While most car enthusiasts know that Brabus is the world’s largest Mercedes-Benz tuner, not many realize that Brabus is also, by a considerable margin, the world’s largest tuner per se. With six state-of-the-art buildings sitting on 37 acres of wholly-owned land on an industrial estate in Bottrop, north-west Germany, Brabus covers the tuning gamut of the latest and past Mercedes models along with the restoration, buying, and selling of classic Mercedes.
Brabus also operates a well-established research and development division frequently contracted by OE carmakers for small volume specialist models that are too costly to produce in-house. Their cutting-edge capabilities include Computer-Aided Design (CAD), Finite Element Method (FEM), 3D printing, and developing and producing specialist carbon-fiber components.
Brabus was founded in 1977 as an exclusive tuner of Mercedes-Benz vehicles by auto industry visionary and old-school gentleman, the late Bodo Buschmann. Today, the company is run by Bodo’s son Constantin who is busy leveraging the company’s brand equity into the tuning of other exclusive marques like Rolls-Royce and Porsche.
Brabus’ debut Porsche tuning package is for the 992 Turbo S, a stupendously fast car out of the box. But there will always be a hard-core group for whom too much power is just enough, and Brabus’ headline number of 820 hp is definitely enough to stir their blood. Before we explain in detail how the Brabus engineers raised the output of the Turbo S engine to 820 hp from the stock 640 hp, we need to put the increasingly complex arena of aftermarket tuning in 2022 into context.
When the first-generation 911 Turbo, the 930, was introduced in 1976, it featured 260 hp and 254 lb-ft of torque from a turbocharged version of the 200 hp 2,993cc flat-six powering the contemporary Carrera 3.0. This early Turbo tipped the scales at a modest 2,635 lbs. Within two years, Porsche had increased the engine capacity to 3,299cc, moved the engine slightly further forward to improve the weight distribution, and added an intercooler and a brake servo. The 300 hp and 304 lb-ft were big numbers then, even though the curb weight of the 3.3 Turbo had grown to 2,943 lbs.
Fast forward to 2022, and the 992 Turbo S coupe is physically larger and considerably heavier at 3,636 lb. But the 640 hp and 590 lb-ft of torque dispensed through Porsche’s latest all-wheel-drive system does a sterling job of practically bending the laws of physics. Just as its predecessors did, the Turbo S stands toe-to-toe with supercars costing twice as much or more.
In the 1980s and ’90s, before electronic management of the engine and gearbox became sophisticated, it was not difficult to see significant gains in power through better flowing cylinder heads, high-lift camshafts, and a free-flow exhaust. Back then, emissions and noise regulations were not such a big deal.
Over the years, however, the onset of ever-tightening emissions regulations has made the tuner’s job increasingly difficult. This is a multi-layered issue since OE manufacturers use increasingly sophisticated electronics to control the multitude of on-board systems. Thus the cost complexity of extracting more power and torque while staying legal within the European Union (EU) and U.S. regulatory system has become quite prohibitive, a fact reflected in the dwindling number of tuners able to offer engine upgrades that are fully compliant across the board.
With current vehicles, EU compliance encompasses meeting noise and emissions regulations with the mandatory particle filter in the loop. Only a handful of tuners have the facilities, engineering skills, and the financial ability to bankroll the necessary certification process and then wait for sales to amortize these costs before turning a profit. On that basis, Brabus stands at the cutting edge of the tuning elite.
“We did not come up with 820 hp as a target output,” says Joern Gander, Brabus’ Chief Technical Officer, in outlining the company’s Porsche tuning journey. “As a manufacturer certified by the Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt (German Transport Authority) and offering a three-year or 100,000-km (62,137-mile) warranty on our products, we began by investigating what is possible without compromising the reliability and longevity of the flat-six twin-turbo motor.”
Brabus engineers could have used a bespoke crankshaft, rods, and pistons, uprated other internal parts, and increased displacement from 3.8 to 4.0 liters, as they do with their 4.5-liter Rocket 900 engine based on the Mercedes-AMG 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8, but that would have been prohibitively expensive. As Brabus had no track record in the Porsche tuning world, it was abundantly clear that this was not the best way to approach its first offering.
