NOV 30th 2015

The Goodwood Test: Porsche 911 – Improving an Icon?

Porsche 911

Each week our team of experienced senior road testers pick out a new model from the world of innovative, premium and performance badges, and put it through its paces.

Heritage

No car sold today has more of it. This is the car its own creator tried to kill because it was 15 years old yet today with its 50th birthday now a distant memory the 911 remains the car that defines Porsche. This car and its derivatives have not only won the Le Mans and Daytona 24 hours, but also three Monte Carlo rallies, two Paris-Dakar rallies, and at a very conservative estimate, over 20,000 other races around the world. Street versions have been sold with as little as 90hp and as much as 620hp, with engines from 1.6 litres to 4 litres; they have directed their power to both two and four wheels and been available in coupe, cabriolet and Targa forms.

Turbo versions of the 911 have been available for over 40 years and while Porsche cannot quite claim it to be the first turbocharged road car, it was undoubtedly the first successful one whose design was deemed good enough to be pursued. There are few words more overworked in this business than ‘icon’, but if it were decided that just one car on sale deserved it, surely there’d be no question that the 911 would be it.

Porsche 911 Carrera S

Design

This is the second generation of the so-called 991 series of 911 so, with traditional Porsche understatement, the visible upgrades are of the blink-and-you’ll-miss-‘em variety. There are new bumpers front and rear, more distinctive head and tail lights and the recesses for the door handles are now integrated into the skin of the door. Perhaps most notable however are the vertical louvres on the engine cover. It’s not a long list but it serves to make what was already the best looking 911 of the last 40 years look more sleek, sporting and desirable.

Performance

Beneath the skin the changes are legion. Most important is the adoption of a brand new 3-litre twin turbo engine for the standard Carrera and Carrera S, but it also has revised suspension settings, fatter rear tyres, standard adaptive damping, lengthened gear ratios and optional four-wheel-steering on the Carrera S.

Porsche 911 Carrera S interior

The figures say there’s just another 20bhp whether you drive a Carrera or a Carrera S, enough to knock just a couple of tenths off the 0-60mph time. Big deal? Actually it is. Because what the stats fail to show is that those turbo motors transform the way the 911 drives. The single best way of illustrating this is to point out that the previous, normally aspirated engines needed 5,600rpm to develop maximum torque. The new engines? There’s not only more of it, it’s all there at just 1,700rpm. What this means in the real world is that even the cheapest 911 is now utterly effortless: no need to change down a couple cogs to squirt past a line of traffic – just put your foot down and the new motor will do the rest.

The chassis has moved onto another level too, one from which it now seems laughable that anyone once questioned the loyalty of the 911 on the limit. Now that limit is so far away that most will never find it, and those that do will find a car unfailingly helpful and indulgent in its responses. Those who don’t will just enjoy a car with sharpened steering, eerie ride comfort and quite exceptional poise.

Porsche 911

Passion

It is true that 911 purists will lament the loss of the old engine’s voice, at least until they realise how much cheaper it is to run thanks to both better fuel consumption and lower CO2 emissions. There’s still an inimitable flat howl, but it’s more refined now and more civilised as a result. The car is easier to live with but less exciting, as if the it has now reached that time in life where it’s decided to hang up the nomex race suit and put on something more comfortable – like a smoking jacket.

Besides, for die-hard 911 traditionalists who object to turbos almost on principle, the GT3 models endure and will continue to do so with sharp edged, normally aspirated engines. Everyone else is more likely to welcome the fact that this new 911 is not only faster and more capable than ever before, it’s also far easier to live with. Besides, even if you did consider that those turbos took away more than they added, the more difficult issue is identifying any other sports car with this kind of performance, 2+2 seating and every day usability that, as a driving machine, is even in the same street as this new 911. And we’ll save you having to search: now and as ever, there isn’t one.

Price tag of our car £85,857 (Carrera S coupe)

Photography courtesy of Porsche

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