Car reviews - Porsche - 911 - Carrera coupe range
Improved in almost every sphere, 991 generation pushes the 911 firmly into supercar territory for efficiency as well as performance and thrills
Room for improvement
Low-speed steering feel loses laser-edged sharpness and tactility of previous 911s expensive options and pricey to begin with not much else
22 Feb 2012
ASSESSING the Porsche 911 is like being asked to rate Winston Churchill as a wartime prime minister, Alfred Hitchcock’s impact as a director, or the cricketing career of Donald Bradman.
Who are we to judge undeniable brilliance?
The fact is, like the professional lives of all these 20th Century icons, the German coupe has had a long and illustrious career at or near the top of its game.
Half a century of Porsche’s engineers striving relentlessly to be at the apex of sports car development means that the 911 may well be quite beyond criticism in some observers’ eyes – just like Churchill, Hitchcock and Bradman. To drive the latest example is to experience the pointy end of technological excellence in its sphere.
Paradoxically, that long life, seemingly antiquated rear-engine configuration and 1963 silhouette serve to further shield the Stuttgart machine from harsh words, and instead infuse the sort of nostalgia and emotion that is normally reserved for more sentient beings.
But it’s just a bloody car for Pete’s sake yet for many folk a slur against the 911 is as bad as bad mouthing somebody’s sister.
However, Porsche has taken a massive risk with the virtually all-new 991 series, changing almost everything but especially the steering from a hydraulic to an electronic-mechanical set-up, to help better meet emissions standards. Let’s not mince words, then. This particular evolution subtly alters the character of this most loved sports car.
For us and millions more, the 911’s helm has, above all, long been a kind of holy grail for a sports car, connecting driver to car with utter purity of feel and control.
Actually, the 911’s front-end behaviour has been the subject of substantial tweaking for a while now, since this car’s immediate predecessor – the 997 Series II of 2008 – lost a little of its lightness (some called it ‘bobbiness’) in the name of a more planted feel.
This time, though, everything pertaining to the steering (as well as all other bits and pieces except for the modified engines and PDK gearbox) is fresh out of the box.
So what’s it like now then? Time to jump in a $300,000 (with options) Carrera S PDK to find out.
Below 100km/h, when you’re not ‘on it’, this 991 series 911 is a whisker less sharp, or nervous, depending on your point of view, than before. It is no longer synaptically responsive at the straight-ahead. It no longer electrifies your fingertips or telegraphs what’s going on below.
Other than a Lotus Elise or Caterham, does any new car these days?
Don’t get us wrong. The Porsche’s tiller still turns with terrific response, for superb poise, exceptional handling alacrity, and a fabulous feeling of feedback. If you’ve never driven a 911 previously you’ll probably think things could not possibly be sharper.
Furthermore, if you turn the performance wick up, the latest Porsche’s performance and dynamics go supernova.
Take that steering. At lower speeds things may no longer be razor sharp, but higher velocities reveal a breathtaking union of action, reaction, feedback and refinement. The driver can place the 911 precisely where it needs to be, over all manner of rutted road surfaces, without the wheel feeling anything less than supernaturally connected to the tarmac.
Admittedly the north-eastern Victorian country roads were heavenly, on a dry and radiantly sunny day but the Porsche’s abilities far outstripped those of its pilot. Everything worked as one – the steering, handling, road-holding, brakes and suspension rallied around keeping the car exactly where the driver wanted it to be.
And that 3.8-litre direct-injection engine – scorching acceleration is just the beginning, with speeds increasing ferociously as the rifle-bolt fast PDK dishes out each gear just short of the 7500rpm or so rev limit, to a tumultuous flat six tune that is so much part of 911 folklore.
Frankly we were astonished at how dramatically unrelenting and incredibly linear this car’s performance is, streaking seamlessly beyond 200km/h in what is barely more than a blink of an eye. Wow.
On the Carrera S, with its 20-inch alloys, the ride varied from busy to brusque on bad surfaces, but on smooth tarmac comfort levels allowed for natural and easy conversation without buttock or lower back consternation.
A few loose rattles from somewhere behind the dashboard were the only quality glitches we could find in an otherwise fresh yet welcomingly familiar cabin. If you know what the 996 generation looked and felt like a decade ago the 991 will seem generations ahead in quality and presentation. And there’s more room in every direction yet the 911 still feels like a small sports car on the move.
So we stumbled out of the Carrera S PDK gobsmacked at how supercar serious the performance and poise are. For most people the efficiency increases (and barely believable weight decreases) that accompany these underline just how miraculous the latest 911 is. In every – and often conflicting – direction the Porsche pretty much defines progression.
Supernaturally tactile steering at lower speeds, it seems, is the only sacrifice. If this magical ingredient is the very essence of the 911 to you, then there are still 997 Series II variants available. Otherwise, embrace the icon and prepare to be astounded in every way bar one.
And, because nobody’s perfect, we’ll stop complaining about a legend that will undoubtedly just keep on growing.
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