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Does Porsche's decision to introduce turbochargers across the 911 range damage its heritage? Or is the foundations of a new era for the supercar you can use everyday?

Given the 911’s long-lived reputation for changing shape at the rate of an Antarctic glacier, the current 991 has proven itself a sprightly setter of milestones.

Not content, in its first iteration, with providing Porsche’s icon with only its third-ever new platform, now this facelift adds turbocharged engines to a line-up previously (and emphatically) wedded to the concept of naturally aspirated flat sixes.

Porsche has plenty of experience force-feeding 911s – forty years in fact

Endlessly aware that its purist contingent takes a dim view of such landmark alterations, Porsche is pitching its powertrain revision less as a functional necessity (which it was) and more of a logical step in the brand’s endless pursuit of sporting perfection.

Its latest commercials feature, among others, Ali versus Ali, the conceit being that the best can only be bettered by a better version of themselves. In a number of concrete ways, the second-generation 991 outstrips the first. But whether it has actually resulted in a superior 911 – in all its broad-batted brilliance – is the question we’ll endeavour to answer.

Unless you’re the kind of devotee who still laments the passing of air cooling two decades ago, there are plenty of initial reasons to be cheerful. Porsche’s experience with turbocharging its engines is, after all, extensive, the 911 line-up having fielded a forced-induction version for the past 40 years.

However, where Porsche the mighty 911 Turbo always made a conspicuous virtue of its blower, the Carrera’s new 3.0-litre unit must rev, respond and scintillate as though it were unencumbered by the effort of turning two turbines.

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That’s not an uncommon technological feint these days, but it’s essential to the car’s success as a driver’s machine nonetheless. As, of course, is the superiority of the surrounding package, which, in detail, has changed too. We tested the Carrera S, now starting at £87,335.

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DESIGN & STYLING

Porsche 911 rear

Externally at least, the second-generation 991 reverts to type. When Porsche talks of the elimination of door handle recess covers as the most ‘eye-catching’ feature of the new car’s profile, you can be certain of the facelift’s sensitivity.

Marginal items – the front spoiler lip, front and rear lights – have been tweaked, but it’s subtle stuff that would take a side-by-side comparison to spot.

The rear spoiler has vents under it to increase airflow into the engine, neatly avoiding any ugly apertures

Predictably, the more significant alterations have been forced on the designers by the requirements of the new engineering challenges beneath.

The two low-mounted turbochargers require plenty of additional cooling, so at the rear there’s a substantial and entirely new air intake system complete with a new grille and the extra vents required to chill the intercoolers now stationed at the extremities.

Even the new active aerodynamics – a tech carryover from the 918 Spyder – can be deployed to assist with heat management, the variable rear spoiler being extendable at low speeds so that more air might find its way inside the engine bay when operating temperatures are high.

The lump within, while retaining a horizontally opposed cylinder layout, is all-new. The higher specific power of forced induction means its predecessor’s displacement can be reduced even as outputs are increased.

Turbocharging also lends itself to tuning, so whereas 3.4- and 3.8-litre engines were previously required to offer differentiation between the Carrera and Carrera S, now the job may be done by a single twin-turbo 3.0-litre flat six, albeit one with slightly larger compressors in S trim.

In base format, it develops 365bhp; as tested here, it’s at 414bhp. Both are a 20bhp improvement over their forebears and are capable of revving to 7500rpm (although their performance peaks at 6500rpm). The real boon, though, as you might expect, is in torque delivery.

Here, a 44lb ft advantage is rendered across the board, with the Carrera S now delivering 369lb ft – 30lb ft more than Porsche extracted from the previous engine even in its exotic 4.0-litre GT3 RS guise.

Crucially, all this extra impetus appears much sooner. Where the previous 991 required 5600rpm in order to maximise its potential, the new unit, now endowed with a centralised injector, lightened valve train and variable exhaust camshaft, conjures its greater yield from just 1700rpm.