Brabus offers two stages of tune for the 992 Turbo S under their PowerXtra label. Stage 1 is the Brabus PowerXtra P38S-720 conversion that consists of only a plug-and-play module placed between the engine and the factory engine control unit (ECU) and connected by a bespoke wiring harness. This piggyback unit takes the incoming data from the factory ECU and remaps the fuelling, ignition, and boost curves to optimize power and torque. The Stage 1 output numbers are 720 hp and 663 lb-ft.
As excess heat is the engine’s deadliest enemy, Brabus leave the factory temperature sensor protocols in place. Should the engine reach that point, the PowerXtra module disengages, and the factory ECU mapping implements safety protocols like cutting back ignition advance and boost pressure to reduce power and protect the engine. Higher output places greater thermal loads on an engine, which is especially relevant to the Stage 2 PowerXtra P38S-820 conversion.
“Porsche’s big intercoolers have sufficient headroom to support our 820 hp Stage 2 conversion,” says Gander. “The major limitations to producing over 750 hp was the factory turbochargers running out of airflow capability.”
Having persuaded various generations of Mercedes engines to produce up to 80 percent more than their factory-rated outputs, the engineers at Brabus are long-established masters of the art of turbocharger enhancement. Thus, adding 180 hp to the 992 Turbo S, a mere 28 percent extra, did not appear to be much of a challenge at first glance.
“Early on in our dyno tests, we found that the key to the power and torque of this engine lies within the VTG (variable turbine geometry) turbochargers, so we focused our efforts there,” explains Gander on what went into the Stage 2 tuning development. “We machined the compressor housing to take our larger compressor wheel with bespoke blade geometry. Then we did the same with the turbine wheel and its housing, both wheels benefiting from uprated bearings and shafts. The geometry of the VTG assembly whose blades change their angle of attack to alter airflow to the turbine wheel was also modified.”
Since Mercedes does not use VTG technology, which incidentally was previously used on turbo-diesel engines, this was the first time Brabus has had to deal with such a turbocharger. With just about every component changed or upgraded, these turned out to be the most modified turbos in the 45-year history of Brabus.
The factory camshafts that control the variable valve timing were retained. After optimizing the fuelling, ignition, and turbo boost mapping, the engineers were pleased to see the dyno needle swing well past 800 hp on 2.1 bar (30.45 psi) of boost with the exhaust particulate filter in place. Then came the fine-tuning that would endorse both perfect driveability and full TUV (Technischer Überwachungsverein, or Technical Inspection Association) exhaust emission and noise certification; both the 720-hp Stage 1 and 820-hp Stage 2 conversions passed easily.
The homologated output for the Stage 2 Brabus PowerXtra P38S-820 conversion is 820 hp at 6,900 rpm, with 701 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm, the latter electronically capped to protect the PDK transmission and the drivetrain components.
“It was important to us that the car should drive exactly as the customer expects—in other words, just like the factory Turbo S, but even faster and more focused,” states Gander in a serious tone. So in a similarly serious vein, we get into their Crayon Grey Cabriolet 820 demo car and set out to see for ourselves.
Drive & Details
At a canter, the Brabus 820 992 Turbo S drives exactly like a stock Porsche, its PDK gearbox instantly and seamlessly shifting ratios. Thankfully it is also bereft of any of the so-called ‘race car’ kick-in-the-back histrionics and juvenile exhaust popping and banging that the marketing departments of some rivals think customers want or need.
With Launch Control engaged from a standing start you can solidly bet against any passenger picking the proverbial coin off the dashboard. Not only will they be totally pinned back into their seat, but the coin will likely sail right past them and end up somewhere in the rear compartment! All-wheel-drive traction and the engine weight over the rear wheels make the 2.5-second 0-60 mph time a repeatable reality. It also puts the Brabus Turbo S neck-and-neck with the 1,500-hp Bugatti Chiron hypercar, whose price tag is multiples of this fully-loaded and customized Cabriolet that itself adds 50 percent to the list price of the base car. The 211 mph top speed is electronically limited to respect the speed rating of the tires.
