Auto drive: 2012 Porsche 911
It might not demand the sacrifice of the proverbial right limb, it might not even find itself on the list of ten most beautiful cars in the world but without doubt the 911 is the most iconic and instantly recognisable shape in automotive history. Through nearly four decades since its debut in 1963, during which time the automotive world has whizzed past in a flurry of innovation, the 911 has stuck with the original (and has to be said, flawed) layout and classic Butzi Porsche-penned silhouette. A designer at the top of his game once told me that the easier it is for a child to pen the profile of a car the stronger the chances of it attaining legendary status. He was referring to the Beetle but in a roundabout way the 911 was also cut from the same cloth, and similarly takes three pencil strokes to scribble out the profile. How do you update a bonafide classic then?
Update is too mild a word actually. Unless you are a hardcore Porschephile your brain will hurt trying to pick out the differences between this sixth-generation 991-series and the earlier 997-series. The strongest visual change are the slimmer and sharper LED taillamps but the new 911 is almost 90 per cent new with the updates being the most significant since the fourth-generation 996 finally ditched air-cooling for water cooling.
100mm, that’s the big talking point. It’s the stretch in the wheelbase that fundamentally alters the 911′s traditionally short wheelbase (and subsequent driving characteristics? We will come to that later). Taking the driver’s hip point as a reference the front axle moves forward by 30mm, the rear moves back by 71mm and the windshield moves forward by 76mm. Compared to the previous 997 the engine remains in essentially the same place, it’s the rear axle that has moved back resulting in a more cab-forward stance, a roomier and spacious cabin (though the rear seats remain strictly for small kids), better refinement and improved stability. It has also made for a bigger car and even though overhangs have been reduced (very good thing that, reducing chances of scrapping over nasty speedbreakers) length goes up by 55mm.
The front track has been widened by 52mm and though overall width is the same as the old wide-body 997 visually it looks wider since the headlamps that cap the characteristic front fender humps have been pushed even more outboard. Lower too: the roofline (‘flyline’ in designer speak) has been dropped by 5mm making for an even more dramatic, swoopy and sporty profile, all adding up to an aggressively road-hugging stance.
The second significant departure is in construction. 45 per cent of the body including the fenders, boot, bonnet, roof and most of the floor is now aluminium which brings down the weight of the body-in-white by 80kg, all the more impressive considering torsional rigidity has improved by 20 per cent. The treadmill obsession has resulted in 18kg being taken out of the engine and chassis. And though improved safety equipment and luxuries have added 58kg there has been an overall weight reduction of between 30 and 45kg depending on spec. And the third shift in philosophy: electric assistance for the power steering.
Don’t bother raising a howl of protest because this number will shock you. 7 minutes 40 seconds. That’s the lap time round the North loop of the iconic Nurburgring race track which, for a sense of perspective, is the same as the previous generation 911 GT3, a street-legal Porsche Cup racer that gets a dining table for a spoiler, cut-slick tyres, half roll cage and a cabin so stripped out even the door handles are replaced by a piece of string.
We didn’t go to the Nurburgring to verify those claims (not that we have the ability either), instead we pushed her dynamic envelope at the fabulous Yas Marina circuit in Abu Dhabi – a jaw-dropping testament to what is possible when the budget has no cap.
First things first: electric power steering. Probably a better driver than me would find the need but not once during a full day spent thrashing round Yas Marina did the thought cross my mind that maybe, just maybe, a hydraulic rack would have been better; would have delivered better feedback. This is astonishingly good at communicating everything – a dip, camber change, surface change, a painted line, change in colour of said painted line – that’s going on under the front wheels. Such is the level of calibration that a digitised feedback has been engineered into the system to replicate some of the slight wriggles that, supposedly, characterise 911 steering.
I didn’t notice anything, save for the steering being so good in every respect that henceforth this will be the gold standard by which everything will be judged.
