Playing the ultimate game of grab-asphalt.

by Marty Padgett

There's just one mental argument you need to win before you blow a hundred grand on a Porsche 911 Turbo: "Do I really need enough horsepower to peel back my eyelids?"

Score it if you answered "Duh!" The newest Porsche Turbo's the fastest, most desirable car they've ever put on the street. Killjoy Feds wouldn't let the ultra-exotic 959 out on U.S. roads, but the '01 Turbo is nearly as quick, and any Porsche dealer you present with $111,000 will be glad to set you loose on the pavement in one.

The Turbo hammers out 415 horsepower from its 3.6-liter flat-six powerplant - nearly as much as a Dodge Viper from an engine less than half the size, thanks to the eponymous turbocharging and Porsche's VarioCam variable valve timing system - and twists out 415 lb-ft of torque from 2700 to 4600 rpm. Step into it, and watch your face grow years younger as if by plastic surgery - or is it just the ear-splitting grin?

The engine is hung off the rear end, appropriate since you'll want to make sure your ass is still there while it catapults you to 60 mph in about 4 seconds, about half the time it took you to read that last sentence. If you're brave, you can stick with it all the way to 189 mph.

A slick-shifting six-speed manual transmission is the stock gearbox, but for the first time Porsche's offering a Tiptronic five-speed automatic with steering-wheel-mounted shift buttons. Click and clack all you want - it's programmed to not let you frag the gears. When you've had enough of the speed exercises, stomp on the stupendously powerful anti-lock brakes, which feel like the air brakes on newfangled 300-foot-tall rollercoasters: stomp, whoosh, stop, sans drama.

Like the last Turbo, this one's built on the all-wheel-drive Carrera 4 running gear. Porsche Turbos used to be known for getting v-e-r-y nervous at the handling limits, but with the four-wheel-drive and Porsche Stability Management (the Turbo's yaw-control system, which uses computer smarts and brake sensors to help when you've overcooked your goose), the new one keeps you on a steady path, unless you're approaching Mach 2 in a 35-mph zone. Eighteen-inch 295/30 Z-rated tires and wheels help keep the power hooked to the ground, and a massive, trademark whale-tail spoiler pushes the rear end down at high speeds so you don't go skittering off into Jersey barriers at a hundred per.

S&M and Britney Spears

The look is the latest rendition of classic 911. The iconic, instantly recognizable curve of the roofline meets muscled-up hips in an elegant way. Xenon headlamps are wrapped into the front fenders, capping a deep chin spoiler. Those gaping holes in the front end and rear fenders? They cool the brakes, but look as if they could suck in household pets and spit them out like feathered shrapnel from a Boeing engine. Intimidation is a key word here.

The greatest advantage inside is the low interior with great visibility. The seats will hold you rigidly upright for hours of 100-mph-plus blasting, and you'll be able to watch the world blur by thanks to the current 911's spacey, thin-pillared design. The dash, however, is the traditional 911 mishmash of big gauges and scattered bits and pieces. The current generation's got nothing going for it in terms of plastic finishes - the black, shiny buttons are hardly credible when even a $20,000 PT Cruiser offers nicely finished buttons - but the essentials are up close and personal when needed.

Practical concerns clearly don't take a back seat in the Turbo. How could they ever fit? Any children unlucky enough to ride in back will be secure in the deep nacelles referred to almost sadistically as seats - make sure they're not clever enough to read Harry Potter yet (or report you to Child Services). Your luggage will face the same fate, wedged in front of the spare tire in the nose, cramped into place by a deeply sloped hood.

Standard equipment is sybaritic, by Stuttgart standards. You'll find enough leather trim to outfit an S&M club, power adjustments for the front seats, and a memory switch for drivers prone to "senior moments." The CD player is extra, and as usual, it's a complete mess. It hides behind the faceplate in traditional indecipherable Teutonic fashion, and even with the aid of ten speakers, it sounds wretched. It's not just Britney Spears to blame here. The digital sound processor underneath makes matters worse, and the average Sony Focus would embarrass the Turbo's bass response. You're better off listening to the rhythmic beats of the six cylinders.

Make no mistake - if you want a starter Porsche, try on one of those cute little Boxster convertibles with the dainty price tag. When you're ready to swing the hefty bat, step up to the 911 Turbo and be prepared to crush everything in sight.

2001 Porsche 911 Turbo

Base Price: $111,000
Engine: turbocharged 3.6-liter flat six, 415 hp
Transmission: six-speed manual, five-speed automatic with Tiptronic control
Wheelbase: 92.6 in
Length: 174.5 in
Width: 72.0 in
Height: 51.0 in
Weight: 3395 lb
Fuel economy: 15 city/22 hwy
Major standard equipment:
Dual front and side airbags
Anti-lock brakes
Dual power seats
Leather trim
Trip computer
Ten-speaker stereo
Anti-theft system with immobilizer
Automatic climate control
Power sunroof

© 2000 The Car Connection

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