The 991 is not only more capable than the 997, but its handling also hints at greatness

What is it?

The new Porsche 911 Carrera S operates on a much higher performance plane than the seven-year-old model it replaces. With a 0-62mph time of 4.3sec and a top speed of 188mph, the new model storms up the strip 0.2sec faster and extends 2mph beyond the old Carrera S when running an updated version of the seven-speed PDK gearbox.

So, the new 911 is faster than any of its illustrious forebears by some margin. But the question is, can it achieve such feats with the same intensely involving character as the previous six generations of the car?

Make no mistake, the 991 represents the most significant shift in emphasis for the rear-engined coupé ever – more significant than the progression from the air cooled 993 to the water cooled 996 back in 1996.

Seeing the new car reinforces the impression of Porsche’s revolutionary approach. Haunches widened to accommodate all new underpinnings make the styling significantly more curvaceous and terrific attention to detail endows it with greater precision of build. Its stance is more aggressive, too.

It is 56mm longer and, owing to a flatter roof, 11mm lower than the outgoing 997. The really telling measurement, though, is its wheelbase, which for only the second time in the history of the 911 has been extended, by a considerable 100mm. This serves to shorten up the overhangs, providing an increase in interior accommodation.

The Carrera S as driven here is claimed to come in at 1415kg with its optional PDK gearbox – some 40kg under the kerb weight of its predecessor.

What’s it like

Inside, there’s a new dashboard, a high-set centre and contemporary looking switchgear. It’s a classy, modern driving environment but it’s not devoid of classic touches.

The first thing that hits you as you set off is the all round improvement in refinement. Never lacking in this area, it is now considerably quieter than before, with less buffeting around the door mirrors, lower levels of mechanical noise from the rear and, despite those 20-inch tyres, less tyre roar.

Cruising at a steady 80mph in the tall seventh gear, the 911 feels remarkably relaxed. The reworked suspension absorbs transverse joints in the road surface and copes with potholes with greater aplomb than before. With the Porsche Active Stability Management PASM in Normal mode the chassis takes on a new-found calmness. Switching the PASM into Sport instantly heightens the responses – not only in terms of damping firmness but the directness of the steering and sensitivity of the throttle, too.

But there is still less initial impact harshness than with the previous 911, something that makes Sport mode more suitable over a wider range of road surfaces, and body movements are wonderfully controlled.

A big surprise are the unfamiliarly subtle messages – or is the lack of them – being relayed back from the newly designed steering wheel. Over the years we’ve become accustomed to the joggling inherent in all 911s up until now. Anyone who has driven one will know what I mean. This inherent on centre movement of the steering wheel at the straight ahead, a measure of liveliness and feedback many consider part and parceled of the driving experience, has been eliminated entirely through the adoption of a new electro-mechanical steering system.

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It is certainly a big change in character, making the car feel almost anaesthetized on first acquaintance – if only because it’s so unfamiliar to drive a 911 whose steering wheel does not constantly fidget, even at moderate speeds. But it seems the further you drive the more you come to appreciate the added calmness through the steering wheel.

Despite holding on to what is essentially the same engine as the old model, Porsche has held true to 911 tradition by raising the output. Power climbs by 14bhp to a new peak of 394bhp at 7400rpm, in the process taking its specific output beyond 100bhp per litre. Torque also improves by 13lb ft to 234lb ft at 5600rpm. With the drop in weight figured in, the bump in reserves provides for a 16bhp per tonne increase in the vital power-to-weight ratio at 282bhp per tonne.

Unlike the engine, the gearbox the new 911 Carrera S uses is all new – and rather special, too. Replacing the old six-speed manual is the first ever seven-speed manual to make its way into a series production road car. Based around the seven-speed PDK gearbox, the ground-breaking manual uses a mechanical lock-out to stop you from inadvertently shifting into seventh. The new top gear can only be selected via fifth or sixth.

Another interesting development is a so-called sailing function, which sees the engine disconnected from the gearbox via the clutch on periods of trailing throttle, allowing it roll freely at idle on slight downhill grades.

The detail changes Porsche has made to the engine give the new Carrera S a gutsier feel across a wider range of revs; it might lack the sheer intensity of some of the engines used by its supercar rivals, but the evergreen flat six remains as stirring as ever.

Rushing up to a tightening right hander, the 911 squats ever so slightly over the rear wheels, its engine howling with an intoxicating combination of induction and exhaust clamor. The front end is uncharacteristically calm with no unruly bobbing across the heavily patchworked surface; the changes to the suspension provide the new 911 with a much more settled feel even in the most aggressive Sport Plus mode.

Should I buy one?

The 991 is not only more capable than the 997, but its handling also hints at greatness. In Carrera S form it is faster, more neutral at the limit, considerably more stable, incredibly comfortable, a lot quieter at motorway speeds and amazingly frugal. At the end of the day, I’d even come to terms with the new steering, accepting that it lacks the ultimate precision and sensitivity of the old hydraulic arrangement.

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The question I’m asking myself now is: how can Porsche possibly top it? For the moment, the original supercar has reached a new zenith – both in ability and desirability.

Porsche 911 Carrera S PDK

Price: £NA; 0-62mph: 4.1sec; Top speed: 188mph; Economy: 32mpg; CO2 emissions: 224g/km; Length: Weight: 1415kg; Engine layout: 6cyls, horizontally opposed, 3800cc, petrol; Installation: rear, longitudinal; Power: 394bhp at 7400rpm; Torque: 234lb ft at 5600rpm; Specific output: 104bhp/litre; Power to weight: 282bhp/tonne; Gearbox: seven speed double clutch

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Mario B 25 December 2011

Re: Porsche 911 Carrera S

I am with you on this p j t. I had a 3.2 Carrera for a while in the 90's and a 996 for a couple of years about 10 years ago. The new one was very easy to live with as a day to day car and madam would drive it whereas the 3.2 seemed so small and agile that, along with the fabulous sound it made and the feircer clutch and the pure unassisted steering meant you felt your realy ahd to drive it. Nice to see that the latest one is lighter but it has grown, yet again.

p j t 25 December 2011

Re: Porsche 911 Carrera S

Having owned 4 models of the 80s era,have just driven a 911 of 2007 vintage,what have they done to the steering! It is nothing like my old 1985 3.2, its so remote, no feel of contact with the road.You could pinpoint a corner to the nearest point ,and wham open the throttle,and the courage, that you would get that car round it .As you guessed, I am a fan of the 3.2 brigade,the best Porshe that was made.I suppose that with aircooled,etc,it was as far as they could go.I know full well this is an old argument.I am aproaching retirement, and would only consider an older model, just for enjoyment of driving, after all this supposed to be a drivers car isnt it?

johnsod 23 December 2011

Re: Porsche 911 Carrera S

The Special One wrote:
terrific attention to detail
Does that mean that you can now put the full UK post code into the SatNav?