As for the rest of the 911 line-up - there is the Carrera T, which in essence is a stripped back version of the Carrera designed with the intention of being a tourer. As a result Porsche has given the T a subtle exterior makeover and put it on a weight-loss programme. Following on from the Carrera S is the GTS models - claimed to be the most focussed 911 in the standard range, which means the 3.0-litre engine's wick has been turned up further to produce 443bhp, but its the tweaks made dynamically that makes the GTS the driver's choice.

Heading the 'Motorsport' end of the 911 spectrum is the Turbo and Turbo S, both are fitted with a twin-turbocharged 3.8-litre engine punching out 532bhp and 572bhp propelling them to 198mph and 205mph respectively. For those looking for a more track-focussed car are greeted by two choices. The first is the GT3 powered by a 493bhp, naturally aspirated, 4.0-litre flat six, which has won our driver's car of the year ahead of the McLaren 720S and Aston Martin DB11 V8, should indicate how capable it really is. Topping the range is different beast entirely - the 911 GT2 RS - designed to compete with the Lamborghini Huracan Performante and the Ferrari Speciale models. Planted at the rear is a twin-turbocharged 3.8-litre engine punching out a scarcely believable 690bhp helping propel this 911-shaped ballastic missile to 62mph in 2.8sec and onto 211mph.

Porsche has lengthened the gear ratios on its seven-speed transmission to suit the new-found amenability and introduced a two-disc clutch to the manual version to make it easier to operate. Tellingly, the dual-mass flywheel also gets a centrifugal pendulum to help temper drivetrain vibrations, making the 911 more refined when accelerating from low revs in higher ratios. It is also important to point out that the GT3 has also returned in manual form too.

If the above indicates something of a fundamental shift in Porsche driving style, the modifications to the chassis are of the more conventional sort.

The facelifted car sits 10mm lower on now-standard PASM adaptive suspension, gets rebound buffer springs all round and acquires half an inch of extra tyre width at the back to cope with the extra torque. Active rear-wheel steering (introduced in the 991 GT3 and Porsche Turbo) and a front axle nose-raiser have also been added to the typically extensive options list. 

The new turbocharged units have been utilised across the Carrera board with the coupé, Porsche the roof-less Targa and the full-blown wind in your hair Cabriolet all benefitting. While those wanting an all-wheel-drive 911 can choose from the 4 range.

INTERIOR

Porsche 911 front boot

The changes already outlined could be an allegory for the 911’s interior: on the face of it, you won’t think much has changed.

But in the shape of a new infotainment system there are genuine functionality changes that comfortably haul the 991 into the second decade of the 21st century.

Porsche’s smaller GT-spec steering wheel is fabulous, but not sold on the gimmicky Sport selector mounted on it

The new Porsche Communication Management (PCM) system, with a 7.0in touchscreen on the centre console, occupies much the same space as before, but its functionality has been further enhanced.

Now it incorporates an intelligent touchscreen, which allows quick scrolls and zooming with finger flicks, real-time traffic information, Google Earth and Street View, plus you can enter destinations by finger writing on the screen.

To its credit, Porsche hasn’t just adopted an Audi/Volkswagen system but has instead tailored its own, including buttons and dials as an alternative to using the touchscreen. That means there’s more than one way to access most functions. If you have an iPhone, Apple Play means you can control the screen functions just like that, too.

There are also rotary dials and conventional buttons, in case you’d rather not get finger marks on it. Park the right smartphone in a cubby on the tunnel and it’ll charge wirelessly and enhance the reception, too.

Once you’d become familiar with its idiosyncracies, the first-generation 991’s entertainment and information systems weren’t so bad to rub along with. But there’s no question that this latest one is much better. It’s a smart system that slips easily into a 911 cabin that’s otherwise mostly as you were.

Which means a spot-on driving position that receives a couple of changes, notably a 375mm-diameter steering wheel inspired by the design of the 918 Spyder’s and, with the PDK transmission option, a shift lever that operates the ‘right’ way (pull back to change up) as standard.

