2021 Porsche 911 Turbo S First Drive: Better Than Ever

“So, whaddaya think?” Jonny Lieberman asked with his arms folded, head tilted back and to the left, as Jonny does. He had just driven the 992-generation 2021 Porsche 911 Turbo S to our photo location on L.A. ‘s favorite twisty bit, Angeles Crest Highway. He lives a few miles from the base of the hill, so he knows this stretch of road by heart.

“Unreal! How did they do that? It’s a blend of what the 991.2 Turbo S was and a GT3 RS,” I said. “It’s sharp, delicate, precise, talkative, but bloody fast, too. I wasn’t expecting this at all. This is a driver’s car.”

“Yeah,” Jonny said. “This car is definitely headed to MotorTrend’s 2020 Best Driver’s Car.”

PC: motortrend.com

What was I expecting? I had just blasted up ACH and arrived at that turnout in a 992 Carrera 4S, grinning and giggling the whole way up. That version of the 911 has a fluidity and sense of it always being there for you. A lovely driving partner, cornering as fast as you dare, and able to build and shed speed with confidence. The C4S and Turbo S both come armed with carbon-ceramic brakes, rear-steering axles (optional on the Carrera), and all-wheel drive, but that’s where the similarities end.

Climbing into the Turbo S, I was expecting that same C4S hand-in-glove experience. But with 200 more horsepower (197, if you want to get technical about it), the Turbo provides an added urgency that simply erases straightaways. But there’s so much more to a Turbo S than mere squirt-between-corners acceleration. It’s as if during its development, the Turbo spent time with the team in Flacht before being released into the wild.

Flacht, for those who don’t know, is the state-of-the-art motorsport complex adjacent to the main Porsche development center in Weissach, Germany. It’s where every Porsche race car is born, and also where the hardcore, lightweight, track-intended versions of the 911, the GT2 RS and GT3 RS, are born.

My instincts turned out to be correct. Frank-Steffen Walliser, who was responsible for GT racing at Porsche, became head of the 911 and 718 model lines in 2019. In an interview, Walliser explained the balancing act and ultimate priority of the 911 Turbo: “Day-to-day usability, for sure. This quality distinguishes the 911 Turbo from all other high-performance sports cars. At the same time—and this was the second development goal—it has to render you speechless from time to time.”

Mission accomplished, Herr Doktor Walliser.

PC: motortrend.com

What’s The Porsche 911 Turbo S Like To Drive?

Sitting behind the wheel of the all-new 911 Turbo S, there’s no way to suspect what potentialities lay ahead. Aside from the animated “Turbo S” greeting in the center ring of the familiar five-ring instrument cluster (two of which are obscured, in a rare Porsche gaffe), it’s “just” a 911.

There’s the same Sport/Chrono clock/timer atop the dash, same sharp and responsive touchscreen interface with its handy thumb perch (carbon fiber, in this case), same silly little stub of a shifter.

Twist the starter, located to the left of the steering wheel #Because911, and vroOOmmm. “Well, that does sound pretty purposeful,” I thought—especially through the newly optional sport exhaust system ($3,490). After selecting Sport Plus and pulling back on the shifter (that always feels to me like dislocating somebody’s thumb), I looked both ways, eased onto the highway ahead, and nailed it.

PC: motortrend.com

How Fast Is The Porsche 911 Turbo S?

My brain was still back at the turnout when I arrived at the first corner a thousand feet down the road. David Byrne spoke to me. “Well, how did I get here?” Indeed, speechless. Besides the explosive and uncharacteristically linear power, it’s thrilling to finally hear the turbos in the Turbo—hissing in fury as the wastegates dump the compressed air it cannot use with that wonderful, racy woochz-ch-ch-ch.

It doesn’t hurt that there’s 590 lb-ft of torque available between 2,500 and 4,000 rpm, and there are no longer overboost conditions required to get a full serving of it. The utter lack of turbo lag, according to Walliser, is due to “wastegate control, charge-air cooling, turbocharger dimensioning, and VTG [Porsche’s unique] variable turbine geometry.” Porsche has also made the exhaust plumbing symmetrical, so the twin turbos now spin in opposite directions.

No, this is no ordinary Turbo in the sense it once was. It’s alive like a GT car, and as with those, respect needs to be paid. It’s the type of acceleration that forces a driver to keep his eyes up, have a plan, and to drive with commitment because before you know it, you’re there.

Expecting a typically firm/short Porsche ceramic brake pedal, I discovered a much softer/longer one that I quickly learned makes it far easier to detect impending ABS intervention and avoid it. A corner later, I could reach threshold braking precisely and repeatedly and modulate it without guessing where or when it would occur. Nice.

PC: motortrend.com

I also wasn’t expecting such a friction-free steering system—which I always prefer to heavy. This particular car was also optioned with Power Steering Plus ($280), which uses software to reduce steering effort at lower speeds, and I could feel every ripple or crack in the pavement through my fingertips. Delightful and precise as ever. I never sensed the rear-steer effects. The car feels nimble and alert.

I could also sense the front tires’ grip building and fading, and how the steering gets light when the weight shifted to the rear—just like the first time I drove a 911 nearly 30 years ago, before power steering, much less electric-assisted power steering. “They’ve nailed it!” I thought. Clearly, there’s ample institutional memory and pride at Porsche when it comes to steering.

And the grip, my word, does it have grip with its staggered but “mere” Pirelli P Zero NA1 tires (that suffix means purpose-built for Porsche), 255/3520 93Y up front and 315/30R21 105Y out back. I rarely saw the stability-control or traction-control telltale blink in the instrument panel despite traveling what must have been (remember, “eyes up”) a +20-mph delta in the same corners as I had just driven in the Carrera 4S.

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