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Review: The mid-tier Porsche 911 Turbo is a reminder that sometimes you can have more fun with cheaper toys

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2021 Porsche 911 Turbo

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As Porsche continues to roll out the hotly anticipated new versions of its iconic 911 sports car, it can be easy to lose sight of the so-called “lesser” Porsches. But the mid-tier Porsche 911 Turbo is a reminder that you don’t have to go all out to have loads of fun.

I had a few brain cells vaporized by the $207,000 Porsche 911 Turbo S when I drove it last year; it was a remarkable 640-horsepower machine optioned up to $224,000. But take away the “S” and you have the mere Turbo, sort of like Carruades de Lafite to Château Lafite Rothschild’s first-growth Bordeaux: less expensive, but still pretty darn great.

I got my hands on the 2021 911 Turbo a few months ago while there was still snow on the ground in the Northeast. My well-equipped test car topped out at $220,300, but the base price was a mere $170,800.

Not exactly a bargain, especially when contrasted with the $140,830 — $120,600 before extras — 911 4S that captivated me last year. But the Turbo offers an important step up from the 4S: With it, you go from 379 horsepower and 331 pound-feet of torque to 572 horsepower and 553 pound-feet.

Porsche 911 Turbo S

That’s not quite the bonkers output of the 640-horsepower Turbo S, but heaps more oomph than the 4S. And herein is the thing with the 911 lineup: You pay for higher numbers, and you do so with the understanding that those numbers are always going to translate into massively superior performance. The 911 Turbo S posts a 2.6-second 0-to-60-mph time, according to Porsche (I personally got 2.5) while the Turbo gets the dash done in … 2.7 seconds! The torque figures for the cars are similar. The Turbo’s top track speed is 199 mph, while the Turbo S can hit 205 mph.

The distinction, then, is basically an over-the-top 911 versus a simply dazzling 911. One can slip behind the wheel and push the envelope in both cars, but the Turbo makes an argument for itself primarily because it’s ever so slightly less perfect than the Turbo S, lacking some of the wilder goodies such as carbon-ceramic brake rotors and some suspension upgrades. But perfection is, believe it or not, a relative concept here; the Turbo is silly good, perhaps even a tad more appealing than its impeccable sibling because it’s a wee bit less controlled.

My tester was yellow, and the paint job was a freebie on the spec sheet. I’m not much of a yellow-car fella, but the 911 Turbo wore it well, and during a few overcast days of driving, I came to savor how much the classic 911 shape popped. The car looked forward to spring!

Otherwise, the design was indistinguishable from the Turbo S, save for the identifying exterior badging. The Turbo is sleek, wide, low, and substantial, with a honkin’ but not whale-tail wing rising from the rear hatch.

2021 Porsche 911 Turbo

My Turbo had a staggered wheel package — 20 inches in the front and 21 in the rear — but the wheels were a niftier multi-spoke design, which I preferred to the option on the Turbo S from last year. At $5,500, they were the second most pricey option after a $6,150 “High Gloss Black” exterior package. Add it up — yellow car, awesome wheels, compelling black exterior bling — and you have a 911 that could really stop traffic with its looks.

Inside, the mood was all-black, but with some cool throwback-textured material on the seats that Porsche defines as “checkered.” The nominal 911 back seat makes the Turbo technically a 2+2, but I had about enough room back there to stash my camera.

Overall, a serious, studied minimalism reigns. A 911 is a purposeful speed machine with no hint of whimsy. Even the clock in the middle of the dash has a performance function: to time speed runs and laps like a stopwatch.

I didn’t have ideal weather and road conditions to put the Turbo through its paces, but I did what I could and the car is dang quick. It also has that almost preternatural composure when cornering — maybe not as telekinetic as the Turbo, but let’s just say the all-wheel-drive system enables you to push, push, and then push a little more with zero fear that the car is going to get away from you.

2021 Porsche 911 Turbo

As with the Turbo S, the slightest hint of trouble can be rapidly overcome with some additional throttle, and to be honest, I found the cheaper brakes to have a better feel than the Turbo S’s, although the justification for the beefier setup in the Turbo S is to provide just that much more insurance. The eight-speed dual-clutch transmission is so reliably faultless that I didn’t even switch over to manual mode that often. 

The main complaint that Porsche enthusiasts have about the Turbos is that they’re kind of heavy. With a curb weight north of 3,600 pounds, my tester wasn’t exactly a spry little thing (a Boxster tips the scales at 600 pounds less).

But the power easily overcomes that heft. The Turbo ain’t exactly tossable. It’s rather the opposite, in fact: an extremely planted, high-performance set of wheels. But tossable isn’t the point, and besides, the Turbo is a comfy freeway cruiser. On a longish drive in New Jersey, including some stop-and-go traffic, I appreciated that quality.

The 992 is the eighth generation of Porsche’s magnificent 911 and having now driven a number of different trims, my estimation of Porsche engineers has done nothing but rise. Just when you thought the remarkable 911 couldn’t possibly get any better, Porsche goes and … makes it better! It might be that these are simply the pinnacle machines of the late internal-combustion age, but what incredible machines! 

Is the 911 Turbo worth the money, though? My car was so tricked out that the value proposition relative to the Turbo S was negligible. But the savings could be considerable if you take it easy with the options list, and with the performance at about the same mark, it’s getting harder to talk yourself into the Turbo S.

Between the two, the 911 Turbo would be my pick.

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