For the first time, 2016 heralds a new all-turbo 911 model range. The question is... does a twin-turbo design detract from the classic 911 driving experience?
The 2016 Porsche Carrera is markedly better than the model it replaces, in every measurable parameter.
On paper, then, it seems irrefutable - the new 911 must be a better sports car than the old model. Can’t argue with performance and efficiency numbers like that, can you?
The 911 experience has always been about more than the numbers, though. Numbers alone are too clinical, even for Porsche fans. There’s the all-encompassing sense of style, the timeless design, the interaction between driver and car, and the accompanying soundtrack from the sonorous flat six engine.
With a switch to all-turbo power and downsized engines, it’s the signature naturally aspirated soundtrack that might be most affected by this brave new, eco-friendly world. Replacing an icon is never easy, either, so Porsche’s claims for this new 911 need to stack up. Let’s find out if they do.
Porsche argues that ‘downsizing’ is a harsh reality of modern motoring and we’d better get used to it. The German manufacturer isn’t the first to move in that direction either and certainly won’t be the last. The end result is that we’re now faced with a 911 powered by a 3.0-litre engine.
In fact, Porsche representatives would rather we refer to the smaller engines as ‘rightsizing’ rather than downsizing. Porsche sees the current 3.0-litre engine as just right for the new Carrera and Carrera S. With twin-turbo assistance, on paper at least we’re not going to argue, even though the theory that 'more is more and more is better' remains.
The raw numbers are as impressive as ever - perhaps even more so when you consider that they are generated by smaller, more efficient engines. Outright power figures of 272kW and 309kW for the Carrera and Carrera S, respectively, are both up from the previous models. The peak torque figures tell the real story, though, especially on road - 450Nm and 500Nm.
Both Carrera and Carrera S deliver that peak torque from a low 1700rpm right up to 5000rpm. That chunky slab of mid range torque is one reason why the new 911 dispatches ever-increasing velocity with ridiculous ease. In Carrera guise, the turbochargers run to 1.3-bar, while the Carrera S runs up to 1.6-bar.
As a result, the 0-100 sprint times are impressive, too. Equipped with PDK and Sport Chrono, Porsche claims a time of 4.2 seconds for the Carrera and 3.9 seconds for the Carrera S. The Turbo models have redefined what we consider fast from a Porsche, but the Carrera's numbers remain searingly fast.
This new 3.0-litre engine hasn’t just had turbos slapped on it at the 11th hour, either. The all-new flat-six was designed by Porsche, from the outset, with forced induction in mind and, as such, every internal component within has been optimised for that purpose. This filters right through to the improvements in thermal efficiency, which help to keep overall temperatures down.
Boringly, the torque being available so low in the rev range makes for significant advantages in fuel consumption (claimed 7.4L/100km for the Carrera with PDK and 7.7L/100km for the PDK equipped Carrera S). We use the word 'boringly' because, if you’re watching the rev counter with one eye and the fuel gauge with the other, you’ve probably bought the wrong sportscar.
Mechanically, this solid whack of torque means Porsche engineers have been able to tune the 911 to run in higher gears than before, and therefore stress the engine less at most common speeds, using less fuel while doing so.
On the subject of engine revs, the purists among you will obviously desire a conventional manual gearbox to work that tacho, but let me assure you that no matter how good you are (or think you are) the PDK system is many, many times faster than you.
On road or track, you won’t be able to keep up with the clever and intuitive Porsche electronics, such that even during our high-speed track run, revered Carrera Cup race driver Craig Baird suggests we select Sport+ mode and leave the shifter in ‘D’. “Race car drivers love having less to worry about when we’re racing,” he says. “Anything the car can do for us, better than us, we love it.”
The internals of the PDK have been beefed up to cop the upgraded power and torque, too. In fact, the gearbox is now common with the Turbo models, meaning it is more than capable of distributing the power generated by the Carrera and Carrera S. The final drive ratio is different between Carrera and Carrera S, with the gearbox software tuned to specifically suit both engines and the final drive.
The steering wheel-mounted dial allows you to switch between modes and, in the centre of this dial, you’ll also find a ‘sport response’ button. Pressing that button gives you 20 seconds of maximum performance. It’s not a boost maximiser or overboost button like you might expect - rather, it preconditions the engine and transmission for immediate response. It drops the gearbox down a few gears, loads everything up, and gets the Carrera ready for maximum acceleration.
