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Car reviews - Porsche - 911 - Carrera range

Our Opinion

We like
PDK adds to the 911 experience, efficiency gains of brilliant new engines, refinement, solidity, security of C4 AWD models
Room for improvement
Pricey options, including PDK

Porsche logo4 Sep 2008

By BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

THIS is a story about a different kind of sports car, and how you might finally end a lifetime of manual-gearbox allegiance at the altar of a clever little device with a great big future called Doppelkupplungsgetriebe.

It also tells of a new heart in one of the oldest souls – if not bodies – in the automotive world.

Welcome the latest Porsche 911, the 997 Series II.

But before we explore its headline dual-clutch gearbox, let’s delve a little deeper into the completely and utterly all-new 3.6-litre and 3.8-litre water-cooled horizontally-opposed six-cylinder engines.

Here’s what you need to know. To meet upcoming and future emissions requirements over the next decade or so, Porsche has provided to us an amazingly smooth, economical, clean and compact pair of powerplants that also just happen to have measurably more power and torque.

In Carrera 3.6 format, you are presented with a sweet and potent engine that likes to rev, and rewards an enthusiastic right foot with soaring acceleration in a manner that both suits and is expected from a car wearing the 911 moniker. It’s soul-stirring stuff, this 3.6.

Spend the extra few thousand dollars on the Chrono Pack (jack-rabbit launches) and PASM (active dampers), and you are armed with an extra level of take-off assistance and a significantly more supple ride quality, combined with the safety and security of Porsche’s excellent (and unobtrusive) switchable stability and traction controls.

Switching to the larger Carrera S with the 3.8-litre flat six, and you instantly feel a fuller-fat level of response as well as a throatier wail from the tail from the moment you tickle the throttle. This gives harder all the way to the redline, pushing the 911 deeper into supercar performance territory.

The thing is, though, there is not terribly much in it if your sweet little 3.6 is fitted with the Chrono Pack, which is more of a compliment to its improved response capabilities than any slight against the 3.8.

Fact is you will find true driving happiness and unadulterated thrills in either 911 – just don’t forget to order PASM on the 3.6 if you want to reduce the chance of cupholder-related spills. Your chiropractor would probably recommend it too.

Moving on to the latest Carrera 4 all-wheel drive models, with their constantly variable torque split replacing the viscous coupling unit in the old model, and you are reminded at how utterly safe and secure 911 motoring can be over an incredible range of conditions.

For many people around the world, there is no alternative to AWD, and the ‘4’ delivers with devastating effectiveness.

And so on to Porsche’s glamorous new gearbox, the PDK dual-clutch transmission, which has done more to transform the 911 than anything since, well, the Carrera 4 that came with 1989’s 993.

What this gearbox does is open up yet another new chapter in what the 911 is about. It has always been a sports car. Now, it is a toweringly effective GT. For 928 lovers, Porsche is back in the game.

Before PDK, you couldn’t really drive a 911 fitted with the five-speed automatic Tiptronic without feeling a deep sense of disappointment at the compromise you made in not choosing the clearly-superior manual.

No matter how good Porsche made its conventional torque-converter transmission – and believe us, it introduced the ‘Tiptronic’ concept back in 1990 to take the auto to a new whole level – the stick stuck as the superior solution for driving enthusiasts.

Now, thanks to its vast array of driving programs that range from suave urban sophisticate to racetrack-ready warp-drive rocket, a PDK-fitted 911 will be what you want it to be. The choices are mind boggling, and might take weeks to fully experience and explore.

If you are a Mercedes-Benz SL or CL-class buyer, you may have never considered a 911 before because it simply never had enough refinement or ease now, with PDK (and the essential PASM active damper technology option on the 3.6), you have a true Jeckyl and Hyde performance luxury coupe.

Issues? Well, at a $6500 premium, PDK isn’t being given away (but is no more expensive than many rival gearbox options). And at very high speeds the 911 can still feel a tad nose-light despite the elimination of that bobbing front-end (though that’s the unavoidable rear-weight bias of the car, not the gearbox). Otherwise, this is an amazingly well-honed car.

We didn’t hate the strange push-pull ‘paddle shift’ changes like many of the European press seem to either. Yes, it is a little strange to get used to, and – at a ‘quarter-to-three’ hands-on-wheel position – it does mean a change of habit for some drivers, but soon the changes come natural and fast, and all is forgotten.

But don’t discount the regular 911 fitted with an improved six-speed manual gearbox.

This version involves and integrates the driver in a way that no clutchless gearbox can. Yes, it’s slower in acceleration, as well as thirstier and dirtier than the PDK, but the latest Aisin six-speed manual is also lighter, cheaper and ultimately more satisfying.

Nevertheless, PDK is practically perfect in every way and now must rank as the greatest self-shifting gearbox in a sports car in the world.

So, attention BMW M, Mercedes AMG, Aston Martin Vantage, Maserati GranTurismo, Jaguar XK, Ferrari F430 and even Bentley Continental GT buyers: Now that the 911 offers two truly different yet supreme sports car options, you must at least consider driving a PDK and PASM-equipped Porsche even if you never would have considered the rear-engined sports car before.

This is now particularly so since Porsche has also tidied up the centre console and improved its audio/navigation/multi-media interface out of sight, doing away with the confusing multitude of buttons that blighted the old car.

Refined, practical, handsome and incredibly entertaining, the spirit of 911 soars thanks to its toweringly effective new engines, and then splits to a whole new chapter of GT refinement and sports car dominance for the 45-year-old series, thanks to Porsche’s remarkable PDK.

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