Road cars



Roci 11

Andrew Frankel six months ago I took a day trip to Cape Town and didn’t even drive the car I went to see. I flew all night, sat in a passenger seat for a few hours, then

flew all night back home again. Sounds mad, I know, but the car I was going to see was the new 911. And for that I’d have flown to the South Pole. The trip has been under a Porsche enforced news blackout ever since, so it is only now that I can tell you what I’ve known

for half a year: despite looking similar, the new 911 is a complete departure from any that has gone before. I find it incredible that this is only the second time in 48 years that the 911 has been replaced. Not updated, facelifted or even comprehensively revised, but replaced. The last time was in 1998 when the last of

the air-cooled cars, code-named 993, was replaced by the first of the water-cooled cars, the 996. That evolved into the 997 and that is the series which later this year will give way to the all-new 991.

There are still things I cannot tell you about the 991 but there’s nothing to stop me providing as good an idea of what the world’s greatest sports car has become as is possible from what are, figuratively speaking, the rather restricted confines of its passenger seat.

The 911 has been changed in three essential ways. None you might think is as fundamental as the decision to cool the motor with what you drink instead of what you breathe as Porsche did in ’98, but the cumulative effect is at least as big. Firstly, Porsche has extended its wheelbase. This is not the first time this has happened, indeed it will be the fourth wheelbase on which the 911 has sat, but this time the change is huge. I can’t say by how much but if you armed yourself with a ruler, a profile picture and the knowledge that the car’s overall length is near enough unchanged, you could probably work it out for yourself. The signature nimbleness of the 911 has always been primarily a function of

having by far the shortest wheelbase in its class (shorter even than its two-seat Cayman and Boxster sisters) and, to a significant extent, this has been traded for the stability and security of a still short but more conventional footprint.

And, proving Porsche really was prepared to think the unthinkable, its steering is now powered by electricity, not hydraulics. This brings surprisingly substantial benefits to fuel consumption and therefore CO2 emissions but I’ve yet to drive any car that, dynamically at least, has been improved by it. Many, the new Ford Focus included, have been substantially spoiled by electric steering. Encouragingly its chief engineer told me he knew there was no more important aspect of the car to get right than this, and until it can be driven, you and I will have to take his word for it. The final rule to be rewritten is the way the car is built. For almost half a century even the whizziest of 911s have been built almost entirely from steel, with aluminium and other materials used strategically and sparingly only where needed. Well now it’s the other way around: the 991 is a fundamentally aluminium car, with

steel being demoted to a supporting role, employed mainly for safety purposes along the crash paths up and over the A pillars. Built the old way the car would have been 50kg heavier than the 997. As things are, it is a ‘can’t be divulged but not completely dissimilar’ number of kilos lighter. Porsche has had a good rummage around in the engine bay too, despite the current generation of flat-six being only a couple of years old. The engine in the standard Carrera decreases in size from 3.6 to 3.4 litres but increases in power to 350bhp, while the Carrera S motor stays at 3.8 litres but gains another 15bhp to make 400bhp. Interestingly,

of the two 991s I met in South Africa, one had the usual PDK double-clutch transmission, but the other had a seven-speed manual ‘box in it. Apparently it’s the PDK ‘box made manual, and while Porsche has not said that it will make production, nor does it discuss even the existence of any alternative three-pedal transmission.

What’s it like? The opinion of anyone who reckons they can give a good impression of any car let alone a 911 without having actually driven it is unlikely to be worth listening to. But I can tell you that even the Carrera feels usefully faster (and with more power and less weight so it should) and both felt utterly secure even when severely provoked through a series of testing downhill turns. They sound good and seem significantly quieter and more comfortable than any 911 seen to date. But there I have to stop because to do otherwise would be to venture into the world of conjecture. From what I could divine from my privileged but frustrating vantage point, this is going to be the most user-friendly, safe, effective

and competent 911 yet. The only question I cannot answer is just the most important of all: whether it really is the thrilling driving machine any 911 worthy of the title must be. I hope it is, I’d guess it probably is, but I won’t know for sure until I drive it at the end of the year. -I , f you have £41,000 to spend on a car there’s a lot of fine product out there from which to choose. You could choose from a vast range of mid-sized BMW,

Audi or Mercedes executive expresses or plump for a Land Rover Discovery 4 and expect some change from your £4 1k.

But you won’t get a bean back if you buy a new Mini Goodwood (above). Mechanically the car is a Cooper S hatchback, yours for a smidgen over £18,000. To justify more than doubling the price, the Goodwood has a cabin whose transformation has been overseen by interior designers from Rolls-Royce, hence the Goodwood connection. Unsurprisingly then, there are slabs of walnut on the dash, the finest leather upholstery, lambswool carpets and even a cashmere roof lining.

Mini says it’s going to make 1000 of these cars and I say good luck to them. If they can find that many people prepared to pay more for a chintzy Mini than Porsche is currently asking for a Cayman, I don’t begrudge them a single sale.

People who compare the Mini Goodwood to the Aston Martin Cygnet miss the point. Yes, both use names they don’t really deserve to sell dressed-up hatchbacks of comparatively modest origins for colossal sums, but while calling a Toyota iQ an Aston Martin threatens to damage the Aston brand as a whole, evoking the RollsRoyce connection by calling this Mini after the location of the Rolls assembly plant does no harm to either. For that to happen, it would need to have been called a Rolls-Royce Cooper S and fitted with an Allegro Vanden Plas radiator. And even in a world containing a thousand people rich and crazy enough to think a forty grand Mini a good idea, that would seem a step too far.