Road Test - Porsche 911 Carrera 2

New Frontiers

“Ever since the 911 Porsche series began in 1964 I have felt that the car was too big for the engine.” Thus wrote DSJ in February 1973 at the beginning of his article on the new 2.7 Carrera RS. He concludes the article thus; “. . . without question it is one of the great cars of the nineteen-seventies, not as sophisticated as a Citroën SM, not as smooth and elegant as a V12 Jaguar, not as fascinating as a Dino Ferrari, but the personification of GT motoring and race-breeding and my instant reaction was ‘what an incredibly honest car’, and to me honesty is coupled with integrity and in all walks of life they are desirable qualities.” — Phew! Even seventeen years ago Porsche had a tough act to follow, so how does its new baby, the Carrera 2 compare?

If nothing else, DSJ could not complain about the 911 being underpowered ever again for over the ensuing years, the model was powered by a variety of engines which by no means of the imagination could be criticised for being underpowered.

Compared to the preceding model, Porsche claims that the Carrera 2 is 85% new and in fact is not really a 911 at all,but has been designated in-house as the Type 964. It was only market forces that precluded Porsche engineers from changing the famous shape for if it were not for that, the car would look completely different.

The shape itself is naturally enough very familiar. Porsche engineers have a tremendous knack of updating the shell to stop it becoming old fashioned while retaining the basic lines of the 911. Modifications on the Carrera 2, which is identical to the Carrera 4, include elastic polyurethane wraparound bumpers fore and aft, side skirts and a self-raising tail spoiler which is activated above 50 mph. When compared to the original Carrera of 1973, however, one can see that the car has become slightly dumpier and more rounded. The Cd figure of 0.32, however, is even an improvement on the 0.395 of the second series Carrera 3.2 introduced in September 1983. It should also be noted that axle lift has been reduced to zero.

As with the ‘4’, the ‘2’ utilises the same six cylinder air-cooled, four-stroke horizontally opposed boxer engine of 3.6 litres. Along with this increase in cubic capacity from 3.2 litres to 3.6 has come a similar boost in performance. The 231 bhp of the superseded model is now put in the shade by the 250 bhp at 6100 rpm of the new engine despite the addition of the anti-pollution equipment. It is the most powerful normally aspirated unit ever to propel a 911.

It is more, though, than a bored out version of the 3.2, as witnessed by the new cylinder heads, pistons, conrods and crankshaft. External modifications and additions include a new three-way stainless steel catalytic convertor which now comes as standard equipment, a new dual Ignition system and a revised Motronic engine management system with knock control. These are just some of the factors which not only help explain the boost in power but also ensure that the response remains instantaneous as can be judged by the torque figure of 228 lb ft at 4800 rpm.

Along with the blurring of the edges between a road-going racing car and a thoroughly pleasant and docile sports car has come the reduction in noise. While there is that distinctive sound above 5000 rpm which gives away the fact that at the heart of this unit is a racer trying to get out, anything less and the whole thing becomes so much more civilised, one almost might say dignified.

It is only on the open road, though, that the characteristics of this extra performance can be really appreciated. A top speed just short of 160 mph is not really relevant to motoring in Britain anymore, but it is the way that the power is available which so impresses. Even at an engine speed just above tickover, the car is perfectly happy to bumble along in fourth gear. Come the need to accelerate away, the lazy driver can just plunge the right pedal deep into the floorboard and the car will just pick up and disappear down the road with ever increasing momentum into the wide blue yonder, such is its tractability.

So sweet is the gearchange, however, that it is a shame to engage in such driving tactics. While the clutch pedal is on the heavy side, it is only to be expected. The long throw of the former gearlever has been replaced by a shorter, more precise, black lever, unless the PDK option has been chosen (see box). The change across the gate from 2nd to 3rd is precise and flowing and maintained when changing fourth to fifth.

The gear ratios are too well spaced for some tastes but the speeds attainable in each gear, 42 mph in first, 71 mph in second, 104 mph in third and 135 mph in fourth, all at the electronic cut-out at 7000 rpm, endow the car with superb overtaking characteristics.

While 0-60 mph can be reached in just over 5 seconds and 100 mph in 12.7 seconds, putting it near the top in the off-the-line performance stakes, it was the third and fourth gear figures which were the most illuminating. To reach 50 mph from 30 mph takes 4.0 seconds in third and 5.5 seconds in fourth, while identical times were also recorded in the 40-60 mph band. In the next category, the 50-70 mph segment, so important with regard to high-speed overtaking, the car was capable of bridging the gap in 3.5 seconds in third and 5.5 seconds in fourth; times that are simply unobtainable by almost any other car, and certainly by any car the poorer side of £60,000.

As the new Carrera’s lineage with the rest of the 911 range can best be described as elusive, its body shape and mechanical layout continue the theme, but while all previous models gained the reputation of being a driver’s car, this backhanded compliment is no longer relevant.

