“Porsche 944 Turbo S” – Car and Driver, 1988

  • “Porsche 944 Turbo S:” a bargain at $48, 350.
  • Car and Driver Magazine
  • By Tony Assenza

You’ll never go broke gouging the rich, somebody once said. In good times and bad, the rich always manage to have enough liquid assets to buy the toys that make this vale of tears just a little easier to bear. Even during the depths of the Great Depression, when a quarter of the population stood in bread lines, there were enough plutocrats to keep the luxury ocean liners shuttling to Europe for the grand tour, and enough wealthy car fanciers to keep the custom coachbuilders solvent. Today more than ever, the truly greedy seem almost eager to be gouged. Whether you’re selling his-and-hers Learjets or gold-plated Berettas – a necessity, really, for managing the servant problem – you[‘ll find no shortage of people just itching to hand you fabulous sums of money.

There are exceptions, of course, and Porsche, unfortunately, is one of them. The market for its cars, both new and used, has gone soft. At the end of last year, its U.S. sales were off 22 percent from 1986. They’re currently off 25 to 30 percent. As a result, the company has throttled back its production lines and slashed the number of cars it sends here. And cars that do reach Porsche Cars North America are taking up warehouse space much longer than they used to, in order not to overload dealers with inventory.
Clearly, this state of affairs is no reflection on the quality or basic wonderfulness of Porsches. What we are witnessing is plain old fear. Porsche customers, no matter how well off, saw a vision of hell when the stock market went Tango Uniform. A lot of would-be customers are crowding Wall Street employment agencies, and some of those who still have jobs are looking at investing what they have left in something less playful, like non-perishable food, or electrified fences to keep their former colleagues off the grounds.

It’s unfortunate that the 944 Turbo S should appear amid this gloomy atmosphere. On the other hand, now is a good time as any to buy this car: at $48,350, it’s a (choke) bargain. If you find that hard to believe, just bear with us for a moment.

The new “S” suffix denotes an options package added to a limited edition of a thousand 944 Turbos; 700 will be available here. The heart of the package is the Turbo’s 2.5-liter four, pumped up with a larger turbocharger and higher maximum boost. The revisions raise its power output from 217 to 247 hp, making it by far the most potent four-cylinder engine in the world. And that’s not all. The S treatment also includes a sport suspension, with stiffer springs and shocks, a bigger front anti-roll bar, and firmer bushings; larger wheels and tires; larger front disc brakes, borrowed from the 928S4; anti-lock control; a limited-slip differential; distinctive cloth seats and door trim; full-power front seats; a split, folding rear seat; and a few minor items such as headlight washers, side mouldings, and a rear wiper. The package adds $5510 to the price of the base 944 Turbo. In addition, $2157 worth of sound-system, cruise-control, and sunroof options are mandatory with the S goodies.

Admittedly, the cost of the S package alone could put you into a Hyundai or make a hefty down payment on a Honda – so where’s the bargain? Well, if you were to try to duplicate the package on a 944 Turbo by ordering the individual items from the options sheet, they would cost you more than $9000, and you wouldn’t get the high-output engine. By letting Porsche do it for you, you save about $4000 and get 30 more horsepower in the – yes – bargain.

Before we tell you what those extra horses do, we must warn you that the Turbo S we tested wasn’t absolutely stock. Because of a scheduling problem, PCNA couldn’t lend us a car in time for the test. A few phone calls later, our good friend Steve Knappenberger, owner of Scottsdale Porsche in Arizona, offered to provide a car destined for a customer. The only stipulations were that we had to do our testing in Pheonix and with the 3.89:1 final-drive ration the customer had requested. The stock final-drive is taller at 3.38:1. A week after our Pheonix session, we drove, but were not allowed to test, a standard Turbo S at the Willow Springs race track in Southern California.

We expected the car with the shorter gearing to be much quicker from 0 to 60 and much slower in top speed than the standard Turbo S, but we were only half right. Although the modified car got off the mark faster, it reached redline in second gear at 56 mph, and the shift into third stretched our 0-to-60 time by a few precious tenths, to 5.5 seconds. The standard-geared Turbo S, which carried second gear well past 60 mph, could probably have matched that phenomenal time. If so, it would have reached 60 exactly half a second quicker than the standard 944 Turbo we tested in December 1985.