What I did notice, via a well-planted kick to the lower back, acceleration to belie its engine capacity and output. The engines are tweaked versions of the direct injection flat-sixes from the face-lifted 997-series with the base engine in the Carrera downsized by 200cc to 3.4-litre. Power though is up by 5PS to 350PS, 0-100kmph acceleration drops by 0.1 seconds to 4.4s and top speed is 287kmph. The key here is weight, just 1400kg, giving it the best power to weight in its class. The best fuel efficiency too thanks to start-stop and a coasting function though why anybody would spend 1.1 crore rupees (up by 10 per cent) to buy a 911 for fuel efficiency (which is up by 16 per cent) is beyond me.
We’re driving the Carrera S that gets a 3.8-litre flat-six that makes 400PS (up by 15PS) and 440Nm (up by 20Nm), weighs 1455kg and is mated to a new 7-speed PDK twin-clutch gearbox complete with (optional) launch control for a 0-100kmph time of 4.1 seconds (down by 0.2 seconds). With the optional sports exhaust and ‘Sound Symposer’ tech it sounds fabulously rorty too, an acoustic tube running from the intakes vibrating a membrane in the rear parcel shelf in concert with the intake pulse, the membrane in turn amplifying these pulses for the driver and passenger’s aural delight.
The Symposer is only activated in Sport mode and while you may complain that this is all a bit artificial and manufactured the benefit is the cabin gets improved sound insulation which makes it impressively refined on the road. I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that 911s are quite often used as daily drivers and with this new car I can’t find many compromises to living with it. The cabin is all new incorporating styling and switches from the Panamera, there is significantly more room and – most importantly – it rides fabulously (relatively speaking of course).
The evening we touched down in Abu Dhabi was spent exploring the public roads around Yas Island and after getting busted for doing 80kmph in a 60 zone we spent the next hour sticking to the speed limits. This hour would normally have been spent whipping up every one of the engine’s 400 horses into a lunatic frenzy but since a night in an Arab lockup didn’t tickle our fancy we pottered along at a modest pace, had a relaxed conversation, navigated using an actual paper map and admired the same mosque that popped up every ten minutes.
And then the realisation dawned – were we living in a country with relatively good roads and no nasty speedbreakers the new 911 is all the car you will ever need. Unlike the mental image we have of sportscars re-arranging our tooth fillings the 911, even on the 20 inch rims, rides properly with the active dampers stuck in comfort mode.
A performance enhancing tool it might be but active anti-roll bars also play a part here, disconnecting the anti-roll bars on flat roads allowing it to float thus improving ride quality. The primary purpose though is to make it quicker round a race track, cutting lateral movements by anticipating and applying a precise stabilising force on the opposite side to negate body roll and even making the steering quicker. All of which I experienced – physically – via re-arranged internal organs.
Not that I’ve experienced anything less than stomach churning grip from every 911 I’ve piloted but our racer-instructors tell us that the wider front track makes all the difference to the new car, nailing the front end to the track and eliminating any trace of nervousness. It’s also immediately apparent that there’s not a trace of nervousness, so much so that you nail it right from the off without fear. And in the process discover it isn’t appreciably different from a 458 or R8 that has majority of its weight over the rear axle. Of course in those cars the weight is contained between the axles but there’s nothing in the 911′s dynamic repertoire to suggest the engine sticking out at the back.
Lift off mid corner, get on the gas early, do stupid things and the car sorts itself out, at the most degenerates into understeer. Do it right, nail the apex, feed in the power, get the electronics to work for you, feel torque vectoring rotating the car about its axis and you’re in for a seminal driving experience. All those computer-controlled gizmos – PSM (stability management), PASM (active suspension), PCCB (ceramic brakes), PDCC (chassis control), PVT Plus (torque vectoring), dynamic engine mounts – all talking and interfacing with each other conspire to make this the best handling 911 ever. It is so good it behaves not like a 911 but simply a fabulously accomplished sports car.
Does that leave me with a tinge of regret? After all a lot of what made the 911 an icon to start off with were its eccentricities, those stories of heading backwards into the hedges, the lift-off oversteer. But that’s just crazy talk, who wants a car to bite them in the arse?
The new 911 is very much an icon. An icon that has lost its temper.
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