Porsche has done it again. Why the new 911 is a masterclass in sports cars that can be easy to live with while being stunning to drive.
The Porsche 911 doesn’t quite conform to Charles Darwin’s most famous theory, but the German sports car is the finest example of automotive evolution.
Nearly 50 years since the original was created, the 911’s genetic code has changed little and, unlike humans’ ascent from apes, it remains on all fours (thankfully).
But as with nature, the Porsche 911 has mutated with the best elements to ensure survival against rival sports cars over decades – including those from within if you include the Porsche 928.
There’s that classic coupe silhouette formed principally by that arched roofline plummeting into the rear bumper.
There’s two-plus-two seating that helps driving enthusiast parents convince their other half it’s a family car.
There’s that six-cylinder engine that lies horizontally with its three pistons on each side pumping furiously towards each other like a mechanical imitation of a Mike Tyson/Evander Holyfield fight.
And there’s the unique (and quite brilliant) handling resulting from the positioning of that engine at the very rear of the car.
The Porsche 911 has improved with each generation, and the last, 997-series generation was so good we can only imagine the response of the company’s engineers in Zuffenhausen, Germany, when management once again asked: we want you to make the 911 better again.
The response was only the third complete platform change in the car’s history, followed by its most comprehensive overhaul ever.
Porsche looked at every area of the car to see where weight could be shed, and where fuel efficiency could be improved.
And in terms of mass, the new (991) Porsche 911 weighs 40kg less than its predecessor despite gaining in size.
Most notably, the 911’s longer length includes a wheelbase stretch of 100mm, with the sports car’s footprint broadened further by significantly wider tracks (46mm wider front axle and 52mm-wider rear axle).
Body rigidity is increased, the centre of gravity is improved, and the 911 slices better through the air with improved aerodynamics underneath as well as over the car.
A new 3.4-litre flat-six replaces the 3.6 in the new base Porsche 911 Carrera, though the 3.8-litre flat-six employed in the Porsche 911 Carrera S is carried over.
Modifications ensure it joins the 3.4-litre in bringing some extra power yet fuel consumption shrinks for both – to official combined figures as low as 8.2L/100km and 8.7L/100km – through a range of measures.
They include a ‘coasting manager’ that decouples the engine and gearbox when the driver lifts off the throttle when cruising, though the biggest contributor to efficiency is the first engine start-stop system fitted to a Porsche sports car (the Cayenne SUV and Panamera four-door already feature such technology).
It’s also one of the quietest and quickest-restarting systems in the market.
No such luck for the efficiency of buyers’ wallets, though, because prices do increase for both Porsche 911 models.
The Porsche 911 Carrera now starts at $229,900, with the Porsche 911 Carrera S kicking off at $263,100.
Those prices bring the world’s first seven-speed manual for a passenger car, or add another $5950 for a PDK seven-speed dual-clutch auto on which the manual is actually based.
We can’t recommend one gearbox over the other, simply because both are excellent and it has to come down to a personal preference.
A seventh ratio might seem like overkill for a manual, and expect to use it only on freeways as it exists purely as a high overdrive gear to reduce engine revolutions by a fifth for better fuel economy.
Maximum speed – 289km/h in the base 911 manual and 304km/h in the 911 S – is actually achieved in sixth.
There’s a shift gate lock to prevent drivers from making a change from fourth to seventh gear, though despite breaking 200km/h at Sydney’s Eastern Creek (now Sydney Motorsport Park) in both models we never got beyond fifth gear as it wasn’t needed.
We spent a full week with a Porsche 911 Carrera S before hitting the racetrack, but our short stint in a Porsche 911 Carrera at Eastern Creek certainly confirmed buyers of the base model will hardly feel cheated.
The 257kW 3.4-litre engine has a similar lust for revs as the 294kW 3.8-litre, and it barks and yowls like the Porsche ‘boxer’ engines we’ve come to adore, sounding incrementally better as revs head towards the 7800rpm redline.
And the handling and driver-car interaction is sublime in both models.
A deliciously devilish new series of S-curves at the revised Eastern Creek, as well as one of our favourite road routes, highlighted that there’s still that slight pendulum effect at the rear that you don’t get with the mid-engined Cayman, but the German sports car icon has never felt more planted and more glued to the bitumen whether it’s a billiard-table-smooth racetrack or a bumpy, pockmarked road.
And the limpet-like grip is there even when the 911’s vehicle stability control system raised to its highest intervention threshold – by switching to Sports Plus mode if you have ordered your 911 with the Sports Chrono package.
That allows some more rear-end movement, though aim for quick cornering rather than deliberate sideways showcasing and the 911 four-wheel drifts beautifully across apexes.
The wider distance between all four tyres certainly contributes here, helping to ensure that while the 911 may be bigger, it’s no less nimble.
