Ferrari 360 Modena v Porsche 911 Turbo: Screaming Jets
You won’t believe how much faster the 911 Turbo is in the real world. Lined up side-by- side against the 360 Modena, both in second gear, at 30km/h. Floor the loud pedal and the Porsche's immediately quicker. Using its massive torque, and the near total elimination of any turbocharger lag to full advantage, the Turbo slingshots forward. There's nothing, not even running the 360's fabulous V8 out to the 8700rpm cutout in each gear, that can overcome the 911. The gap stretches and stretches, until we run out of road at around 240km/h.
I remember doing the same test with the previous models, the F355 and 911 Turbo. Then, too, the Porsche ran away in terms of pure acceleration. Only to see the Ferrari claw back the advantage. The red car was clearly a superior drive, more exciting, with greater talent in a number of dynamic areas. It was undoubtedly the car you'd take home, if forced to choose.
This time, however, Germany's best sports car shows even the mighty Ferrari how it's done. Even though last year, after first driving the 360 I wrote "You won't believe it's possible for Ferrari, or anybody else, to build anything better". Well, Porsche's done just that. The 911 steers and handles better, brakes at least as well, and copes brilliantly with ruts and bumps in controlling body motions when the going gets tough. And it is faster.
I first compared a Porsche with a Ferrari close to 30 years ago. Then the 911 had 134kW and 2.2 litres, and the Ferrari was a 145kW Dino 246. With each generation, Porsche versus Ferrari, Ferrari versus Porsche, this is one great constant of motoring journalism, the sports car equivalent of Falcon against Commodore. The title fight to end them all. A year ago, when comparing the 360 (sports car) with the 911 (Grand Tourer) I quickly established that their characters had grown further apart than ever. That, of course, was the normally-aspirated 911, this is the new Turbo.
For this head-to-head comparison, we'd come to the Degerndorf to Bayrischzell pass, just over the Austrian border in southern Germany and off the Innsbruck-Munich autobahn. It's close to perfect, for in a marvellously challenging 30km this road has everything. Every conceivable comer, from hairpin to flat-in-fourth sweepers and surfaces, mostly flat and even, but plenty of lateral ripples and bumps on the way into enough comers to worry any suspension. Even a couple of straights, sufficient to see 250km/h on the speedo. And it's wider, and therefore more open, than your normal mountain road.
The rugged scenery and welcome isolation works for the photographer's Nikons, and the clean air and these two supercar icons for our souls. For two days we're based in Bayrischzell, in the valley below the pass, something akin to halfway between Maranello, where the 360 came from, and Zuffenhausen, the Stuttgart home of Germany's sports car marque for over half a century.
Drive the Ferrari on the roads where it was developed, at speeds that are obviously second nature, and you come to realise that a sound system is a complete waste of money. The engine's cacophony of sound assails your whole body, encouraging constant use of the gearbox to reproduce, again and again, its intoxicating, hysterical music. To change frequencies, close the driver's window, to subdue the high pitched shriek. Lowering the glass a little becomes a natural function, performed simultaneously with any downshift, for another dose of erupting power and the full symphonic onslaught.
Yet even the distraction of driving the spectacular A22 autostrada, which winds north up the Adige valley, can't disguise that from 4200-4400rpm in sixth the 360's engine emits a boomy drone. It's annoying and too tiresome to maintain the circa 150km/h cruising speed. So you go faster and take the risk in Italy, and slow down in Austria, where radar rules. We're deliberately meeting in Germany, where it's still legal to establish the performance summit of cars that run not far shy of 300km/h.
Now Porsche has turned up the wick with the latest 911 Turbo. Where better than the great roads of southern Ge1n1any to pick the winner? In the red comer (except in this case it's pale metallic blue) is Fermi's $347,900 360 Modena with the Fl-style paddle shift gearbox, now selected by 70 percent of customers. We expected that with the radical change in proportions of an all-new car, the 360's looks would grow on us in the year since it was launched. The light colour exaggerates the many detail shortcomings of styling that's more dramatic than it is pretty.
Dictated by the desire for aerodynamic efficiencies, the grilleless nose is high and clumsy looking, while the swage lines leading to - and trailing - the front wheel arches introduce unnecessarily fussy highlights. No denying it has real presence, though.
Two views are sublime; the engine, on display below the rear screen, set in it~ alloy sub-frame, tells the world Maranello perfectly understands that showing off its engineering prowess just adds to the Ferrari mystique. Genius. The other vista is down the sinuous flank to the elongated circular opening in the belt line, as defined in the exterior mirror.
In the white comer, attempting to appear distinctly un-911, is the new, fifth generation Turbo. A supercar bargain at $299,000. Any worries that a white Turbo won't look tough through the lens are immediately dispelled. It's not as overtly aggressive as previous Turbos, but the light colour only accentuates the two gaping outboard vents that, because they're black, absolutely dominate the Porsche's nose.
Porsche arched the headlights down into the bumper, so it never looks like a Boxster. But Porsche apparently couldn't come up with anything better than cheap plastic inserts in the clumsily large side scoops behind doors that are identical to the Carrera. The Turbo deserves a longer, more sculptured vent that starts in the door, rather than looking, as it does, like a hole hacked into the swollen rear guards. The best view, from behind, is of wings - a spoiler extends automatically above 120km/h - and 959-like lower vents, huge oval exhausts, and broad shoulders that shout unadulterated power. Unmistakably a 911 in profile, the Turbo's engine couldn't be anywhere but at the rear.
