Currently reading: How to configure the ultimate Porsche 911: all variants face off
The 992-generation Porsche's options list offers a wide range of choices that can make, if not break, a great 911. We go in search of the sweet spot
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9 mins read
27 February 2021

Were you to flick through the sales brochure for the Porsche 901 – as the 911 was known in the early 1960s, before Peugeot asserted its naming rights – you’d marvel at the simplicity.

Porsche provides quaint details such as the handbrake drum diameter (180mm) and the ‘location of engine in vehicle’, which, just to be clear, is ‘at rear, behind rear axle’. But more broadly, while there are columns of figures to absorb, there’s not much variation. None, in fact, except for a small note at the very bottom of the specification, where we’re told additional gear sets for the five-speed gearbox exist. The 911 is otherwise a set mechanical menu.

You don’t need me to tell you that this level of rationalisation is utterly alien to the 911 Carrera of 2021. Hit up today’s weighty brochure and, before you begin to contemplate whether to have a gloss or anodised finish for the inside of the dust caps (only joking…), or if you really are suave enough to pull off houndstooth seats (of course you are), you need to get your head around an arsenal of dynamic options that mean two identical-looking 911s can actually behave very differently on the road. And, no pressure, but things can get quite expensive, even before you get to the 911 Turbo models and the screaming GT-series cars.

The bare-bones Carrera, which comes only in rear-driven, PDK-shifting form, is yours for £83,000, while a Carrera 4S stuffed with every chassis and powertrain option costs £118,000. The difference is almost enough to put an Alpine A110 on your drive. What is tricky to pin down is where between those two price points is the Carrera undercooked, overwrought, or so good that the result is worth every penny.

Happily, the recent arrival of an almost entirely option-free car on Porsche GB’s press fleet gives us a rare chance to find out – and there really is an emphasis on the ‘rare’. After all, who can resist technologies that promise to make your car go faster, become more agile and, of course, look meaner? And as your dealer will remind you, there are residuals to consider. In practice, it means truly basic 911s tend to exist only on paper: nobody buys them, and so Porsche reasonably assumes we have no appetite to test them.

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Wider, more powerful eighth-generation 911 is still eminently fast, and capable at all speeds

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Of course, this isn’t true, not least because today our plain white, 380bhp Carrera can act as a control against which to assess all those tempting options (see below) and therefore define the optimal 911. We also have four opinionated road testers and three further 911s, each with varying levels of kit, including a 444bhp manual Carrera S (Gentian Blue) and a PDK-equipped Carrera 4S (Agate Grey) with rear-wheel steering. Unlike the regular Carrera, both the S and 4S also have the 10mm-lower PASM Sport suspension and sports exhaust. And just so we have at least one car running PDCC active anti-roll bars and carbon-ceramic brakes, there’s the grandaddy, 641bhp Turbo S (Guards Red). It’s no Carrera, but with it here, every possible 911 option can be assessed.

So we drive all day, up and down the most challenging B-roads known to our collective hive mind, repeating runs in each of our four subjects until we are clear about what we like and what we would spend our own money on.

And? Well, the big takeaway is that, no matter how you specify your 911, you’re getting a machine of supreme ability, balance, ergonomics and general finesse. That might sound twee but I can’t stress it enough: there are no losers here, and talk of underdone and overcooked cars quickly evaporates. As James Disdale observes, the character of each car is plainly different, although clearly it’s difficult to screw up the 992 911 by Porsche’s own hand. Mind you, the same isn’t true of your bank balance.

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Next, minor notes. No one felt any of the larger 20/21in staggered wheel sets had any detrimental effect on ride quality compared with the Carrera’s 19/20in pairing. With the rear suspension cradling the mass of the 3.0-litre twin-turbo flat six, any 911 needs to prioritise control over plushness at its back axle, so an appreciable degree of road roar and reactivity on poor surfaces is unavoidable. Marginally smaller wheels won’t change that. Interestingly, Matt Prior and your scribe also preferred the 911 without its sports exhaust. The standard system is less bombastic but less bassy, and it lets the engine’s higher frequencies filter through.

