Porsche 911 Turbo v Ferrari 355: Grand Rapids
The black surface is drenched, awash with water and the pathetically grey sky suggests the forecast of more rain is all too accurate. We can't believe it. Why today, today of all days? Not when we've brought together the two greatest names in sports cars for a comparison any enthusiast would dream about.
They sit together floating above their reflections, hauntingly unreal when viewed across the polished ebony skidpan on the almost deserted runway. The maroon car is not a Ferrari, but the new 911 Turbo, Porsche's first turbocharged, four wheel drive 911, unless you take in the fabulous 959. And there are insiders who whisper the new twin Turbo is even quicker ...
The sleek silver car, lower, wider and far more ostentatious, is Ferrari's F355. Maranello calls the colour Nurburgring Silver, openly conceding its German racing origins and drawing added attention to the uncannily inverse exterior shades of the two mighty protagonists.
Fifty years ago, Me 109s operated from this airstrip just south of Weissach, Porsche's legendary R&D centre outside Stuttgart. Today, it's to be the setting for a match race between a high revving Italian V8 exotic and a blown German supercar.
We've come here, knowing we can run the two cars hard, flat out, without reservation. But it's too wet for any meaningful standing start perfom1ance testing, though Mercedes is running a thinly disguised E-class and the baby A-class through some weird turning circle experiments at one end of the strip. Instead we decide on a rolling start, third-gear, acceleration sprint from 20 km/h to define at least one crucial aspect of their plainly astounding performance.
Side by side the Porsche and Ferrari depart. I'm in the Turbo, slicing directly through the lower two ratios into third, running in unison with the Ferrari at 20 km/h, window down, waiting for the signal.
In the F355, 20 km/h in third is 1100 rpm, in the 911 Turbo only 900 rpm. Yet, at their respective redlines, both thoroughbreds top 140 km/h in this lowly cog. In the days of multi-throated carburettors and before electro-trickery and injection, this test would be insane.
Go! Two right feet shove firmly down. The Porsche defies logic, there's no hesitation as the 911 hurries forward - not snapping you back in the seat, it's true, but responding with surprising energy.
For the new Turbo, Porsche's engineers choose to give each bank of three cylinders its own smaller turbocharger rather than use one large turbo as before. The far more progressive build-up in· power and boost is immediately obvious to anybody familiar with the less than Jekyll-and-Hyde personality of the short-lived, rear wheel drive 3.6 litre Turbo.
Still, the Ferrari gradually pulls ahead. I can hear its engine screaming over the dulled, less metallic sound of the Porsche.
At 60 km/h it's clear the 911 has begun to hold station. Boost intensifying with every extra rev, the Turbo's now pulling back the silver car. At 3500 rpm - 75 km/h - thrust surging urgently as the two turbos extract even more torque from the engine, the Porsche bursts forward.
The Ferrari's caught and left, the sheer force of the Turbo's massive torque - a staggering 540 Nm at 4500 rpm, up 20 Nm over the old model - as the Porsche erupts, pulling out three, four, five car lengths as it blasts to the redline. The normally conservative Porsche company says the new Turbo reaches 100 km/h in 4.5 sec, 0.3 sec faster than the old model. Hanging on to the steering wheel, punched back into the seat, it feels at least that swift. This is Bugatti EB110GT, if not quite McLaren Fl, fast.
Impossible, surely, for the F355 not to preserve some performance dignity?
We swap cars and repeat the exercise. Sitting lower in the Ferrari, the 40-valve V8 emits a high-pitched bark, even at idle. It's so much noisier than the Porsche. The engine feels impatient, intensely potent even at low revs, as the two cars again blast down the strip.
Still, this is an exercise in torque rather than power and the Ferrari develops its peak, a comparatively modest 363 Nm, at a lofty 6000 rpm.
Yes, it has the broadest effective rev range - a sublime, incredible, 7800 rpm, all the way from the 1000 rpm idle to a spine-tingling 8800 rpm cutout - of any production car engine and will pull 1200 rpm effectively in sixth gear, but such ' is the turbo-induced torque of · the Porsche that this is an uneven contest.
In the real world, on the marvellous winding roads of the Black Forest, we later discovered that allowing the Ferrari to slice through its six ratios, stacked so close they emulate a racing motorcycle, means the F355's able to assert itself, hitting its stride at 4000 rpm, winding, ever winding, higher and higher.
If you change gears on an aural basis, the lovely chrome lever snaps sweetly, comfortably, yet still with that reassuring clang as metal meets metal, through the exposed gate at 7000 rpm. And there's another charging 1500 rpm to the redline.
