Porsche 911: First drive review
It might not look it, but the latest 911 or to give it its product name, the 991, is the first all-new version of this iconic Porsche since the 997 in 2005.
The latest 911 is up against some tough rivals in form of the Audi R8 and Nissan GT-R in the sports car class, so I headed to Silverstone to see how the new Porsche compares and whether it will still appeal to 911 purists.
Whilst the classic 911 silhouette might look familiar, the design is quite different from the car it replaces.
The new car is lower, the front screen more arched back for a slicker profile, there's a bigger sliding sunroof that doesn't compromise the headroom so much, revised wing mirrors and larger wheels (19-inch on the Carrera and 20-inch on the Carrera S).
Most distinctive metalwork changes are at the back of the new car, with the slim LED rear lights and new pop-up rear spoiler echoing the design of the forthcoming 918 Spider supercar.
Inside, the new car gets a classier new look which borrows its styling cues from the bigger Panamera, with a raised centre console, larger screen in the centre of the dash and a smaller TFT display next to the rev counter.
There is more legroom and the driving position is still excellent. The sloping rear window means kids will be more comfortable in the back than adults, but it is a sports car so carrying four people will probably not be a key consideration when buying.
The new 911 is a very different animal underneath too. Firstly, almost half of the bodyshell is made from lightweight aluminium; this equals a 13% weight drop over the outgoing car. More impressive is that despite being lighter, Porsche have also managed to increase rigidity by 25%.
The wheelbase is lengthened by 100mm and Porsche claim this is a key change, as it will improve the handling and increase interior space.
Mechanically, the Carrera is fitted with a smaller engine (now a 3.4-litre, was a 3.6-litre), yet power is up 5bhp to 350bhp, with the PDK auto version capable of over 34mpg and emissions a respectable 194g/km.
Move up to the Carrera S and the engine size remains the same at 3.0-litres, but power is up to 400bhp (up from 385bhp); torque also increases to 440Nm and the PDK version will also crack 30mpg with emissions of 205g/km.
Enough of the tech you might say, so what is the new 911 like to drive? Well, I was fortunate enough to try the PDK and seven-speed manual versions of the Carrera S on the road and track.
Another of the new 911 changes is the fitment of a wider front track and the adoption of electromechanical steering.
The steering in particular has caused some controversy with Porsche fans who think that it lacks the character of the old system, but in my view, it is one of the best features of the new car. Considering it is an electric system, I was amazed at how precise and how much feel there was through the steering.
Combine this with the wider front track, plus a longer wheelbase and the new 911 handles better than ever. It turns into corners sharper, has extra grip and yet this 911 feels more agile and balanced.
What you must remember is that plenty of clever technology is helping here. Porsche Torque Vectoring or PTV is standard on S models and it basically works by braking one of the wheels to improve turn in. There's also the optional Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC), which is working to keep the car level.
The Carrera S' new 3.8-litre engine is a gem too; the acceleration is linear and it likes to be revved right up to the 7800rpm red line.
All the cars I drove were fitted with the optional sports exhaust that has a button so you can make it louder. It sounds great and along with the clever standard "Sound Symposer"that amplifies engine noise, the charismatic howl certainly makes you feel part of the action. Although I think all the extra noise could become more tiring on long journeys.
Considering the Carrera S' 188mph (187mph manual) top speed and 0-62mph acceleration in just 4.5 seconds, I was impressed by the power of the six piston front calipers that are standard.
Another surprise is the improved PDK gearbox that is fitted to this 911. Personally, I still prefer the involvement of a manual gearbox, but the improved auto feels slicker and more precise than before. It also has a modified version of the "coasting" function, which works by de-coupling the clutch as the revs drop to save fuel.
The seven-speed manual has to be tried to believed. I can remember the time when a six-speed manual gearbox was a novelty and the preserve of supercars, but this moves the game on again. In practice it works as well as a six-speeder, with a light positive change. The seventh gear is basically just an overdrive to help with economy.
In the interests of keeping the new 911 as green as it can, auto start/stop is standard on both transmissions.
When I drove the 911 GTS last year I said the new 911 would "have to be pretty special to top this". Well it is and is such a step forward that it has got to go right to the top of the sports car class. I can't wait for the sportier Turbo and GT2 versions.