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New 911 the most perfect sports car?

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Latest Porsche 911 is available in 3.4-litre Carrera or 3.8-litre Carrera S variants. Turbos and GTs to follow in time.

It would take a brave man to criticise Porsche’s new 911. Not because you’d have a gang of enthusiasts ready to kick down your door, but because it’s just plain difficult to fault.

Gone are the days when it was easy to moan at a 911’s seating position, its offset pedal box, or its crappy automatic transmissions. Over the past fifty years, and seven generations, Porsche has ironed-out almost all of its niggly bits and what we’re left with is a performance car for people pedantic about perfection.

This generation is codenamed 991 which, strangely, succeeds the previous 997 and 996 before that. So why not 998 you ask? Don’t. There’s no answer. At least not one that Porsche is willing to divulge.

NO IDENTITY CRISIS

Of course, in true 911 tradition, Porsche hasn’t strayed far from the silhouette its rear-engined sports car has had from day one, and in many cases this latest version, which shares not a single body panel with the 997, could slip through traffic undetected as the entirely new car that it is. If you need help identifying it, look to the tail lights which have an unmistakable and unusual slitty new style.

Under the now almost entirely aluminium skin, however, there are enough changes to fill an encyclopedia. But the most significant, and one that has motoring media all abuzz, is its new fuel-saving electrically-assisted steering. This is a brave move for a brand that prides itself on handling and steering feel, and if its performance was anything less than perfect the 991 would be crucified for it.

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Slitty rear tail lights are virtually the only clue to the fact that this is a new car.

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So is it perfect? In short, yes.

The new system is noticeably lighter than when it was powered hydraulically, but drive over a catseye and you’ll know whether it was dilated or not. In other words, all the feedback is there. Even in extreme track conditions, where other electrically-steered performance cars can sometimes fall flat, the 991’s steering weights up nicely in your hands and then self centres with the same sensation as in any good old hydraulic system. Even better perhaps.

Handling-wise this car sets precedence among peers. Throw the Carrera S’s 1 415kg mass into a turn at pace and you’ll discover the true meaning of turn-in. It’s pin-point accurate even when being way overzealous with entry speed, and from there it will continue to comply with steering inputs far beyond what I’d consider realistic. Front-end grip is unbelievable, and no matter how hard or excessively I yanked on the wheel, it would just slither through a turn with the utmost composure.

The real beauty, though, is that you could happily live with this car as everyday transport. Its suspension is yielding, and unlike many sports cars its nose rides high enough to clear speedhumps and awkward driveways. That said, the flat-six engine at the back can overwhelm the cabin with noise at times, especially with an exhaust note-enhancing membrane positioned under the parcel shelf that Porsche calls a Sound Symposer.

HIGHER REVVING

There’s nothing radically new about the engine, just that it’s higher revving and power’s up to 294kW and 440Nm (from 283/420). As in any 911 it’s a rough idler, but as revs climb it smooths out nicely and at around 6 000rpm there’s a harmonic resonance that’ll get your neck hairs standing on end.

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Power delivery is always smooth, but maybe even too smooth. I’d like more of kick in the pants during in-gear acceleration, but thankfully it more than makes up for it when launching from a stop. Our Vbox tells us that the Carrera S does 0-100km/h in 4.6 seconds at Gauteng altitude, and on to the quarter-mile in 12.7, making it the second-quickest naturally-aspirated car we’ve ever tested after the Mercedes SLS. The 3.8-litre boxer’s weight over the back wheels can take some credit for this, but I believe it’s Porsche’s physics-defying PDK dual-clutch transmission that deserves more. Where all other gearboxes hesitate between cogs, this one seems to actually accelerate. It also performs superbly in more chilled-out driving sessions too, where it ticks up and down through its seven gears via subliminal hardwire to your brain. This is possibly the best gearbox in the world right now.

The PDK ‘box is also part of 911’s standard kit which comes in at R1.13-million as a Carrera S, but our unit chock full of options will cost you another R314 000. Interestingly, the world’s first 7-speed manual transmission is available as a no-cost option, and not the other way around.

And, although far from Porsche’s claim of 8.7, we still averaged around 13l/100km in petrol consumption – which is much better than we expected given its performance. Included in the price is Porsche’s 3-year/90 000km warranty encompasing Drive Plan.

For this new model the wheelbase has been extended by a full 100mm, which Porsche says increases both straight-line stability and interior space. But, as you might expect, the rear passenger area is, as it always has been, a poor excuse for actual seating. Rather chuck a togbag or two back there, because there’s not a lot of space for stowage under the bonnet either.

The front seating arrangement is, in comparison, excellent. Porsche offers a few different options as far as adjustment levels go; ours were of middle-spec 14-way variety and I was able to orient my backside just as I like it.

From there you’ll notice the drastically re-designed centre console area, which is now styled similarly to the Panamera and Cayenne with a modern looking “bridge” design. In my opinion it’s executed beautifully, with all the driving control buttons positioned neatly along its length.

But – and here’s my first real criticism – the radio’s volume and tuning controls are obviously designed for left-hand drive markets, and you have to reach through the gear lever to get to them.

Not a huge concern really, but with no audio controls on the wheel it can become a nuisance – especially when using iPod connectivity. I also don’t like the “click-type” temperature adjusters that require numerous presses to adjust finely.

VERDICT

The previous 911 in 997 guise was an almost perfect sports car. The new one, as a 991, is even closer.

l For now only the Carrera and Carrera Cabriolet are sold in the new 991 body style. All other models, including Turbos and GTs, will be released over the next two years. -Star Motoring

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