Still, Ferrari's official figures - 0-100 km/h in 4.7 sec and 0-400 metres in 12.9 sec - indicate the Porsche holds a slim perfom1ance lead. Nothing else, at anything like the same money, is as quick as Porsche's new Turbo. But is it enough to beat the Ferrari?
WHEN PORSCHE began work on the 993 there were no plans for a Turbo version. The old Carrera 2-based 3.6 litre, introduced early in 1993 and killed off little more than a year later, was to be the last 911 Turbo. But, both inside Weissach and in the showroom, the Turbo concept still has its enthusiastic supporters. They simply wouldn't let it die.
Now, 20 years after Porsche unveiled its first supercar, the Turbo is back, in principle a twin-turbo version of the new Carrera 4.
The desire to extract even more power meant throwing out the old K-Jetronic fuel injection system and replacing it with the latest electronic engine management technology - called Digital Motor Electronics by Porsche - increasing the compression ratio from 7.5:1 to 8.0:1 and employing those two smaller turbos. What they bring is another 35 kW to a mammoth 300 kW at 5700 rpm, 200 rpm higher than before, plus that blistering 540 Nm of torque to make this the most powerful production Porsche ever built.
And this from a flat six-engine that's still limited to two-valves per cylinder and a single ohc per bank.
Of course, the new Turbo also profits from an all wheel drive system that on paper seems flawless in the way it shifts power automatically by viscous coupling between the two axles and uses a limited slip differential, with 25 per cent locking under load and 40 per cent locking under deceleration, to improve stability.
Four gears were sufficient for the first Turbo; the new model has six. The lower three ratios match the normally-aspirated 911; the top three are higher - sixth goes out to 0.75, compared with 0.82 on the same 3.444 final drive ratio - to enable the Turbo to run to 290 km/h, a 20 km/h hike.
Visually, the Turbo confom1S to the revisions that make the latest Carrera the best looking 911 yet. And, finally, the rest of the world catches up with the 911s destined for Australia in getting the small roofline extender that fits across the top of the rear screen and also serves as a highmounted braking light.
There is, of course, the mandatory whale-tail - a 911 Turbo wouldn't be complete without this optical symbol – a fixed rear wing with subtly curved fins on either edge that was designed in the wind tunnel to reduce lift and is actually part of the engine hood, rather than an appendix, in order to make room for the engine's massive intercoolers.
In fact, the exhaust system, with its catalytic converters and silencers, is a miracle of packaging, requiring a wider and deeper rear bumper bar that's also needed to house the gorgeous new 18 inch aluminium wheels that actually have hollow rims and spokes, using friction welding to fuse the two sections.
Instead of weighing 13kg each, the new wheels hit the scales at only 8 kg, a significant saving in unsprung weight and one of the reasons the new Turbo weighs only 1500 kg, just 30 kg above the Carrera 4 and the old Turbo.
The wheels also sit under wider rear guards that add 60mm to the Carrera's width and mean the new Turbo is 20 mm roader across the tail than the old model.
At the nose the modifications are limited to a deeper front spoiler-cum-bumper bar with extra vents for brake cooling. While the front guards are identical to the 911, the Turbo employs Bosch's new Litronic headlights to give an essential increase in lighting strength. The rocker sills, pressed as part of the rear guards, merge into the wider wheel arches.
Inside, there's equipment galore, including Porsche's new steering wheel, the rim now leather bound, but the wheel centre trimmed in plastic complete with artificial leather stitching. So new was our test car that it didn't come with the Turbo's new sports seats.
The result may lack the visual balance of the standard Carreras, but traditional Turbo fanatics will probably relish the car's bulky hips and the massive tail that, to many eyes, so disturb the harmony of the base 911's profile.
Pininfarina's sculpted F355 is an altogether more contemporary shape than the Porsche and it attracts far more attention, even when the car is silver and not scarlet.
Some of the detailing is inferior, like the thin, cheap perforated grille that runs across the rear immediately below the upturned body spoiler and carries the F335 Berlinetta badge. But in totality, the little Ferrari, 149 mm wider than the Porsche and a crucial 115 mm lower - an instant give-away to the 911's enduring reign - easily wins the desirability stakes.
Maranello also prefers a different and more elegant engineering solution for its power source. The Ferrari's 3.5 litre VS favours revs to a turbo and pushes out 280 kW at 8250 rpm from its five-valve (three inlet, two exhaust) heads and a Bosch 2. 7 management brain.
It also has six forward ratios - like the Turbo - but top gear in the F355 is worth 34.5 km/h per 1000 rpm versus 45.8 km/h in the 911, further explicit proof of the vast difference in the character of these two cars.
