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Driving the '03 Porsche 911 Twin Turbo

...and it's an automatic!

by Julian Edgar, pics courtesy QSM

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This article was first published in 2006.
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One hundred and ninety nine thousand Australian dollars. 2003 model Porsche 911 Turbo. 309 kilowatts. Nought to one hundred in 4.8 seconds. Then... reach forward and take the keys...

You could say that the ’03 Porsche 911 Turbo isn’t slow.

But such a description would in no way convey the massive wall of torque that at any revs over 2000 rpm can fling you - and the 1630kg you’re sitting in - down the road.

The 911 also grips alright.

In fact, the all-wheel drive grip is so prodigious that at times it seems endless – a myth the subtlety of the electronic stability control system serves to facilitate.

And the Porsche rides pretty low... in fact low enough that on bumpy country bitumen roads taken at speed you can put some major scrapes on the front lower rubber spoiler. As we found out....aaaagh!

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The 911 Turbo uses a dry-sumped, 3.6 litre twin turbo, water cooled, twin intercooled engine to develop its 309kW at 6000 rpm. The turbos are arranged one per bank and aren’t sequential – a failing that Porsche engineering cannot hide. For even with the auto trans fitted to this car, it was always clear that time had to be given for the turbos to initially spool-up. Yes, even with the high 9.4:1 compression ratio. But when the 0.8 Bar max turbo boost arrives, well, then there’s plenty of torque. Like 560Nm from 2700 – 4600 rpm... lots and lots of torque.

The engine also uses variable valve timing and lift – VarioCam in Porsche speak – and has niceties like Nikasil coated cylinder bores. But despite its enormous power, for us the sequential twin turbo VVTi Toyota Supra engine is still the best six cylinder turbo we’ve ever driven. No it isn’t nearly as fast as the Porsche but the way the Toyota turbo system works is simply second to none.

A Porsche twin turbo with an automatic trans. Perhaps that’s the classic oxymoron – but we can tell you it sure isn’t when you flick the steering wheel tiptronic down-change button, watch the revs flash up the dial, turn-in and squeeze the throttle as the huge Bridgestones get down and grip the road in a love-struck embrace. Not having a manual gearbox means there’s simply one less thing to worry about when your senses are full of speed, blurred scenery, steering wheel feedback and familiar roads that have suddenly become telescoped in time...

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But for all the electro-trickery in the auto trans control (it won’t change-up mid-corner, can be triggered into dropping a gear or two with throttle stabs when coming up to a corner, and reads your driving stye), we didn’t like it for one simple reason. And that is, the gear lever has no facility for making manual up- or down-changes. The best approach (and one now adopted in dozens of cars) is where you push the lever across to one side to enable a manual mode, pull back or push forward to change gears, and can then immediately revert to auto mode by moving the gear lever back laterally. The Porsche doesn’t let you do that. Yes, you could get to like the steering wheel-only buttons (but only if you don’t move your hands much on the wheel!) but in the time we had the car, we didn’t get used to the system.

The four wheel drive system works brilliantly. Or, more precisely since we didn’t turn the stability control system off, works brilliantly with the standard Porsche Stability Management. Drive torque is heavily directed rearwards – although at least 5 per cent of the torque always reaches the front wheels, rising to as high as 40 per cent in extreme situations. When compared on paper with the best all-wheel drive systems, the viscous coupled design is pretty simple – there’s no active directing of torque fore/aft, let alone laterally. But despite that, this is a car with immense driving grip. Throw the Porsche hard around a tight S-bend and the flashing dashboard light will indicate the electronics are in action but the affect is progressive and totally in keeping with the driver’s wishes.

You’d have to be going insanely fast, or be an absolutely brilliant driver (or, we guess, both!) to want to switch off the stability control system when driving on the road.

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Of course much of the immense grip comes from the tyre/wheel combination. The 911 Turbo uses hollow-spoked 18 x 8 inch front rims and simply massive 18 x 11 inch rears. Tyres are equally huge – 225/40 on the front and 295/30 on the rear. As you’d expect, brakes are right up to size, with four piston monobloc calipers front and rear, all gripping internally vented and cross-drilled discs.

Ride comfort is a mixed bag – around town the ultra low profile tyres let through lots of bump thump, but when real bumps are thrown at the Porsche, it simply shrugs them off. Even on our home run tough secondary bitumen – roads that demand a lot in suspension travel and damping – the 911 turbo was nonchalantly at ease.

Noise? Yep, lots. It’s fun when you’re giving it a big squirt but could become annoying on a long freeway trip.

Equipment level on the test car was excellent: integrated sat nav (and a very easy system to use, too), Bose sound system, trip computer, memory electric seats and steel sunroof.

The ’03 Porsche 911 Turbo is an incredibly quick car, both in a straight line and around corners. And in auto trans form, it’s about a user-friendly a super car as you’ll find. But it’s also a car with some failings – simpler auto trans control would be an improvement and on any road car, sequential twin turbos will always be better than a parallel turbos.

But the bottom line is this: we’ve never driven a car that’s faster in acceleration or point to point.

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Contact: www.qsm.com.au Thanks to Gold Coast exotic car specialist QSM for making this car available.

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