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Porsche 911 Carrera manual review (2012 onwards)
Model: Porsche 911 Carrera 3.4 Manual, £71,449 (£77,258 as tested)
Bodystyle: two-door coupé
Engine: 3.4 flat six, 350hp @ 7,400, 287lb ft @ 5,600rpm
Transmission: seven-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Efficiency: 31.4mpg combined, 212g/km CO2
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First drive: Porsche 911
What is it?
This is the entry-point into the new '991' generation of Porsche 911: the 350hp rear-wheel-drive 3.4-litre Carrera coupé with the standard seven-speed manual gearbox. As an introduction to the latest 911, it's as pure and unfettered as they come - the ideal place for fresh beginnings.
There are a number of changes here that have not been greeted with universal acclaim.
For although this new 911 may look like the previous 911, which in turn looks like the one before that, which looks like the one before that (and so on), there are a number of changes here that have not been greeted with universal acclaim.
Certainly, in our initial interactions with the new car we've been left questioning the switch to electro-mechanical steering assistance, the increased emphasis on luxury, and the minor but surprisingly impactful alteration to its proportions that have further removed some the 911's previous intimacy.
So can a week in the base model - if you can possibly call a car with a £71,449 list price 'base' at all - put these changes into perspective? Or will the differences become niggles, and leave us wanting more?
Where does it fit?
The 911 is a product of evolution - there's no arguing with that. Decades of perseverance with a rear-engined layout only otherwise found in city cars these days, creating a sports car that remains unique at a fundamental level.
Having the weight of the engine at the back means massive traction from the driven rear wheels, which is an advantage. But it also creates a dynamic in the car's balance that simply isn't available in anything else on sale - heavy at the rear means light at the front, giving the 911 a uniquely 'lively' charisma.
Historically this is what built the 911's legend, and brought it such legions of loyal fans. But it's also put off other prospective buyers entirely, and so for the all-new 991, Porsche has extended the wheelbase by another 100mm and widened the front of the car in order to increase stability.
These and the other updates have the effect of subtly altering not only the character but perhaps also the purpose of the car. To us at least, it seems as if this latest 911 has moved delicately but distinctly away from being a pure sporting machine and closer towards becoming more of a grand touring GT.
Is it for you?
Now, this might be exactly what you're looking for from a 911 - and goodness only knows we're sure that Porsche has consulted its customers to the nth degree before proceeding. But the changes do require a certain amount of adjustment if you're already familiar with the marque.
Relative anonymity is a major part of the appeal
And the thing is, if you're expecting the causal onlooker to notice the deliberation involved in your choice here then you're going to be disappointed. With one generation looking very much like the next, a new 911 becomes just another 911 to most observers.
For many this relative anonymity is a major part of the appeal - it's an aspect of the 911's timeless heritage, luxo lifestyle driving by stealth. If you'd prefer to shout visually about your success then choose something from the opposition: Aston Martin, BMW, Jaguar, Mercedes and Nissan are among the alternatives.
But you might be surprised to find that the best of these come at a significantly greater price than the plain vanilla 3.4 Carrera. Which is also very nearly £10,000 cheaper than the faster and more technically advanced 3.8 Carrera S - though you can close that gap with horrific velocity via the ever-tempting options list.
What does it do well?
So why buy the 3.4 at all? There's an argument for purity - the 3.8 includes additional electronic chassis gimmickry as standard, so this is the only 911 that someone, somewhere has signed-off in a definitive "we want it to drive like this" kind of way. On the other hand, the 3.8 offers 400hp, 50hp more.
In isolation you're unlikely to miss those 50 ponies. The 350hp 3.4 serves up 0-62mph in a very credible 4.8 seconds and doesn't run out of puff until 179mph. It can dig deep and surge forward from very few revs, and climbs to a truly howling crescendo if you really wring it out - especially with the optional Sports Exhaust.
The faster you go, the more composed the 911 also becomes, helped by a new aluminium and steel chassis construction that's 45kg lighter than in the 3.6-litre outgoing model. You do have to work it to extract the maximum, though - it's both lighter and marginally more powerful, but the action happens at higher revs, too.
It climbs to a truly howling crescendo if you really wring it out
The 911's naturally stratospheric rear grip levels mean you can easily make the most of the 7,400rpm peak, while the wider front end and longer wheelbase have certainly calmed down what remained of the characteristic edginess at the helm. Making this a much less demanding car to drive fast.
