You’re doubtless familiar with the law of diminishing returns – a dictum that essentially advises you to stopping pumping more time and resources into an endeavour at a given point in time because it won’t yield any added benefits.
Someone clearly forgot to impart this pearl of wisdom to the Porsche labcoats, because their propensity for eking out more of everything – notably performance, safety and fuel economy – from the venerable 911 is seemingly interminable. What makes this a particularly head-scratching feat is that the layout of the 911 is basically, err wrong. With its flat-six engine (which weighs in excess of 200 kilograms) slung over the rear axle, the Stuttgart stormer is heavier at the back than at the front, hence the tendency of early models to disappear backwards into the scenery in the hands of less-skilled drivers.
Yet the 911 has not just continued to keep pace with rest of the (more conventionally engineered) sports-car pack since its birth in 1963, but also remained the benchmark by which others are judged. When Audi launched the R8 back in 2007, and Nissan debuted the GT-R later in the same year, car mags around the world immediately rushed out to line them up not against a Ferrari or Aston, but head-to-head with the 911 Turbo of the era.
And so it is today, as incremental improvements mean the German tail gunner is still arguably the pick of the bunch. How do I know this? I have just completed a series of flat-out laps in the new 911 Turbo S at the revamped Kyalami Racing Circuit – a dipping, diving track nestled on the outskirts of the South African metropolis of Johannesburg. It’s a perilous venue – the combination of fast, off-camber, blind-crested corners and minimal run-offs mean there’s scope for a massive shunt if you get it wrong.
Despite this – or perhaps because of it – Kyalami is an ideal venue to showcase the dynamic excellence of the 2016 Turbo S, which somehow manages to eclipse the car it replaces. And that’s taking into account my first experience driving the oldie in 2013, when it blew me away with its bottomless performance reserves.
The latest changes aren’t dramatic, but they’re significant. New turbos have upped power by 20hp to 540hp in the “entry-level” 911 Turbo, while the Turbo S gains the same horsepower hike to take its quota to a towering 580hp. This enables the latter to pile on 100kph from standstill in 2.9 seconds, and if you keep the loafer planted, it won’t stop accelerating until you hit 330kph. Yet the newbie is also more economical than before, burning 9.1L of fuel per 100km if you drive sedately.
Porsche loves acronyms, and among the alphabet soup in the 911 Turbo’s spec sheet is PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management), which in the latest iteration provides the adaptive dampers with a greater bandwidth between hard-core, track-attack settings and comfort for day-to-day trundling. Suffice to say, it works.
Our challenge for the track session is to hang on to the coattails of the Porsche factory racer Jörg Bergmeister, who will be setting the pace in a bright-orange 911 GT3 RS – a car that, on the circuit, is the equal of almost any other road-registrable vehicle on the planet.
Wringing the neck of a scorchingly fast car on a difficult, unfamiliar racetrack can result in an impromptu cold sweat and clammy hands, but the beautifully sorted Turbo S makes it all seem rather easy. The fact that power is relayed to the tarmac by all four tyres, and that the rear wheels also steer (albeit only by a couple of degrees at speed), makes for great poise and balance at pace. Consequently, the towering 750Nm torque quota is effortlessly deployed out of corners, and the few short straights between bends are devoured in a blink.
Just as well, then, that the PCCB (Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes) are up to the task of wiping off huge velocities with disdain. The 911’s rear-engined layout aids its composure here, as the mass over the rear axle ensures there isn’t a huge weight transfer to the front when you stand on the anchors.
After five hard laps, it takes a short while for the adrenaline to settle and the on-track impressions to be assimilated. The conclusion is inescapable. Nothing else out there comes close as an all-weather, everyday supercar that’s just as comfortable pootling down to the shops for a loaf of bread as it is making mincemeat of a racetrack.