You can power your way out of bends with confidence now, and tackle crests with commitment
Peak power doesn’t arrive until 7400rpm – more impressive is the car’s gargling, linear mid-range
What is it?
The most important new sports car of the year – the new Porsche 911. This is the Carrera S, the headline ‘991’-generation car – for the time being. And, after test drives at the car’s international launch in Santa Barbara late last year, we’re now in a position to report on what this remarkable sports coupe is like in right-hand drive form, and on UK roads.
So does it ride as well as handle? How much bigger does it feel on narrow cross-country roads – and how much faster? And does it still look, sound and generally behave like a 911 as we know it?
What’s it like?
Entirely familiar. And, at the same time, quite daring. Revolutionary, almost. Under the sheet metal, this car differs from the last in myriad and telling ways. Longer wheelbase, wider front track, a standard seven-speed manual gearbox, aluminium-rich construction, electromechanical power steering, active anti-roll cancellation, automatic engine stop-start; was even the water-cooled ‘996’ this different from the car that preceded it?
Although it’s 56mm longer at the kerb, the ‘991’ is no wider. So says Porsche; it certainly feels wider when you lower yourself in. The front passenger seat seems that bit further away from your hip; the centre console that bit wider, too. And when you adjust the steering wheel for ideal reach, the relative position of the gearlever – from memory, within a hand’s span of the bottom left quadrant of the steering wheel in a ‘997’ and a ‘996’, but a less easy grasp now – seems to confirm the suspicion.
The base of the windscreen is further from your seating position, too. There’s little if any pedal offset. The rear seats remain for kids’ use only. But the rest of the cabin is a drastic improvement. With swish aluminium trim accents, neat and consistent switchgear design and chunky material feel, this is a proper ‘premium’ fascia. It does Porsche considerable credit, and stands up to comparisons with the very best.
Power for the 3.8-litre Carrera S is up 15bhp to 395bhp, and torque up 15lb ft to 324lb ft. Small improvements, but channelled through a closely stacked seven-speed gearbox, they make the new 911 a very fast and responsive car indeed across the ground.
Its performance is delivered in layers. The car kicks like a full-blooded hot hatch at 3500rpm – then harder still between 4500- and 5000rpm – before erupting into an awesome crescendo of noise and focus-testing urgency above 6500rpm.
Peak power doesn’t materialise until 7400rpm – but more impressive still is the car’s gargling, linear mid-range. Flat out through there, ‘Sport’ mode engaged, Porsche’s flat six sounds even more idiosyncratic than ever; spiky and yet silken. Like a well-oiled chainsaw chewing through the confines of its padded cell – you might say.
Flaws? Well, getting used to a seven-speed manual change takes time. Top is only accessible from 5th and 6th gears. Knock the lever out of 7th and it’ll return naturally to the middle of the gate, ready to engage 3rd or 4th – so dropping from 7th down a gear or two requires a bit of practise. But once you learn to ignore top gear for all but motorway cruising, the ‘box becomes much easier to use.
What about the UK ride and handling? A subject we could devote thousands of words to and still leave questions unanswered.
Suffice it to say that the ‘991’ handles with supreme stability and composure, even when you goad it. Gone, mostly, is the old car’s tendency to nod over its front axle when its vertical equilibrium is disturbed. And likewise addressed is the steady power-understeer that could sometimes spoil the car’s cornering manners. You can power your way out of bends with confidence now, and tackle crests and dips with as much commitment as you like; body control isn’t in question at either end of the car’s chassis.
Road width is never an issue in the new 911. It remains a compact car amongst peers like the Audi R8 and Aston Vantage, and can easily be threaded along an exact cornering line, or a narrow lane.
And sure enough, when you probe and prod that bit deeper, the 911’s special underlying dynamic character – the same motive DNA that has been bringing owners back for more for almost half a century – is there to be unearthed in the ‘991’. Pile fast into a corner, brake late up to the apex, and that light front-end drags you in while the rear pivots around behind, enhancing steering response.
Accelerate hard as the road opens out and you’ll feel that heavy tail hunker down, squidging the car’s rear wheels into the road and transmitting power into pure traction instantly. Hit a bump and you’ll feel it through the steering wheel; a slippery patch of road, too. But neither will undermine the car’s basic composure. Brake hard and the front wheels refuse all but the most determined attempt to lock.
Not to like? There’s the slightly mushy centre feel of that electric power steering. Being very picky indeed, you could also say that the shift quality of the manual gearbox leaves a smidge to be desired, and may wonder why Porsche still hasn’t made its direct injection engines respond to millimetric throttle adjustments with the same creamy smoothness of its older lumps. But we don’t think you’d wonder for very long.
Should I buy one?
I can’t honestly think of a new driver’s car due out in 2012 that’s likely to be better. A Lotus Evora may be a purer, more sweetly balanced thrill, but it lacks complexity next to the 911. An Aston Martin Vantage is a much duller drive; an Audi R8 closer, but no match.
On the face of it, the new Porsche 911 may seem like a softened, sanitised option. In fact it’s just more competent; better riding, better handling, more usable, more refined – and at the end of the day, just as wonderful as ever. Its vibrancy of character is buried a little deeper than it used to be, sure. But taking the time and effort to tease it out, on road or track, remains a singularly enthralling and rewarding pleasure.
Porsche 911 Carrera S
Price: £81,242; Top speed: 188mph; 0-62mph: 4.5sec; Economy: 29.7mpg; CO2: 224g/km; Kerbweight: 1395kg; Engine: 6 cyls horizontally opposed, 3800cc, normally aspirated; Power: 395bhp at 7400rpm; Torque: 324lb ft at 5600rpm; Gearbox: 7-spd manual