Now it gets more intricate. Do you go for four-wheel drive? It depends. The 4S is the easiest car to drive here, and on wet roads it is devastatingly effective. There’s no torque steer, just neutrality, drive, control and confidence. Yet compared with the rear-drive Carreras, there’s no doubt the steering feels fractionally thickset and the car less inherently bubbly. And that’s unsurprising. There’s more unsprung mass in the nose of the 4S; at 1565kg, it weighs 85kg more than the S, which is the lightest car here and daintier even than the basic Carrera, saddled as it is with the 35kg-heavier PDK dual-clutch automatic gearbox.

Front driveshafts, therefore, fall by the wayside early on. However, the 4S still makes a prodigiously good GT car, and if you do choose to prioritise stability over handling purity, you might well also go for the rearwheel steering, the effects of which (namely, shortening the 992’s lengthy wheelbase) are at once detectable yet effortlessly integrated. It is telling, though, that nobody chooses either option for their dream spec.

The two shoo-ins are the PASM Sport suspension and the Sport Chrono Pack. The effect of not having Porsche’s shorter springs is demonstrated by the Carrera. Admittedly, it takes an evil road to markedly expose the car’s looser body control, and muddying the water is the fact that the slight slack in the suspension, along with the Carrera’s narrower wheels, makes the handling more beholden to the 911’s fundamental layout. The result is often a more fluid, engaging device with more of the spirit of an oldschool 911, and one that requires a thoughtful mind and sensitive hands and feet to drive properly fast.

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What you won’t necessarily like are the flashes of unexpected oversteer, or mid-corner understeer if you’re too early on the throttle. PASM Sport tempers both, while the usefully relaxed but not entirely hands-off PSM Sport ESP setting only comes with the Sport Chrono Pack. The combination of the two ups the 911’s fun factor considerably.

Enter the Turbo S, which in this company looks like Mike Tyson in a tutu turning up at ballet class. It’s also every bit as shocking as that mental image when punted down a B-road. This car benefits from every dynamic trick Porsche has for a 911, so while it weighs 1640kg, through its Alcantara rim it somehow feels the lightest thing here. It is fiercely direct yet immensely stable and surprisingly gritty in its feedback.

But what can we learn from it? First, its steering, crisper than the Carrera 4S’s, which also had four-wheel drive and rear-steer, is likely down to the unsprung mass saved by the composite brakes. Despite the expense, three out of the four testers here would have them. Second, the switchable active anti-roll bars, which torque themselves through corners to limit weight transfer, are overkill for road driving.

With the Turbo’s contribution done, and almost all else accounted for, less, but not least, is best. We like the basic Carrera, but the inability to have it with the seven-speed manual gearbox and PASM Sport mean the Carrera S is the apple of our eye. Yes, three pedals. Because in something as capable and fluid as the 992, why wouldn’t you get as close as possible to the nexus of the experience?

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The options

PASM Sport suspension, £665: Shorter springs with higher rates give greater body control, but only if you need it. The standard dampers on the Carrera are continually ‘adapting’ to the road surface, but the PASM Sport set-up has two selectable modes (actually predetermined parameters): Normal and Sport. The car also sits 10mm closer to the road.

Rear-axle steering, £1952: Porsche’s modern-day take on rear-wheel steering was first seen on the 918 Spyder. A motor sited ahead of the upper suspension wishbone turns the rear wheels in contrary direction to the fronts in slower corners but with them in faster bends. It is becoming more important as the 911’s growing wheelbase erodes its natural agility.

Manual gearbox, No cost: There’s one big caveat here: the seven-speed manual gearbox is available only on S models, so it is now impossible to create the purest 911 expression: a three-pedal Carrera. Oh well. This option does, however, come with the full Sport Chrono Pack and, this being 2021, it also touts a rev-matching function for lazy souls. Don’t expect it to outsell the PDK.

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Sports exhaust, £1844: There is no point pretending that the arrival of turbochargers and chunky petrol particulate filters haven’t muted the 911’s flat six. So perhaps it’s no surprise that the sports exhaust option is more popular than ever. It’s recognisable by the two big-bore tips, rather than four smaller outlets. However, both systems use electronically controlled valves.

