The One by Which All Others Are Measured
Since its debut in 1963, the Porsche 911 has epitomized singularity in the sports-car world. From the ill-advised rear engine placement — which still makes Newton roll over — and the smooth, high-revving boxer motors, to the provocative Bauhaus styling with its roundish headlamps, humped front fenders, and horizontal taillamps, the 911 is an automotive freak. But it’s a striking one that has sold 700,000 units worldwide, spawned more race victories than any other sports car, and served as the lustful fantasy of many a car enthusiast.
Perhaps what makes the 911 most unique is its comparative breadth. At this magazine, for instance, we’ve compared the 911 to Mustangs and Corvettes, Ferraris and Lamborghinis, BMWs and Benzes, Jags and Astons, Audis and Acuras, Nissans and Toyotas, and even Evos and STIs. I don’t mean to suggest that we’ve actually pitted the 911 in head-to-head battles with each and every one of the aforementioned (although with most we have), but when we want to say just how quick a car is, or how well it handles, or how amazing its steering is, well, there’s one reference we turn to. “The new Evo corners as well as a 911!” “This ‘Vette is even quicker than a 911!” “The GT-R is so fast it can hang with a 911 Turbo!” You get the point. Whenever a sporty car, whether a coupe, hatchback, sedan, or convertible, requires heroic validation, there is but one benchmark: the 911.
Porsche has earned and embraced this bull’s-eye status, and there is no 911 better suited to defend that position than the all-new, seventh-generation 991. Longer, lighter, quicker, roomier, and more fuel-efficient than its 997 predecessor, the 991 is an evolutionary masterpiece of speed, style, and technology.
When we want to say just how quick a car is, or how well it handles, or how amazing its steering is, well, there’s one reference we turn to.
Let’s start with the body. Now constructed of almost 50 percent aluminum, including the doors, wings, lids, and roof, the body is about 100 pounds lighter and around 20-percent stiffer, the latter due in part to key uses of ultra-high-strength steel. Further, the body managed to successfully diet while growing more than 2 inches in length (compared to the 997 GTS) and having a wheelbase stretched 4 inches. Next to the GTS, height for the Carrera S dips 0.2 inch and width shrinks 1.7 inches. The general appearance is still unmistakably 911, except sometimes from the rear, which can resemble the tail of an Aston Vantage or a BMW Z8. Unlike 911s of yesterday, the 991’s tail doesn’t slope sharply down towards the road; rather, it juts up a bit, as if imitating a duck.
As fundamental a shift as switching from air- to water-cooled engines in the 996, the lengthening of the wheelbase represents a new era for 911, one in which the dynamic proportions have been further enhanced. (Newton’s still shaking his head, but his interest is surely piqued.) Overlap a profile drawing of the 991 over the 997, and the engines’ placements reside in essentially the same spots; the major differences being the 991’s rear axle has shifted 2.8 inches rearward from the driver’s H-point and the front axle 1.2 inches forward. The result? Less weight over the rear, which equals better balance. We weighed a Carrera S and found its 3309 pounds were distributed 39 percent up front and 61 percent out back — superior to the 997 GTS’s 3396 pounds at 38/62.
In addition to the improved proportions (did I mention the overhangs have been clipped by 1.3 inches up front and 0.5 inch out back compared to the previous S?), the 991 Carrera S benefits from myriad other enhancements. The front track has been expanded almost an inch, part of a package using 20-inch wheels with 245/45s up front and 295/30s in back. Now standard on the S is rear limited-slip differential with torque vectoring that applies brake pressure to the inside rear wheel and engine power to the outside rear wheel when cornering, thus upping yaw movement around a turn. Porsche’s $3160 dynamic chassis control — an active roll-stabilization system that helps the car stay flat through corners — and $890 active suspension management, or continuous damping control, are optional.
For the utmost in control and speed, the $1850 Sport Chrono Package is a must, as it includes launch control with the PDK, a Sport Plus button for more aggressive throttle, exhaust, and dampening, and, most important, dynamic engine mounts that keep a leash on the boxer’s centrifugal effect — the engine’s desire to move away from the direction of a turn. Put it all on a car that is better balanced, with a wider front track, bigger tires, and longer wheelbase, and what you get is a four-seater that not only rides smoother and more controlled, but will outgrip and out-maneuver the 997 GTS, which laid down 1.00 g of lateral acceleration and a 24.4-second (at 0.79 g) figure-eight time. If you don’t believe me, Porsche says the 991 S circles the Nurburgring Nordschleife in 7:40, or 14 seconds quicker than the 997 S and as swift as the 997 Turbo and GT3. The 991 is the easiest and most forgiving and predictable 911 in which to test maximum levels of adhesion, which amateurs can explore and pros can exploit.
