What is it?
You do wonder sometimes whether Porsche isn’t a touch too understated for its own good, particularly when it comes to the mid-life revamping of its various models. Take the latest ‘heavily revised’ 997 as an example.
Here is a car which, to the untrained eye, looks all but identical to the original 997 of 2004, yet under the skin it has a brand new range of direct injection flat six engines, not to mention the gearbox Porsche has been threatening to put into one of its road cars for the last 25 years – a road going version of the double clutch (PDK) unit pioneered by Weissach’s Le Mans cars in 1982.
On the surface the only items that telegraph just how different this car is compared with its predecessor are, wait for it, a pair of slightly bigger door mirrors (wow), some LED lights front and rear and, oh yes, a mildly new design of 18- and 19in wheel.
Deeply committed 997 anoraks might also spot that there is no longer a big central radiator to be seen behind the front grille, the new engines being so much more efficient at self-cooling that they no longer require the centrally mounted front radiator of old. But while such styling restraint is actually quite refreshing in an era of increasingly garish fast cars from Audi, Mercedes et al, in this instance you can’t help thinking that Porsche’s designers have undersold the achievements of their colleagues in engineering. Surely a car this new and this significant technically deserves a few more visual cues to prove its point?
No matter, the 2008 model year 997 may well be one of the most unobvious redesigns of the modern era outwardly, but inwardly it’s a seriously impressive piece of work. The big news on the engine front is the fitment of a Bosch direct injection system, which, claims Porsche, improves emissions and economy as much as it does pure horsepower.
The base 3.6 now produces just 225g/km, a 15 per cent reduction compared with the previous model, but at the same time it boasts an extra 20bhp, making 345bhp at 6500rpm in total. The 3.8 unit from the 'S' model jumps 30bhp to 385bhp, and in both cases the cylinder blocks are an incredible 22 per cent stiffer thanks to the fact that there are, says Porsche, around 40 per cent fewer moving parts.
Arguably of even more significance is the car’s optional new seven-speed PDK (Porsche Double Clutch) gearbox, which, at £2338, could well be the best value option Porsche has ever offered on a 911. Porsche pioneered the idea of the double clutch gearbox with its Le Mans cars a quarter of a century ago, but it hasn’t produced one for the road until now because it wanted to ‘entirely perfect’ the system before its release.
It works in a similar way to Audi’s DSG gearbox, with the odd ratios (1, 3, 5 & 7) being separated from the even gears (2, 4, 6) on separate shafts, each set of gears having its own individual wet clutch. This effectively enables the system to pre-select and deliver full bore up or down shifts at less than 200 miliseconds, and without a break in the power.
What’s it like?
If the new PDK gearbox sounds complicated on paper, in reality it works beautifully, except for one thing; the buttons themselves aren’t especially intuitive to use. Unlike rival systems that feature an upshift paddle on the right and a downshift wand on the left, Porsche has chosen to fit upshift buttons which you nudge with your thumbs on top of the wheel on both sides, with the downshift buttons again on both sides at the back. To begin with you may find yourself flicking the left hand downshift button to change up, and all sorts of other odd combos.
Once acclimatized to the way in which the system is accessed, however, the gearbox itself really is something special. Upshifts are almost seamless, even when changing from second to third at 7400rpm. And on the way down it’s arguably better still, blipping the revs perfectly to match the lower ratio, and doing so faster and more precisely than any human ever could.
I tried the entry model with the 3.6-litre flat six engine, yours for £63,070 before items like PCCB at £5439 and PASM at £1030 have been added, as they had been to the test car. The new engine is notably smoother and more refined than It was which is, in the main, a very good thing. It suffers from less vibration across the whole rev range, the throttle response is keener than ever, and the relative lack of noise on the motorway is clearly a step forwards.
What’s perhaps not so welcome is the lack of aural character of the new engine, Porsche having done such a good job at improving refinement that it is now hard to tell how many cylinders there are and what sort of formation they lie in. Maybe that’s a slight exaggeration but, either way, the flat six soundtrack has definitely been toned down a decibel too far. Mind you, it’s nothing a factory fit sports exhaust couldn’t sort.
Should I buy one?
At £63,070 before options the latest entry level 911 isn’t cheap; the test car I tried cost over £74,000 on the road thanks to the fitment of PCCB, PDK etc. And the more powerful Carrera S will set you back £70,360 before you so much as set eyes upon the options list.
It’s also no secret that Porsche is struggling to shift metal in the current economic climate, sales in the UK being over 20 per cent down compared with this time last year. Which means this new, hugely improved model won’t arrive a moment too soon when it hits the showrooms on July 5.
Though it may look similar to the old car it’s almost a brand new model, and apart from the absence of aural thrills, it’s an absolute peach to drive, especially when fitted with the PDK gearbox. It won’t, but it deserves to solve Porsche’s sales problem all on its own; it really is that good on the road.