Fun fact: The designer of the original 911, launched back in the ’60s, is Ferdinand Alexander Porsche. At that time, his father, Ferdinand “Ferry” Porsche, ran the eponymous carmaker his grandfather, Ferdinand Porsche, founded in 1931. Within the family tree, he has at least two other relations named – you guessed it – Ferdinand.
Tenuous as the link may be, but it is not stopping me from facetiously suggesting that the consistency goes a little way in explaining why the basic formula of the Porsche 911 has barely changed since its introduction in 1963.
Not that it is a bad thing. Like a Rolex watch or a Leica camera, evolution rather than revolution is what the Porsche 911 is all about. So, despite eight generations of tweaking this and improving that, the iconic frog-like shape remains, as does its exceedingly rare rear-wheel-driven, rear-engine layout – although in recent times one can also opt for four-wheel drive.
The biggest shake up in the 56-year history of the 911 – which had many diehard fans up in arms – was the reluctant switch in engine cooling from air (which had hit a performance ceiling) to liquid in the late ’90s.
It is hard to argue that defying the diktats of fashion has not been a successful strategy. More than one million 911s have been sold. Half of the buyers are repeat customers, coming back for more.
So what’s new
Which brings us to the new 911, also known as the “Type 992” after its internal designation. The Peak was invited to New Zealand to road test the two launch models, the Carrera S and Carrera 4S. The duo share the same specs, including the 3.0-litre engine and eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox, with the 4S gaining two additional driven wheels. (Truth be told, I could not discern any benefit of all-wheel drive during the drive, which took place in good weather.)
Although the man on the street would be hard-pressed to spot the changes over the outgoing model, this is not a facelift: All the panels are, in fact, completely new. Their materials too: They are made up of 70 percent aluminium, up from 37 percent.
Most of the obvious differences are in the rear. While you used to be able to tell the old Carrera 4S apart from the Carrera S by the former’s wider hips, Porsche has now standardised the bodywork across the range. And the tail light has been restyled out of one long, thin LED strip, with the third brake light integrated into the grille, shaped as the “pause” symbol – a cute touch.
The interior is of the moment. In the middle of the dashboard sits the latest touch screen with a customisable interface. Another interesting new feature includes Porsche Wet Mode, which uses microphones in the wheel arches to pick up the sound of splashing water and primes the computers to compensate for reduced traction. Critically, because it does not rely on the system for the rain- sensing wipers, it detects damp roads (e.g. snow melt) in the absence of actual precipitation.
But as Porsche marches on with technology, it is also keen to cement itself in its heritage by borrowing design cues from the past. Such as the forward-extended bonnet with a distinctive recess in front of the windscreen that harks back to the 1974 G-series. Or the typography of the logo on the tail end and the two-deck dashboard, which are nods to the original 901 model. And throughout all this time, the quintessential five- dial layout has been retained, with the analogue tachometer – the most important instrument – solidly in the centre, ahead of the driver, with the digital dials on either side.
Under the bonnet is a 444 horsepower turbocharged engine, a healthy 30 mares more than the old model. An appropriately spec’d Carrera 4S completes the 100km/h sprint in 3.4 seconds, and both are good for just over 300km/h. It is an incredible amount of grunt in (somewhat) entry-level models that, a couple of generations ago, were achievable only when you ponied up for the range-topper.
Best 911 ever
There is a satisfying feeling when I plonk my bottom into the bucket seats: Sitting low with my body snugly ensconced, I find the controls where they should be, like a warm welcome home.
The test route gives me a sampling of the sort of terra firma the average Porsche 911 driver expects to traverse over the course of the week. The expressway part was drama-free – in comfort mode, the springs are surprisingly pliant and the only reminders that I am in something quite special are the badge on the steering wheel and the soft drone of the boxer flat-six humming at low RPMs in the background.
This gives time to appreciate how beautifully put together the cabin is. Everything oozes quality, from the knurled switches to the beautiful fine-grained leather. What tickles my fancy are the clever dual cupholders hidden in a seemingly impossible contortion within the dashboard until summoned, a party trick that is needlessly complicated but such a cool engineering feat (and will be sure to draw oohs and ahhs from passengers).
But I am saving the best for last – how the car truly comes alive on B roads. In the hills across the bay north of the nation’s capital, the undulating terrain and poor pavement would have unsettled lesser cars, taking a butt- clenching moment or two to settle down. Especially if you were about to enter a corner.
In the 911, however, the chassis remains absolutely planted to the ground, remaining unfrazzled as if held down by an invisible god-like hand. The new electric steering is also something to behold. Quicker on the rack than before, it builds up weight consistently as you turn in, and is chatty about the road beneath. It is all very reassuring: Coming up to a bend with a 50km/h signposted recommended limit on an otherwise 100km/h road, the car simply laughed and took the corner with no fuss and without slowing down. On demanding twisty roads like these, very few cars can keep up.
It makes all the right noises while out playing in the field as well. When you put your right foot down, you can hear the delightful six-cylinder wail. And as you back off, it makes all sorts of wonderful hisses, pops and whooshes as the turbos wind down and expend excess gas.
Porsche says that it has adopted motor racing technology while developing this model. For example, for stability it picked 20-inch wheels in front and 21-inch wheels in the rear. The aluminium construction, too, helps rigidity. The constant development has resulted in perhaps the most usable 911 ever. The car is already renowned for delivering supercar- level performance with just enough practicality for an everyday driver. The new one simply ups the ante.
Porsche 911 Carrera 4S
Engine: 3.0-litre, six-cylinder twin-turbo petrol
Power: 444 hp at 6,500 rpm
Torque: 530 Nm between 2,300 and 5,000 rpm
0-100kmh: 3.4 sec (with Sport Chrono)
Top Speed: 306 km/h