The 2023 Porsche 911 Turbo S has to be the ultimate California car.
It’s a thought that occurred to me not as I was racing up some mountain road, or cruising along the Pacific Coast Highway, but rather as I was crawling along the notoriously congested I-405 that knifes its way through Los Angeles.
This is a car so incredibly well executed that a driver can quite easily use the same machine to commute in traffic, blast the canyon roads in Malibu, proudly toss the keys to the valet at a trendy restaurant, and spend the weekend lapping a racetrack. But in car-crazed California, this legendary 911 also has enough cachet that even those who don’t pay much mind to cars know it’s a special machine.
For just about half a century, the 911 Turbo’s shape has slowly evolved yet maintained a few defining elements. The rear fenders flex wider than the ones on lesser 911 models, giving the Turbo more voluptuous hips accented by gaping vents. The broad spoiler no longer looks like a whale’s tail or a tea tray, as it did in the early days, but it still breaks up that iconic fast back shape as it slides from roofline to rear bumper. The taillights run the full width of the rear end as an homage to those early Turbos, while the PORSCHE relief script denotes to Porschephiles that this is a current 992-generation model.
Over time, the happy round headlights perched above the front bumper have laid back further in the name of aerodynamics, but from the driver’s seat the view over the flat hood flanked by those rounded buttresses reassures a driver that this is still a 911.
This tester’s Agate Grey Metallic paint is a far more subdued tone than the wild Skittles shades often found on the rowdier 911 GT3 variants – though a buyer can spec any colour desired, assuming they’re willing to pay for it. In traffic, this Turbo S effectively blends in with the rest of the commuters slogging along. It’s the sort of paint you pick not for the image, but rather the exceptional engineering and the drive experience that comes with it. It’s remarkable that such a formidable predator within the automotive jungle can cruise along with relative anonymity and grace.
Comfort and Convenience
The interior is a blend of traditional and contemporary, with plenty of tech infusion to keep it firmly in the modern era, but the dash shape and driving position harken back to earlier 911s. The front buckets are 18-way adjustable and remain one-piece units with integrated headrests, just as they’ve always been. They’re wonderfully comfortable, with both heat and cooling, managing to be compliant enough for long commutes and supportive enough to hold a driver in place during serious cornering. Finished in Truffle Brown, they look sensational, too. There’s ample head- and legroom, and despite being a rather compact car (albeit significantly larger than it was decades ago), it’s spacious enough to contain larger occupants without requiring human origami to get in and out.
The pair of vestigial back seats is also still present, though it’s only habitable by garden gnomes or small pets, and is more useful with the seatbacks folded forward to create a broad parcel shelf for luggage. The front cargo hold is deep and will swallow an additional 128 L of stuff, meaning the 911 is an ideal choice for a getaway up to a favourite Monterey inn – especially with the power sunroof letting in the California sunshine and coastal sea air. Cue up a singable song on the brilliant sound system to complete the dream scenario. The 10.9-inch infotainment screen provides crisp, bright graphics and proved responsive to inputs, keeping my wirelessly-connected iPhone readily available via Apple CarPlay.
That’s all well and good, but let’s face it: 911 Turbo shoppers – let alone ones after this spicier Turbo S model – probably aren’t looking for a car that simply isolates its occupants in traffic and lets them waft up the coast. This is the king of the 911 lineup, and extreme performance is expected.
While the 911 Turbo S’s adaptive suspension can enable a surprisingly compliant ride, especially for a sports car squatting on 20-inch front and 21-inch rear wheels, it also keeps it utterly composed no matter how wildly a driver pushes it. In fact, its sheer grip is unbelievable, causing enough neck strain from lateral g-loading that it could probably be used to help train fighter jet pilots – and that’s just on the Malibu canyon roads; put it on a track for a real workout.
It’s not just the grip but the compliance and unflappable ease with which a driver can tame this beast, making it seem absurd that this 911 Turbo S’s great grandparents were known as the “Doctor Killer” and “Widowmaker” for their terrifying propensity to snap oversteer and send well-heeled (but perhaps modestly-skilled) drivers off the road. This is engineering excellence evolved and perfected over decades, distilling out the inherent handling challenges of hanging a heavy engine over the rear axle.
Of course, that weight-over-the-wheels format is also what’s made the 911 Turbo one of the most ferociously accelerating machines on the planet for so long. In the 1970s, when V8 muscle cars were being woefully strangled by emission controls, the relatively tiny horizontally-opposed six-cylinder with a big turbo strapped to its back made the tiny, lightweight Porsche impossibly quick. Today, driving enthusiasts have recalibrated what’s truly quick with multiple electric alternatives that can accelerate with such immediacy that it makes most gas-powered machines feel somewhat inadequate. But not the Turbo S.
With surprisingly little effort and noise (even set to its loudest drive mode), the Porsche can take your breath away. The company states an official zero-to-100 km/h time of 2.7 seconds, but instrumented testing by other publications have shown that figure could be conservative by almost a half second, making it unquestionably one of the quickest cars on the planet. With the twin-turbo boxer engine generating 640 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque, and motivating just over 1,600 kg (3,500 lb), the Turbo S’s ferocity of acceleration makes sense.
The eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission is the only one offered in the Turbo and Turbo S models, reinforcing the notion that this is a car that has evolved in refinement as much as performance. Still, it’s capable of going about its business smoothly when puttering around town, but can snap off gear changes instantaneously when driven in anger, or called upon by the paddle shifters. Braking from the 16.5-in front and 15.4-in rear carbon-ceramic rotors is equally impressive, with immediate bite and enough stopping force to squash your innards within your ribcage.
The 2023 Porsche 911 Turbo S offers its owner a duality of personality that enables it to serve duty as a daily driver and a high-performance driving weapon with equal measure, but it never swings to extremes the way one might expect based on its storied lineage. The Turbo S doesn’t scream the way some ultra-performance cars do, but rather it clears its throat with authority in a dignified way and goes about its performance very seriously while achieving sensational results. Of course, costing upwards of $250,000 also promises relative rarity.
While it may be the perfect car for California, having such a poised, polished, and high-performance machine right here in Canada sounds pretty darned good, too.