar
Part 2: Chevrolet Corvette ZR1


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The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee
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