Porsche ceramic composite brakes (PCCB), £6321: Brutally expensive and not the best option if you like track days. That’s because you’ll still wear through the discs, just as you would with cast-iron items, but these cost a fortune to replace. The reduction in unsprung mass – not to mention the lack of dust they generate – could make ceramic discs the better option for the road.

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Porsche dynamic chassis control (PDCC), £2273: Of all the 911 options, this is arguably the most impressive but feels the least essential for a low-slung sports car. An electric motor built into each anti-roll bar ‘torques’ it during cornering for minimum lateral load transfer, then relaxes it on the straights for better ride quality. The catch: it’s only available with four-wheel steering.

Sport Chrono Pack, £1683: These days it’s rare to find a new 911 that doesn’t have the Sport Chrono Pack, which is identifiable by the especially unsubtle dash-mounted stopwatch. The real reason you might want it, though, is for the dynamic engine mounts, which use fluid-filled dampers that stiffen at high engine speeds, PSM Sport mode and max-attack Sport Plus driving mode.

Our dream 911

Autocar's perfect 911: Carrera S19/20in RS Spyder wheels £1650; Sports Seats Plus £324; Manual gearbox - no cost; PASM Sport suspension £665; PCCB composite brakes £6321. Total £104,186

Matt Prior's perfect 911 - Porsche configurator code: "The basic Carrera has some fidget to the ride and the steering is a bit heavier than the Carrera S, although the entry-level car is the only one that gives me the confidence to want to turn off the ESC and mess around with the balance. That said, the manual Carrera S feels so deft and willing to change direction, and it’s the lightest car here. Of the four, it feels the most like a Cayman R, which was a real high point of non-GT Porsches."

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James Disdale's perfect 911 - Porsche configurator code: "This was a fascinating exercise. It would be easy to assume that, straight-line pace aside, we’d be dealing with degrees of difference here. Yet each car had its own distinctly different character, which means you don’t have to be a ‘911 person’ to own a 911. Crucially, it was a reminder of how versatile the 911 concept is and the wide bandwidth in which the various versions operate."

Simon Davis's perfect 911 - Porsche configurator code​: "Cripes, what an exciting car the Turbo S is. I was expecting it to feel much like the 4S, only quicker, but the car’s entire character feels as though it’s bristling with a barely contained energy. You don’t get that with any of the other cars. Ultimately, though, it’s not the stomach-churning turn of pace that separates the Turbo S but something much more deeply ingrained in its personality."

Richard Lane's perfect 911 - Porsche configurator code​

Three more quick cars whose options matter

Lamborghini Huracan: Not so much a question of options but of variant. The rear-driven version of the Huracán Evo feels fluid and natural and beguiles you with just the right amount of fear factor. The four-wheel-drive car, with rear-wheel steering, can feel disappointingly synthetic and binary by comparison.

Mazda MX-5: The definitive roadster for the masses has only ever had a manual gearbox, but when it comes to the Bilstein dampers, limited-slip differential, hard folding roof and engine line-up, your decisions matter. The MX-5 can either feel flaccid or thrilling and pedigree.

Mercedes-AMG GT 4dr: AMG’s four-door take on the GT coupé comes in two forms: the 577bhp 63 and the 631bhp 63 S. However, it’s the revised chassis and driveline tuning in the 63 S that elevate its handling to Porsche-beating heights.

READ MORE

New Porsche 911 Turbo arrives with 572bhp flat six 

New Porsche 911 GTS spotted in Targa form ahead of 2021 launch 

New 2021 Porsche 911 GT3: First ride in 503bhp flagship

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Citytiger 27 February 2021

Why do all the options begin with Porsche, its as is the buyer needs reminding what brand of car he has just bought.. Its almost as bad as calling an EV a Turbo, when it doesnt have one.. 

jameshobiecat 27 February 2021
I can't help feel that the 911 has become all a bit too much. To much power, too much weight, too much tech, too much money. That means my dream 911 is the Cayman 4.0 with a manual gearbox.
Glad to see that if it does have to be a 911, the manual S with pasm but little else is the way to go. That would be my choice.