Porsche’s bestselling sports car the 911, despite its global fame, is a slow mover in India. Like all sports cars sold here, its appeal is limited by the false notion that you can’t really drive sports cars on our roads and truly enjoy them.
But silly notions apart, a 911 is a 911, an icon that’s easily recognisable by everyone and their grandmother. And Porsche wants it to be that way. But has it taken things too far with this new 911?
No, don’t scratch your head. This isn’t some silly visual trick, the car you see on the page really is the all-new 911 (codename: 991), an honest-to-God all-new aluminium-bodied car that shares almost nothing with its predecessor. Now, normally, things get better when you jump from two to three dimensions, making it easier to distinguish new car from old, but not in this case.
Even in the flesh, this car is so similar in overall look and feel to the earlier ‘997’, it’s baffling. Sure, place the two side by side and the new details and slightly different proportions emerge. And yes, eventually, after spending a couple of days with the car you can recognise the new bits instantly, but just how do you tell this new car from the old one? By far the easiest way is to get a good look at the rear. Unlike the tight and compact back of the earlier ‘997’, the ‘991’ is wider and fuller looking. The most obvious detail is the word ‘Porsche’, spelt out in large chrome letters across the back – a throwback to the original 911 from the early ’60s. This new 911 also has a significantly more raked front windscreen, the headlights have been moved out to give it a wider-looking nose, and the longer wheelbase and wider front track give it a more planted stance. Otherwise, it has all the iconic 911 design cues. The half-amphibian, half-reptilian smiley nose, the compact Coke bottle-like shape and, of course, the big gumball tyres. A modern adaptation of a classic that’s good enough to stare at for hours.
Pull open the light aluminium doors, step into the comfortable interior and you immediately understand the dual appeal the 911 has always had. Ingress is almost as comfortable as a luxury saloon, the typically Porsche cabin feels better built than even an Audi, and the driver’s seat seems to have exactly the right blend of support and cushioning. This is a car you can use every day and not feel any worse for wear.
The insides are all 911 too, the five horizontally aligned dials, again done in time-honoured fashion, look simply fantastic and the numbers on the dials themselves are exciting enough to elevate your heart rate. The slightly overoptimistic speedo reads a bullet-train-matching 330kph, the tachometer is redlined close to 8000rpm, and the split dial on the left gives you both oil temperature and pressure, a bit of kit that harks back to when Porsche’s flat-six motors were
cooled by what we breathe rather than what we drink.
What’s new on the inside however is the Panamera-like raised central tunnel. This new arrangement has also allowed Porsche to get rid of the fiddly small buttons that earlier infested the tightly packed central console and there’s a larger screen in the central console too. The downside though is that the shiny black plastic buttons, even with the chrome accents, just don’t have the build quality seen on the rest of the car.
Still, stuff like the fascia feels built to last forever; this version feels as well equipped as any luxury car, and the phenomenal structural rigidity and strength of the chassis feel really special from the inside. Incidentally, this new 911 is approximately 20 percent stiffer than the earlier one, and with so much of the weight slung over the rear of this aluminium-bodied car, Porsche says achieving this target was important.
The ‘993’ may have been the last air-cooled 911, but this new car sounds air-cooled too, especially at start up. You hear that ‘chitty-chitty-chitty’ at idle and blip the throttle and you get that faint whistling sound, so familiar on Porsches of old. However, spin the direct-injection flat-six motor harder and the exhaust note tightens up into something between a rasp and a snarl.
And the faster you spin it, the harder-edged it gets.
We’re out for a drive around some of the quieter roads on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi and, windows down and sport exhaust button on, the new Carrera S sounds truly divine. This new aluminium chassis feels as tight as a drum, at least 40-50 percent stiffer than you expect, and performance from the 3.8-litre motor, even in the midrange, is seriously urgent. A big surprise is the all-new electric steering system. Far from playing spoilsport, this new steering system is so accurate you can drive this car precisely and quickly, with almost no conscious effort. Sure, some of the feel and constant feedback of the earlier hydraulic unit is lost, but this electric steering is so well sorted and so accurate you hardly miss the more touchy-feely hydraulic one.
The new 911 also drives much better in normal or street mode. While the earlier motor had quite a gutless bottom end and a PDK ’box that was reluctant to downshift, this one feels far more energetic and willing. There’s considerably more muscle at regular driving speeds, the gearbox is infinitely sweeter and, on this longer wheelbase, the ride quality seems better too. Despite the 20-inch rims on this car, there’s more suppleness in the suspension, probably due to the active dampers and anti-roll bars, the active engine mounts cradle the engine with soft hands and the 911 now only thumps through poorly paved sections rather than crashing through them.
The real difference, however, is just how much more punchy and stable the new 991 feels at speed. The familiar 3.8 flat six may make only 15bhp more but, coupled with the lighter body and the improved gearbox, performance has taken a massive leap forward. It feels brutally quick, even when you are using only 80 percent of the potential of the motor, the performance gets stronger the harder you rev the snarling flat six, and visiting the last 1000rpm of the powerband, especially in one of the higher gears, is thoroughly grin- inducing. But to explore the performance envelope of this car fully, you need a track.
30 hard laps
Luckily we have the Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Formula 1 circuit at hand. But can this cleaner, greener, crammed-with-all-manner-of-electronic-driver-aids 911 deliver as pure a driving experience as 911s of yesteryear?
It takes only a couple of hard laps to prove that there are times when you do miss the extra feel and feedback of the hydraulic steering. However, the new steering works so well in every other area, you soon overlook this little blemish. Placing the car exactly where you want with millimetre precision, even with the tyres howling in protest, is just a flick of a wrist away, and the accuracy of the system is so high, there’s almost never a second or third movement of the steering required. And the wider front track, stiffer chassis, anti-roll system and active suspension all work together to make the new 911 corner so flat, you seldom suffer the destabilising effect of all that weight in the rear. There is precious little understeer, active torque vectoring between the driven rear wheels provides further stability under power and this allows the 911 to slingshot itself out of slow, medium and fast bends like it’s been shot from a cannon.
Pinning the throttle to the floor and giving the 911 its head, especially towards the top end of the powerband, also makes it feel brutally quick. In fact, performance in some parts of the powerband isn’t all that far removed from the earlier-generation 911 Turbo; this car does after all have 270bhp per tonne to the Turbo’s 309.
What’s also nice about the new car’s handling is that it allows you to use that weight in the rear to your advantage. You can feel the heavy rear come around in tighter corners on the track but, far from being intimidating, the new 911 encourages you to flick the steering wheel gently and help the car change direction. And that just ups the fun factor massively.
The new 911 may be designed for a cleaner, greener era but Porsche has engineered the fun-to-drive factor into every single nut and bolt. Blending strong performance and incredible poise on one hand and practical everyday usability on the other, Porsche has taken the new 911 further than anyone expected. And its appeal is truly global. With a little care and smaller rims, this is a car you could use everyday even on our roads. That this is one of the best sports cars in the world, there is no doubt. The question is, how many Indian sports car buyers will have the good sense to snap up the new Carrera S, which even at an ex-showroom price of Rs 1.13 crore is actually surprisingly good value. Can you think of another car, available here, that has the ability to deliver a similar blend of supercar-like performance and near-everyday usability?