It’s been a while since we had a lengthy outing in a 911. The moniker has been synonymous with sportscar evolution for 50 years. The silhouette divides opinion far and wide but is distinctive as if it were Ferdinand Porsche’s own signature.
Porsche’s take on evolution and refinement is remarkable. With each generation, comes a myriad of enhancements that we didn’t know was needed, awash with opinions that the 911 is more sportscar than a supercar, or has lost a certain charm that the previous generation had. Others will moan that the shape never changes – but surely Porsche wouldn’t dare tweak such a staple of their design language.
So here, we have a seventh-generation 911. Dubbed the 991 Carrera. Why I don’t particularly know – the science behind Porsche’s model designations escapes me; but this version is starkly progressed visually from the previous model. Whereas the 996’s evolution to become the 997 were rather subtle, the 991 is squat, sitting longer, lower, and wider than its predecessors. The rear LED lights are chiselled down to the side, sleeker than ever before. The front end sports the usual round headlights that all 911s bar the 996 have featured, alongside some LED running lights that give it a modern look.
The 991 was largely redesigned, featuring an entirely new platform, only the third. It’s so far removed from the 997 that it would be in many ways irrelevant. Gone are the IMS issues that were (perhaps undeservedly) feared in models of old, for an all-round brawnier motor in a platform that now sits with a better center of gravity, weighs less and feels more premium.
Some of the headline figures? A 3.8 litre, naturally-aspirated boxer punching out 400bhp sitting over the rear axle. A kerb weight of 1,400kg, built on a taut chassis with electronic refinements.
Swing open the door and you’ll notice that the interior has taken a few successes from the Panamera. Although modern (read: Post 1996) 911s have become evermore modern, the 997 still harped of 911s of old. As you would expect, the build quality is exquisite. Everything is bolted together snugly and creak and rattle-free. The binnacle features a large rev counter front and center of your attention to really create a center stage of the drama. A sweeping center console helps build the cockpit into a true action center swathed in soft-touch materials and a leathery dash top. Everything operates with a satisfying clunk oozing with intent.
Sitting in the driver’s seat, I can’t help but marvel at the way that the 991 still feels like a 911 in fit and form, but everything has just been made.. better.
But a 911 is and has always been, about the drive. And it’s always a complex equation. It doesn’t take long to truly feel the accomplishments of a 911 – but with that rear-sitting, pendulum-inducing engine, it can take years to truly master one.
A true car that you can grow a bond with over time, growing more attached with every outing. I can attest to that after 6 years with the modified 996. Drama and a constant fear that the car may try to end you in firey fashion amounts to a challenge that, if you tame it, will make you feel like a driving god.
Pushing the Porsche-styled ”key” into the port, the engine snarls to life with a deep rasp. The 991 saw the engine return to a 3.4 layout, but the Carrera S sports a 3.8 litre.
The now-electronic steering is light to maneuver at low speed – admittedly it was the key part that concerned me when sitting at the helm.
For a period, the switch to electronically modulated turning spelled disappointment far and wide.
However, much like with the 981 Boxster/Cayman, Porsche have produced a solution that feels light at low speed, yet direct. Bounding towards my favourite pair of S-Bends that are usually the make-or-break for my affinity with any car that I jump in, I’m rewarded with in-depth feedback, guiding through the first apex, transitioning the weight over and gliding through the second. “It’s official” I thought to myself – it’s a hit.
A few more twists and turns and the brilliant brake package instils later breaking and more daring cornering speeds and you really catch the feeling of being involved with the action, thrilled yet never exhausted.
This is all helped by the fact that this vehicle is equipped with the sports wheel option. Which, as far as I’m concerned is a MUST have option. In standard guise, if you opt for the PDK transmission, the Porsche comes equipped with the old PDK toggles on the wheel. They are fiddly featuring both ‘up’ and ‘down’ on either side of the wheel; whereas the Sports wheel features more traditional paddle shifters adorning either side of the wheel, operating in simple up or down left/right fashion.
Of course, being a Porsche, the sports wheel isn’t a cheap option, but it transforms the level of engagement with the car. PDK is the configuration of choice for driving with gusto – it simply changes gears so much more quickly than a mere mortal can that it’s a no-brainer unless you really do have an affinity for three pedals. Things happen so quickly in performance cars these days, however, that I feel we’ve finally gotten to the point where a manual actually hinders the process.
As I start feeding in inputs leading up to my favourite set of twisties, there is a notable crispness in the way everything comes together. Engine braking is a thing of the past due to those pesky euro emissions regulations – the PDK now disengaging upon lift-off.
As each apex emerges, confidence levels are inspired to push a little further. Prod the button for the valved exhaust and the snarls and pops nearing the rev limit are simply sublime. You would be forgiven for mistaking the car for a mid-engined one, owing to the longer wheelbase. Turn-in is precise, modulated, and seemingly not ill-affected by the transition to electronically controlled steering. Sports Chrono and PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management) set to Sports + and everything goes into ‘S-Mode’ if you will. The ride becomes even tighter, the active engine and transition mount helping to manage the minute girth of the car.
Arriving at the limit of traction and inducing a slide is met with the usual Porsche snap – it isn’t a threshold that is easily found on the 991 as it simply has oodles of grip, but when it does the car is so composed being held by feathering the throttle. Fear in this instance has been replaced by control and somehow the most refined 911 to date (when they were released) still embodies the spirit of a 911 whilst being a tsunami of speed and involvement.
Inside you have Porsche’s usually sublime Bose sound system (some audiophiles will call it a contradiction of terms, but it is simply great providing that you add the best possible source music in (tested with Spotify quality set to ”extreme”). This, of course, is paired up to Bluetooth audio (although no Android Auto or Car Play) through the Porsche Infotainment center which is now easily accessible and navigatable. Being a Porsche virtually everything is an optional extra, but in this case, we have matching guard read seatbelts, a Carrera S center console list, suede headliner, park assist front and rear; and that all-important Sports wheel. Two comfortable front seats sit up front with two usual buckets in the rear that will comfortably house children and shopping. You can squeeze a small adult into there too but I would imagine not wanting to make a habit of it.
All in all, the Carrera S is one of those motoring propositions that really should be experienced by anyone the least bit passionate about the art of driving. The 991 is another log entry in the chronicle of the benchmark of performance cars.
Ok that experience doesn’t come cheap at close to $300k when new, but on the used market the 991 represents ever increasing value.
It sits in a rather unique rear-engined, four-seated bubble, but in the performance department takes the fight to offerings from other brands in the segment with the intimidation of a heavyweight climbing back in the ring. Its combination of punchy, raw power in the evolution of the most evolved chassis at the time combines to an experience that’s comparable to poetry. The real event of awe is the simple fact that whilst we love the Carrera S, the performance on tap here, again pales in comparison to the likes of the GT2 and GT3 variants – but more on that another day..
And similarly to the 981 vs 718, the 991 sits at a time before the entire range became turbocharged. Whilst the Turbo and GT2 stamped cars always featured big power numbers which are simply out of the reach of Naturally Aspirated capabilities, turbocharging the more ‘base’ spec vehicles robs them of some of the charm and visceral purity that we love about the Carrera S.
It truly is a car that may have rivals, but sits without peers, whichever way you look at it.