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Car reviews - Porsche - 911 - Carrera range

Our Opinion

We like
Carrera S performance, Carrera S handling, Carrera S braking, styling, new steering, extra safety, standard stability control, reduced running costs, extra interior and luggage space, optional sports function, optional ceramic brakes
Room for improvement
Number of options, options prices, price increase, new manual transmission, interior styling, lack of base Carrera performance increase, waiting list

17 Sep 2004

THERE’S no question Porsche has pulled off the seemingly impossible by improving the 911 breed yet further with its latest 997 series.

And Porsche purists will likely welcome the return of more classic 911 body styling.

But there’s no denying that, having delivered the most radical change in 911 philosophy in the model’s 40-year history in 1998 with the vastly more refined, liquid-cooled 996, the 997 is far more evolutionary than revolutionary.

Aside from the significantly upgraded Carrera S, beyond the new body and interior, standard improvements to the basic 911 Carrera are limited to a slightly stiffer bodyshell, 4kW more power, longer service intervals, a different manual transmission, variable steering rack, two more airbags, stability control and slightly more space for the driver and luggage.

But whether those changes warrant the extra $7625 in base form is academic, because the strength of the Porsche brand Down Under is such that well-heeled customers will always line up to buy a new 911 when it comes along only every seven years.

And Porsche will always carefully manage its supply and demand equation to guarantee its brand’s exclusivity. As Porsche Cars Australia boss Michael Winkler says: "It’s extremely important not to flood the market. I wouldn’t sell 500 (911s per year) even if I could".

Porsche’s finely honed 911 has not attracted that kind of reputation by accident and the latest incarnation continues the slow but steady development of the nameplate, even if the most significant gains are optional or limited to the more expensive new Carrera S variant.

Look beyond the reborn shape that’s wider and more aggressive than any standard 911 before it, and there’s more precision, more accessible performance and even more refinement and comfort than the 996 that changed the 911 lineage forever.

Purists may lament the loss of previous air-cooled models’ rawness, but that more people have flocked to buy 911s than ever since the more mature 996 version was launched can only guarantee the model’s survival. And that’s good for everyone.

In 997 guise 911 continues its advances in user-friendliness with a cabin that feels more spacious thanks to a lower seating position with pedals placed further away. A massive range of seat adjustability will accommodate a wide section of body shapes, but we’re saddened by the loss of the circular themes that made the 996 interior so unique.

In its place is a simpler, more technical design with straight lines that doesn’t match the newly scalloped instruments or some of the carry-over elements like the sun visors with their ovoid vanity mirrors. Sure, material quality has improved and the softer-touch dash is classier, but the silver painted console surround still feels cheap.

The base variant’s standard stability control inspires real confidence in hard or slippery going, the addition of head airbags is almost obligatory for the money and the variable ratio steering is a boon in parking situations without affecting 911’s brilliant on-centre steering precision or feedback across its range.

Longer service intervals and therefore cheaper running costs certainly compliment the new 911’s slightly better ergonomics, but while Carrera’s extra power is not noticeable, the notchier, shorter-throw manual feels more positive but lacks the current Getrag’s silky-smooth feel.

While Carrera offers greater ease of use along with a different interior and exterior look, Carrera S is a whole new ballgame, offering more of everything including performance, grip, braking and equipment – for more money.

Taking the famed boxer engine to even greater heights, it howls to its 7400rpm cutout with a chilling efficiency and potency the 3.6 Carrera can’t match.

Proof of its extra urge is evidenced by Porsche’s claimed figures, but a track session at Hobart’s Baskerville raceway – as part of 997’s 400km launch drive along Tasmania’s east coast – revealed just how accomplished the 911 Carrera package can be.

Perfectly spaced gear ratios, superb steering response and, above all, supreme traction from the 911’s trademark rear-engine design, put the sports suspension-kitted, ceramic-braked Carrera S in a performance realm above its more basic sibling and closer to many more expensive versions of the current 996.

Far from 911 of old, the addition of standard stability control made the S feel almost infallible on the wet Baskerville surface and, unlike most performance road cars, 911 continues to feel like it will take the most abusive of racetrack treatments all day – every day.

Carrera S also felt little short of compliant on broken Tassie backroads despite its 19-inch, liquorice-strap tyres, and the cabin was never less than pin-drop quiet.

New options like the sports button give 911 a more aggressive edge on demand, although we’re still disappointed by the number of expensive options found standard on many other new cars, such as rear parking sensors, rain sensing wipers, full leather trim and a multi-function steering wheel.

After more than 400 memorable kilometres in the 997, it’s clear the new 911 is a careful evolution of the sports coupe to which so many aspire. In its latest guise, 911 continues to offer even more of the driving experience that its rivals fail to match, with even more refinement and practicality.

If Carrera S was the new Carrera instead of being another $26,000 more expensive, 997 would also represent outstanding value.

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