Where the extra performance is really felt by driver and passenger alike is on the fly, where the rapid speed gathering ability of the stock Turbo S turns into a real Top Gun afterburner experience when you join a fast-moving freeway or overtake on a country road. Pin the throttle at modest speeds and you will feel all four contact patches of the fat Pirelli P-Zero tires trying their best to break away from the tarmac. The tail squats, the nose rises, and a wave of torque hurls the car forwards in a visceral lunge for the horizon. In the Cabriolet with its top down, this experience sits squarely between exhilarating and downright scary. Do this a few times and it becomes less scary, but the exhilaration part never gets old.
Part of the increase in sensory input comes from the deeper, more purposeful exhaust note generated by the bespoke Brabus sports exhaust system. Instead of the customary titanium frequently used to save weight and deliver a unique sound at the top end of the tuner tree, Brabus elected to adopt Inconel, as commonly used by present-day Formula One teams for their exhaust headers.
Stainless steel with a high nickel content, Inconel is actually more common than titanium in motorsport thanks to its material properties giving it more heat resistance. Brabus crafted an all-new Inconel exhaust system including headers, silencers, and connecting pipes, with a sound valve control hooked up to the factory system. In Normal mode for town driving this delivers a deeper voice than stock, but it is not much louder in decibel terms. When fully open in Sport mode, however, the system unleashes the kind of sonorous, throaty flat-six growl that Brabus and Porsche fans expect.
The most elaborate tailpipes ever seen on a Brabus car, the exhaust tips with their honeycomb structure are a unique talking point. The first time you see them, you try to figure out how such a geometrically complex design was cast or machined. Still, sharp-eyed enthusiasts will recognize that the only way to achieve this is with 3D printing, which Brabus carries out in Inconel.
One thing that distinguishes any Brabus car is its wheels, and the design philosophy of whether they should integrate with the car or stand out was a source of deep discussion at the start of the project. It was quickly decided that the latter was the way to go, and the resulting Brabus Monoblock Z one-piece forged alloy wheel is a simple and elegant 10-spoke design sized 1.0-inch larger in diameter than stock. Using silver and black accents to help tell their story of elegance, lightness, and strength, this is the first-ever Brabus wheel to use a race-style center-lock system.
These 9.0J x 21-inch and 12.0J x 22-inch wheels are wrapped in 255/30R21 and 335/25R22 rubber from either Continental or Pirelli, and fill out the wheel arches perfectly in conjunction with the Brabus height-adjustable sports suspension, set 25 mm (0.98 in.) lower than stock. The low unsprung weight conferred by the ultra-light wheels and careful suspension calibration leaves the ride hardly firmer than on the standard car.
The carbon-fiber aerodynamic styling kit is simple but functional. The factory front spoiler lip is part of the active aero system, and the larger Brabus carbon-fiber version simply replaces that with full functionality. The same material is used for the new air intake frames and the side winglets. Other small components are the winglets in front of the rear wheel arches, and as with the other carbon-fiber exterior and interior components, you can choose a matte or gloss finish.
The most visually expressive additions to the car are at the rear with the fully functional diffuser that surrounds the exhaust outlets and helps both heat extraction from the engine bay as well as lift and drag reduction. Of course, the most prominent feature is the rear wing that adds more positive downforce.
The finest quality interior trim is an art Brabus perfected decades ago. This “Brabus Masterpiece” interior oozes sporty luxury and features lots of nice details to discover when you spend time in the cabin. The black leather with red accents like the red strips around the dashboard, console, and doors perfectly offsets the Crayon-hued exterior. But it is only when you look closer and assimilate clever details like how the red fabric under the perforated black leather on the seat faces gives the impression of depth that you realize just how much thought and tangible effort has gone into this interior.
Brabus approaches every project aiming for a homogenous finished product, and one of their aims was to leave the character of the 992 Turbo S largely unchanged. Thus, the improved straight-line performance is balanced out by chassis dynamics that benefit from a crisper turn-in, reduced roll, and greater mechanical grip. This kind of gentle nip and tuck to emphasize the strengths of the basic car is the Brabus way, and their 820-hp 992 Turbo S Cabriolet is a spectacularly well-rounded entry into the world of high-end Porsche tuning.