First came water-cooled engines, and now turbochargers. Has Porsche lost it?

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First came water-cooled engines, and now turbochargers. Has Porsche lost it?

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ENGINE: 2,981 cc, flat-6, turbocharged

POWER: 420bhp at 6,500 rpm

TORQUE: 500Nm at 1,700- 5,000 rpm 0-100KMH: 3.9 seconds

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If sites like www.change. org – a crowd petitioning site – or the Internet justice mob were formed two decades ago, Porsche might just be a forgotten brand today. For those of us who can remember, Porsche had, for the first time in 34 years, introduced water-cooled engines in the flagship 911 model back in 1997. It was a highly controversial move that riled fans and “purist” owners alike.

Technological advancement isn’t always a great thing – especially if you are talking about fossil-burning automobiles. While we all understand the need for better emissions standards, these changes sometimes rob sports cars of their mojo – the chestthumping roar of an engine, the smell of (un)burnt fuel, the slick shifting action on a manual gearbox, just to name a few.

Do you remember how your spine tingled when an air-cooled 911 Carrera S was fired up and roared away? Or perhaps how Formula One cars sounded just three years ago – when they sounded like legit racers without turbochargers?

Porsche aficionados were once again worried when they learnt that the Stuttgart-based sports car maker was going to slap on turbochargers on all 911 cars – from the most basic Carrera to the Turbo models.

When we are handed the key to a flame orange 911 Carrera S, it dawns upon us that the latest generation 911 could have gone soft – aurally – thanks to the turbo units. But our premonitions are wrong. The engine barks and snorts as it comes to life, growling fiercely behind your ears.

Tucking the gear lever into Drive, the 911 Carrera S glides smoothly until we mash the accelerator to the carpet. That’s when you realise the potency of the new range of engines.

With more stringent emissions standards around the world, it was inevitable that Porsche had to succumb to the forced induction route – which isn’t a bad thing at all. The power from the 3-litre engine comes on tap very smoothly, even at low revs, and maximum torque of 500Nm is dispensed at just 1,700 revolutions on the odometer. The earlier Carrera S that this model replaces was equipped with a 3.8-litre engine that had put out 400 horsepower and would do the 0-100kmh sprint in 4.1 seconds.

Now, the car in the same trim is powered by a smaller capacity powerplant, yet producing 20 more horsepower and is able to propel the 911 to do the same benchmark run in under 4 seconds. For those counting carbon in grams, the new car puts out 174g per kilometre – a 31g reduction from the larger displacement predecessor.

With the flexibility of such a powerful engine, Porsche has included a rotary switch on the steering wheel that allows you to choose different dynamic modes to suit your driving style. For cars equipped with the Sports Chrono option, there’s even a button in the middle of that switch that tightens up the handling and boosts performance for up to 20 seconds at a go. It’s almost like a panic button if you are in a hurry to overtake traffic – but describing it as a “manic” button would not be a stretch either.

Despite its newfound athleticism on the straight lines, the 911 still maintains its handling prowess. The car always feels planted and all you need to do is to point the steering wheel in the desired direction and the 911 just shoots that way.

It, however, shows its playful side by letting its tail slip out of step a bit when you go quickly around sharp bends, but the onboard safety systems quickly catch you and coddle you back to safety. The exhaust even pops and crackles as you lift your foot off the accelerator.

Alas, the car isn’t without shortcomings (which can be easily solved by a heavy right foot). The road noise in the cabin can become a chore after a while, which is actually a good excuse to drive spiritedly, as the engine and exhaust notes mask out the tire roar.

The other issue is driving in slow-speed conditions when we got caught in evening rush hour traffic. While the 911’s automatic gearbox comes with “virtual intermediate gears” – a fuel-saving system that reduces revs when the car is travelling at constant speeds – this proves to be rather jerky in bumper-to-bumper traffic as the gears switch between regular programming and the virtual setup. But, once the roads open up, you quickly forget this minor inconvenience.

Apart from these minor niggles, it’s hard to fault the 911 Carrera S or its new turbocharged engine. In a highly competitive and regulated environment, it’s hard for car manufacturers (save for small boutique supercar makers) not to keep up with the times. For a company that almost went under 20-plus years ago because it wanted to stick to its roots, it’s probably a better strategy to keep up with the times while still drawing from its glorious past – like in the case of the new turbocharged 911.

Perhaps the customers (and fans) aren’t always right.