CAR Magazine first drive road test review.
Same-again styling hides some great technical innovations on the facelifted, second-generation 997, Porsche 911. With a new range of direct-injection petrol engines and clever seven-speed dual-clutch gearboxes, the 911 has overnight become one of the world’s cleanest high-performance cars.
So Porsche bills this as the ‘new’ 911, but since when did some new lights and different bumpers count as a ground-up redesign? Come on, there’s far more to the second-generation 997 than that. What about the 911's new mirrors, the large air intakes and new alloy wheels? And then there’s the, er, er... Okay, you’re right. Porsche's new 911 is hardly groundbreaking. But haven’t you ever heard of inner beauty?
Go on then, woo me! Okay. As before, the bread-and-butter range of 911s consists of two cars: the Carrera and Carrera S. The Carrera is still a 3.6, the S a 3.8 (although the actual capacities are slightly different this time), but they’ve been comprehensively re-engineered and are both emboldened with direct injection. Think muscle mixed with miserliness.The more efficient combustion and higher compression ratios push power from 320bhp to 340bhp on the Carrera and from 350bhp to 375bhp on the S. And the base car’s torque output climbs to 287lb ft while its big brother now churns out 310lb ft of twist action. Impressive figures.
Direct injection? So the new 911s sound like diesels? Well, they do have that distinctive direct-injection rattle at idle, but you can’t really hear it from inside the car and once underway the new engines sound almost as characterful as the old. But they need far fewer trips to the pumps. Equip the basic Carrera with the new PDK gearbox and it will return 29mpg on the combined cycle and emit just 225g/km of CO2. Those incredible figures makes it massively greener than any rival – the new 911 is even cleaner than a mainstream coupe like Audi’s TT V6.
So my accountant will love the new 911, but what about me? You’ll love it too, because it’s even better to drive. Porsche has played down the changes to the suspension, but they have completely eliminated the old car’s tendency to bob its nose up and down in response to changes in road surface and elevation. So you can lean on the front end with far more confidence now, while the 911’s trademark steering remains intact, offering stacks of feedback and instant turn-in.
It’s an odd experience for anyone who’s driven 911s before, but there’s no doubt that the new car is more capable even on the standard non-adjustable dampers our base Carrera came with. It's pliant and handles brilliantly – a great mix.
And it’s incredibly quick. The base Carrera now hits 62mph in just 4.9sec instead of 5.0sec. And where the old Tiptronic took 5.5sec, the PDK twin-clutch version needs just 4.7sec, or an incredible 4.5sec if you add the Sport Chrono Plus package which brings launch control.
Figures like that make the Carrera S seem almost superfluous but its performance improves by a similar margin. It now reaches 62mph in 4.7sec with the manual, 4.5sec with PDK and 4.3sec with PDK and Sport Chrono Plus. This latter version also just scrapes under the 10sec to 100mph marker – a benchmark which divides seriously quick cars from the merely rapid.
What’s this PDK business? It stands for Porsche Double Klutch (or at least something approximating to it) and it’s Porsche’s equivalent to Volkswagen’s DSG, although the concept was actually pioneered in 1983 on Porsche’s Group C sports cars. Unfortunately, the technology wasn't advanced enough to make it suitable for the road until now.
Like DSG, it’s effectively two gearboxes joined together, one containing the odd gears, the other the even, each having its own clutch. It’s being introduced as a faster-shifting, more economical and more responsive replacement for the old five-speed Tiptronic, but Porsche engineers confided that it could completely replace the six-speed manual on Porsches within five years.
What! No more manual Porsches? With good reason, for this has to be the greatest dual-clutch gearbox we’ve yet tried. The ratios are essentially the same as the manual’s, with the exception of a longer third gear and a whacking great overdrive seventh to help hit those amazing eco figures.
The only real downside is Porsche’s decision to go with an evolution of its rocker switch gear selectors on the steering wheel. Instead of the left-downchange, right-up paddle arrangement we’ve become accustomed to on almost every other semi-auto car in existence, you push the switch away to climb the gears, pull towards you to drop back down. You’ll get used to it, but it’s just not as intuitive as rival systems.
Presumably PDK will spread to other 911 variants as the facelifted versions are rolled out? Currently, only the coupe and cabrio versions of the two-wheel drive Carrera can have the £2338 PDK option, but it will be fitted to the Carrera 4 when that is launched later in 2008 and the facelifted Boxster in 2009. But a 325lb ft limit in its current state rules it out from duty in the Turbo, GT3 and GT3. They’ll get PDK eventually, but it needs to be beefed up first.
With all this effort being spent under the skin, I suppose it’s too much to expect any changes inside?It’s all still recognisably 911 inside that snug cockpit, but the centre console has been tidied, many of the fiddly little switches having migrated to the new touch-screen communications interface. But other than that, it’s essentially business as usual. Focused and just a little bit chaotic, then.
Behind the second-generation 997's bland redesign lies one of the most significant sports cars of the moment. The 911 has always made sense for its practicality and dynamism, but now it’s even more polished, even quicker and significantly greener.Porsche is light years ahead of any other performance car manufacturer in the green stakes – happily proving that sports cars aren’t about to roll over and die now that the environment is firmly established on the motoring agenda. The new 911's PDK box is a very clever bit of kit, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see three-quarters of drivers ticking that option. But until they fix those paddles, we’ll stick with the manual thanks.