911 revels in its maturity
One of the things that tickles me about the arrival of each new Porsche 911 is not so much how little the car seems to change with every evolution, but just how much diehard 911 enthusiasts – of whom there are, understandably, many – find to complain about in the context of what are supposed to constitute improvements over the outgoing model.
Not that you’d appreciate it at first glance, but this is actually the 7th generation of Porsche’s evergreen, rear-engined rocket sled, and the company’s 4th stab at an all new car.
Ninety percent of the new Carrera’s mechanical ingredients are new, or improved, making this model as significant a leap forward as – to use Porsche’s own, in-house nomenclature – the 993 to 996 hike which, famously, binned that deliciously breathy, air cooled engine in favour of a more conventional, water cooled unit.
Never mind the fact that the 993’s clutch required a leg like a traction engine to operate and the car was hell to live with in traffic. Never mind an interior in which the switchgear had clearly been laid out by a man armed with a blindfold and a blunderbuss.
And never mind an air cooled engine that made effective climate control in the cabin almost impossible…
As far as the diehards were concerned, the new car was too big, didn’t sound right, didn’t quite handle with the same alacrity and didn’t still shrink around you like cling-film on a hot sausage when you got serious with. So, plenty of grump potential on offer here, then.
This new, £71,449 911 Carrera is only a couple of inches longer than its predecessor and a whisker lower, but it has grown some four inches in the wheelbase. Conversely, with nearly 50% of the body now aluminum and the occasional chunk of unobtanium lobbed in for good measure, it actually weighs 45 kg less, and is 20% stiffer.
Personally, I think this is destined to go down in history as one of the best looking 911s. Nothing but the usual mild tweakages apply up front, but I particularly enjoy the fact that a more comprehensive and undeniably elegant rear redesign takes some of the overt curvature out of a rump that had always felt a little clumsy to me when stacked against the rest of the cars svelte proportions.
On board, the replacement of the workmanlike, upright dashboard of previous generations with a Cayenne and Panamera inspired sloping centre console cannot be quibbled over, and the interior certainly feels more spacious, even though the back seats remain fit only for small children.
Attempts to somewhat enliven what has never been the most elegant or ostentatious of spaces have not, however, had any bearing on the driving position, which remains absolutely perfect, or the instrumentation, which, with a large central tachometer and the inclusion of oil and water temperature gauges, remains devoted to function.
Still slung so far astern that the decades old Porsche engineering battle against the laws of physics continues apace, the engine drops from 3.6 to a more fuel and emissions- efficient 3.4 litres in capacity. Yet torque output remains the same at 288 lb.ft, and power increases by 5bhp to 345bhp. However, both torque and power peak higher on the tachometer – 1200rpm and 900rpm respectively, which matters…
Bald figures of 0-62mph in 4.8 seconds and 179mph are suitably impressive but, despite Porsche’s insistence that this car is actually faster through the gears from 30- 70mph than its predecessor, I do notice a slightly surprising reluctance for the Carrera to properly hitch up its petticoats and fling itself at the horizon unless you’re far higher up the rev band than before.
And that matters because you’ll have to stir the stick more in search of proper power. And that matters because the stick is now attached to a 7-speed gearbox. Where once the snicker-snack, lightning quick gear level action of Jabberwocky vorpal blade intent was one of the defining characteristics of a 911 drive, the replacement feels stodgier, more recalcitrant and less accurate.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad. It’s simply that what was once sublime is now merely, um, acceptable and will take a little learning. With so many cogs to choose from you’re more likely to find Narnia in the back of your wardrobe than 6th when changing down from 7th… Roaming A roads whilst chopping merrily between 3rd and 4th simply to shackle operations to the middle of the ever-widening gate has the added advantage of keeping the engine on song to boot.
With a wry smile playing about the lips, we must, I fear, put this mild, 7-speed hiccup not merely down to the quest for improved fuel economy and lower emissions (indeed, this is the company’s cleanest ever sports car, boasting 34.5mpg and 194g/km), but also the fact that what we have here is actually Porsche’s twin-clutch, PDK gearbox simply shorn of automatic status by the attachment of a stick.
Given that the company anticipates 75% of its new Carreras leaving the showrooms armed with said PDK automatic transmission, this engineering decision makes perfect sense, but will, undoubtedly, elicit interminable debate amongst diehards.
On a more satisfactory note, though Porsche engineers are, of course, never actually wrong, they do seem to have finally recognised that no one at all enjoys the awkward, push/pull steering wheel buttons with which PDK manual override has long been associated, and proper flappy paddles are now an available option.
That which has really prompted a mass inhalation of air over diehard teeth, however, is the introduction of electric power steering, about which the petrolheads amongst you will doubtless already have read a considerable ream of guff.
Truth is, the 911’s steering is still as rich in feel and generous in information as anyone could ask. And with perfect pedal placement and brake weight continuing to make heel-and-toe Gods of all but the gormless, the 911 still gives more dart than a paper aeroplane encyclopedia.
One undeniable feature of the new 911 is that it’s undoubtedly noisier. And that’s not down to the pressing of Sport buttons to open baffles in the exhaust. It’s continuously noisier thanks to the physical piping of engine din directly into the cabin for the first time, using something Porsche calls a Sound Symposium; to you and me, a pipe. I’m not convinced by this, because, to my ears, it merely contrives to give you less of that inimitable flat six howl which inevitably sets the hair on the nape of your neck trooping the colour, and more, well, noise of a less wholesome nature.
I have to be careful here; I’m beginning to sound like one of those grumbling diehards myself. Which I’m not. I’ve never been a 911 addict, yet I do attribute some of the finest hoons I’ve ever enjoyed to various iterations of this fabulous car.
To date, what Porsche has consistently achieved is to make each new 911 more everyday usable than its predecessor.
Interestingly, the upshot of this latest evolution is an extremely quick machine that must now be driven even more quickly to extricate maximum enjoyment. And the only thing marring that requirement is not, as diehards will tell you, the steering in fact, the gear change.