First Drive: The New Porsche 911 Carrera S
We get our turn with the all-new Porsche and come away rather impressed! Text by Peter Burgess - Teamspeed contributing editor What is it?
Porsche knocks the last rough edges off the 911.
Why should I care?
It opens up 911 ownership to drivers previously frightened off.
How fast and how much?
3800cc horizontally opposed 6, 400PS@7400rpm, 0-62mph 4.1, vmax 187mph, MSRP $100,480
What’s going on? Why is the new 911 so, well, anodyne? It was getting late and a bunch of English journos was giving Michael Schätzle something of a hard time. Porsche only had itself to blame. As well as giving us the new cars to drive from Santa Barbara to the Santa Maria Jet Center, it had brought over a selection of historic 911s from the museum in Stuttgart.
As reference points to how much the icon had changed over the years it was simply brilliant. The trouble is, everyone liked the old cars. A lot. Character, quirks, idiosyncrasies, call it what you will, the old timers had it in spades and the new car has lost much of that in the search for efficiency.
Michael Schätzle is the project manager behind the new 911, and he took the implied criticism well. His view is equally valid. There are plenty of drivers who don’t want a car that wanders about on the freeway at 165mph.
Of course Teamspeed drivers know that you simply hold the steering wheel of a 911 lightly and let it sort out its own direction. But the white-knuckle brigade who rigidly grip the wheel don’t like it.
So the 2012 Porsche 911 gets a wheelbase lengthened by 4 inches, a wider front track and body work, and a massive ramp up in electronics. This is a genuine all-new 911, with a lightweight body where aluminum pays a major part in a weight reduction program of as much as 45kg.
That’s some achievement on a car that is visually bigger. There’s more than a hint of Panamera to the nose, and what’s also instantly clear is that the 911 is lower. The traditional tall front screen has been tilted back for better aerodynamics and a sportier profile. More power, inevitably
2008 saw a big step in the development of the famous flat six Porsche engine, with direct fuel injection bringing greater performance and better efficiency at the same time. This engine has been further developed for the 2012 model, the Carrera now 3.4 litres, the Carrera S tested here 3.8 litres.
There is more power, naturally, with the S now peaking at the magic 400hp, rather than 385hp before. With a lighter body it bodes well. 0-62mph is reached in 4.5 seconds with the manual gearbox, or as fast as 4.1 seconds with the PDK transmission with the Sport Chrono Package.
Power peaks at 7,400rpm, torque at 5,600rpm, both around 1,000rpm more than in the previous 997 version of the 911. On the road this translates into a Porsche that needs more revs to get the adrenalin flowing, and rather shockingly it can feel less than inspiring at the lower engine speeds that naturally you use most of the time.
This may sound like the mutterings of a disenchanted Porsche 911 owner, which it is. But Porsche has rarely gone for outright power in the 911, instead offering masses of torque, low down, that makes the engine incredibly responsive.
Get the new 911 on an open road, or better still, a test track, and the returns are still fabulous. The engine wails and if you can keep the revs on the Carrera S above 5,500rpm, where there is a noticeable increase in thrust, you can see why Porsche engineers are so pleased with the improved “sportiness”.
There’s another surprise. The world’s first seven-speed manual gearbox. Basically this is the PDK automatic gearbox transformed to manual selection. 40% of US buyers go for a stick shift in their 911, which is more than the Germans!
The all-new interior sets the gearlever higher than before, which feels unusual, and the clutch pedal is pretty heavy. For the first time ever, I found the clutchless PDK transmission more rewarding.
Steering wheel paddles are standard and with the Sport Chrono option driving the 911 can be a joyous occasion in the right circumstances, sharpening the changes to give a real thump as you accelerate through the gears. Driving the 911 like this is immensely satisfying. The scare factor is contained
The bobbing nose and the steering wheel that needs a gentle massage to keep the car on the desired course have long been 911 traits. No more. The longer wheelbase provides most of the improvement and electro-mechanical power steering the rest.
It changes the character. The steering is as sharp and precise as ever, but the feedback from bumps and small surface imperfections has largely disappeared. Buyers new to the brand won’t notice and will marvel at how Porsche can make a rear-engine car handle so brilliantly. Even more electronics keep the 911 on track – active body roll stabilization with the PDCC option, and standard torque vectoring that improves agility.
PDCC also allows the driver to choose between a sports and a comfort chassis setting, and few will argue that the new 911 rides very well in the second setting. This is a GT car par excellence, and you have that option to change its character at the touch of a button.
One area where the 2012 911 will bring no controversy is the interior. The changes are simply superb. With a dashboard and center console design that leans heavily on the Panamera, there’s a quantum leap in quality.
Seat comfort has always been of a high standard in the 911, and that continues. There is a touch more room in the back seats, helped by the longer wheelbase, though the lower roof-line means the space is still restricted to kids.
I am not so sure about the standard fit “Sound Symposer”. Push the Sport button and a membrane transmits vibrations from the engine to the area around the rear parcel shelf for even “sportier driving pleasure”. OK, I get the idea, but in regular mode there’s a drone from the exhaust that's more tiresome than exhilarating. Back to the drawing board on this one, Porsche.
If you want your 911 to sound really great, simply tick the sports exhaust option when you order. That brings a proper 911 exhaust note, courtesy of a by-pass valve accessed via a switch on the center console.
So the new 911 is a great sports car but a different sports car too. It’s better in many ways, cleaner and greener too, and will surely appeal to new and current owners looking for a more sophisticated Porsche. Yet I understand completely those who hanker after the lost character of the previous models. Though didn’t I say that when the 996 was launched too?