To be that quick around the ‘Ring you need power and torque, and the new S has more of both. Not a lot — 15 horses and 15 pound-feet — but total output of 400 horsepower and 325 pound-feet are enough to launch an S with the PDK dual-clutch auto from 0 to 60 mph in around 4.0 seconds. Porsche claims a time of 4.1 (4.3 with the seven-speed manual — more on that world’s first later), which is the same time we got for the heavier, 408-horsepower 997 GTS with PDK. So expect around 3.9 in the S with SportChrono and launch control. The S’s 3.8-liter flat-six shares about 30 percent of its parts with the GTS’ engine, but the other 70 percent is new, including a reworked intake manifold and multi-hole fuel injectors. Even the exhaust is freshly designed. The updated 3.8 pulls stronger, sounds racier (thanks in part to a “Sound Symposer” that directs engine noise into the cabin via an acoustic channel), revs higher (7800 rpm vs. 7300), and consumes less gas (Porsche claims a noteworthy 16-percent fuel-economy hike on the European cycle).
Routing all that go to the road is your choice of a seven-speed PDK auto or the first-ever seven-speed manual. The shift-it-yourself box, produced by ZF, delivers a nice, firm action with short throws and an oh-so-easy clutch, but rowing through that many gears isn’t as intriguing as it may sound. It can be tedious. Seventh is for highway use only, but since a lot of drivers are frequent highway travelers, it won’t exactly be an unused gear. Engage seventh — it sits to the right of fifth — and the engine goes docile, spinning at a hushed 2100 rpm at 70 mph. The engine is relaxed; you’re relaxed. Then a truck right in front of you blows a tire and loses control, and you think, “I’m in seventh gear…where do I go from here? Six? Skip directly to fifth? Wait, am I already in fifth?” Getting used to a six-speed manual took long enough. Getting used to a seven-speed, created so 911 stick fans wouldn’t have to pay any highway fuel-econ penalty, will take longer. Which leads me to the PDK.
Quicker and smoother shifting — yes, a great dual-clutch got even better — the enhanced seven-speed PDK offers the best of both worlds.
Quicker and smoother shifting — yes, a great dual-clutch got even better — the enhanced seven-speed PDK offers the best of both worlds. It provides the briskest acceleration, what with mind-dizzying launch control and race-quick shifts, and, thanks to a new “coasting” feature that disengages the trans from the engine during various off-throttle situations, improved fuel economy. There’s also a selectable auto start/stop function, standard with both transmissions, that helps save gas.
Not as monumental as the wheelbase stretch, the 991’s shift from hydraulic to electric power steering is an easy second place. The newer-to-market EPS systems are more painstaking to calibrate to the organic, linear levels of the 911’s previous hydraulic units, but the 991’s electric rack is nothing short of, well, electric. Linearity is first-rate, and if there were any loss in feel, it’s as negligible as a penny. Better still, turn-in feels GT3 quick and precise. Not surprising, Porsche says it utilized the expertise of its factory race drivers when tuning the 991’s EPS. Those drivers undoubtedly gave their approval of the brakes, too. Stiffer six-piston front and four-piston rear calipers squeeze larger and lighter steel discs, the fronts growing by 0.4 inch. (Porsche’s carbon-ceramic brakes are an $8520 option but seem superfluous.) Brake performance and feel are equally excellent.
Inside, the 991 is a handsome blend of 911 heritage and Panamera innovation. The trademark five-dial gauge cluster with a big, center-mounted tachometer still greets the driver, but one dial is now devoted to a multi-menu TFT display that relays everything from a g meter to tire pressures. A la the Panamera, the 991 sports a center console that is fully integrated into the dash, creating a richer, more modern cockpit. But dissimilar to its four-door sibling’s, the 991’s houses far fewer buttons, meaning the look is less intimidating and the driver interaction more efficient. With the wheelbase bump comes an extra inch of front legroom and about a quarter-inch more rear legroom. Opt for the $1490 power sunroof — a painted piece of aluminum that spans almost the width of the roof — and headroom is up a max of 0.6 inch. The two-person backseat remains a space for kids or luggage, while the $5010 821-watt Burmester sound system continues as the choice for audiophiles. One notable, welcome addition to the list of standard equipment: Porsche Communication Management, which includes navigation with touchscreen control and 3D mapping.
In 2012, Porsche expects the 991 to account for about 30 percent of all sales. Of course, the “base” $83,050 Carrera, with its 3.4-liter 350-horse flat-six and 19-inch wheels, will represent a big bite of that slice. To think it’s any less impressive in its own right than the S would be foolish. Nevertheless, the S gets to carry the mantle as the one — the greatest all-around 911 ever. At least until the Turbo, GTS, and GT3 arrive in the coming years. In the meantime, let the new 911 comparisons begin.
|2012 Porsche 911 Carrera S|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Rear-engine, RWD, 4-pass, 2-door coupe|
|ENGINE||3.8L/400-hp/325-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve flat-6|
|TRANSMISSIONS||7-speed manual, 7-speed twin-clutch auto|
|CURB WEIGHT (dist f/r)||3309 lb (39/61%)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||176.8 x 71.2 x 51.0 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.1-4.3 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||22 / 29 mpg (est)|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||153 / 112 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||0.78 lb/mile (est)|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||February 2012|