ROAD TEST

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Super unleaded is required, and tank size is rather mean at 15.6 gallons. Would you prefer even less luggage room?

In the ‘good old days’, 911 gearboxes had challenging synchromesh and uncompromising habits: violent torque reversal could hurl the lever out of gear if clutch timing were fluffed. Porsche fundamentalists bragged that this provided opportunities to demonstrate their sublime skills. Those more in touch with reality found it small comfort that the ‘box wore in nicely after 70,000 miles.

The change of the new gearbox rewrites supercar standards. It needs careful warming, but then operates like a well-oiled precision instrument; double-declutching remains advisable for downward changes. Six ratios are perhaps not essential, but the spread of the lower ones allows full use of the power curve, while sixth gear provides relaxed cruising.

When I first drove the new 911, in the South of France last year, 1 felt that there was not much torque low down. Perhaps that engine was not fully run in, for this one pulls vigorously from nowhere all the way to the 6800rpm limit. Tiptronic less nice in practice than in theory is also available (£2865 extra).

In the ‘good old days’, minor misreading of the road or a marginal excess of throttle led instantly to serious clenching of the buttocks of a 911 driveF; retrieving equilibrium called for rapid and accurate work by feet and hands. Skilled drivers could exploit the abrupt attitude change by exiting bends in lurid power slides.

The 911 ‘s traditional strength sheer feel gradually dwindled and in the recent Carrera 2 had been virtually eliminated. In theory it was safer than its predecessors, but it was hard to decipher its signals. On the limit, the front wheels would slide, and the car could be tucked back into the apex by reduction of throttle pressure, but it was all rather blurred. In the new 911, understeer is less pronounced; it is still usually the front end that

slides first, but it is far easier to retrieve stability. There is still the merest trace of hopping of the unloaded front wheel when cornering hard, but the ability to wave it at the photographer, more or less at will, has gone, depriving a generation of hard-driving hacks of one of their profession’s party tricks.

The 911 is reborn. The key to its phenomenal improvement is better control of the rear end, effected by the new subframe and double wishbones. This in turn permitted highergeared steering only 2.5 turns from lock to lock which has greatly improved responsiveness, and assistance is just sufficient to take the sting out of parking. Control is enhanced also by the seamless throttle response.

Stopping power is phenomenal, thanks to ventilated, cross-drilled discs with a diameter a hair’s-breadth short of one foot, and four-pot calipers. The anti-lock system intervenes only when really needed: even on wet surfaces, major effort is necessary to set it off experimentally, so grippy during deceleration are the Continental tyres (205/55 ZR 16 fronts. 245/45 ZR16 rears).

Ride quality has always been a secondary factor in 91 Is; this is not to say that the ride was poor (except in the abysmal, aforementioned RS lightweight), just that it evidently came second to handling and highspeed damping control. Is the ride of the new car really better, or is it an illusion caused by reduced noise from tyres and suspension as road irregularities are traversed? It’s hard to tell, but who cares if it’s psychophysical, as long as you’re feeling better?

If you have large feet, wear shoes without exaggerated welt when driving a 911, as space between the pedals is restricted, though a neat left-foot rest iS cut into the central tunnel. Only drawback in an almost exemplary driving position is that the wheel is a stretch for tall drivers. If attention to detail is an indicator of a

healthy company, then Porsche is flourishing. The flimsy internal door-pulls have been replaced with more substantial levers, and just about everything that was messy or poorly sited has been tidied.

Traditional dials are retained in a facia barely altered in 30 years, though an airbag has crept in on the passenger’s side, above the reduced glovebox, complementing the relatively neat steering wheel installation. Porsche experts will search in vain for tiny switches secreted in weird places: minor controls that were apparently fired at the facia from a scatter-gun are relocated and now easier to identify without having to consult the manual. Otherwise, by essentially not changing, the 911’s facia has become more distinctive. Why change it when it works better than 90 per cent of modern alternatives?

Less than ideal is the heating and ventilation, though this too has improved immeasurably over the years. The optional air conditioning (costly at £2375) works well in hot weather, but doesn’t give much of a split.

Next job for Porsche: abandon the effete speed-activated rear aerofoil, dating from when engineers should have been sorting the chassis but played with cosmetic nonsense. If the car needs it, let’s have it fixed. Otherwise, it is difficult to imagine how the latest Carrera could be improved, apart from the provision of an oil filler not requiring a swan-necked funnel.

The price a fiver short of £54,000 is high. But not only can the 911 be used as an everyday workhorse, it is once again a toy that most boys won’t wish to leave for long in the cupboard. Its tight dimensions have always given it unmatched nimbleness, and once more it is the true enthusiast’s supercar. This is by far the best 911 so far. It may, in the nick of time, have saved Porsche from takeover. Who can now predict how long the 911 will be in production? P D

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