Otherwise things continue unaltered. Perceived material quality is high, dials are clear and switchgear is logically laid out. And the 911 does what 911s have always done well: offer usable accommodation in the rear +2 seats.

Both head and leg-room are at a premium back there, but if the alternative is a rainy walk back from the pub, you’d find a way.

Alternatively, the rear seat backs fold down to provide a shelf, adding 260 litres of space to the modest 145-litre front storage compartment.

As for standard equipment, the Carrera models all roll on 19s as standard, and get four piston brake calipers, bi-xenon headlights, dual-zone climate control, a leather upholstery, sports seats, and Porsche's Communication Management infotainment system complete with sat nav, Bluetooth, smartphone integration and DAB. Opt for the Carrera S and you will find 20in alloy wheels and six-piston brake calipers among the differences.

The Targa and Cabriolet versions of the 911 get additional technology to prevent the car from rolling over, the inclusion of a wind deflector and rear parking sensors as standard. The GTS gets custom Alcantara clad interior and numerous decals, while the Turbo and Turbo S models get rear wheel steering, adaptive suspension, parking sensors, a reversing camera, LED headlights, electrically adjustable sports seats and a Bose sound system. The Turbo S also gets ceramic brake discs, adaptive LED headlights and dynamic chassis control.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Porsche 911 engine bay

There are two elements to the new 911’s performance: how much it makes, and how it makes it.

The day we tested the 911 at MIRA may have been streaming wet, but be in no doubt: the Carrera S offers second-tier supercar performance.

Traction is impressive, even down an inconsistently wet straight

Were it drier, it would have hit 60mph from rest in far less than 4.5sec (when our sister magazine What Car? tested the 911 in the dry, it blazed to 60mph in only 3.5sec). Even slightly flummoxed by traction at the lower end, 30-70mph through the gears takes only 3.4sec, but the big difference is in this new turbocharged engine’s flexibility.

In 2012 we tested a naturally aspirated base 991 Carrera, which needed 9.4sec to go from 30-70mph in fourth. This variant is an S model, but still, as an example of what turbocharging can do for you, know that despite longer gearing, it knocks three seconds off that time.

In terms of flexibility, then, the 911 is now hugely impressive. Drive naturally aspirated and turbocharged versions back to back – as we did in last week’s issue – and you’ll notice the difference in an instant. Whereas the old model wanted you to work it through to its near-8000rpm redline in order to access the best of its performance, the new engine, after a brief pause at low revs to let the turbos spool, gets going much more quickly while still retaining most of the flat six bellow. For most people, most of the time, it makes accessing the 911’s performance much easier.

If, though, you’re expecting a ‘however’, here it comes. When turbocharging comes in, something always has to go, to a greater or lesser extent.

And although the redline, at 7500rpm, is almost as high as it was before, the instant response, the high-end fizz, the feeling that to get the best from a 911 you have to put the effort in and in doing so you’ll be rewarded by a powertrain that thrills like few others, has gone.

Mated to the slick PDK gearbox, it remains, by most standards, a terrific sports car powertrain, but by 911 standards, Carreras have seen better.

RIDE & HANDLING

Porsche 911 Carrera drifting

It might concern you when, having already added turbochargers to its Carrera line-up, Porsche talks about the increased comfort of a new 911 thanks to its revised chassis tuning.

But don’t let that be of the slightest concern: the new 911 both rides and controls its body better than before.

The 911s ride is now more supple despite improved body control

Our test Carrera S already sits 10mm lower on its suspension than the previous model, but this particular example sat a further 20mm lower still thanks to a £558 PASM sports suspension kit.

It also came with the optional active rear-wheel steering, a £1530 option. Yet it rides with far better quality than the just-departed variant, soaking away surface imperfections in a manner better than that of most sports cars this side of a Lotus.

Visibility is good, too, and the 911 remains at the narrower end of the sports car scale, which is always useful in a car you could drive every day – as many owners doubtless will.

