Updated Mercedes-Benz E-Class gets new gearbox and extra standard equipment
Review: Porsche 911 991 review (2012 onwards)
What - Porsche 911 Carrera S
Where - Santa Barbara, California
Date - November 2011
Price - £81,242
Available - UK release date of December 2011
Key rivals -Aston Martin V8 Vantage, BMW 6 Series, Maserati GranTurismo, Audi R8, Jaguar XKR Speed
Summary: Dramatic reconstruction of the 911 genes may entice new customers but won't necessarily please the old school.
We like: Easier to drive at high speed, higher quality interior, improvements in economy
We don't like: Higher revs need to extract best performance, steering changes, some 911 idiosyncrasies lost forever
Gallery: new Porsche 911 991
The launch of a new 911 is always an event of considerable magnitude. There's so much history revolving around this rather particular sports car that it could never be otherwise.
The 2012 Porsche 911 is a genuinely new car too, not simply the last version with a bit of tinkering. The shape is sacrosanct of course, but here we have a car with a lightweight body where aluminium pays a major part in a weight reduction programme of as much as 45kg.
That's some achievement on a car that is visually a fair bit bigger. Wider at the front, seemingly more Panamera than 911 in its genesis, the wheelbase is a whopping 100mm longer in a bid to improve high-speed stability and add some more space inside.
What's also instantly clear is that the 911 is lower. The traditional tall front screen has been tilted back for better aerodynamics and a sportier profile. "Sportier" has been used a lot in our days with Porsche in southern California, where 480 of the world's press have been evaluating the new car.
Perhaps Porsche realises that motoring journalists, car enthusiasts to the core, might question the apparent new irection. The Porsche 911 has always been a compact machine, with quirks that many aficionados enjoy.
Porsche, on the other hand, wants to sell more cars. Could that mean that some of the unique 911 DNA has been pushed away in a quest to build a 911 with wider appeal?
2008 saw a big step in the development of the famous flat six Porsche engine, with direct fuel injection bringing greater performance and better efficiency at the same time. This engine has been further developed for the 2012 model: the base Carrera model now has 3.4-litres, the Carrera S tested here 3.8-litres.
There is more power, naturally, with the S now peaking at the magic 400hp, rather than the 385hp of before. With a lighter body it bodes well. 0-62mph is reached in 4.5 seconds with the manual gearbox, or as fast as 4.1 seconds with the PDK transmission and Sport Chrono Package.
And yet something is different. Maximum power is reached at 7,400rpm, peak torque at 5,600rpm, both around 1,000rpm more than in the previous 997 version of the 911. On the road this translates into a Porsche that needs more revs to get the adrenalin flowing, and rather shockingly it can feel a little uninspiring at the lower engine speeds that naturally you use most of the time.
This may sound like the mutterings of a disenchanted Porsche 911 owner, which it is. But Porsche has rarely gone for outright power in the 911, instead offering masses of torque, low down, that makes the engine incredibly responsive.
Get the new 911 on an open road, or better still, a test track, and the returns are still fabulous. The engine wails and if you can keep the revs between 5,500, where there is a noticeable increase in thrust, and 7,800rpm, you can see why Porsche engineers are so pleased with the improved 'sportiness'.
There's another surprise. The world's first seven-speed manual gearbox. Basically this is the PDK automatic gearbox that has been offered for some time on the 911, transformed to manual selection.
This may be a USP that no one actually asked for, though it is immensely clever in the way you can only select seventh gear from fifth or sixth. This is really a motorway cruising position. Maximum speed is reached in sixth.
The all-new interior sets the gearlever higher than before, and coupled with a clutch pedal of considerable weight, the 911 is actually more rewarding with the two-pedal PDK transmission for the first time.
Steering wheel paddles are standard and with the Sport Chrono option driving the 911 can be a joyous occasion in the right circumstances, sharpening the changes to give a real thump as you accelerate through the gears.
Ride and handling
A nose that bobs up and down - and a steering wheel that needs a gentle massage to keep the car on the desired course - have long been 911 traits. No more. The longer wheelbase provides most of the improvement and electro-mechanical power steering the rest.
It changes the character. The steering is as sharp and precise as ever, but the feedback from bumps and small surface imperfections has largely disappeared. It's all progress says Porsche, but there are also reasons to mourn the loss of the old 911 character.
Still, buyers new to the brand won't notice and can instead marvel at how Porsche can make a rear-engine car handle so brilliantly. Even more electronics keep the 911 on track - active body roll stabilisation with the PDCC option, and standard torque vectoring that improves agility.
PDCC also allows the driver to choose between a sports chassis and a comfort setting, and few will argue that the new 911 rides very well in the second setting. This is a GT car par excellence, and you have that option at the touch of a button.
The changes inside the 2012 Porsche 911 bring no controversy. They are simply superb. The dashboard and centre console design lean heavily on that of the Panamera. There's a quantum step up in perceived quality.
Seat comfort has always been of a high standard in the 911, and that continues. There is a touch more room in the back seats, helped by the longer wheelbase, though the lower roofline means headroom there still restricts the space to kids.
The flat-six engine is the distinctive characteristic of the rear-engined Porsches, something that was cleverly carried through when the air-cooled engines were changed to water-cooled with the 996 series in 1998. Now there is a standard-fit "Sound Symposer" .
Push the Sport button and a membrane transmits vibrations from the engine to the area around the rear parcel shelf for even "sportier driving pleasure" (that word again). Yet whatever you do, there's a newfound drone from the exhaust system, impossible to dial out, that can become tiresome.
Economy and safety
Here Porsche has achieved the seemingly impossible. A 911 with a CO2 of under 200g/km and combined fuel economy as high as 32mpg? You need to choose the base 3.4 model with PDK transmission to reach this, and be careful about your wheel and tyre choice, but there are incredible economy numbers across the whole new 911 range.
Terrific brakes help accident avoidance in the first place, and there is a full range of airbags should the worst happen.
The MSN Cars verdict
It's impossible not to be impressed by what Porsche has achieved with its latest icon. Engineering and technology have been combined to push the boundaries of rear-engined design several steps forward.
But it's not a five star car. By building a Porsche for a broader audience of buyers, a few too many of the little things that form an indelible part of the 911 appeal to enthusiasts have been pushed away.
|Engines, petrol||3.4, 3.6-litres|
|Power hp||350 - 400|
|Torque, lb ft||288 - 325|
|0-62 mph, secs||4.8 - 4.1|
|Top speed, mph||178 - 189|
|Mpg combined||29.7 - 32.4|
|CO2, g/km / Tax||194/28% - 224/34%|
|Marks out of 5|
|Ride & handling||5|
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