One of the most challenging jobs in the car industry is to redesign the Porsche 911.
It’s a catch-22; you can’t fiddle too much with an iconic design as people expect it to look a certain way. But if you fiddle too little, people accuse you of lacking imagination and spending too much time eating doughnuts in the canteen instead of working behind a drawing board.
But Porsche design chief Michael Mauer is onto something with the new 911. He’s hit on a compromise that manages to respect the car’s illustrious past but bring it looking more groomed and suave into the future.
The wider-set front wheels, longer wheelbase, shortened overhangs and slightly lower roof give the rear-engined legend a more dynamic and hunkered-down appearance, especially from the front and profile views.
And it’s good to see that the new 991 (the factory designation for the new-generation car) has round headlamps like it’s supposed to; the horrid “runny egg” lights of the two-generations-ago 996 have thankfully remained hidden away in the failed-experiments locker.
The more pronounced shoulders at the rear, due to a more tapered cabin, give the new 911 a bulkier look from behind, offset by slimmer new tail lamps.
The modernised car still looks like a proper 911, and to ensure it goes like one too Porsche has done the necessary work in the engine and chassis departments, as well as introducing new electro-mechanical steering in the interests of fuel saving. The Carrera and Carrera S both weigh less than their predecessors due to new lightweight aluminium-steel bodies, while power has increased.
A few laps around the Yas Marina Formula One circuit in Abu Dhabi, at the new 911’s media launch last week, confirmed that the car is a splendid track tool. Even though the Porsche pace car driver we had to follow was on the over-cautious side, the bursts of pace we were able to muster confirmed the icon’s lost none of its sporting abilities.
The car’s very composed in extremis, and almost utterly resistant to sogginess, especially with the optional PDCC Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control system which prevents body roll. Porsche Torque Vectoring (PTV), standard in the Carrera S, also uses a rear differential lock to maximise traction under hard acceleration.
It’s basically a very neutral handler but on the grip limits the rear-wheel drive car variously under - or over-steers depending on the timing and severity of throttle and steering inputs.
If you learn to get it all right it can be a very fast and rewarding car to drive on a track, as attested to by the the new Carrera S lapping the Nurburgring in just 7 min 40 – a full 14 seconds faster than the previous model and a time previously attainable only by the likes of a 911 Turbo or GT3.
But out on Abu Dhabi’s public roads the new car proved to have the easy-driving, non-spine-crushing useability of typical 911 Carrera renown.
The new Carrera S as before gets its shove from a flat-six (boxer) 3.8-litre direct-injection engine, but with a higher rev limit pushing output up from 283kW to 294kW along with a torque increase from 420 to 440Nm.
This allows a fiery 0-100km/h time of just 4.3 seconds with the optional seven-speed PDK automatic gearbox (4.1 seconds with the Sport Chrono package) and an autobahn-burning 302km/h top speed.
The rear-mounted boxer engine makes an emotive howl worthy of those performance figures, especially with the optional sports exhaust which liberates an even angrier growl at the press of a button. When exiting Yas Marina’s pits through the tunnel I couldn’t resist opening the window and revving ‘er up just to hear that howl echo off the walls, and so too the appealing exhaust crackle when I lifted off the throttle. The 911 brings out the boy in you.
That’s the fun and playful part, but Porsche has also reduced the Carrera S’s carbon footprint with up to a 15 percent reduction in fuel consumption and C02 emissions with features such as a start/stop function and a coasting function that briefly disengages the engine from the transmission.
In the base Carrera the boxer engine’s been shrunk from 3.6 to 3.4-litre capacity but a higher rev limit has pushed power up from 254 to 257kW, while torque stays the same at 390Nm. Expect a 0-100 time of 4.6 seconds (4.4 with Sport Plus) and a 287km/h top speed in PDK form, with similar consumption and C02 savings as in the Carrera S.
Both cars will be offered with the world’s first seven-speed manual transmission as a no-cost option, though the vast majority of 911 buyers tend to opt for the seven-speed PDK and for good reason: it’s a slick and quick gearbox that takes nothing away from the “purist” driving experience.
Same goes for the new electrically-assisted steering, which lacks nothing in feel and feedback.
The 911 is a balancing act of tradition versus evolution, race-ready performance versus road user-friendliness, and the excellent new car burns that torch even brighter.
The new 911 Carrera and Carrera S will go on sale in South Africa in March priced at R989 000 and R1 133 000 respectively. - Star Motoring