2021 Porsche 911 Turbo S Review: A Champion Emerges in the Best 911 Yet
"Turbo" means "fast" now in Porsche-world. And for now, this is the best 911 you can get.
You don't need to hear a teenager speak to grasp that language is a malleable, living thing. Words come, words go, their meanings shifting with the sands of time as reliably as any other form of human development. But you wouldn't know it from the way the people would rend their garments when Porsche decided to slap its vaunted Turbo name—which until recently meant here is the 911 with the turbos—on the electric Taycan sedan, a car that definitely does not have a turbo. The horror!
I'll leave the analysis of forced lexical changes to the scholars among us. What's important for us to remember is that Porsche set the stage for this kind of wordplay back in 2015 when it finally made turbocharged flat-six engines standard across almost all of the 911 lineup. A higher interpretation is in order, then. If almost all of them have a turbo now, what does it mean when you set one aside and say this, this is the 2021 Porsche 911 Turbo (S)?
Easy. It's quick, and it's fast. Extremely fast, in fact, on highly technical roads where perhaps seven or eight other production cars on the planet could keep up right now. And while not even close to "cheap," it's fast enough to obliterate cars that cost well into the seven-figure range.
That's Porsche's new definition of Turbo: devastating speed, preternatural stability. "Turbo," the way normal, non-car people may use the word. And because nailing a Vmax of 205 mph with the laser-guided precision expected of a 911 these days requires more than just cranking up the boost, Porsche used the launch of the 992-generation car to upgrade this land rocket in nearly every conceivable way.
This new base 911 Weissach's working with is already fantastic, a fresh platform with a wider rear track that itself is just an inch off the last Turbo. Enhancements like standard Porsche Active Suspension Management and staggered wheel sizes have trickled down to set an extremely high bar for entry-level performance. It stands to reason the recipe for the 911 Turbo S is simply more. More horsepower. More grip. More brakes. More rubber. More aero. More hips. But the real magic is turning all those gains into a cohesive experience that feels at once familiar and a world away from the car on which it's based. Has Porsche succeeded? Good Lord, of course it has.
The 2020 Porsche 911 Turbo S, By the Numbers
- Base Price (as Tested): $204,850 ($224,000)
- Powertrain: 3.7-liter twin-turbo flat-six | 8-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission | all-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 640 hp @ 6,750 rpm
- Torque: 590 lb-ft @ 2,500-4,000 rpm
- Curb Weight: 3,636 pounds
- 0-60 mph: 2.6 seconds
- Top Speed: 205 mph
- Quick Take: The best 911 yet.
The Widowmaker's New Groove
Speaking of language, it's de rigueur to bring up that they used to call this thing the Widowmaker. And as funny as it is to imagine Car Men sagely intoning about the original Porsche 911 Turbo ripping families apart in the 1970s and '80s, the 930 was in fact a dangerous machine in the wrong hands. Any car is, of course, but the rear-engined Turbo gave many drivers their first taste of snap oversteer with its barely-civilized powertrain whose single furious snail was adapted from the famous 917 Can Am race car. Turbo lag was everywhere, and when the 930 finally got on boost, it did so with violence.
With each successive generation, though, the 911 Turbo got faster and better, but its jagged edges were smoothed down with the eventual addition of things like all-wheel drive, rear-wheel steering, a DCT, variable geometry twin-turbo technology and active suspension management—not to mention Porsche's obsessive quest to perfect the flat-six boxer engine. If fast has always been the hallmark, then the real story of the nameplate's development is one of iterative brilliance in every other area.
Look at it this way. In 2020, the 992 Turbo S's 205 mph top speed is "only" an 8 percent improvement on the 189-mph mark set by the 996 Turbo two decades ago. But the rest of the car? Magnitudes better. We're on another level now.
The ceaseless march of performance progress on display here actually starts with a tiny retreat. The 2021 911 Turbo S's 3.7-liter flat-six is actually a hair smaller than the 3.8-liter boxer in the last Turbo, the difference being a slightly shorter stroke. But it's not a carryover block unlike in the past. Building off the current 992-generation engine family, this was another chance for Porsche's finest engineers to do what they do best: obsessively tinker in the margins to find new limits for an established form.
