Porsche's new 911by Andrew Frankel on 10th November 2015
After about an hour in the new Porsche 911, I pulled over to the side of the road and surveyed the scene.
I was 6000 feet up the side of a mountain in Tenerife and had been driving on gorgeous and largely deserted roads. The sun was shining and I had at least as far to go again before I needed to give the car back. It should have been one of those moments you file away to be referred back to and savoured for years to come. But it wasn’t. My pulse was loping and while I felt lucky to be in such a position while Britain suffered under leaden skies, I didn’t quite feel blessed. And that was a problem.
Too long in the job? Too blasé and jaded to care about fast cars and wonderful roads any more? I hope and think not. A 911 not doing the job a 911 should felt nearer the mark to me.
You may know that from now on all 911s save the GT3s will be fitted with turbocharged engines. In the case of the Carrera and Carrera S models most will buy, this means a modest increase in power, a sizeable jump in torque and significant fall in C02 leading to a far lower tax bill, at least until such time as the system by which such numbers are calculated is exposed for the utter nonsense it is and something more realistic is adopted. There are myriad other changes too, including revised suspension, gearboxes and a new 'infotainment' system, all of which I will explain in detail in the next issue of Motor Sport magazine.
But back to those new engines which, for the avoidance of doubt, really are new and not turbocharged versions of the engine found in the current, outgoing 911. People will argue whether, net, they add more than they detract but what I think very few will dispute is that for good or for ill, they change the character of the car completely. This is a 911 in which you don’t have to try. There’s no need to expertly time a couple of downchanges before the full force of its potential can be released. There's not even a need for a couple of tugs of a paddle. You just plant your foot and off it goes: the new car has more torque at 1700rpm than does the old car at any point in its rev range. The figures say it’s just a couple of tenths quicker to 62mph whether you’re driving a Carrera or a Carrera S, but the real world reveals a car far faster than that.
Is it more entertaining too? Not for me. The 911 may have gained two turbos, but so too has it lost a chunk of its rev-range, one of the best engine sounds there is and the kind of throttle response no non-hybrid turbocharged car – not even the standard-setting Ferrari 488GTB – can approach. And such are the improvements to the suspension and tyres that the standard Carrera, while providing excellent straight line pace, struggles to properly exploit the full range of the chassis’ ability in the corners.
The Carrera S with 414bhp instead of 364bhp, is considerably better. It really can challenge the car’s traction and fling you away from a tight curve with great gusto. Oddly, given the only differences to this engine compared to the Carrera’s are external – (turbo boost, exhausts and electronics), it also seems to respond more sharply to the throttle.
But not even this can make the new 911 more exciting than the car it replaces, which to me is a retrograde step. On the other hand, for customers who will actually go out and buy one and never drive it even close to its true capabilities, I think the fact that it is quieter, more comfortable and cheaper to run than ever before will prove all the encouragement they need to take the plunge.
I have long said that, crazy GT3 versions aside, the 911 is now a car for people who don’t actually want a 911, just the image that goes with it. This new 911 takes that idea and doesn’t so much run with it as sprint off the pitch, out the gate, down the road, over the hills and far away. It is at once the most impressive and least-charming new 911 I have driven in the last 10 years.
For the avoidance of doubt I should say that even now there’s still no rival I’d rather have, but the trend towards more sanitised 911s is worrying, not least because it appears to be gathering pace. All 911s should be incredible drivers’ cars with unique characters, not just the GT3s. This is what has kept the 911 alive these past 50 years, a fact worth bearing in mind now more than ever before.