Top speed, as we expected, suffered considerably from the shorter gearing; our test car ran into the redline in fifth gear at 140 mph. The base 944 Turbo does 157 mph, so the extra horsepower of the S package should take the standard-geared Turbo S to 160 mph or higher.

No guesswork is necessary on the subject of braking. Thanks to its ABS and wider tires, the Turbo S hauls itself down from 70 mph in just 169 feet. We’ve tested only a handful of cars that manage to better that performance. The base 944 Turbo requires another seventeen feet of stopping room.

The Turbo S, in short, is a born racer. And we mean that literally; its engine and its suspension changes were conceived for the cars that compete in the Porsche Turbo Cup, the race series Porsche has been running in Europe for the last few years. This is one clear-cut case of racing improving the breed. The standard 944 Turbo is certainly an able track performer, but the S package’s stiffer springing, harder bushings, wider wheels and tires, larger front anti-roll bars, and adjustable Koni gas shocks combine to produce considerably less body roll and much tauter handling. Although we weren’t able to do any skidpad testing, we can say with confidence that the S has much more stick than the standard Turbo, which corners at 0.80 g. The Turbo S exhibits mild but noticeable understeer at the limit, a characteristic designed into the suspension to alter the driver that he is about to lose adhesion. Backing off the throttle cancels some of the understeer without kicking the tail out very far. On the negative side, the stiffer suspension yields a much harsher and somewhat noisier ride.

Although the Turbo S’s steering effort is light, the wheel provides plenty of feedback, and the effort bulds gradually as you approach the limit. Despite the car’s prodigious horsepower and high braking and cornering limits, it doesn’t feel like a high-strung boy racer. It’s remarkably forgiving, and you never have to guess its next move. All the information you need to stay on the road and in control is faithfully telegraphed in your palms and the seat of your pants.

The Turbo S does have one quirk which showed up both on the public roads of Pheonix and at Willow Springs. It took us by surprise the first time it happened; in a bumpy corner, taken at a fairly good clip, the outboard rocker-panel extension scraped the pavement. After we realized what was going on, we used the grinding as an audio cornering-load indicator, warning us that we were using up all the wheel travel and should back off a little for the next corner.

Knappenberger’s customer knows his final-drive ratios. On the street and in traffic-light shoot-outs, the Turbo S with the shorter gearing had much better throttle response than the stock car. In day-to-day driving, the factory car’s extra top end is academic. Most people who don’t live in Turn Three at Daytona rarely need to travel at 160 mph.

The Turbo S’s interior is the same purproseful environment we know from other 944s. It offers no distractions from the business at hand, which is driving hard and fast. The seats are supportive, the pedals are ideally placed for heel-and-toe tap dancing, the shifter slides into gear by telepathy, and the steering wheel is one of the nicest things this side of Daryl Hannah to put your hands on. The cockpit has the further distinction, shared only with the 944S and the 944 Turbo, of providing air bags for both front occupants. It also, of course, has lap and shoulder belts, which you should wear even though air bags are poised to inflate in your face.

We could live without some of the S’s other features. Power seats and headlight washers and so on are convenient, but they contribute to the Turbo’s 150-pound weight penalty relative to the standard 944 Turbo. The hottest ticket would be to combine the high-protein engine and the stout suspension pieces in a 944 stripped of frills – a no nonsense fighter read for any mission from hauling groceries to turning a couple of laps at Le Mans. We may never see such a setup, but Porsche should at least consider the idea; it would provide the serious enthusiast with a rocket ship for a few grand less, and perhaps stimulate additional sales.

But don’t wait for the best bargain possible. If you can meet the current price without depriving yourself of food, clothing, or shelter for the term of the note, get your banker on the phone right now, before 700 other crash survivors get the same notion. You’ll have a hard time finding a GT machine as easy to drive fast and as easy to live with as the 944 Turbo S. It’s by far the strongest-performing four-cylinder car in the world, and only a few cars of any stripe can match or beat its numbers. The same holds true for its combination of mechanical smoothness, creature comforts, and handling precision. Add all its virtues together and its least expensive competition is the Porsche 928S4, which, comparably equipped, costs another twenty grand.

See? We told you the 944 Turbo S is a bargain.

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

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