Pay attention. This is the much improved 'Carrera S' version of the '997' generation of Porsche's seminal 911 model. And it's a beauty. Jonathan Crouch reports
PORSCHE 911 CARRERA S NEW CAR ROAD TEST Somebody in the Porsche design department knows exactly what they're doing. Whereas some other manufacturers will foist a design upon the market that the public isn't ready for or they'll attempt to lever a facelift onto clashing existing design cues, Porsche's latest 911 is a thing of beauty from every angle. It just works. Life just doesn't get much better than the 385bhp Carrera S.
This car has 30bhp more these days, courtesy of the fact that its flat six engine uses direct injection for the first time, technology that forced a thorough redesign of the cooling system, and there's now the option of Porsche's PDK twin clutch gearbox. These are big steps in the 911's famously gradual evolution but true to form, the changes to the exterior do little to draw attention to the new car. At the front there are LED daytime running lights and the rear lights are completely LED based. There are also larger mirrors, but that's about it.
Porsche's Direct Fuel Injection system uses a sophisticated engine management computer and high pressure injectors to fire a fuel and air mixture directly into the combustion chamber. This mixture is constantly adjusted according to the demands being placed on the engine at the time. The results are said to include a more efficient combustion cycle, superior engine response and more power. All of which means a higher top speed of 188mph for this Carrera S and a rest to sixty capability of around 4 seconds.
What's refreshing about the Carrera S is that Porsche haven't been sucked into the quest for ever more ridiculous horsepower figures. Flights of fancy like the Carrera GT supercar can post the enormous numbers. The 911 was always more about fluidity, feedback and engineering purity. The latest Carrera S doesn't disappoint on most of these scores, although some purists may well lament the fact that a certain degree of road feel has been excised from the steering. This was long deemed a 911 touchstone and the ability to ascertain the precise grip and granularity of any given road surface via the steering wheel is one that some feel is denied to Carrera S pilots. If this is true, then some recompense for this comes in the form of a handling package that makes older 911s appear rather yestertech.
"You'd need to pay comfortably into six figures before you find a car that can do what the 911 Carrera S does"
Porsche's excellent PSM (Porsche Stability Management) system has been further tuned in recent times to allow drivers even more leeway before it intervenes but should you really want to explore the limits of your 911's handling envelope, it's possible to disengage it completely in Sport mode. There's also the choice of adjusting the electronic dampers but on anything other than a billiard smooth racetrack, this sets up a disconcerting amount of fidget from the back end. These days PSM also includes the Brake Assist and Brake Pre-Filling functions that were once offered only on higher spec models.
Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) is standard on the Carrera S. This system is built around specially designed Michelin Pilot sport tyres and Bilstein adaptive dampers that can be set in one of two modes, normal and sport. The sport mode also sharpens the throttle action. An optional sports chassis set up offers stiffer springs and dampers, a lower ride height and a more aggressive limited slip differential. Thus equipped and with an experienced driver behind the wheel, the 997 Carrera S can run a lap of the Nurburgring in under 8 minutes, the true acid test of a supercar.
Many owners will opt for Porsche's latest PDK gearbox as an alternative to the conventional manual set-up. Much superior to 'Tiptronic'-style auto transmissions, this is a conventional seven speed manual gearbox with a hydraulic control mechanism which is divided into two separate units. There's one clutch looking after the even gears and one taking care of the odd ones. It means that the clutches can work in unison, producing super fast shifting marshalled by buttons mounted on the steering wheel. Each gearchange is around 60 per cent more rapid that that of a conventional automatic transmission. The Carrera S achieves the 0-62mph sprint in 4.5s with the PDK box which is 0.2s faster than an expertly driven manual car. Install the Porsche Sport Chrono Package Plus on the car and its launch control system will get it off the line more smartly, lowering the sprint time again to 4.3s.
Even the mighty 911 is forced to tow the environmental line these days and the greater efficiency of the latest DFI engines has pronounced benefits in terms of fuel economy and emissions as well as upping performance. In addition, the PDK gearbox has no impact on fuel economy and shares the same figures as the standard manual car. Expect to average around 30mpg, a figure Audi R8 owners can only dream about.
Inside, this 911 is as classy as its exterior lines would suggest. Expensively slush-moulded fascia materials made a welcome change to the hard plastics seen in the 996 and it's possible to specify leather trim. The front seats are large comfortable items that still sit the driver low to the ground but there's a choice of four different seat options depending on how racy you want to feel. The PCM Porsche Communication Management system dominates the facia with its 6.5" colour screen display. It bundles satellite navigation, together with the various settings menus together with the audio system and even an optional TV tuner.
Is this 911 Carerra S perfect? Of course not. But ask yourself this. If you were shopping for a performance coupe that can shred the Nurburgring and do the commute to work, what even comes close? A Noble M14 or a Mercedes SLK 55 AMG? Please. A BMW M5 saloon tries but can't come match the purity and depth of engineering of the Porsche. You'd need to pay comfortably into six figures before you find a car that can do what the 911 Carrera S does. The best just got better.