I just can’t stretch to calling this car a classic, which is of course the cars I usually prefer. But the 993 Turbo doesn’t take no for an answer and blew me away anyway.
Or is it now – a classic ? It’s now been several years since I tested another Porsche 993 with the intent – even back then – of answering that same question. At that time I was honestly left in doubt. But time has worked for the 993, as it is no longer unusual to hear it referred to as “the best 911 ever”. Which in the 911’s case says a lot: Many fine 911’s have been built over the years.
And then again, one could also ask which would then be the best of the 993’s? At least that’s easy: The Turbo.
For once, it was not just raw power and relentless performance which became the 993 Turbo’s claim to fame. Its Turbo predecessors had created a reputation for being near-deadly to anyone but the most talented drivers (a fabulous thing to boast about in the pub, clearly standing there very much alive), but on the other hand, they also yielded top class performance – for those few who could control it. The 993 Turbo was different: It came after the technological tour de force of the top-of-the-line 959 model from the eighties, and by the time the 993 got (dual) turbo-induction it also gained four-wheel drive, a six-speed transmission, highly effective brakes, not to forget an entirely reworked suspension set-up. So, now that it had more power than ever before, was it also even more dangerous than ever before?
No, not so with the 933 Turbo: Developing 408 horsepower it was at the very top of the mid-nineties power hierarchy, but the huge power was even more impressive when reeled in by the four-wheel drive, making the thunderous performance available to mere mortals at an unprecedented level for a Porsche Turbo. Despite the 993 Turbo emerging during a time when there was huge inflation in the performance of supercars, its 408 horsepower always punched well above its weight and the all-wheel drive did the rest of the work to get the most out of all that force-feed power. So even though it was not really a supercar in the same league as the super exotic McLaren F1, it didn’t just roll over on its back and surrender: The 933 Turbo was an almost scarily efficient speed machine.
It was hard to see how it could get any better, really. But still, there was a password for just that: “WLS”. The acronym stood for Werks Leistungs Steigerung (broadly translating to “factory tuning”), and when that little innocent option box was ticked there were even more horses to play with. And it was precisely such a WLS-equipped 993 Turbo which I found myself behind the wheel of just last week.
430 horsepower, the specifications said. And the car was 22 years old, according to the birth certificate. I didn’t really know what to expect, as I had never actually driven such a recent (in my world…) Turbo before. The 930 was always “MY” Turbo and it is of course something completely different. Even so, the 993’s first impression was somewhat surprisingly that… it didn’t feel 22 years old at all. The 993 is not least famous for its quality, and I can most certainly confirm this: The sound when closing the door, the tightness of the gear shift, the feel in the controls and buttons – and indeed nothing at all revealed the more than 200,000 kilometers on the counter. The car simply felt much more healthy than 22 years of age should allow. On the other hand, it also felt like a lot less than 430 horses.
My initial thoughts were therefore far more about how solid the car felt – indestructible, in fact, as the Porsche which would survive a nuclear war and which Mad Max would run if only he had possessed better taste. I enjoyed it hugely and revered in the instruments and their layout that only a classic 911 can offer. And it was all much more accessible, solid and light-footed than I had expected.
But what about those 430 horses? Well, I do have great respect for the older air-cooled 911s, as it is quite important to let them warm properly before stepping on them. So I drove for a long time with a self-restricted rev limiter, which made the 993 Turbo feel amazingly subdued. Only on the way back from my test trip did I give it some beans – and then a stairway opened to the Garden of Eden, the Kingdom of Power or whatever it was – I frankly did not have the time to look closely, but merely concentrated on hanging on for dear life!
As when the needle swept north of 4,000 rpm, something changed dramatically: suddenly there is full turbo pressure and plenty of air on the impellers, and all of those 430 horses are waiting just around the corner – and perhaps even more impressive with the almost 600 Newton meters of torque ready as well. Even though a 993 Turbo is not exactly a lightweight, the huge torque manages to launch the car forward with total disregard for the approximate 1,500 kilograms, and it’s claimed to reach 100 km/h from a standing start in only 4.5 seconds. In the standard version, that is. What “my” WLS would do is not clear from my information – but it should peak at around 300 km/h if you keep your foot planted long enough.
I didn’t venture anywhere near that top speed – not problem though, as I’ve always preferred the bends. And that’s where this old (well, semi-old…) Turbo impressed this Retro man behind the wheel. Light understeer into the bend and with enough power on the way out, the rear end would just twitch and shift the balance a bit as well. I later read that 993 Turbo only delivers a modest 20% power to the front wheels, and that the rest is fed to the rear wheels. Although the all-wheel drive system was state-of-the-art in the mid-nineties, a lot of water has passed under that bridge since – both for good and bad. One of my main conclusions must be, that from behind the wheel the 993 Turbo still feels like a completely analogue car. Four-wheel drive, yes – but there is no digital codriver that can take over and lend you a helping hand in a problematic situation.
The 993 Turbo would rarely need one either: The limits are towering high in a 993 Turbo, and realistically I think one would need a trackday to determine where the limits really are. I certainly did not find them on the road, but could instead revel in the amazing sensation of sitting in an incredible safety cell of a car – knowing that at any time I could induce a storm of torque and horsepower from the twin-turbo engine. I’m honestly not convinced that I would be able to tell the difference between the original 408 and the 430 horsepower of the WLS tuning – but at least it felt good knowing it was there, and that’s of course a big part of it.
Not least, I came to the conclusion that here, at least in my opinion, was a car that was so fast straight out of the factory that it makes no sense whatsoever to powertune it further. However, Porsche itself clearly disagreed, as they later offered a WLS 2 option, releasing yet another 20 horsepower. I wouldn’t really know what to do with them – but on the other hand, I know exactly what to do with a 993 Turbo: Buy and drive! If you can. With six manual gears, it’s an engaging driving experience, and rather opposite of my expectations, the all wheel drive doesn’t devalue the driving experience. Instead it gives it a fourth dimension. We could call that dimension “warp speed”, in the absence of better.
I walked away knowing one thing from this journey in time and space: I simply DO NOT need more power than a 993 Turbo WLS 1 can dish up. Ever.
How do our ViaRETRO readers feel about the Porsche 993 Turbo?