Outside, the all-LED lighting fitment is classy, the subtle styling tweaks attractive. The new 911 might look the 'same' as the outgoing model, but up front, only the bonnet remains common. Active blades in the grilles assist warming up in cold weather and cooling in harsher climates. Despite the flowing elegance of the design, though, there’s still something muscular and purposeful about this 911, even at rest. There’s definitely a hint at the performance potential that lurks beneath the skin.
The Carrera gets 19-inch wheels, while the S steps up to 20-inch boots. Both variants - and in fact all 911s we sampled at launch - were fitted with Pirelli P Zero rubber, tyres we found to strike an excellent balance between road friendliness and track ability. The S gets a fat 305mm cross section at each corner of the rear. You'll notice the sidewall sits quite proud of the rim itself, an excellent insurance policy for errant rim damage.
The 911’s interior is both comfortable and functional, which is exactly what we expected. The seats, which on first glance look too thin and sculpted to actually be comfortable are the complete opposite, managing to hold you in place at ridiculous speed on track, but remaining comfortable while doing so.
Unlike some design engineers who enjoy changing things for the sake of it, Porsche designers reckon if something works, leave it alone. As such, the indicator stalks will be familiar from previous models along with some of the switchgear, which is also carried over. Every interface between you and the controls feels solid, unbreakable, and beautifully engineered.
The Apple CarPlay infotainment system is new and the touchscreen has a classy, expensive look about it. It’s understated, and so are the icons and graphics, but it oozes quality. The Bluetooth phone system connects quickly and easily and the gauges are perfectly positioned for the driver. If you’re not too long-legged, there’s even usable space in the back seats for teenage children. Parents with deep enough pockets will love the Porsche Carrera.
We’re surprised by how tame the cabriolet’s interior remains right up to freeway speeds, even if there is some wind noise that enters the cabin. Around town, the cabriolet is as close to perfect as a convertible will get and you never have to shout to communicate with your passengers. There is some tyre noise that comes into the cabin above 80km/h with both coupe and cabriolet, but fat tyres - the aforementioned 305mm on the Carrera S - will do that. The payoff is tremendous lateral grip, obviously, but some buyers might be perturbed by the tyre noise at speed.
The Porsche 911 has been available with a turbocharged engine for many years now, so the switch to all-turbo (apart from GT3 and GT3 RS of course) across the range shouldn’t really surprise anyone. Still, that subject alone has been the main talking point in regard to this new model. It seems ‘the purists’ aren’t exactly comfortable with the move to forced induction. The times are changing, to the point where turbos are the most effective and efficient way to make power - and if the new 911 is faster and quicker and more efficient, the purists might just have to suck it up.
Twist the funky Porsche-shaped key and you’re met with a pleasing bark, especially with the exhaust system in open mode. It’s not an outright nasty sound, but it’s purposeful enough to let passers-by know that a performance car has woken from its slumber. At low rpm, then, there’s little to be worried about with the addition of the turbochargers. Time to find out how the compressors affect the on-road soundtrack at wide open throttle.
There’s such a distinct lack of lag and incredibly linear response from the throttle that you could fool passengers into believing they’re being driven in a naturally aspirated car. The same goes for the engine noise. There’s only the barest hint of turbo whoosh low down in the rev range and, after that, it’s just an onslaught of relentless, hammering speed.
Both the Carrera and Carrera S rocket away from a standstill and keep piling on speed right up to redline. Through third and fourth gears, the performance and surge of speed is mighty, and you’ll run out of road, not to mention the speed limit, well before you reach redline.
We’re blown away by how 'atmo' the new turbocharged Carrera feels. If Porsche was trying to tune this new model to feel as close to a naturally aspirated engine as possible, then it’s mission accomplished. The way the Carrera accelerates and keeps accelerating also leaves us wondering why anyone would ever need a more powerful 911. You certainly won’t get to explore the outer reaches of this 911’s performance potential on Australia roads, that’s for sure.