The Ferrari, still fundamentally simple in layout despite the incredible engine, remains true to its mid-engined, rear drive layout. It has ABS, like the Porsche (though on the F355 it can be turned off for racing), and excludes any form of traction control.
Only in fitting electronic adaptive dampers does Ferrari abandon this philosophy of simplicity. There isn't even a radio. In the Ferrari there's entertainment enough without any outside stimulation.
These cars are aimed at drivers.
You sit higher in the Porsche so the 911 feels more normal than the F355 where the superb black Moma wheel, small and angled away from the vertical position of the 911, almost rests on your knees. Visibility through the Porsche's deep windscreen is superior.
Tall drivers will find the top of the Ferrari's screen low, though you discover the view over the shoulder and behind is far better than expected from a mid-engined car.
Where the Ferrari makes do with manual adjustment of its narrow bucket seats, the 911 has electric motors to do the work and includes height/tilt range for the cushion and heated seats, luxury items the F355 deliberately lacks.
The Porsche also has back seats, but they're secondary and intended for small children only - though they fold down to provide additional luggage space, a valuable commodity which is absent in the Ferrari where the engine is located so close to the rear bulkhead.
Inevitably, when you sit so far forward he wheel wells force the pedals inboard so the driving position, especially of the Ferrari, is heavily offset. You notice this the first time you drive the car. From then on it doesn't even irritate, specially when you discover the drilled alloy pedals are shaped to allow the driver's shoes to fit around them perfectly. Neither car has anything like an ergonomic interior. The controls on both are scattered around the interior, the instruments on the Ferrari more confused than the Porsche. The air conditioning of the 911 is more effective and its eater, despite the limitations of an aircooled engine, less sensitive. On the F355, the automatic settings of 21 and 22 deg C provide variation only between hot and cold, with no middle ground.
The important things, those bits like the gearlever that are directly related to the driving, could hardly be improved, yet even the gear change would benefit from a stronger spring loading for the third/fourth plane so you could push out of second and know the lever was heading for third and not back to first. Nor did a sticking initial throttle movement make starting off as effortless as it might have been.
So it's the Porsche that feels more civilised. Where the Ferrari rumbles and whizzes, is noisy and completely unapologetic, the 911 is quiet and bereft even of the wonderful mechanical sound of the normally-aspirated Carreras.
In terms of comfort and refinement, the Ferrari surpasses the Porsche only in the areas of road noise and ride quality.
In the area of driving dynamics, however, the Italian simply oozes class, not least because it combines a superbly absorbing ride that defies road surface imperfections (except at very low speeds) with body control that leaves the Ferrari flat, its grip and poise kept so tightly in check, even on a fast undulating road, that it inspires absolute security.
Porsche's new chassis means the Turbo is far more predictable in its handling than the old model, the double wishbone rear suspension extending the limits of roadholding way beyond those of the old car.
Yes, it will still snap sideways, especially if the suspension and body are coping with an uneven surface just as all that torque hits home. But the firmness of the suspension, and those ultra-low profile tyres, mean the ride is inferior and noisier, especially on a coarse surface, than both the Ferrari and the standard 911.
On paper, the Porsche's heavier and more direct steering - 2.5 versus 3.2 turns for the same, wide, 11.7m turning circle - might be seen as an advantage and there will be drivers who will choose the German compromise. The Ferrari, on the other hand, requires a little more lock in tight comers, but in its sensitivity and lightness, the way it converts thought into movement, it is rare indeed. Nor does the Ferrari tramline under braking like the Turbo, though both cars have immensely powerful brakes.
Point to point, the Porsche's torque gives it an advantage and you'll love the way it rockets out of comers, but, good as this 911 is, the Ferrari is better.
Into the bends the F355 remains stable, understeering gently, progressively no matter how hard you push until, under power, it gradually turns to an unruffled oversteer. Of course, the Porsche has four wheel drive and in some conditions this will be an advantage, but the Ferrari's traction, too, is brilliant.
Porsche's new Turbo brakes harder, comers better and goes faster, with vastly more linear acceleration, than any of its predecessors. In its character, the new Turbo is now almost a tamed animal.
Yet it is the Ferrari, ultimately marginally slower and certainly more raucous, that is special. Driving the F355 is a tactile experience that affects every sense and, unlike the 348, never disappoints.
This is a hallmark car, and not just for Ferrari. It proves that a fine ride can be combined with brilliant handling, solid construction and an engine of such characteristics that those who buy it warrant the envy of every other driver.
In third gear, yes, the Turbo runs away. But it's just not important.