You all have heard (or heard about) the words of fear from Porsche purists parading around the Frankfurt auto show in their soiled Depends undergarments. “It is no longer the 911!,” they have all pronounced. Damn it, they are saying, the 911 will no longer be one of the most unnecessarily challenging cars to drive hard, and every single existing Porsche fan around the world is waiting and seeing. Meantime, we just drove the center of all this attention around the grotesquely scenic south-central California coast where you’ll find the highest ratio of Porsche 911s per capita.
The 991 911 is a fearsome undertaking the likes of which not seen since the 996 was introduced in the mid-’90s. Whereas then the engineers and designers were tasked with going water-cooled across the board and departing significantly from the iconic lines of the tight 993, today they confronted two once-thought “untouchables” in the 911 legend: a larger feeling, almost turismo sports car and electro-mechanical power steering. You can almost hear the silence fall over Porsche club gatherings in kinda nice motels all across these great United States.
But get us not wrong, oh fellow enthusiasts! We cherish every goose-bumped lap session we’ve ever had in any former generation 911 that had a decidedly gnarlier attitude toward us at the wheel. We’ve had days in G-model cars, 964s and 993s that nearly freakin’ killed us. But they didn’t and when we were done all we wanted to do was get out there and do it all over again. The 996 and 997 generations changed that driver/car interface experience a bit. With those it was a bit less hairy, quieter in the cabin and whatnot. But then again, those two made up for it by letting us go a hell of a lot faster, so the danger factor didn’t stray too far from the 911 DNA chain. The Porsche Stability Management and Porsche Active Suspension Management with seven-speed PDK for the 997 II combined to provide a prelude to what we were to expect from the 991.
Whereas the base price for the 997 II CS in late 2008 was set at $86,200, we now leap to an eye-popping $96,400 for essentially the same trim level in the late 2011 991. Get the 991 3.4-liter Carrera for $82,100 as equipped with the seven-speed ZF manual tranny. Price hikes are a reflection of all of the technological and design advancements, certainly, but it is also a sign that the Europeans are sick and tired of making so little margin in the United States with our eternally hurting currency exchange rates.
The vast majority of 911 drivers have not been the type to really get the most out of their car when confronted with a twisty, sunny country two-lane. Rarely do they ever take the engine up into the 7000-plus rpm zone. The majority love the 911 in little moments of gusto between traffic lights and love the storied image a 911 brings to the mind. And it is a well put-together, almost overly well engineered, machine, which makes it satisfying to have such a conversation piece in the garage.
We digress like this before the new car launch simply because it’s important to accept that Porsche has conceived the 991 911 to better fulfill this more GT 2+2 sporting car idea versus continuing to work within the tight confines of the 911 layout as we have known it up to now. Either we accept this and milk it or we get grumpy, wear soiled Depends, and mope around the Frankfurt auto show, or wherever. Or you can go right ahead and finally buy your Korean boom-box inspired Nissan GT-R and be done with it.
When was the last time the 911’s wheelbase increased by nearly four inches? Nonetheless, now at 96.5 inches, that’s still nearly eight inches less space between axles than the Ferrari 458 Italia, so it’s not as though the 991 violates the 911 recipe that much. After all, overall length versus the 997 II grows by just 1.2 inches. There are so many good things gained by letting the 911 stretch out a bit, among them being more fore-aft adjustability for the front seats, more room in back, space enough to incorporate standard 20-inch wheels, and the positioning of the gearbox closer to the engine that results in greater mechanical efficiencies for the powertrain. Oh, yeah and a sports car that we can drive to wicked limits without fearing excessive front or rear lift, take your pick.
As we start off inland on a fetching two-lane scenic route through the coastal hills, it’s quite clear that this Carrera S has very much matured. As for the PDK action, it has noticeably improved its behavior with super clean shifts that are always quick and do not bite us even in Sport Plus of the Sport Chrono Package. This is now the third generation of the PDK software, says 991 project manager Michael Schätzle, and whereas previously ZF provided not only the programming but also how it was specifically applied to Porsches, now ZF creates only the program and then Weissach does the application in-house. This allowed for several more iterations of the software to be tested and improved upon, resulting in virtual seamless upshifts and downshifts.
And honestly, we thought we’d be focusing really hard on the various inconvenient effects of turning the steering over to the electricians, but the feel at the wheel strikes a quite acceptable balance between assistance and lack thereof. Besides that litmus test, the action of the wheel, even in rapid left-to-right slalom movements, never starts to resist our input. Lock to lock, the wheel never binds. Working with hydraulics, Porsche really had taken the ancient art as far as it could go with such an “incorrect” powertrain arrangement as on the 911. Nonetheless, at speed and driving with spirit in any 997 II, the front axle still gets a bit too light with some occasional jitters. Today, the jitters are gone, and the feedback from the road surface is the most faithful we’ve felt yet via electronically assisted steering. Basically, every whine we envisioned whining prior to the drive was never whined.