Could the engines be more different? Ferrari's nom1ally-aspirated quad cam VS, all revs with variable length induction and dual-phase exhaust valve timing and complex exhaust system, is good for 294kW at a staggering 8500rpm and 373Nm of torque at 4750rpm. The Porsche, true to its origins, is a four valves per cylinder development of the dry sump 911 GT3/GT1 horizontally opposed liquid-cooled six. And it's a 3.6 litre, the same as the Ferrari, though with two cylinders less. Two KKK K64 turbos, each with its own intercooler, and variable intake camshaft lift and timing adjustment, makes for clean throttle response and more low to mid-range torque. Thus fettled by Weissach, it produces 309kW at 6000rpm and, wait for it, a crucial 560Nm of torque from 2700 to 4600rpm.
After tooling up in the 360, tyres rumbling, engine and exhaust resonating, the atmosphere in the Porsche is calm. We drive our road to give the snapper an idea of the photographic possibilities, wash and fill the cars, and then begin the serious work.
Open the Ferrari's door and even before you fire the engine, there are sighs, whirrs and clicks from the engine bay. Forget the alloy construction; the most obvious change, F355 to 360, is the driving position. You sit higher, the lovely, rake and reach adjustable, three-spoke wheel is near vertical, and there's space in every direction. The cabin's simple to the point of being appropriately austere. The Porsche, on the other hand, feels warmer, more luxurious, more normal if you like, and doesn't match the Ferrari's intense sense of occasion. Its seats, like the more supportive buckets in the Ferrari, are electrically adjustable, but are short in the cushion and narrow across the shoulders.
Idling is uneven, though the Turbo's boxer engine lacks the fierce timbre of the Ferrari. Your senses quickly retune to the Porsche's superior refinement, though. It's immediately obvious in the amazing quietness and greater suppleness of the ride, even though the P-Zero Pirellis are one size bigger, and lower of aspect ratio, than those on the 360. And there's the docility of the engine. The engineers have effectively eliminated turbo lag, and you're left with a mountain of incredible, wonderfully progressive torque that makes the Porsche a doddle to drive gently. And it's blisteringly quick, even without slamming it through the gears, because there's so much midrange power it makes you wonder where the 360's bottom-end has gone. The perception that in the new Turbo, Porsche's created a successor to the 928, gathers more credence.
The power-to-weight ratios marginally favour the Italian, but the Porsche's twin turbos ensure it doesn't feel that way. Simply, this 911 runs away from the Ferrari, continues to stretch the gap, and always feels quicker. The Porsche's expanse of serious power starts so much earlier, and even 8500rpm aren't enough revs to pull back the deficit. Despite thumping you back in the seat in the first four gears, it's ridiculously easy to underestimate the Turbo's speed, in part because it's not accompanied by the Ferrari's aural drama.
Both engines will lug effortlessly, willingly, cleanly; even 1500rpm in sixth is smooth and fluent. But the Porsche never sounds as exciting, its tough character growing ever gruffer as it closes on the 6600rpm redline. The Turbo is the more economical car, too, but casts away the advantage by retaining the normal 911 's 64 litre tank, where the Ferrari's 95 litres ensures a reasonable range.
Porsche persists with a conventional manual gearbox, though for the first time on the Turbo you can order a five-speed auto. The change, long of throw and overly light, is smoother than the 360's clutchless paddle shift, which demands concentration and a mild lift to smooth out the jerks going up through the box. Downshifts are superb, the electronics perfectly matching revs, and you always have both hands on the wheel.
For the first four hours on day one it's dry and sunny, then a sudden spring storm arrives. Either way, the Porsche is a revelation on the road. More relaxing and easier to drive quickly, the Turbo's steering is heavier and more communicative than the lighter, more aggressive to steer Ferrari. Where the 360 feels nervous and overly sharp in its initial tum-in, the driver briefly senses the Porsche wants to push the nose wide. Then it just grips and goes, increasing the ratio of drive to the front wheels (up to a maximum of 40 percent), to counter any tendency to power oversteer, even when the stability control system is switched off. On Pirellis, the Ferrari is edgy, the steering less informative, so you adopt a (comparatively) slower-in, drive-it-out, style, especially if the road is wet.
Impeccable balance and stability are 911 hallmarks and it's never more apparent than in its ability to smooth out ripples and bumps that toss the 360 around under heavy braking, or acceleration through second gear comers. The Ferrari hops and skips at the rear, and though there is plenty of grip when the surface is smooth, it can't keep up with the Porsche, which raises dynamics to a new level beyond even the ability of the 360. It's really flick-wrist, sucked-to-the ground agility versus super sensitive nimbleness.
Ferrari offers a three-stage traction control system. The default level shuts down the engine too quickly. The Sport setting, which works in conjunction with firming up the dampers, keeps things interesting, while shutting it off makes for pure excitement, demanding a talented driver capable of balancing the car on the throttle.
Both cars have brakes of towering ability. Porsche says its new ceramic front discs, scheduled to be available from November production on the Turbo, are even better.
It's easy to make a case for the Ferrari. There will be people who are won-over simply because it wears a prancing horse on the nose and looks and sounds as dramatic it does. It is less normal and more belligerent than the almost clinically purposeful Turbo. Yet the Porsche has superior all-round ability, whether you're at the limit or trundling down to the local shop.
You could say the Turbo is the supercar buyer's rational choice. But that's a put-down the Porsche doesn't deserve, as any serious road quickly proves.
The Porsche wins, even when you ignore the price difference.