- What’s Good: Styling looks fresh, but still pure 911; increased performance bandwidth — better on track and on road; likely to hold its value well.
- What’s Bad: Some interior bits too plasticky; rear seat still next to useless; shift knob looks like a kid’s gaming system toy.
VALENCIA, SPAIN—The Porsche 911 has had a remarkable run.
At its debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 1963 and for a handful of production models, it was called the 901, following Porsche’s design office numbering system.
But in France, Peugeot had trade-marked every three-digit car designation with a zero in the middle (205, 404, etc.). Porsche decided to switch rather than fight, and 911 it became, worldwide.
It has remained so, even if officially the company has designated subsequent models as G Series, 964, 993, 996, 997, then not wanting to go into quadruple figures, back to 991.
This year comes the eighth-generation car, dubbed the 992.
Now, Germans have a reputation for being logical. So, why does the 911 still have its engine in the wrong end of the car?
The Teutonic mindset also can be a bit on the stubborn side, so I figure they have just stuck with this until they got it right.
They got it right some years ago, and it just got righter with the 992.
Er, new 911.
Boiled down to its essence, it is both faster and more comfortable than its predecessor, not an easy parlay.
Porsche is launching the new 911 with the higher-performance “S” model in coupe body style, with either rear- or four-wheel drive. The cabriolet, non-S and the usual host of variants will follow in due course.
The added performance comes primarily from a more powerful engine, still a 3.0-litre twin-turbo flat six. Larger and relocated turbos pump more air into the cylinders, and do it faster for better responsiveness and reduced turbo lag.
Piezo injectors whip air-fuel mixture into the cylinders more quickly and with more even distribution, which aids both power and emissions.
The compression ratio has been raised to 10.2:1, high for a turbo engine, in the pursuit of better throttle response.
The iconic 0 — 100 km/h sprint time is 3.7 seconds for the rear-drive car, 3.6 for the four-wheel drive, because it gets better grip off the line. These are about four-tenths quicker than the outgoing model.
On the Nurburgring’s Nordschleife (north loop), the new 911 does a lap in 7:25, some five seconds quicker than the previous model.
At launch, the only transmission available will be a PDK double-clutch manumatic, now with eight forward ratios. A manual gearbox will follow later this year.
Styling-wise, it is obviously still a 911. The car has grown about 20 mm in length although wheelbase stays the same.
It is, however, 45 mm wider, for a more muscular look.
The most obvious visual differences are the full-width front grille, and the equally full-width LED light strip at the rear above the licence plate recess.
Wheels are larger, with the rears wider than the fronts for the first time. Better practice using the spare tire inflator kit, and hope you never have to use it…
In all, I found it pure 911, but nicely updated and modernized.
Inside, I was delighted to see they did not slavishly copy the Panamera’s minor controls which are all touchscreen nonsense.
The 911 is meant to be driven, so all controls fall easily to hand, and they include five proper toggle switches at the front of the console.
They took a gamble with the shift knob. Apparently, this was the subject of much discussion among the engineering and design teams.
The engineers lost this round because it’s a silly little lever sticking up from the console which you have to pull back to select Drive, push forward to get Reverse. But to get back to Drive, you have to tug on it twice.
Why? No clue.
Worse still, Park is not where it has been since — oh, maybe 1955. You have to push a separate button to engage it. Other cars have gone down this same road too.
Again, why? Again, no clue.
A little “Vogel” told me that when they re-engineer the console to incorporate the imminent manual gearbox, a better shift knob for the PDK might come along too. Let’s hope.
The instrument cluster is all digital, but retains the big centrally located analogue-style speedometer. As with other current Porsches you can dial up a wide variety of info via the various screens.
The SatNav screen in the middle of the dash is big and bright, but trying to navigate with it caused us some issues. The screen would just go black, and some message would appear — in German. My Grade 10 German didn’t go anywhere near far enough; fortunately, hitting the reset button brought the map back. We assumed this was some sort of early-production glitch.
The upholstery and most of the controls felt good to the hand.
But having just come from the Mazda3 launch, I was unimpressed with the quality of some of the trim bits and some of the switches. “Plastic” is the word that comes to mind.
There is no more ignition key as such, so you can fly to Europe with the fob in your pocket while your spouse drives home, then can’t operate the car until you get back. I assume like everyone you’ve already lost the second fob…
The starter toggle is still to the left of the steering wheel, in time-honoured Porsche fashion.
(Does anybody out there know the reason for this? First email with the correct answer wins a prize…).
The seats are all-new, re-shaped for better comfort and support, are some five kg lighter than before, and are located lower in the car to improve headroom.
Porsche sticks with the fantasy that the 911 is a “2+2.” But those “plus two” better not be plus-tall or plus-pudgy…
The luggage bin is up front as always, and you will eventually find luggage that will maximize its utility. Of course, your friendly local Porsche dealer will be happy to sell you some custom-fitted kit.
There is no rear hatch to show the engine off to your friends. All you get is a small panel which opens to reveal filler caps for engine fluids.
We had a six-lap session around Valencia’s Ricardo Tormo race circuit, about 20 km west of the city. I have driven this track a few times so there wasn’t much of a learning curve.
The new 911 is predictably excellent at this sort of thing. They apparently were taking our times and recording them via Porsche’s built-in recording system, but I didn’t care to find out how fast I was. I was there to test the car, not audition for their racing team!
The car is very quick, as you would expect. Little or none of the dreaded turbo lag here, just a nice linear flow of power.
And, none of the tail-happiness that older Porsches would sometimes exhibit.
The PDK gearbox shifts immediately, almost telepathically.
They also set up the go-kart track with sprinklers on it so we could test the new “WET” feature. Acoustic sensors in the front wheel wells determine if there is water on the road, and how much of it there is. If the car deems it advisable, it flashes a WET symbol on the dash, suggesting that you select WET mode from the drive mode selector panel.
If you do so, the car adjusts things like throttle response, traction control and stability control, and deploys the active aerodynamic features on the car to help you navigate the adverse weather.
We ran laps with and without the switch on, and it made a remarkable difference in the controlability of the car under these conditions.
Who wakes up in the morning and thinks, “We need microphones in the wheel wells to see if the road is wet!”
Apparently this feature stemmed from the massive Prometheus project conducted back in the ’70s by various car companies and universities, looking for ways to make driving safer.
Finally, it was out to the open road to test the car in its true environment. Spanish roads are generally excellent. I figure they’ve played the European Union card better than anybody. They get all this money from the richer countries, use it to build these fabulous roads, and all the German and Dutch tourists come here for their holidays. Clever.
Our route took us clockwise in a two-hour loop to the west of Valencia. Frankly, it was a bit scary in places, because the road wound through a series of hills-bordering-on-mountains, and at times it was barely wide enough for one Porsche, let alone a Porsche and a truck.
But we all made it, and again, the new 911 was in its true element. Twisty bits to test the car’s agility; a few straight stretches to let it hang out a little; a few badly paved sections which showed off the newfound comfort mentioned earlier.
In Hollywood, they say it’s easier to make a sequel to a stinker movie than to a good one, because people have lower expectations.
Probably true in the car business too.
Following a success is always harder because expectations are higher. No one has higher expectations than Porsche buyers.
The company hasn’t built a stinker 911 yet. True, some generations may be more revered in the collectible market than others. But a 911 in good shape is pretty much always a decent investment.
The 911 also has long had the distinction of being the sports car you don’t have to put away for the winter. With the aluminum body, its civilized behaviour when you just want to putter along and now with the WET mode, it is the year-round supercar.