This is 911 heaven. The 997, responding perfectly to every input, doing exactly what you want, when you want, is in its element. The scenic road, following the winding eastern shores of False Bay, about an hour from Cape Town, might have been created for Porsche’s new 350bhp Carrera S.
No more perfect test could be conceived. With each run up and down the road, I’m gaining in confidence and speed, discovering the outer limits of adhesion are appreciably higher than ever. Confidence turns to trust. Yes, yet again, Porsche has built a significantly faster 911. But that’s not really the 997’s achievement. This is also a better handling, more predictable – yes, more rewarding – 911, with a chassis poise that essentially refutes its tail-heavy weight bias. In these circumstances, tottering on the limit, the 996 gently bobbed the nose vertically. The 997 stays flatter, biting first at the nose, then sticking resolutely at both ends, the brakes smashing into the speed and seemingly unconcerned at their continual near-abuse.
For those familiar with the 996, and all its ancestors, nothing less than a 911 recalibration is required. It’s as if everything (well, almost everything) the S does is 10 to 15 per cent better, faster.Apart from thoroughly revised styling (only the roof panel is carried over from the 996) that obviously draws its inspiration from the 993, highlights include a now 3.8-litre flat-six for the S version we’re testing, a new interior and Porsche’s first attempt at adaptive damping in a 911.
Styling first. In profile, the glass-house hovers over the bulging hipster wheelarches, so it appears slimmer, even longer, though it’s actually a tad (3mm) shorter, and more rounded, front and rear. An enormous amount of work has gone into the aerodynamics, not just in lowering the drag co-efficient - from 0.30 to 0.28 for the Carrera, 0.29 on the S - and reducing lift, but also in improving the airflow under the car, from the front radiators and around the wheelarches.
Visually, this might be the successor to the 993, rather than the conservative, knee-jerk reaction to criticism of the 996’s avant-garde ‘broken egg-yolk’ headlights that it is. It remains a 911 and, importantly, won’t be confused with either predecessor, but it also suggests the need for a bolder design direction for Porsche’s iconic coupé. The 997 is set down for at least a six-year life-cycle, more than enough time for new design boss Michael Mauer (ex-Saab, Smart and Mercedes) to work his persuasive inspiration.
For the new Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) Zuffenhausen makes the usual, seemingly contradictory claims for adaptive dampers: improved ride comfort with sharper handling. Standard on the £65,000 S, and developed with Bilstein, the continuously variable dampers offer a choice of normal or sport settings based on vertical suspension movements and longitudinal and lateral acceleration.
The new dampers are part of a package of chassis changes that includes variable-ratio steering, revisions to the rear suspension geometry and bigger Michelins – Pilot Sport N1 235/35 ZR19 front and 295/30ZR19 rear on the S (the Carrera gets 18s), developed specially for this car. Bridgestone, Pirelli and Continental rubber comes later.
It’s been just three days since I drove the previous 911, and I’m immediately aware that the S is operating on a higher level across virtually the entire dynamic spectrum. The truth, unpalatable though it may be to those obsessed by the air-cooled variety, is that each successive water-cooled 911 has moved the game forward.