We’re not going to sweat the small stuff here, you might be glad to learn.
I have neither the space nor, frankly, the inclination to extemporise at length about the relative merits of switchgear design between the first and second generations of 991-series Porsche 911s. The issue here is whether the new car is a better 911 than the old. Period.
Shouldn’t be a question, should it? Porsche has had four years to chisel the 991 into sufficient shape to survive the next three before replacement. But so, too, have circumstances forced Porsche to adopt turbocharging even for entry-level models. And show me an engineer who’ll tell you it was done for reasons other than to improve on-paper CO2 and fuel consumption numbers and I’ll show you an engineer who has spent too long on courses devoted to how to handle the media.
This pragmatic rather than purist approach worried me from the start. No longer able to paddle its own canoe but obliged instead to swim in the same pool as all the other Volkswagen-owned brands, Porsche seemed in danger of making the 911 not so much a poorer car as a less interesting one. And that’s far worse.
Which is why I spent today up a mountain in two brand-new 911s, conceived either side of the model change, both Carreras with the PDK dual-clutch automatic gearboxes most owners will choose.
I drove there in the red generation two car, marvelling at just how damned easy it was to drive, even when pressing on in dreadful conditions on partly flooded roads. You can tell the engine has been turbocharged because it is so quiet, but its response is that of a turbo engine that seems a mite embarrassed about the appendages it has grown. It blows modest boost, has a double-digit compression ratio and introduces power so gently that it seems faintly apologetic of the fact that it will pull harder at 1700rpm than its sire across the car park will at its 5600rpm torque peak.
Yes, it can finally make proper sense of the 991’s irritatingly long ratios (more kowtowing to the emissions folk, I’m afraid) and, no, the throttle response has not become intolerably flabby. But it seems that immediacy, that yearning for revs, that apparent inexhaustible eagerness of the old engine – that has gone.
If it was ever there. I’ll admit now that my reintroduction to the ‘old’ 991 was a trifle chastening. Because memory is an essentially charitable institution and therefore needs little encouragement not only to deftly filter out the bad stuff but also replace it with a few rosier hues of its own, cars you’ve not driven for a while can appear far better in the mind than on the road.
I’d looked forward to that inimitable chainsaw buzz from the back of the car, the frisson of adrenalin when it first snarled into life and a response so sharp that my foot would feel like it was mainlining premium unleaded direct into the combustion chambers. In reality, the engine is quite quiet when it fires up and in normal use. And although throttle response is good, the turbo motor really isn’t that far behind.
So I took the old car up and down the same roads I’d just tried in the new one and was a bit shocked. If I can just about put the rubbish ride down to those inadvisable optional 20in rims, I can make no such excuses for its body control, which was simply not in the same league. And if I could forgive the stupid gearshift buttons because paddles were an affordable option (now standard on new PDK 991s), I hated the fact that if you wanted to shift sequentially using the selector, you had to pull back to change down. Now, and at last, Porsche has conceded that its motorsport boys were right all along, so it’s not only the GT3s that from now on will have correct shift orientation.
Some aspects were better than I’d expected. The steering of the new car is a little heavier and meatier in feel, but the old car’s helm is still pretty good for electric power steering, certainly far better than it was back in 2011. And at least in the wet, there didn’t seem to be any less grip. The new turbo Carrera has fatter rear boots, but they’re clearly there to deal with the increased potential for longitudinal rather than lateral acceleration.
And the atmo engine? Well, jolly nice it was, but worth the extra fuss when the gen 2 does quite a lot more for a lot less effort? It didn’t seem so to me.
It seemed even less so when I hopped back into the new car to do some skids for the camera. You know all that stuff about being able to balance a car on the edge of oblivion only because of the telepathic link between foot and throttle body provided by a world-class naturally aspirated motor? Forget it. For this sort of stuff in cars with massive inherent traction, give me easily accessible torque every day. The new engine gives you the mid-range grunt to prod and poke the chassis in a way that’s simply not possible in the old car. And when it breaks loose, it does so indulgently, progressively and spectacularly.
No sooner had I enjoyed this moment of clarity than I became unexpectedly consumed by a desire for a coronation chicken baguette from the local town. So I set off, but back in the old car and with hunger urging me on. But now I’d been reminded of its limitations and my brain had crunched through the archived data to recall how to minimise them. One word came back: revs. So I drove down and then back up the mountain, always a gear or two lower than I’d have chosen in the turbo car and, my goodness, what a difference it made.
Up there, in the rarefied atmosphere between 6000rpm and the damn near 8000rpm it will pull, this engine will take you places to which the new turbo motor – which has already done its best work by 6500rpm – has no access.
There is theatre here, a majesty in that howling, unencumbered exhaust note that brings a sense of occasion you’ll not find in any other daily driver, the new 911 included. It’s not just what it does when treated like this. It is the context. In the way its urge builds, layer on layer with every additional 1000rpm provided by a torque curve you’d need a Defender to drive up, it pays homage to all those 911s that have delivered their power in precisely this way ever since the first 911 S was launched exactly half a century ago. For a certain sort of owner, it provides a dimension to owning and driving a 911 that has now gone, probably for ever.
So I’ll leave it this way. The new turbocharged 991 is the better car and, should you require such a thing, the easy winner of this test. For 90% of not just drivers but 911 drivers, it is superior at least 90% of the time.
As for the engine, Porsche should be congratulated for doing so well a job that, I suspect, it didn’t much want to do in the first place. Just remember this: when you extract your 911 from its day-to-day drudgery and take it somewhere and let it go, it is old normally aspirated car that has the freer spirit, the more infectious enthusiasm. It is, in short, more like a 911. Or how a 911 used to be. However good this new car is, and it is very good indeed, it can do nothing to take that essential fact away.
Porsche 911 Carrera (991 generation 1)
Power 345bhp at 7400rpm; Torque 287lb ft at 5600rpm; Power to weight 234bhp per tonne; Specific output 100bhp per litre; 0-62mph 4.8sec; Economy 31.4mpg
Porsche 911 Carrera (991 generation 2)
Power 365bhp at 6500rpm; Torque 332b ft at 1700rpm; Power to weight 242bhp per tonne; Specific output 122bhp per litre; 0-62mph 4.6sec; Economy 34.0mpg