The Porsche 911 Carrera S also features a ‘Torque Vectoring’ system, which employs a rear differential lock (mechanical with the manual gearbox, electronic with PDK) to dab the inside rear left or right wheel if various sensors – monitoring the angles of the steering and car, throttle position and steering input speed – deem it helpful.
Getting a 911 into corners has always been on of its distinctive driving challenges because of an unnaturally light front end, and the new 991-series turns in more responsively than we remember in the 997.
That movement is initiated by the 911’s new electric steering that we have to admit we expected to disappoint.
Electric motors fitted to steering racks to aid fuel economy by taking the burden away from the engine are renowned for having significantly less feel than hydraulic systems – such as those that have typically powered 911s.
Yet while a smidgen of feedback may have been lost, the steering still offers heaps of communication and is fabulously precise and linear.
Less surprising are the stupendously good brakes, which are progressive and easy to modulate regardless of the speed you’re looking to slow from, and the manual gearlever that can be pushed and pulled between gates with satisfying accuracy and swiftness.
The PDK auto seems to have artificial intelligence when left to its own devices, such is its instinctive ability to pick the right gear whether flat-out on the racetrack (it also blips the throttle on downshifts) or commuting to work.
It’s just a pity Porsche asks buyers to pay more for the paddleshift levers that are far more effective than the standard but counter-intuitive thumb-shift buttons on the steering wheel.
Balancing the Porsche 911 through corners and accelerating out of them is aided by a throttle pedal that is responsive in normal mode, improved further in Sport and at its most urgent in Sport Plus mode that comes as part of the optional Sports Chrono package.
This also brings some extra benefits for track work, such as launch control that cuts 0.2sec off standing start times and dynamic engine mounts that, when the Sports Plus button is depressed, solidifies magnetic fluid in the mounts to reduce the six-cylinder’s movement in relation to the body in dynamic driving.
You don’t have to drive the new Porsche 911 fast all the time to enjoy it.
After a week with the Porsche 911 Carrera S, this sports car remains remarkably easy to live with on a daily basis.
Crucial to this is the suspension that ensures potholes, bumps or lateral surface joins never intrude unpleasantly or harshly into the cabin, bringing a generally settled ride that many regular passenger cars and SUVs fail to deliver.
The 911 S’s most comfortable ride comes if you leave the standard electronically adjustable dampers in the default Normal mode, though even the firmer Sport mode is far from unbearable even if pointless in the city.
The PDK auto is also the smoothest dual-clutch system we’ve tested for stop-start traffic and pulling away from junctions.
And while those two seats in the back may realistically be for the smallest of kids rather than adults, the seatbacks fold down (individually) to create extra cargo shelves in addition to the deeper cargo section behind the seats.
There’s that deep luggage compartment under the front lid, too, making the 911 one of most practical sports cars you can buy.
The Porsche 911’s cabin doesn’t feel noticeably bigger than before, but it’s certainly roomier than the company’s smaller coupe, the Cayman.
It does look and feel more luxurious, though. Starting with materials, soft-touch plastics are widely evident and even the rooflining is made from a tactile, suede-like texture called Alcantara.
The wide, rising console – first seen in the Porsche Panamera – adds a sophisticated aesthetic – and there’s even, perhaps to many a purist’s horror, an electronic handbrake – though the 911 interior hasn’t lost its focus on functionality.
A quintet of dials again comprises the instrument panel ahead of the driver, with the larger, central dial devoted to the tachometer. On the left are oil temp/pressure and speedo; on the right are multi-info display and fuel/water gauges.
Drivers can scroll through the high-definition colour multi-info display to select cool features such as a G-force monitor and additional sat-nav map display.
Porsche’s touchscreen multimedia system also remains one of the best in the business – with the perfect response to finger touches that Jaguar-Land Rover, for example, could learn from.
The front seats are terrific for both long-distance comfort as well as support for quicker driving.
So the negatives are few for the new Porsche 911.
The back seats should come with a ‘Good luck’ message for passengers looking to squeeze into the back, and storage could be better despite the clever (Porsche trad) push-out cupholders and decent sized glovebox.
There isn’t a convenient spot for a mobile phone, for instance, which seems a major oversight in the era of smartphones. There is a shallow console bin but it’s placed awkwardly behind the driver.
And while the Porsche 911 Carrera isn’t short of good standard features – including the brilliant Bose audio system incorporated into both models – for a model that will cost about $250,000 (base) and $285,000 (S) once on-road charges are added, you’d think features such as tyre pressure monitoring ($1590), parking sensors both front and rear ($890), and a sportier-sounding exhaust system ($5890) might be thrown into the mix.
These are small gripes in the bigger scheme of things, however, because the Porsche 911 has – somehow – been made better again yet.
It’s worthy of natural selection, though not the kind Darwin meant.