Porsche makes no claims about the 911’s steering system beyond the active rear steer (where fitted), but whatever it has done to the ride height and damping seems to have benefited, to a small extent, the slickness and feel of what was already one of the best electrically assisted systems available.

So subtle is the rear-wheel steering that without a back-to-back track test of an otherwise identical 911, we doubt you’d be able to pick out specific differences.

But be in no doubt: either way, the latest Carrera S has a chassis to die for. A 911 hasn’t been a difficult car to drive for years, but it’s truer now than ever that it’s extremely simple to exploit, with the rear positioning of its engine being usable as an advantage rather than functioning as a potential pendulum of doom.

It stops like all other modern 911s, too, which means exceptionally well in the dry, although, due to the lightly loaded front, it’s less impressive in the wet.

Our track driving was hampered by rain, but we still got a feel for what the 911 is capable of. Fundamentally, the balance is unchanged from that of the old 911, except body movements are kept in even better check, while bumps and kerbs are smoothed out well.

Turn-in is crisp, with that lightly loaded front end introducing a bit more understeer than you’d find in a mid or front-engined car, especially in the wet, although trailing a brake in helps. The balance is then quite exploitable, but it’s also here that the engine first makes itself felt.

The naturally aspirated 911’s rabid throttle response higher up the rev range meant that adjusting a line was simple.

Now, though, more throttle actually introduces more understeer until the turbos spool, at which point the extra power kicks through the understeer and unsettles the rear, ultimately rendering the 911 more adjustable and exploitable than any rear-engined car has a right to be. But natural aspiration is superior, and it’s here that you notice it the most.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Porsche 911

The turbocharged Carrera is much cheaper to run than the old model. Emissions of CO2 – a key criteria in a sports car with a healthy fleet following – have been slashed, particularly for the popular PDK-equipped models.

The Carrera S’s 28g/km reduction sees benefit-in-kind tax tumble, overhauling slower rivals such as the BMW M4 and Jaguar F-Type V6. Neither of those cars can match the claimed 36.7mpg, either.

The 911 is sure to be a safe investment as it holds out well against sturdy rivals

The 911 on test couldn’t live up to that, but a real-world 27.3mpg remains an impressive average for a car with near-supercar performance.

That it can be specced to attain a near-supercar price tag remains a 911 constant.

Our test car’s £107,203 final cost raised few eyebrows – testament to both the Carrera’s overall quality and Stuttgart’s unerring ability to make it seem like appropriate value.

In our minds, the standard Carrera conceals its turbo boost better, but is noticeably slower than the S, so on that basis we would opt for the car tested here as it doesn’t ruin the comfort of the ride. However, if greater driver involvement is your modus operandi then you can't look far beyond the GTS.

We would also add the £558 lowered sports suspension option, and the sports exhaust – even though it costs an additional £1773.

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VERDICT

4.5 star Porsche 911

We’ve been here before. The 911 is improved beyond question. It’s easier to live with than before and superior to drive, for the most part.

It’s all the good bits of the first generation 991 tweaked and enhanced. Then there’s the significant bit, which, as usual, will upset the purists.

The 911 is improved, again, but not in a way that’ll make everyone happy

If you’d never driven a naturally aspirated 911, and perhaps even if the GTS had never existed, the arrival of a turbocharged Carrera wouldn’t be a big deal.

But when you come from cars that rev to 8000rpm and feel like they’re getting better and better the farther around the dial they go before hitting their limiter, into one with lag to its throttle response and a more rounded end to its delivery, then it’s a slight anticlimax.

Two things to note, though. First, like moving to water cooling and electric steering, it’s inevitable and we’ll get used to it. Second, this is still a good engine and it’s in the best sports car.

As a result, the Porsche 911 tops our top five list, as it remains the definitive sports car, even if it appeals now more to the head than the heart, but it is followed in close attendance by the Jaguar F-Type R Coupé, BMW i8, Lotus Evora 400 and the Mercedes-AMG GT.

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Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Porsche 911 2015-2018 First drives