2003 Porsche 911 Turbo – Legendary ‘Turbo’ is still a world-class sports car

Four days of glory, touring the back roads of Montana and Idaho in a 2003 Porsche 911 Turbo.  Owner Terry  at roadside pullout in Idaho

Miscellaneous ramblings on driving a 15-year old Porsche 911 Turbo

For eons, Porsche’s legendary 911 Turbo coupe has been King of the Hill of the German marque’s sports car lineup.

Just like today, the 911 Turbo Coupe was – and continues to be – an aspirational car – one that makes enthusiasts salivate, stare with dilated pupils, and say to one’s self, “Some day, I’m going to have one.”  It’s fair to say automobile lust overcomes us ‘car guys’ whenever we’re within  eyeshot of one of these German beauties.

My cousin Terry fulfilled a longtime dream when he bought this 2003 911 Turbo last year.

Since the time we were teenagers, he and I shared a mutual passion for ‘hot’ cars – whether they were the then unobtainable (for us) late ’60s Mustang Boss 302s, Chevrolet Camaro Z28s, or super exotic Alfa Romeo GTVs.  We eventually acquired sporting cars we could afford, such as  a Mazda RX-2 Rotary (for him) and a Mercury Capri 2600 V6 (for me.)

A little bit of pleading . . . 

After relocating from the flatlands of Toronto to Calgary a few years ago, Terry began pestering me to guide him on some of the superb motorcycle (and sports car) roads nestled in mountainous parts of B.C., Montana, and Idaho, all relatively short drives from Calgary.

We finally found a 4-day window where he and I were available, so we took a ‘long weekend’ trip in the 2003 Porsche 911 Turbo he acquired last year.

This is a 15-year old 911 Turbo?

It should be easy to be hyper critical of a 15 year old car, but this 2003 911 Turbo is still a delightful car for any enthusiast.

The 911 possess an unmistakable silhouette that’s been burned into car consciousnesses for some five decades now.  It takes a dedicated Porsche enthusiast to identify the styling differences between the recent generations of 911 body styles.  Terry’s 15-year old Turbo still looks fresh, sporting and elegant, attracting admiring looks from ‘enthusiasts’ and civilians alike.

Inside the cabin, the 911 is all business.  While not quite Spartan, the car shows its age, lacking any fancy-schmancy Thin Film Transfer colour displays (like new Audis), and no stupid looking IPad-look-alike information display sticking out of the top of the dashboard.

The Turbo is all business; it’s instrument cluster is dominated appropriately by a large tachometer flanked by an analog speedometer (supplemented by a digital one) and other necessary gauges on either side.

Black, perforated leather heated sports seats are typical ‘German firm’ and were comfortable for long stints on the road.

This 911 Turbo has the typical, eccentric (to be kind, but in reality, just stupid) left side of the steering column ignition.  A holdover from the 1960 glory days of “Lemans start” racing, where the race started with the drivers sprinting to their parked cars, jumping in, starting the car and racing off.  The left side key location helped the driver to save split seconds required to start the car and close the driver’s door using the same hand.

This particular 911 Turbo was delivered with an optional ‘premium’ sound system, but sounds about as good as the standard equipment stereos on a new Rav4.  No worries; you don’t buy a 911 Turbo to listen to the stereo.  It’s the symphonic growl the turbocharged flat-six cylinder engine emits from idle to howling 6,750 rpm redline that’s worth every dollar this car still commands.

Driving is all that matters

With 120-odd-thousand kilometres on the clock, this 911 Turbo remains remarkably tight.  It doesn’t rattle or squeak over bumps (apart from the ungainly Dollar Store-sourced electrical ‘octocpus’ Terry’s plugged into the cigarette lighter socket – a band-aid solution to ‘modernize’ the car with up-to-date technologies, such as Bluetooth, radar detector, mobile phone charger, etc.

Terry warns me the Porsche’s gearshift is a little eccentric, with long-ish throws (compared to the slick and precise Tremec 6-speed transmission of my ’17 Shelby GT350), and the transmission’s sometimes vague, less than positive engagement of 1st gear.  Despite the long throws, the gates are relatively precise and I never worried about accidentally shifting (especially down-shifting) into the wrong gear.

Clutch, brake and gas pedals on the Turbo are thankfully ‘normal’, and not the weird, sprouting-out-of-the-floor mechanisms of older generation 911s, a genetic throwback to the original 1950s Porsche platforms.

The 911 Turbo’s steering is amazing and it is the benchmark for feel and precision that virtually all serious sports car manufacturers aspire to replicate.  For you ‘oldsters’, the 911’s power-assisted steering feels almost as heavy as manual steering cars of the 1960s, while still providing an incredible level of rich, ‘detailed’ feedback from the front tires.

Brakes.  Whoa!  First, the 4-wheel disc brakes require an unusual amount of foot pressure – more than any other car I’ve driven (including other late model 911s, Caymans, Cayennes and Panameras.)  Once you get used to the pressure (and resultant high level of ‘feel’), the brakes are fantastic and in spirited driving, absolutely confidence inspiring.

That feels a bit ‘weird’

In spirited driving, this ‘old’ 911 Turbo is a delight.  With ‘only’ 415 horsepower flat-six turbocharged engine produces a grunty 415 lb-ft of torque from 2700 rpm, plenty of power to haul ass with a light 3,395 lbs to motivate.  (By comparison, my 526 hp 2017 Ford Shelby GT350 weighs a portly 3,790 lbs.)

Running through a very tight set of twisties in Idaho, the 911 Turbo is agile, precise, and feels superbly stable.  However, not being used to running a rear-engine sports car hard, I really notice the 911’s rear weight bias.  In hard turns, I can feel the rear ‘pushing’ the car and ‘helping’ the car rotate around the turn.  Honestly, it’s a little unnerving at first.  The seat-of-the-pants ‘feel’ of the rear of the car pushing is a different sensation, especially for those of us who’ve grown up with ‘normal’, front-engine cars.

As long time sports car enthusiasts, Terry and I are both very cognizant of the the older 911s nasty reputation for the car ‘snapping’ around when drivers enter a corner too hot and automatically lift off the throttle.  So while we’re driving enthusiastically, this slightly scary possibility haunts us and tempers our enthusiasm somewhat.  Having said that, this generation of 911 has apparently had the undesirable characteristic of lift-throttle-oversteer engineered out of it, cured partly by the car’s ‘staggered’ different size front to rear tire fitment – 225/40R-18 front, 305/30R-18 rear.  (This car was fitted with Hankook Ventus maximum performance summer tires which proved to be quiet and grippy even in wet driving conditions.)

And finally . . . 

In the end, this 15-year old Porsche 911 Turbo was a joy to drive over 4 days.  Quick, quiet and beautifully built, it remains a benchmark, world class sports car.

In its day, one of the big U.S. car magazines did a comparison test between the 2003 Dodge Viper SRT10 and 2003 Porsche 911 Turbo, and the Porsche was the editors’ choice.  A decade-and-a-half later, the Porsche 911 Turbo remains among the best driver’s cars around, and now, pre-owned examples like this one are relatively affordable.



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