Automobile

2018 Porsche 911 Carrera T

This is a place of legends, where the best drivers ever have done their best work and where the ultimate driving gauntlet is thrown down every January. It’s the most infamous, daunting, and exposed stage on the Rallye Monte-Carlo, and it’s called Col de Turini. On its better days, it has snow at the top. And it’s terrifying.

That Porsche chose this road to debut yet another among the 23 variants of 911 currently available, the 911 Carrera T, demonstrates how enormous its cojones truly are. Not because the T uncovers significant new ground in the 911’s already wide bandwidth of abilities. But rather because Porsche isn’t afraid to send a lowered version of its brand-defining sports car for evaluation on roads utterly unsuited to lowered sports cars. But 911s have history here, and they’ve won on these roads. If a 911 can shine on the Turini, then it can shine just about anywhere.

The point of the T (for Touring) is to be a spartan model equipped with only the necessities that a dedicated driver might want. In truth, it is built from a combination of parts available elsewhere in the 911 line. The engine is the same one as in the base Carrera, the twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter flat-six pumping out 370 horsepower and 331 lb-ft of torque, the most modest output among all current 911s. The engine is bolted to a standard seven-speed manual transaxle fitted with a 3.59:1 final-drive ratio—slightly shorter than the base Carrera’s 3.44:1—and a limited-slip differential. Porsche’s dual-clutch automatic (PDK) is optional and offers the same gearset, although it uses the taller of the two final drives. It’s all housed within the narrow-body Carrera’s rear fenders.

The lowering is thanks to the standard two-mode PASM sport suspension, which brings the car down 0.4 inch relative to a base Carrera. Every 911 T gets a “lightweight” version of the Sport Chrono package, which adds a steering-wheel-mounted driving-mode selector and dynamic engine mounts but doesn’t include the dash-mounted chronometer. The T shares its thinner rear window and side glass with the GT2 RS (saving about eight pounds) and its 20-inch Titanium Grey wheels with the Carrera S. There are smaller details such as door-release straps and a special front lip. When the T is equipped with the optional ($5200) carbon-fiber Full Bucket Seats, which aren’t for everyone and also preclude the presence of the car’s rear seats, total weight savings is 44 pounds relative to a standard Carrera.

Parts-Bin Special

If the 911 Carrera T sounds like a parts-bin special, that’s because it is. But that doesn’t diminish its capabilities. This is a first-order driver’s car, a basic 911 equipped with purposefully selected, road-annihilating hardware. And that’s what it needs here, because the Turini offers no mercy. The route is rough; undulations and frost heaves pepper the surface throughout, and the higher it climbs the gnarlier it gets. A fine and frequently invisible layer of dirt lurks at many corner entrances. It is dry, it is wet, and in its shadows lay patches of ice and snow waiting to turn your moment of wonder into an obituary. There are deer, boulders, sheer drops, tunnels, overhangs, and switchbacks (so many switchbacks). The demands are high, and shrewd restraint is a prerequisite. And while Porsche might have balls, it also has brains, which is why it put the 911 T on winter tires for this adventure.

So we gave the Turini hell, driving faster than we should in a car that at first blush seemed wholly out of place—a smooth-asphalt specialist in a rally-car lair. But as we climbed the pass, building confidence in the T and its tires, the truth became evident. The Turini, as it turns out, is a 911 playground, a place where rear-engine stability (yes, we said that) has its merits. A place where a lightly loaded front axle breeds wise caution. And a place where the glory of laying stripes on switchbacks has never been greater.

But it’s the T’s seemingly benign engine that is perhaps its greatest asset on the Turini. Relatively small turbos dump enough boost (13.1 psi peak) into the 3.0-liter that torque zeniths at 1700 rpm. And that, in combination with a devastatingly effective limited-slip differential, makes the T a thing of beauty exiting switchbacks. The key is to get into first gear early in the corner, feel for the front to grip, and then, as the road straightens, floor the throttle quickly but progressively. The result is a creamy-smooth transition to easily controlled oversteer. Hold your foot down until the tires catch up with the chassis and steer around anything in the way. Jam home second gear. Rinse. Repeat.

As verification of the 911 Carrera T’s effectiveness on imperfect roads, Porsche was thoughtful enough to also bring along examples of the 911 GT3 Touring package at the same time and included a winter-tire-equipped example in our tour of the cols in southern France. And despite the respect we have for the wholly track-worthy GT3, it wasn’t as good a car in this terrain. The taller, less powerful T haunted it with turbocharged torque at every corner exit while Hoovering up the imperfect road surface with far more grace. It was also comfortably quicker in this scenario.

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