Six-hundred horsepower in a 911 used to be the realm of the GT cars, racing machines built for the street. Not anymore. The new 911 Turbo S spits out 640 horsepower and 590 pound-feet of torque. Jumps of 60 hp and 37 lb-ft from the prior generation come in large part from a redesigned symmetrical twin-turbo setup jamming 22 pounds of boost into the engine. Those variable-geometry turbos spin up so incredibly fast—lag is as non-existent as I've ever felt—and are fed by a redesigned, flowier intake system with larger intercoolers mounted directly behind the block to better chill the forced air.
Combine all that with other first-time tweaks like piezo injectors, electronic wastegate flaps, an exhaust manifold drawn from the last-gen 911 GT2 RS and you get...well, you get one hell of an engine. An engine that is, dare I say it, far better served by the eight-speed PDK gearbox it's connected to than the manual transmission for which some will inevitably clamor. The dual-clutch is your sole option, though calling it standard issue is a bit of a misnomer since Porsche added Turbo-specific components like reinforced gear sets and two extra clutch plates.
Complaining about a PDK is like whining that a Michelin restaurant doesn't serve your favorite food, chicken tenders. Hey, I know. I love me some tendies too. Could eat 'em at every meal. But just shut up and experience something, would you?
Its bullet-train-on-rails handling comes via an all-wheel drive system that can send up to 62 percent of the engine's power to the front axle, Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control, Porsche Active Suspension Management, 255/35 R20 front and 315/30 R21 rear Pirelli P Zero PZ4s, and active aero with 15 percent more downforce than before. That standard kit can be augmented with a PASM Sport option that lowers the ride height by 0.39 inches and rear-wheel steering to better shift those wider (+1.8 inches) hips. Staying planted in a curve is especially important given the 992 Turbo S weighs 3,636 pounds, though a lightweight package that saves another 70 by ditching the rear seats among other things is coming.
If acceleration is the ichor of performance, then the Turbo S is among the gods of this waning era. Porsche's stated 0-60 mph figure of 2.6 seconds is absolutely an understatement. It's more like 2.3 seconds, something the car can do easily again and again thanks to a dead-simple launch control set up (jam the brake, jam the throttle, release the brake). I used the built-in timer to record a highly inexact mark of 2.4 seconds, but Porsche is known for extremely conservative times, so I feel confident in making that claim.
I didn't get a chance to put the company's 10.5-second quarter-mile time to the test, but believe me when I say it could do it in the nines with fresh tires on a real drag strip.
2021 Porsche 911 Turbo S: The Drive
More than any number, what immediately impresses when you bury the throttle in the 2021 Porsche 911 Turbo S is just how easy it all feels. There's a complex raft of systems making it so, of course, but it's still mind-boggling how you can carry a good 30-40 mph more speed than is advisable into a corner without realizing it and still come out the other side looking clean. The car is almost unnervingly stable, a big, heavy technocrat of a Porsche that's always a few steps ahead of you.
It's usually impolite to discuss such things in a review, but I gotta come clean: I am shocked that no one testing the Turbo S around Los Angeles earlier this year was arrested for speeding. No car I've driven makes blows past the misdemeanor mark with such surefooted ease that you'd swear you were doing half that speed were it not for the number stamped on the police report. I myself had to clamp hard on the brakes to avoid a speed trap on a downhill stretch of CA-2, where I suddenly realized I was standing out amid a 90-mph traffic flow. (Everyone is speeding these days.) The Euro-plated Guards Red car everyone shared is probably on some sort of watch list now.
This is not to glorify or boast, but to warn—the new danger of the 911 Turbo S lies in just how damn quick it is. It accelerates like few other internal combustion cars can, the combination of that magic PDK and the variable geometry turbos producing absolutely linear thrust. There is no lag, no hesitation, no blips. Its pace is nigh-uninterrupted en route to triple digits.
