“Porsche 944 Turbo S” – Automobile Magazine, 1988

  • “Porsche 944 Turbo S:” the fastest four-cylinder street Porsche in history: Move over, 911.
  • Automobile Magazine
  • By Georg Kacher
  • Photography by Bernd Ebener

Wags and doubters who decry the four-cylinder 944 as something less than a true Porsche can no longer look to any sort of performance shortcomings to support their claim. The Stuttgart-based manufacturer of legendary sports and racing cars is introducing a new high-sport version of the 944, one that runs neck with the ferocious 911 Turbo and the all-conquering 928S4, leaving the revered 911 Carrera wondering where everybody went. It’s called the 944 Turbo S, and its 247-bhp engine, 5.5 second zero-to-sixty time, and 162-mph top speed place it among the very highest of today’s readily buyable high-performance automobiles.

Essentially, this is a roadgoing edition of the Turbo Cup car designed to compete in Europe’s popular factory-sponsored race series. A Porsche spokesman explains: “Our engineers had developed a more powerful Turbo Cup engine and an uprated suspension, which they felt were too good to be restricted to the race circuit. In this case, instead of creating yet another de-contented lightweight Clubsport version, we combined the Turbo Cup performance package with a very high level of equipment.” However, Porsche still may do a stripped Clubsport car later, and it is an open secret that the company also is working on a sixteen-valve 944S Turbo that probably will have a bigger 2.7-liter engine and even more brio.

Although the latest variation of the 944 theme is at present still a limited-edition model, Porsche AG’s board member for marketing, Hans Halbach, is reportedly willing to okay a second run as long as there is sufficient demand. So far, Porsche has decided to build 1000 cars, finished in black or silver-pink metallic. All 270 units allocated to the West German market have already been sold, and there is every indication that the 700-car contingent that should hit U.S. shores as you read this also will go in a hurry.

Porsche Cars North America has pegged the Turbo S price at $46,166. That’s a lot of money, but the car does package its blazing performance with exceptionally comprehensive equipment. The normally optional sunroof, cruise control, and upgraded stereo join a lengthy list of standard fitments, many of which are optional on the 944 Turbo: ABS, air conditioning, heated remote-control outside mirrors, head-lamp washers, power windows, central locking, variable-assist power steering, heated power seats, and a limited-slip differential. Leather upholstery is about the only optional extra. A base 944 Turbo lists for $38,795 and goes for over $40,000 when optioned up to compare with the new S, so Porsche is charging almost $6000 for the performance package.

By installing a modified KKK turbocharger and letting it puff a little harder (it has a 10.1-psi boost limit, whereas the standard Turbo’s is 8.8), engine wizard Paul Hensler and his team have increased the power and the torque of the pressurized 2.5-liter four. The standard U.S. 944 Turbo develops 217 bhp, at 5800 rpm; its new high-energy stablemate produces 247 bhp at 6000 rpm and 235 pounds-feet at 4000 rpm. Two other modifications are a full-throttle overboost function that briefly permits 11 psi, and more aggressive electronic ignition mapping.

In addition to the more muscular engine, the 944 Turbo S receives tauter springs, firmer shock absorbers, harder suspension-mount bushings, stiffer anti-roll bars, the larger-diameter ventilated front brake rotors of the 928S4, and wider sixteen-inch forged aluminum wheels shod with 225/50 front and 245/45 rear Goodyear Eagle N0s.

This Cup car in street clothes is a stunning performer, even though, at nearly 3000 pounds, it is not exactly a featherweight sports car. According to factory ratings for U.S. models, the 944Turbo S can sprint from 0 to 60 in a mere 5.5 seconds, making it as quick off the mark as a 911 Turbo and actually a tick faster than a manual-gearbox 928S4 (5.7 seconds). This four-cylinder car stays handily ahead of the ever popular 911 Carrera, which has a 6.,1-second zero-to-sixty time, and its eye-popping 162-mph top speed also easily exceeds the 911’s 149.

