The 911's turbo power crushes time and space

After a soggy start, the sheer force of this roadster crushes time and space. But, asks John Simister, what is the point of all that savagery if you can't enjoy it?

Price: £97,840. On sale now
Engine: Rear-mounted, 3,600cc, flat-six cylinders, 24 valves, two turbochargers, 480bhp at 6,000rpm, 457lb ft at 1,950-5,000rpm
Transmission: six-speed gearbox, four-wheel drive
Performance: 192mph (limited), 0-62 in 3.9sec, 22.1mpg official average
CO2: 307g/km

It's a great day to be alive. Because today I get to drive a Porsche 911 Turbo, and realisations of fantasies don't come much more vivid than that. Yes, I know this car epitomises excess and ungreen transport naughtiness, but I'm still a human being with a natural desire for pleasure, excitement and stimulation.

Besides, the 911 has long been the sensible supercar. It's smaller, particularly in width, than a Ferrari, so it fits better on narrow roads. It's easy to see out of, and practical enough to use every day. It makes a unique sound, and fitted with a turbocharger it becomes sensationally rapid.

For a car of its pace potential, it isn't even especially thirsty. Not like a Ferrari. And as a means of converting fuel into motion it's very efficient indeed - a top speed of 192mph, heaven help us. You might find a German autobahn on which to discover this, but rather than being an end in itself it's more the result of an engine with the torque and power to cope with very long-legged gearing in sixth gear - and, consequently, very relaxed cruising ability.

The 911 Turbo can reach 62mph (100kph) from a standstill in 3.9 seconds, squashing you hard into your seat. The take-off is astounding, a coiled spring unleashed as the heavy tail - this is that strange creature, a rear-engined car as now made only by Porsche - presses the fat rear tyres into the ground to defy the forces of wheelspin. You can reach a fraction under 100mph, in 8.4 seconds, which is hard to imagine until you have experienced it. If you have your 911 Turbo with the Tiptronic automatic transmission, which has five gears instead of the manual's six, it will reach these speeds even more rapidly.

So you can see why I'm excited with the prospect of all this pace-focused engineering. Am I a little scared, too? The original 911 Turbo, launched in the mid-1970s not long after the energy crisis, was legendarily a handful. It combined the pause-and-whoosh power characteristics of a hard-to-manage early turbo car with the tail-happy, heart-in-mouth handling of a typical old-style 911 to make a treacherous combination for the easily frightened.

Things have come a long way since then, and for the past decade or so the 911 Turbo has had four-wheel drive to distribute those awesome forces better. Now that this latest one achieves 480bhp from its 3.6 litres, plus an epic 457lb ft of torque all the way from 1,950 to 5,000rpm (or up to 501lb ft with the "overboost" function of the Sport Chrono option pack), it's a good thing that the four-wheel drive system has become very sophisticated. It constantly alters the distribution of torque front-to-rear and between the rear wheels to keep that heavy tail under control.

So, here it is, the ultimate 911 on my drive. It doesn't look at all flashy, actually, in its dark and demure metallic blue. The wheels are wide, there are Porsche Boxster-like air intakes just ahead of the rear wheels, and the nose has abundant air orifices of a sort not seen on a regular 911.

Inside, the aura is similarly restrained, especially in this test car's black decor. I start the engine and there's still the familiarly metallic flat-six whirr, even though 911s are watercooled nowadays and don't have a giant fan on top of the engine. In fact the only common ground between this 911 and an original Turbo is the fact that it has a rear-mounted flat-six motor and a rounded body with a sloping tail. Everything else changed 10 years ago when the entire 911 line got a remake.

We're off, and fireworks will surely commence. But do you know what? This 911 feels distinctly soggy under my accelerator foot. When I'm bumbling along at legal-ish speeds, there's a very noticeable delay between pressing the pedal and feeling the acceleration gush forth. That's right, despite its new pair of Borg-Warner variable-geometry turbochargers, designed to improve response from low speeds and used for the first time in a petrol (as opposed to a diesel) engine, the 911 Turbo has turbo lag.

Press the accelerator harder and, after that pause, the 911 Turbo does indeed compress time and space. It overtakes with savage single-mindedness, and it's interesting to change down to third gear at 70mph, squeeze the pedal and feel how staggeringly far ahead of legal strictures I could be if I let the force run its course.

But I don't do it. My licence is too precious. And that is the biggest problem with the Porsche 911 Turbo: driving it is more frustration than pleasure, because you daren't use its capabilities, and instead are left only to focus on its irritations. Which are several: that torpidity when ambling, road roar from those big tyres, a fidgety ride, a feeling that you'd be having a better, more interactive, more involving, more comfortable drive in a regular 911 or even a cheaper Cayman S.

The Porsche 911 Turbo is a remarkable piece of engineering. Its bombastic pace when roused, its ability to counter the dynamic snags inherent in its rear-engine layout, both are amazing achievements. Sad to say, though, it's very hard to enjoy its abilities in the modern world. And I wouldn't want to pay £97,840 just to feel frustrated.

The rivals

Ferrari F430 £122,775

There's more sense of occasion more of the time with the fabulous-sounding, exotically built Ferrari, and pleasure at any speed. Feels too wide at times.

Jaguar XK/R £67,495

Save a massive £30,000 over the Porsche, sacrifice little pace and enjoy every drive all of the time. New supercharged XK/R is the bargain supercar.

Lamborghini Gallardo £121,000

A mid-engined two-seater like the F430, but with a potent V10 instead of a screaming V8 plus crisp, clean looks. The most usable Lamborghini ever.

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