Now, every performance car has a high top speed these days. But push most of them to the mid-100s and compromises that make them livable day-to-day—numb steering or a middle-ground suspension—start to rear their heads. You know when it's really starting to try. You can tell that it has enough power to hit 185, but you don't get the sense it's an especially safe play, even in a place where it's legal like the Autobahn.
Meanwhile, the 911 Turbo S feels entirely capable of 205 mph, and like it's only getting started at half that speed. There is no tangible difference in any part of the driving experience between 60 and 100 other than how slowly other cars seem to be going. Steering, stability, ride quality—all the same. The only other car I've driven that pulls off that trick is the $3 million Bugatti Chiron, which really is just warming up at 120 mph, as test pilot Andy Wallace described to us earlier this year. When you think about it like that, the $205,000 Turbo S is a bargain.
In a car that can punch this hard this easily, there's a risk of having everything else seem secondary to that. The discipline required for engineering perfection—German engineering perfection—can make for an ascetic pursuit. Thankfully the 911 Turbo S is wholly engaging, with precise steering that beckons you to find the racing line of every apex and a hilariously flat suspension that makes doing seem the most natural thing in the world. Even slowing down is fun, as the standard carbon-ceramic rotors with 10-piston calipers up front are aided by the movable rear wing doubling as an air brake.
And I'll come back to this: the PDK dual-clutch is truly what it needs, because neither you nor I have the talent to wrangle a manual shifter at the speeds the 911 Turbo S can hold. It's just a fact. It's great in automatic mode, but those paddle shifters are a sublime experience when you opt for manual control. The transmission reacts so quickly to inputs that it feels like an extension of your nervous system, firing in tandem with the command traveling from your brain to your fingertip. And if rising gear counts stress you out, know that seventh and eighth are for highway fuel economy. Top speed is reached in sixth, making this effectively a classic six-speed if your wallet can take the hit at the pump.
On that note, performance isn't the only thing you're paying for. From a company that's notorious for making everything an option, the Turbo S pretty loaded out of the gate: PDCC, PASM, the Sport Chrono package, heated 18-way power seats, a full leather interior, the GT Sport steering wheel, a 10.9-inch Porsche Communication Management infotainment screen with Apple CarPlay, a 12-speaker Bose sound system and Park Assist are all standard. Admittedly, you still have to pony up extra for safety aids like adaptive cruise control that are built into much cheaper cars.
You're also paying for what I think is always one of the best-looking 911s of its generation. Between those wide rear hips, accentuated by the telltale intakes and the perfectly proportional wing, the Turbo S nails the visual balance between serious machine and approachable fun. Just don't forget to order the new Sport Exhaust option, which add fat oval tailpipes that really bring the room together.
The Best 911 Yet
A wise man recently told me that every car is a compromise, simply by virtue of surviving its development process. It's a useful working philosophy when it comes to judging a car of this caliber. There aren't any faults, really—what there are decisions made to sacrifice one thing in pursuit of another in certain areas. To wit, the suspension is extremely stiff, to the point of hopping over expansion joints on the freeway. It's not uncomfortable around town, because Porsche is smart enough to use great adaptive dampers, but sure-footedness is prioritized over comfort.
It's mainly noticeable because the rest of the 911 Turbo S is so spectrum-spanning good. Since the upcoming GT3 isn't out yet, it's safe to say it's the best 911 Porsche has ever made. I know that's still a controversial statement because best can mean so many different things to different people; for some, nothing will ever top the screaming 700-hp GT2 RS, or the 1994 Turbo 3.6, or the analog simplicity of the original. But if this is indeed a game of compromises, the 992-generation Turbo S does the most while asking you to give up the least. Vanishingly few cars are true all-rounders in merging world-beating performance with a completely docile nature at lower speeds. Throw in the upcoming option for a GPS-connected front axle lift, and this is truly a complete package.
If Porsche wants to redefine the word turbo, let it. It's not like macro changes in language happen in a single moment, or through a single effort. But I think we should all trust the direction on display here, especially at the precipice of change. Turbo won't mean turbocharged forever, not with marketers needing to sell folks on unfamiliar electric cars. Might as well settle in with Porsche's new meaning: fast as fuck.
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