What doesn't it do well?
Eradicating the characteristic edginess of the 911 may well serve to make it less demanding, but is this actually a good thing? Clearly Porsche believes it's what its customers want - and who are we to argue - yet these are also the very tenets of 911 existence. How much trifling with them is too much?
However, any sense that the 911 is truly becoming a GT car will probably go out the window in a jerky blur the moment you try and drive one sedately over a broken urban road surface - the suspension here is so stiff you can hear the trim creaking in complaint in the back.
This is easily forgiven once you're out of town and nailing it, where firmness magically transmogrifies into control, and the 911 ripples across the tarmac like a lithe thing. It'll still squirm out of corners in that delightful, rear-biased way, too, but the steering is not as minutely informative as it used to be.
Don't get us wrong, it's still very good by electro-mechanical standards - it just filters away the action to a greater degree than before, and hints ever so slightly at the artificial in place of the intimate. Exacerbating this distancing effect are the seven-speed manual gearbox - dare we say clunky? - and the Sound Symposer.
What is it like to live with?
The Sound Symposer feeds the noise from the engine into the cabin more directly. It only works when you press the Sport button, and it may mean you won't be pressing the Sport button very much, as it doesn't half get loud inside. This is a touch clumsy, rather like the bass from the optional Bose stereo.
The manual 'box gets better with use
Forgive us for seeming a bit fuddy-duddy, but there's something that's not quite 911 about these things - something false, something almost compromised. The steering falls under the same category, and to a certain extent so does the gearbox, which owes its unusual amount of ratios to the predominance of the PDK automatic.
Still, this is progress, we suppose. Gladly, the manual 'box gets better with use - keeping alive another 911 tradition, which categorically states there MUST be a period of adjustment between jumping in and truly engaging with any Porsche. There remains a sense of depth and purpose here that lesser sporting cars lack.
The eerie impression that the new car is much bigger gradually diminishes with familiarity, too. The cabin is more spacious but the 911's exterior dimensions are barely extended, and it remains compact for its class.
Back-seat passengers have a little more room, the limited luggage capacity still requires thought. Almost everything on board is electrically adjusted now. Hmm.
How green is it?
Interesting question. If you were to pick the 3.4 Carrera and option the PDK seven-speed automatic gearbox you would be the proud owner of the first 911 to dip below the 200g/km CO2 threshold, low enough to claim a 34.4mpg. Genuinely commendable; three cheers for the downsized, ultra high-tech engine.
The seven-speed manual doesn't quite manage this feat, but 212g/km with 31.4mpg is still eyebrow raising. Items such as the standard fit stop-start system - which seemed reluctant to perform in our company, but still - clever thermal and electric energy management, and that electric power steering all help.
Make the mistake of equating that projected figure with the kind of economy you're actually likely to see, however, and your eyebrows may well end up in orbit. Drive it like - well - a Porsche, and don't expect to see much beyond the teens. However, greater economy on longer motorway runs can be managed.
Would we buy it?
We understand the process of evolution and product refinement, we really do. But the softly spoken changes present in the new 911 place the driver at a further remove, and in a world where speed is increasingly irrelevant in the everyday, making such an iconic sports car less involving but easier to drive fast seems almost absurd.
It continues to reign supreme as the go-to sportscar
Please note that we said almost. You buy the basic Carrera in order to own a 911 and because you want to go quickly when you can. This car fulfils these primary functions with consummate grace, and even has room for the occasional rear-engined flourish. It is still unquestionably a Porsche.
There is plenty of progress to appreciate here, and there are plenty of paying customers who will undoubtedly appreciate the hell out of it. But is appreciation the same as outright enjoyment? We don't think so.
Yet it also seems that this argument occurs every single time Porsche introduces a new 911, and it continues to reign supreme as the go-to sports car of choice in the sub-supercar category. Everything the new one does well suggests that this situation is very unlikely to change.
Besides which, there are more focused new 911s already in the pipeline. Ultimately, this has never been a car where one variant is designed to suit all, and if Porsche is broadening the basics with the Carrera you can be sure it's also sharpening those next-generation GT3 claws.
Road test: Porsche 911 Carrera PDK
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