How do you change a 48-year old tradition? By not changing it! It took a fast left-hander at the Yas Marina circuit for me to realise that. Working furiously at the gearbox with five more gears still to go, I booted the throttle while the buttons on Sport Plus and the sports exhaust on the central tunnel were lit. Then a slight squirm, a wiggle and the vehicle threatened to go sideways. Bosch’s finest nanny controller stayed untouched and yet the 911’s 20-inch rear wheels broke traction. In an instant, I applied corrective lock for the fear of being thrown out of the train made up by three brand-new seventh generation Porsche 911 Carrera Ss being led by a Porsche Boxster S at the front. The 911 twitched, the Porsche’s new torque vectoring function kicking in, and it fell back in line before our test driver could even catch a glimpse of all the action in his rear-view mirror. I breathed heavily for the next few seconds as I tried to gather what had just happened – the 911’s wizardry had saved me a lot of coin, something I probably wouldn’t have been able to do in, say, the original, Butzi-designed car. That and the fact that the 100 mm between the two wheel wells isn’t extra in a 911, it is a concept-defying moment in the near-five decade history of the 911.
Welcome then, to what Michael Mauer, design chief at Porsche, says is just the third-ever all-new 911, even though it’s been around for seven generations. Still scratching your head? Well, if you look at the evolution of the species (and a successful one at that) you could define them into the category which made the 911 with the addition of five mph bumpers, then the entry of the 993, complete with flush bumpers et al and then this, the 991. A journalist even quizzed Michael on the logic behind the 991 tag, especially since the last was the 997. So isn’t 998, logical? He quipped, ‘We wanted to throw the competition and your lot off the trail by calling it the 991'. Clever indeed! But is the new 911 all that clever, is it better than ever before and most importantly, is it the best 911 ever?
To begin with, the 991 is as soul changing as the water-cooled engine for the 996 was. With the basic floorpan, doors, engine and luggage compartment lids made of aluminium, while the rest being high strength steel and magnesium, the car has become a potpourri of different metals and materials. As a result, it is 25 per cent stiffer than the last car, and the last car was pretty stiff to begin with.
Then there’s the extended wheelbase that might ruffle more than a feather among Porschephiles – yet it seems that adding luxury bits, making the car comfier and more stable has been the pursuit of the white coats in Weissach.
How can you ignore design? It’s a timeless classic, the 911, and as Michael says, the shape is governed more by the placement of the engine than any other factor. The roofline is lower, the front track has been widened and as a result the headlamps have been moved further out. The air-dam is larger too – I’d say it is probably as large as the 997 Turbo’s and makes me wonder what the 991 Turbo is going to look like. The tapering cabin makes it look slimmer than the last car, in fact it makes the rear wings look a bit more rounded. The other big change are those tail-lamps – the use of LEDs, it seems, has made them sleeker and thinner.
The extra length has meant a lot more room on the inside as Jonathan, my six-foot five inch partner in the car, demonstrated. It really does feel like you are sitting in a large-ish GT rather than a tight sports car. Yet what strikes you most is how well the new 991 is really built. In the presentation slides between the outgoing 997 and the new 991, the fact the 997 does look old has become painfully obvious. And this is strange, since the 997 never felt so, until now. The 991’s Panamera-esque centre-console is awash with functions, but it’s the lack of a handbrake that catches your attention. The PDK gear lever is as well-finished as ever and so are all the buttons and dials – yes, the rev-counter still is smack bang in the centre of the instrument cluster. Some things haven’t changed for good, while some could still be done away with, like the PDK controls on the steering that tend to foul with your palm every time you attack a corner, inadvertently upshifting in the process.
But the proof of the pudding is in the driving. For starters, the added dimensions may have made the car bigger, but the use of exotic materials has meant the car is now a full 40 kg lighter than the previous car, all things considered. The other bit is the addition of horsepower, 15 of them for the direct fuel-injection 3.8-litre boxer-six on the Carrera S and a Boxster derived 3.4-litre six in the same configuration for the bog-standard number, but with 350 bhp to the S’ 400 bhp.
Once you hit a track like the Yas Marina circuit, the new 911 comes straight into its element. The first thing that strikes you is how much louder the 911 is – it is incredibly so, given the fact that the boxer-six hasn’t always had the sweetest intake roar. A cleverly designed intake with a new resonator that alters sound according to engine speeds gets your pulse racing immediately. As if that wasn’t enough, it gets louder with the selectable sports exhaust and the 911 becomes proper LMS GT3 material. It goes from a flutter to a full-on roar as the revs rise. Shift from normal to Sport or Sport Plus and you instantly find the PDK shift much later, the decibel count even higher. Then to the PDK itself – it was already awesome when it first came out with the 997 facelift, especially since we tried them out on various versions of the 911 Turbo. Any traces of clunkiness (if at all there were any, because on a car that does 0-100 in three seconds you just can’t detect it), have disappeared and mind you, the shifts were already sharp, so they’ve become even sharper.
Pin the throttle all the way down in Sport Plus and black lines will be left in your wake. It’s incredible how the new 911, even in two-wheel drive guise, can put down its power so well. Impressive is also how quickly the car can now get to 100 kph. A few years ago, a 483 bhp Ferrari F430 could hit 100 kph in 4.0 seconds – the new 400 bhp Carrera S can do it in 4.3 seconds. That’s really telling of how much traction is on offer with the new 991. Now riding on large 20-inch wheels (19-inchers for the Carrera), the 911, with the wider front-track, is a lot better balanced on the handling front. The use of the wider front track has meant it has pretty much killed the last known traces of understeer, while the use of Porsche’s Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC) and torque vectoring (PTV) only enhances the 911’s leech-like handling abilities.
Still, the 911 handles beautifully. It didn’t strike me until much later that the car now has electric steering (a first on the 911) until I hung up my helmet for the day and started to walk out of the track. The new steering may not have the fluidity of the hydraulic setup the 997 sported, but it weighs up beautifully and even the responses don’t stutter like electric power steering setups so far. It’s also happy to get its tail out. In Sport Plus with the ESP button still on, the ECU partially deactivates the ESP function, giving you a lot more leeway when you attack corners. You can literally attack corners with more gusto while letting the tail step out of line ever-so-slightly, as I discovered. But try it with all systems on and the 911 just makes ‘cornering on rails’ a reality.