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 355bhp Carrera S.
There's quite a wide Range of choice for the 911 customer at the moment. What with coupes, cabriolets and all-wheel drive derivatives, not to mention the standard and S models, but the £65,860 Carrera S coupe really does take some beating. The 3.8-litre Carrera S is a good deal quicker than its 3.6-litre sibling - as indeed it needs to be given a price premium of over £6,500. The base Carrera will notch off the sprint to 60mph in 4.9 seconds and zip through 100mph in 11 seconds on the way to a top speed of 177mph. The Carrera S is that little bit feistier, recording a 4.7 second sprint to 60 and a 10.7 figure to 100mph. Top speed is pegged at 182mph. Quite how Porsche manage to build a car this potent and then quote a combined fuel economy figure of 24.6mpg frankly boggles the mind.
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 £612,000 Carrera GT 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 denied 997 Carrera S pilots. Some recompense for this comes in the form of a handling package that makes the 996 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 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.
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.
Although the shape is reassuringly familiar, in fact only the roof is carried over from the Harm Lagaay styled 996 and a whopping 80 per cent of the car is new. Porsche fans will realize the huge step forward when they hear August Auchleitner, director of 911 development, say that 'the 997 is to the 996 what the 993 was to the 964." A huge leap forward in terms of sophistication, quality and driving enjoyment in other words.
Under that sleek bodywork comes a bigger, punchier engine. It's still a flat six and it's still hung out at the back but Carrera S buyers will get a 3.8-litre unit. 911 purists will be glad to see a return to the 993-style round headlamps, the so-called 'runny-egg' smeared on lamps of the 996 being consigned to history. The wheelarches are pumped up to accept the 19-inch wheels of the Carrera S giving this 911 a voluptuous coke-bottle profile. The wheelbase of the car remains unchanged at 2350mm but it's slightly shorter and a few centimetres wider. Windtunnel work has helped to reduce drag and lift although the aerodynamicists were constrained by the desire to keep the car recognizably a 911. The S model is distinguishable by its quad set of exhausts. That and the badge on the back.
The body is a massive 40 per cent more resistant to bending thanks to new welding and adhesives techniques. Weight has crept up by 25kg although Porsche claim the 997 is a lot safer than its predecessor and able top pass stringent 64km/h crash tests. A number of other first are incorporated into the 997. Take the steering for instance. Bar perhaps that intoxicatingly breathy engine note, Porsche steering and brakes do more than anything else to differentiate the marque in terms of sheer excellence. Down the years, 911s have always had a linear steering rack that delighted in the amount of feedback it supplied to the driver. The 997 departs from this system and adopts a variable ratio system that gets quicker the further the wheel is turned. The S gets brakes similar to those fitted to the 996 Turbo and the truly well-heeled can even opt for ceramic discs.
The cabin of the 997 takes a big step forward in terms of fit and finish. Expensively slush-moulded fascia materials make a welcome change to the hard plastics seen in the 996 and it's possible to specify leather trim. The front seats are bigger and the driver sits 20mm lower and there's a choice of four different seats depending on how racy you want to feel Plus an adjustable steering column for the first time. An interesting, if slightly gratuitous, option is the dash top mounted Porsche Sport Chrono, a stopwatch that can time laps. Despite this superior build quality some of the ergonomics are a little eccentric. The switches for the electric windows are inconveniently sited and the air conditioning controls are obscured by the gearlever when it's plugged into first or third gears. Whoever designed the minor controls on the centre console must have come from a long line of watchmakers. My carpenter's hands couldn't cope and changing track on a CD required many glances away from the road. Intuitive it most certainly isn't.
So it's not perfect 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.