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.