Insanity, But In a Good Way: $150K Porsche 911 Turbo

Oct. 23 (Bloomberg) — Let’s start by saying this: Porsche’s latest version of the 911 Turbo Cabriolet is fast enough to turn your eyelids inside out. “Star Trek” fans will recognize the blurred lights that come with its twin-turbo propulsion from the Enterprise going to warp speed.

The Turbo also carries a $52,000 premium over the base 911 convertible. Which frankly isn’t worth it.

Why? Because most of us are just not skilled enough to wring everything out of the base 911, let alone this mad mobile. (By “us” I mean me, you and that guy over there talking on his cell phone while driving.)

If you ever get the chance to ride shotgun with the likes of 1977 Le Mans winner Hurley Haywood as he pilots a Porsche around the race track (as I have, several times), you’ll get a firsthand lesson in the rules of physics and the Porsche’s penchant for overcoming them. While the car is willing, most drivers will be found wanting.

So I’ve come to terms with the idea that I don’t need all the extra juice on a law-abiding street. Maybe I’ve matured (or I just can’t afford the extra $50K).

This morning I’m feeling quite restrained — until the garage attendant pulls the Turbo out of the lift. It sports a shade of red unknown in nature, a wicked fixed rear wing and wagon-sized wheels shamelessly flaunting gargantuan yellow brake calipers.

What’s that? Fifty grand more? You accept AmEx, right?

More Is More

In the world of 911, the Turbo is more of more. This is the Dave’s Insanity Sauce of automobiles, with a javelin-like 480 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque. And if you’re springing for the Turbo, why not ante up an extra $10,000 for the topless version? (You’ll take on extra weight and give up some rigidity compared with the coupe, yet the convertible is still steady like a rock.)

On my test car, the fabric on the seat belts, seat backs and floor mats is also colored red — the sleigh of Saint Nicholas’s dreams. Subtle? Not much. Though I bet it would deliver all the Christmas presents on time.

As a purist might hope, my test car has a six-speed manual transmission (a Tiptronic S automatic is also available). The clutch has a long release in first, and I ease into traffic carefully, wary that the massive available torque might spring out like a jack-in-the-box. Yet this is no unruly Turbo of yore. Even the manual is easy to drive, and the stick shift slots through the gears with only gentle pressure.

You haven’t paid the premium for easy driving in traffic, though. No, the $155,430 tab guarantees an adrenaline spike when you drop the boom. (This baby can do 193 miles per hour on a track, Porsche says.)

Quick Shift

Yet the Turbo also rewards nuance. Engage sport mode, which alters the gear ratios, and first gear rises to the red line almost as soon as you light up the tires. That’s a problem, as the rev limiter violently bounces you back to earth. You’ll need to make a swift shift to second to break the 0-to-60 barrier in less than 4 seconds. (Porsche says the model with the Tiptronic transmission actually launches faster off the line.)

True to form, the 911 is nicely balanced, yielding few unhappy surprises. It makes especially fast work of winding roads. All-wheel-drive is standard on the Turbo, which is welcome in slick conditions, especially with performance tires.

My car also has optional ceramic composite brakes. Developed for endurance racing, they are highly resistant to fade and stopping power is otherworldly, like hitting a brick wall. Previous versions had an annoying tendency to squeak, though these are much improved. After hours of hard driving, I hear only a mouse twitter or two.

Not for Tall Guys

Bucking the latest trend, the roof is a soft top, a wise choice since the extra weight of a hardtop convertible would be an unwelcome guest to the high-performance party. Top up, it’s almost as attractive as the coupe, and sight lines are acceptable. Only very tall drivers will have to hunch over to see whether the traffic light has changed.

And so I return to the subject of price. Porsche is highly profitable, and when I look at the $155,430 sticker on my test ride, I see why. The options will murder your wallet. Given a trust fund, I’d spring for the ceramic brakes ($8,840), but the $1,415 adaptive sport seats seem pretty dear to ensure that I’m snug in my chair. Having the seat backs painted red runs an extra $1,495. And red floor mats at $140? Really, now.

As I’m driving home, a crew of sports bikes falls into the Turbo’s wake, playing in the slipstream like curious dolphins. I could floor it and smoke a bunch of them. Then I reconsider. Those antics are best left to the track, or in the hands of someone like Hurley Haywood.

Maybe I really am maturing.

Then I spy a straightaway ahead. The rumors of my maturity may be exaggerated.

The 2008 Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet at a Glance

Power: 3.6-liter twin-turbocharged 6-cylinder, with 480 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque.

Transmission: Six-speed manual or Tiptronic S automatic.

Speed: 0 to 60 in 3.8 seconds.

Price as tested: $155,430 ($136,500 base).

Best features: Superhero styling; the force of the turbos kicking in.

Worst feature: Porsche’s nickel and diming customers for options such as colored floor mats.

Target buyer: The Porsche lover who can’t bear to be left in the dust.

(Jason Harper writes about autos for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)