From the 380 horsepower at 7200 rpm of the 3.8-liter in the 997 II, we nip on up to 394 hp at 7400 rpm in the 991. Torque climbs from 310 lb-ft at 4400 rpm to 325 lb-ft at 5600 rpm. The unprecedented usage of aluminum all over and under the 991 helps peel off 100 pounds from the curb weight of the Carrera S with PDK (66 pounds from the manually equipped CS). With the longer wheelbase, wider front track, lower stance and additional negative camber at the rear wheels, the dynamics of this new 911 are hungry to eclipse those felt in the whole 997 chapter. In the very sportiest setup of the Carrera S (e.g., our Aqua Blue tester with the optional PCCB front discs), the 991 laps the Nürburgring in 7:40, or 14 seconds quicker than the Carrera S it replaces. Or the same time posted by the 997 II GT3 and three seconds quicker than the recently tested Mercedes C63 Coupe Black Series.
And it really does feel this fast, especially when leaving the PDK transmission, suspension and throttle in Sport Plus. We enjoy the PDK with its Porsche in-house hands-on version of the ZF software since it is as fast as the fastest out there and all shifts create a terrific “bridge” growl from the exhaust. The 20-inch Pirelli P Zero tires—245/35ZR20 front, 295/30ZR20 rear—created quite a racket when we hit the older cement roads, but on the smoother black asphalt the sound is silky nice. Then on a special autocross parcours at a local airport, the new steering, chassis geometries, lighter and more rigid sprung weight, rear torque vectoring with torque braking of the inside rear wheel, and much improved PASM, the brisk transitions are ever so smooth.
Porsche gets numerically obsessed with a “991 911.” We were wary, feisty, aloof. After a day’s drive, we’re like pre-teens at a mall concert.
Chassis project manager for the 991, Ulrich Mobitzer, explained the new and improved PASM for us. Whereas prior to now there was only one acceleration sensor on the left side of each axle, there are now three acceleration sensors and one wheel travel sensor at each hub. As with the extensive steering work, this PASM has been honed to greatness and the three modes—Normal, Sport, Sport Plus—are distinctly separate and each is much more sophisticated beneath us in its own right. The dynamic sway bars of Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC) are available as an option only on the Carrera S and our car stayed amazingly flat through each and every curve. All too civilized? We might just be able to live without the PDCC on our personal 991, though work it certainly doth.
We also spent a good couple of hours in a manually equipped Carrera S, weighing 66 pounds less than the 997 II CS equivalent trim and some 44 pounds less than the PDK-equipped 991. Another frisky plus here is that only the manual cars come standard with a mechanical locking differential with 22 percent lock in acceleration and 27 percent in deceleration. The seven-speed phenomenon is another ZF PDK-derived setup and the 0.71:1 Seventh gear can only be reached when coming from either Fifth or Sixth gear. No surprises, it works great as expected, though that lever is way over there to the right when Seventh is engaged. On the other hand, the shift lever is very close to the steering wheel on the up-sloping, thick Carrera GT-like center console, an orientation that helps a bunch. Cruising in a manual Porsche 911 at 70 mph with just 2100 rpm on the tach is quite the new experience. Keep the optional sport exhaust switched off, too, and you really come close to hearing nothing.
In the driving of it, by the end, we realized that any fears of the beloved 911 turning into a fat and lazy GT car were unfounded; the 991 when driven as we like it driven is all 911 all the time. It’s just the new upgraded interior, mention of electro- anything in the steering, and visibly longer wheelbase that can create fear in us or in you prior to doing the drive. With such a great start on the “normal” Carrera S, we are waiting with bated breath on the arrival of all Turbo, GT3, RS, etc., trims to see how they up the ante on all comers. The 991 911 Carrera and Carrera S arrive together at dealers on February 4, 2012.
So, go do the drive.
2012 Porsche 991 911 Carrera S
3.8-liter, flat six, dohc, 24-valve. Porsche VarioCam Plus intake, ECU reprogramming via Sport/Sport Plus buttons, optional sport exhaust, auto start-stop in Normal mode
Optional–seven-speed Porsche-ZF PDK automated manual, standard Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus (PTV+) with electronic differential lock and brake steer. Standard – seven-speed ZF manual with mechanical limited-slip differential and PTV
Aluminum double wishbone (f), aluminum multi-link (r), adaptive Bilstein dampers with Thyssen-Krupp springs, Porsche Active Suspension Management, Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control sway bars, Sport Chrono Package with dynamic engine mounts
13.4-inch rotors w/ six-piston monobloc aluminum calipers (f), 13-inch rotors w/ four-piston monobloc aluminum calipers (r), Porsche Stability Management, brake steer via PTV+, optional front PCCB brake rotors
Wheels and Tires
Five triple-spoke flow-formed alloys, 8.5x20 (f), 11x20 (r)
Pirelli P Zero, 245/35 (f), 295/30 (r)
New aluminum door, roof, hood, decklid and floor panels; front and rear aprons w/ larger intakes and vents; integrated rear ducktail lip; automated rear spoiler; quad-tip exhaust
Interior 2+2 arrangement, full leather w/ satin-finish aluminum detailing, sport steering wheel with paddle shifters, Carrera GT/Panamera-style center tunnel
Peak Power: 394 hp @ 7400 rpm
Peak Torque: 325 lb-ft @ 5600 rpm
0-62 mph: 3.9 sec. (as tested, w/ Sport Plus + PDK); 4.3 sec. (w/ manual + Sport Plus)
Top Speed: 189 mph (manual); 188 mph (PDK)
(includes $950 destination charge)