The new Porsche 911 Carrera S operates on a much higher performance plane than the seven-year-old model it replaces. With a 0-100kmh time of 4.3sec and a top speed of 302kph, the new model is faster than any of its illustrious forebears by some margin. But the question is, can it achieve such feats with the same intensely involving character as the previous six generations of the car?
Make no mistake, the 991 represents the most significant shift in emphasis for the rear-engined coupé ever – more significant than the progression from the air cooled 993 to the water cooled 996 back in 1996.
Seeing the new car reinforces the impression of Porsche’s revolutionary approach. Haunches widened to accommodate all new underpinnings make the styling significantly more curvaceous and terrific attention to detail endows it with greater precision of build. Its stance is more aggressive, too. The Carrera S as driven here is claimed to come in at 1415kg with its optional PDK gearbox – some 40kg under the kerb weight of its predecessor.
Inside, there’s a new dashboard, a high-set centre and contemporary looking switchgear. It’s a classy, modern driving environment but it’s not devoid of classic touches.
Cruising at a steady 128kph, in the tall seventh gear, the 911 feels remarkably relaxed and silent. The reworked suspension absorbs transverse joints in the road surface and it copes with potholes with greater aplomb. With the Porsche Active Stability Management PASM in Normal mode the chassis takes on a new-found calmness. Switching the PASM into Sport instantly heightens the responses – not only in terms of damping firmness but the directness of the steering and sensitivity of the throttle, too. But there is still less initial impact harshness than with the previous 911, and body movements are wonderfully controlled.
A big surprise are the unfamiliarly subtle messages – or is the lack of them – being relayed back from the newly designed steering wheel. Over the years we’ve become accustomed to the joggling inherent in all 911s up until now. This inherent on centre movement of the steering wheel at the straight ahead, a measure of liveliness and feedback many consider part and parceled of the driving experience, has been eliminated entirely through the adoption of a new electro-mechanical steering system.
It is certainly a big change in character, making the car feel almost anaesthetized on first acquaintance – if only because it’s so unfamiliar to drive a 911 whose steering wheel does not constantly fidget, even at moderate speeds. But it seems the further you drive the more you come to appreciate the added calmness through the steering wheel. Rushing up to a tightening right hander, the 911 squats ever so slightly over the rear wheels, its engine howling with an intoxicating combination of induction and exhaust clamor. The front end is uncharacteristically calm with no unruly bobbing across the heavily patchworked surface; the changes to the suspension provide the new 911 with a much more settled feel even in the most aggressive Sport Plus mode.
Despite holding on to what is essentially the same engine as the old model, Porsche has held true to 911 tradition by raising the output. Power climbs to a new peak of 394bhp at 7400rpm, in the process taking its specific output beyond 100bhp per litre. Torque also improves by 1.79kgm to 32.3kgm at 5600rpm. With the drop in weight figured in, the bump in reserves provides for a 16bhp per tonne increase in the vital power-to-weight ratio at 282bhp per tonne.
Unlike the engine, the gearbox the new 911 Carrera S uses is all new – and rather special, too. Replacing the old six-speed manual is the first ever seven-speed manual to make its way into a series production road car. Based around the seven-speed PDK gearbox, the ground-breaking manual uses a mechanical lock-out to stop you from inadvertently shifting into seventh. The new top gear can only be selected via fifth or sixth.
Another interesting development is a so-called sailing function, which sees the engine disconnected from the gearbox via the clutch on periods of trailing throttle, allowing it roll freely at idle on slight downhill grades.
The 991 is not only more capable than the 997, but its handling also hints at greatness. In Carrera S form it is faster, more neutral at the limit, considerably more stable, incredibly comfortable, a lot quieter at motorway speeds and amazingly frugal. At the end of the day, I’d even come to terms with the new steering, accepting that it lacks the ultimate precision and sensitivity of the old hydraulic arrangement.