Crucially, the all-important engine note remains intoxicating right up to redline. It might be slightly muted when compared to the old model, and not quite as edgy, but the engine still sounds fantastic. It’s a clean, gradually more urgent soundtrack that perfectly matches the speed you’re piling on. We loved it, and we reckon you will too.
A naturally aspirated engine might remain the top pick for ultimate exhaust note, but this new flat-six is damn close. You had to work the old engine pretty hard to really build speed, and it responded, but this new turbo engine seems so much more effortless at any speed. Roll-on acceleration is almost comically easy in any gear, even in sixth from 70km/h - it’s incredibly fast over any road surface.
Where the 911 Carrera shines brightest, though, is as the multi-tasker. Tasmania’s country roads are better than most, but there’s still the occasional mid-corner rut, bump or dip that could potentially unsettle less-sorted vehicles. The Carrera, even in drop-top form with the roof down, is completely and utterly unruffled.
It’s staggering that a sports car capable of such ridiculous terminal velocity is so easily able to tackle uneven country roads. You feel the bumps from behind the wheel, but way less than you’d expect and they never unsettle the all-round sense of poise and balance.
On the road, the steering is yet another revelation from Porsche. It’s sharp, beautifully balanced and precise at any speed, and it makes driving a truly great car that much more enjoyable. So many other manufacturers could learn from the scalpel-like direct action of the Porsche system, it’s that good.
Cruise into a small town after a fierce punt, and the Carrera just tools along quietly, comfortably and effortlessly. It truly is the gold standard in useable sports cars. Vehicles like Audi’s R8 and the Lamborghini Huracan might be pretenders to the throne, but the 911 remains the king. There’s no doubt the 911 is the car for the owner who wants to be able to have their cake and eat it too.
We’ve argued previously that the Cayman/Boxster siblings might be truer to the original 911 ethos than the new 911 - such is the weight of technological expectation of the icon - but as an evolution of the previous model, this new 911 is simply brilliant.
A quick loop in the base manual 911 Carrera reinforces a few factors. The manual gearbox is exceptional, perhaps better than any recent 911, and the clutch pedal actuation is likewise near perfect. If you love traditional manual gearboxes, you’ll love this one. The short drive also highlights however, the fact that you really don’t need the manual. Seven speeds is at least two too many for most driving scenarios and the PDK is so precise, you can’t really mount a case for the manual, despite its many strong points.
We get to take the wheel for a short track blast around the bumpy and challenging Simmons Plains raceway in the Carrera S after our road drive and it’s once again hard to get your head around just how capable this new 911 Carrera is. It carries torturous speed into and out of corners, the brakes never fade, there’s barely a chirp from the fat rubber no matter how aggressive you get and the steering is so precise, you find yourself driving the 911 with scalpel-like precision.
The 911 continues to make the average driver look very capable, as it has for some time now.
As we discovered on the road, the mechanical grip is incredible, aided by the quite brilliant Pirelli tyres. Cornering is an experience for the brave, especially before you work out just how fast you can belt through corners and where the limits are. In Sport+ mode, the 911 will leave you wearing a stupid grin and wanting more. We hit well over 200km/h on the bump, off camber back section of Simmons Plains and there isn’t one instance where the Carrera feels stressed or out of its comfort zone.
So, does the addition of twin turbochargers detract from the 911 Carrera experience? Not one iota. In fact, this new 911 is so impressive, you wonder why Porsche didn’t traverse this exclusively forced-induction path sooner.
The numbers don’t lie in performance terms, as we’ve found out after a long day behind the wheel, but the 911 experience is still so much more than that. Some of the primal scream might have been dulled down from the outer edges of the soundtrack, but the Porsche flat-six engine is as tantalising as ever.
The 911 is yet another epic performance sports car from Porsche, there’s no doubt about it.
2016 Porsche 911 Carrera and Carrera S pricing (plus on-road costs):
911 Carrera coupe manual – $217,800
911 Carrera coupe PDK – $223,750
911 Carrera S coupe manual – $252,800
911 Carrera S coupe PDK – $258,750
911 Carrera Cabriolet manual – $239,300
911 Carrera Cabriolet PDK – $245,250
911 Carrera S Cabriolet manual – $274,300
911 Carrera S Cabriolet PDK – $280,250