From the outside, the 944 Turbo S looks like a run-of-the-mill Turbo that received a set of new wheels and wider tires for Christmas. From behind the leather-rimmed steering wheel, though, the S version is altogether a different machine. Start the engine and listen to the full-bass growl emitted by the protruding exhaust pipe as fat as a baby elephant’s trunk. Take the howler around the block and get used to the sensation of the no-nonsense suspension, which goes blop-blop through potholes and over railway crossings, pressing all four tires against the tarmac with teeth-chattering determination. Not even the steering feels the way one remembers it. Stiffer damping and reduced power assist are complemented by the zero-comfort Eagles, which rumble like a bus and tramline like a bloodhound.

“This is a racing car that has a little bit of creature comfort injected here and there,” the Porsche man remarked as he handed over the keys, and right he was. Behind the stereo-phonic, air conditioned decor lurks an uncompromising tool for the dedicated driver. Take the engine, for instance. It has shed some of its smoothness and balance in favour of explosive to0end go and a seemingly unrestrained willingness to rev. Dawdling through town in fifth will never provoke this car to complain, but on the open road, with no traffic between the driver and the exit of the next bend, it’s always willing to show what it can do. Below 3000 rpm, turbo lag is admittedly more evident than in the standard Turbo version; above 3500 rpm, howver, the 944 Turbo S makes good again by unleashing so much bellowing power that a driver quickly runs out of revs in seconds and third gear.

On our way to the Eifel Mountains, the Porsche threaded its way through thick rush-hour traffic. Inconspicuous as it may look, the 944 Turbo S is one of those rare bow-and-arrow cars; It needs no more than a blink of an eye to flex its muscles and bolt. As long as you keep the revs up, the slippery two-plug-two-seater takes off like a rocket. In this car, overtaking is no longer a game of chance. Even with the gear lever in fifth and Schubert’s Ninth Symphony in the cassette player, our Turbo S took mere seconds to accelerate from a leisurely 50 mph to an inspired 75 mph. If this modified and suspiciously potent 247-bhp engine really produces only thirty extra horses, each of them must be a thoroughbred of Lippizanger proportions.

Driving the hot 944 flat out along a stretch of empty autobahn is an experience well worth a couple of transatlantic plane tickets. Having fun in first and second gear may be good for Mr. Goodyear’s business, but riding the Turbo S through a series of 125-plus-mph-bends provides a new and different fascination. The somewhat balky transmission is perfectly geared for fluent acceleration up to the 6400-prm redline, the urge of that big whistling turbine can still be felt above 130 mph, the directional stability is more settled than in most acknowledged supercars, and the fat brakes give determined and fade-free deceleration. Even as it approaches terminal velocity, the 944 Turbo S remains unperturbed and utterly sure-footed.

Putting this Porsche through its paces on narrow country lanes and twisty by-road is a bit of an anticlimax. There are stacks of roadholding and very little body roll, but the handling is to an extent marred by hesitant turn-in, by the relatively heavy and not overly quick steering, and by the sometimes rough and jerky traction from the limited slip differential. Again it becomes obvious how uncompromising the race-bred suspension calibration really is. The firm settings underneath may work wonders on the skidpad, but they are rather unkind to sensitive parts of the body. The good news is that this rock-solid chassis pushes up the limit without affecting the car’s honest cornering behaviour. Go five-tenths and there will be, at best, a touch of understeer. Build that up to nine-tenths, and the 944 will gradually shift the balance from nose to tail. Now be brave and try ten-tenths, but watch that rear end before it can go full circle.

The 944 Turbo S is without a doubt the most radical four-cylinder Porsche this side of the 924GTS/GTR. It is faster on the straight, quicker from A to B, and more entertaining all around than a “regular” 944 Turbo. But it is at the same time a lot less comfortable and considerably more expensive. Everything is a compromise, although this one will surely make sense to a few hundred hard-core Porsche enthusiasts.

[*] This article is copyright Automobile Magazine, 1988. It is used solely for educational purposes, and not for profit. It should not be considered representative of Automobile Magazine.


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