The superiority of the Carrera 2 over previous models is not just accounted for by a more powerful and progressive engine, but by a combination of several factors. The redesigned independent suspension system, the negative offset geometry comprising light alloy lower wishbones with inclined McPherson struts at the front, and inner semi-trailing arms and new coil springs with integral shock absorbers at the rear, have ensured that this car is the most stable of any two-wheel drive, rear-engined Porsche yet produced. Doubtless the new self-correcting rear axle, which is designed to compensate for any oversteering tendencies while cornering at high speeds, has helped put this Porsche back into contention with other supercars with regard to handling.

Discarded into the dustbin of history can be tossed the notion that the Porsche 911 will never be a forgiving car. It has had what was thought to be incurable handling defects, but that was reckoning without the engineers from Stuttgart. Even if the four-wheel drive Carrera 4 has failsafe handling, its two-wheel drive counterpart is as impressive in the same department, the only difference being that in the final analysis, the two-wheel drive model will eventually break away before the four-wheel drive.

The grip of the rear wheels is tenacious. As the throttle is floored the 225/50ZR 16 tyres, at 44 psi on new and attractive seven spoke, aerodynamic wheels, dig in, only breaking traction for a few seconds as the car propels itself off the line. The 205/55ZR 16s at the front, with the recommended tyre pressure at 36 psi, hang on for all they are worth especially if the entry speed into a corner has been underestimated and the apex is looming large.

Until the last possible moment the car will understeer until the back finally gives way to the momentum and swings out of line into oversteer. Unlike earlier models, though, the car is easier to control. No longer will it fishtail up the road (or off the road) as the driver frantically fights to regain control. With this Carrera, once the back has gone out of shape, the situation can be retrieved by merely lifting off the throttle. Even though the car has the capacity for going faster than it seems, it is doubted that this situation will ever be encountered by the average driver unless carelessly driven in the wet. That is not to say, however, that the car can be taken for granted. It commands respect on all occasions and responds best when driven with forethought and precision. Progressive pedal control is the answer. Stamp on the accelerator when going into a corner and the nose will run wide, but stamp on it too early on the exit and the back will snap round.

While the handling has been dramatically improved, it is agreeable to record that the braking system has been similarly brought up to par. Together with the ‘4’, the ‘2’ is fitted with anti-lock brakes which endow the car with extra capacity for taking punishment. The internally ventilated discs, bigger than before, with servo-assisted 4-piston fixed aluminium brake calipers means the car, weighing 1350 kg unladen, which is heavier than the 3.2 Carrera, has needle sharp braking response.

As good as the suspension is with regard to the handling, it is too firm as far as ride comfort is concerned. The many potholes of London’s roads turn into car-shaking, passenger-jarring caverns and even minor ripples and undulations send a shock wave all the way up the spine.

Probably incomprehensible to the purist, both the Carrera 2 and 4 have rack and pinion power assisted steering. While it is progressive and load sensitive, ensuring light steering at parking speeds, a certain amount of feedback is still transmitted back to the driver through the steering wheel. It is nothing like it was, but neither is the tramlining that could occur on previous models.

In taming the beast, Porsche will be accused of turning its back on traditional customers, but for every one lost, the softer car will almost certainly appeal to a wider public. Softness, though, should not be mistaken for inferiority. The driving position itself is not particularly brilliant, for even though the comfortable seats are electrically operated for rake, height and tilt it is difficult to find the most comfortable position since the steering column is not adjustable and the pedals are offset too far to the left. While all the instruments are now backlit, and while there are twelve new warning lights, including four for malfunctioning brakes, the ergonomics still remain a dog’s dinner. There are small switches everywhere with no indication as to what they operate. At least, though, the heater controls are far better than before even if the heater itself is not as effective. There are seats in the rear, but to all intents and purposes, they are more useful for putting bits and pieces on rather than human beings. A switch which will be new to many is that for the rear wing. Automatically elevated at 50 mph, it is less a handling device but more a vent to allow more cooling air to reach the engine. Since it automatically resumes its position below 6 mph, it was found on early versions of the Carrera 4, which is also fitted with the same device, that engines were overheating when sitting in traffic on a warm day. The answer is the switch on the central console which allows the driver to flip up the rear wing for extra ventilation.

Porsche has persevered with the 911 and its various offspring for over a quarter of a century. In the four-wheel drive Carrera, the engineers have produced what will probably rank as the most outstanding example to date but what the ‘2’ lacks in ultimate handling characteristics is more than made up for in its crisper performance and livelier feel. As with the ‘4’ it comes in Coupé, Targa and Cabriolet versions and in each case is approximately £6,000 cheaper than its four-wheel drive counterpart. There is a price to pay, needless to say, for at £41,504.94 in coupé form it is not cheap (£43,449.68 for the targa and £46,698.82 for the cabriolet). It may not have the smoothness and elegance of the V12 Jaguar XJ-S (£34,200-£41,200), it may not be as fascinating as Ferrari’s new 348 (£64,503-£65,998), but nowadays it possesses the sophistication of any Citroën and indeed any other car. While the original 2.7 Carrera RS may have been one of the great cars of the nineteen-seventies, there is no doubt that the Carrera 2 not only has picked up that mantle from its illustrious predecessor, but has extended the boundaries even further. WPK