New Porsche 911 retains title as the world’s best sports car
PORSCHE has produced more than a million examples of its 911 since 1963 - and the brand really seems to be getting the hang of making a great car greater. The latest and mostly new 911, the eighth to wear the badge and due to arrive here in April, is better than the fine sports car it will replace.
There's more power from the 911's trademark flat-six engine and an extra ratio in its double-clutch transmission. The suspension has been improved and the steering made even more direct.
These changes mean the new 911 has stronger straight-line acceleration and takes less time to complete a lap of the famed Nurburgring circuit.
What doesn't change is the 911's basic layout. The extensively updated twin-turbo 3.0-litre six hangs behind the rear axle in the tail, just as in the original Volkswagen Beetle, the Ferdinand Porsche-designed economy car that is the 911's distant ancestor.
This old-fashioned format - the Beetle was designed in the 1930s - should be a handicap. Today, no sane engineer would choose it if asked to design a new sports car from a clean sheet of paper.
There are legion 911 lovers who like the car just the way it is, so Porsche patiently perseveres.
The new 911 wears the designation Type 992 inside Porsche. Compared to the Type 991, launched in 2011, the newcomer is wider.
Elsewhere there's little change in size but the 992's completely new body, using much more aluminium and much less steel than the 991, is lighter and stronger.
Lovelier, too. Porsche's designers have created a shape that's unmistakably 911, yet more curvily confident than ever. With its active rear spoiler, variable cooling air flaps at the front and flush-fitting retractable doorhandles, the new shape also slips through the air more easily.
The interior features a slim instrument panel designed to evoke the simple look of the earliest 911 models. It's studded with 21st-century technology, including a high-resolution touchscreen. A textured ledge just below the screen provides a stable base for the hand when tapping menu options on the move.
Between the snug, sporty and very supportive front seats is a console that's not overcrowded with switches. In cars equipped with the new eight-speed double-clutch transmission, the console is also home to a stumpy gear selector.
Sturdy paddle-shifters are mounted on the leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel for times when the driver wants to take over shifting gears. Porsche is developing a seven-speed manual transmission to join the 911 line-up later.
Porsche is starting production with the S model. The company brought this slightly more powerful version to the 911's recent international press launch in Spain.
The slightly quicker all-wheel drive 4S was available to test but we'll focus on the rear-drive S, the model that cleaves most closely to the classic 911 concept.
The twin-turbo boxer six is more eager and elastic than ever and in the S peak power has been wound up to 331kW. Its snarly sound remains, little changed by Porsche's extensive re-plumbing of the intake and exhaust.
The new eight-speed double-clutch is absolutely brilliant, the quality of the control software truly outstanding. It's so good at sensing the driver's mood in auto mode that those paddle shifters are practically redundant.
Even when racetrack hot-lapping in Sport Plus driving mode, it times and executes gearshifts perfectly. And it's equally adept in Normal mode on the road.
New magnetically variable shock absorbers bring real comfort benefits. For a seriously fast sports car, the ride of the S is beautifully absorbent in Normal mode.
Selecting go-faster Sport and Sport Plus modes brings firmness to enable faster cornering, but the suspension never becomes joltingly stiff.
The steering is more direct than before. It's super precise and clearly communicates how much grip the front tyres are generating.
For the first time, the 911 wears larger diameter rear wheels. The broad tyres, about 60mm wider than those at the front, give great grip.
This is a great car to drive, to look at and to use. Flaws are few. There's more wind noise than expected at motorway speeds and the rear spoiler looks odd from some angles when extended … and that's about it.
Simply, it's a better 911. It can't be easy to lift a legend to new heights but Porsche has done so. Again.
It might stick with tradition in many ways but the 911 also introduces a world-first technology. The car's standard Wet Mode uses microphone-like ultrasonic sensors in its front wheel housings to sense road wetness. When they do, the driver is warned that it would be wise to switch to Wet Mode, which makes the engine and transmission less responsive and alters the chassis stability set-up. It works very well - the car always goes where it's pointed, even on very wet bitumen.
No key …
This is the first 911 not to have a regular ignition key. But Porsche hasn't adopted the starter button used by most other makers. Instead the driver fires it up by twisting a key-like switch built into the usual place in the instrument panel.
Porsche 911 Carrera S vitals
Engine: 3.0-litre 6-cyl boxer twin-turbo, 331kW/530Nm
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited km
Safety: Not rated
Spare: None; inflation kit
0-100km/h: 3.7 secs