Wednesday, May 26, 2010
A Perfect Porsche, Philosophically Speaking
MAY 15, 2010
A Perfect Porsche, Philosophically Speaking
A face-crunching, 500-horsepower jaunt in the new Turbo 911 Cabriolet: 'I shouldn't be driving like this'
Screaming into a top-down tornado at 130 mph in the Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet, I am reminded—as I'm sure most people are—of Thomas Aquinas.
To wit: When is a thing perfect, complete, finished—when does Porsche drop the paint brush and walk away from the canvas? When will one more stroke diminish the whole?
The medieval philosopher, riffing on Aristotle, argued that a thing is perfect when it lacks nothing (the Greek "teleos," or completeness, approximates the Latin "perfectio") and that it ultimately attains its purpose.
Well, man, if this car isn't there I'll eat my skullcap. Let's count it out: 500 hp; 0-60 mph in a forebrain-flattening 3.3 seconds; top speed of 194 mph; a nice even 1 g of lateral grip; all-wheel drive. Throw in a great canvas top and 24 miles per gallon fuel efficiency, and an exhaust note that sounds like the Kraken gargling 50-year-old Glenfiddich, and it begins to appear as if the long history of the Porsche 911 has to come to some sort of immense, satisfying conclusion. I mean, even if you regard this thing as merely a bald-spot delivery system for rich dudes, it does that mission so exceeding well. Aren't we flirting with the best of all possible sports cars here?
Yes, obviously, a car could always be better. The Turbo Cab could cost $19.95, come with 73 virgins, use the owner's smugness as a propellent. From its lethal-looking dual exhaust pipes, the Turbo Cab might emit only rainbows and unicorns.
And this is not, in fact, the fastest 911 out there. Porsche just announced that its 911 GT2 RS (620 hp, 205 mph) just lapped Germany's Nurburgring track in 7:18. But I've driven an RS and it's like playing ice hockey with angry Klingons—simply and summarily brutal.
What's memorable, and deeply anomalous, about the 911 Turbo Cab is that its default mode is so peaceable and tranquil: just big rolling swells of alpha waves and harmonious endorphins. When you start the car, the exhaust system is corked—which is to say, a sound-limiting valve is switched on in the exhaust plumbing. The adaptive suspension is set on N for, I guess, "Nice." The Automatic mode in the optional seven-speed PDK (double-clutch, paddle-shifted manual transmission) changes ratios so sweetly, so imperceptibly, you might think it just has one big magical, mithril cog in the transaxle.
Thus configured, and motoring at 60 mph through a Southern twilight on fresh asphalt with the top down, fireflies vectoring past the windshield like warp stars, the 911 Turbo Cab is effortless and euphoric. It ought to be a DEA Schedule I controlled substance.
It's not like last year's model was a dud. But Porsche has yet raised the 911's game again, with a new 3.8-liter direct-injection turbocharged engine that produces 500 hp and a maximum 516 pound-feet or torque, while returning fuel 13 percent better fuel efficiency than the previous model. We should all be so dedicated to self-improvement.
The 500-hp, 194-mph Porsche Turbo Cabriolet (convertible, if you like) is one of the three or four fastest open-air cars in the world. Drivers are cautioned not let their tongues hang out lest they become entangled like Isadora Duncan's scarf.
Sort of Subdued
The 911 Turbo Cab offers hypercar performance in a much stealthier frame. Unlike a Lambo or Ferrari, you can drive this thing around town without looking like a candidate for MTV's "Tool Academy."
But then you start adjusting things. You slap the shift lever over to the left, into the PDK's manual mode gate. Now the gearshifts are controlled at the steering-wheel mounted shift paddles. The shifts come harder and more abruptly now, and when you floor it you better be ready to upshift like, now! or you'll hit the rev limiter. The sensation is like being snatched to a stop in a high-speed elevator.
Then you press the Sport Plus button on the center console. This does many things, none of them particularly soothing. The exhaust system uncorks; the suspension stiffens. In cars equipped with the so-called Sport Chrono package, you have access to Launch Control and an overboost function, in which the variable-pitch twin-turbo, 3.8-liter flat-six kicks out even more insane torque. Oops, now you've done it. You've made the car angry.
The resulting machine is exactly the soul-chewing, face-pulling monster you'd expect of a new Porsche Turbo: fitful and furious, hyperkinetic, breathtakingly responsive, with big, whopping, molten sounds on trailing throttle, the sort of aural elementalism exhibited by Icelandic volcanos. To achieve maximum launch velocity from a dead stop, put your left foot on the brake and your right on the gas, then hold the engine revs to a ghastly, horrifying 6,500 rpm. Let go of the brake. The Launch Control system does the rest. That flavor on the back of your tongue is your lower GI tract.
Stay in the throttle and shift just before redline and you'll be rewarded with a booming turbo report as the car's computers summon an overboost of power. WHOOP! Bang! This thing will put a generation of chiropractors back to work.
In this set-to-kill mode, the car's computerized traction and stability systems are dialed way back so it's completely possible—indeed, pretty easy—to pitch the rear end around under hard braking, or power-slide around a corner, hammering and yammering the redline. Here comes another second-gear corner. Breathe off the throttle to transfer weight to the front of the car. Point toward the corner apex. Hook that marlin! Squeeze the throttle, crank in some countersteering, and look for the horizon.
Oh my. I think I need a moment alone.
At no point, however, should you count yourself a driving genius. Between the car's rear-biased, torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system—sluicing engine power around precisely to accommodate the driver's steering inputs—and the car's other evolved driver-assist systems, the Porsche Turbo cuts more slack than the Department of Interior's Minerals Management Service.
Oh, and brakes. Our test car came equipped with the $8,840 carbon ceramic brakes. Has anybody seen my retinas?
As I said, all of this is exactly what you might expect of the Porsche Turbo. But cabriolets are inherently compromised as compared to their coupe siblings, aren't they? Indeed, the Cabrio is exactly one-tenth of a second slower to 60 mph than the Coupe. It's a compromise I'll accept. This is still a massively capable sports car—deadly fast, hugely entertaining, harder than Superman's handshake.
Here's the thing about engineering, and this car is all about engineering: A machine is never finished, never fully optimized. Engineers subscribe not to Aquinas but Augustine. No machine is ever perfect except when it marches toward perfectibility. In the 35-year history of the Porsche Turbo, the damn thing keeps getting better. Thus this year's model comes with a new direct-injection flat-six, serving the contradictory demands of more power and better fuel efficiency (20 hp and 11 more torques than the previous powerplant, with 13 percent better fuel economy). The car is yet still faster, quicker, more aggressive and more refined.
Yes, sure, I shouldn't be driving like this. I know I'm consuming more fossil fuel than I ought to. It reminds me of some other words by Augustine:
"Lord, make me chaste, but not yet."