Automotive Darwinism. If ever that phrase could be levelled at a car manufacturer’s door, it’d be resting on a ‘Welcome’ mat in Stuttgart with that morning’s post.
A fair comment on the state of Porsche’s range? Not really. After all, every car brand’s efforts are by their very nature an evolution of what has gone before; Porsche’s not alone.
Porschephiles will cite their beloved marque’s rich engineering history and their residency at the summit of the sports car importance, since the first page of Chapter I of their corporate annals.
No, the evolution of evolution of evolution chatter comes from this very car, Porsche’s icon, the 911.
Not only do all iterations of 911 look similar, design cues from its instantly recognisable silhouette transcend the core model line and impact on the styling of the other models too.
Is the 911, now in 991 guise (confused? Then read on), worthy of high order worship at the motoring altar?
It’s 49 years since the 911 debuted at Frankfurt. A new Porsche, all fresh-faced and modern compared with the Beetlesque 356 it was ousting. It wasn’t even called 911 to begin with, only changing its name after a French car firm with a penchant for central zeros complained about the 901 launch tag.
That original 911 lasted until 1989 but just to confuse issues for the non-aficionados, although all generations were marketed as ‘911’ their internal code numbers differed and are used by those in the know to differentiate between generations:
911 – original model, 1963-89
930 – turbocharged version of the original
964 – heavily revised models, including the first Carrera 4 and Tiptronic, 1989-93
993 – final evolution of the original, flatter noses, 1993-98
996 – all-new body and water-cooled engines, 1997-05
997 – Porsche’s most commercially successful 911, 2004-11
991 – the latest generation, 2011-date
Naturally, evolution infers that changes haven’t been made simply for change’s sake but to improve the breed, imbuing it with dominance over the competition. After all, this is the survival of the fittest.
The lines are unmistakable 911 but paying greater homage to the much-loved 993 generation in the visuals than the last two have; the whole appearance is tauter, lither and less bar of soapy. There are proper creases in the metal work, most boldly fashioned around the tail lights which look to have been scythed out of the rear haunches. And, for the first time since anyone other than 911 anoraks can remember, it actually has a ‘911’ badge on the rear engine cover.
In other 911 news, the wheelbase has been extended providing greater cabin space as well as benefits to stability and composure. The latest generation also introduces the first seven-speed manual transmission to make it to a production car, although this test model was equipped with the more popular (and improved) PDK (Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe) double clutch transmission, operated as either a regular automatic or a flappy paddle affair.
You may have heard purists cry foul about the 991’s electrically assisted steering system, suggesting it spoils the driving experience as it reduces feel, or more precisely, the need to constantly readjust the steering wheel angle for the 911 to remain composed. Is the anaesthetised tiller really that bad?
Purists may be on to something – being intimate with a plethora of Porsche metal is bound to allow capable pilots to wax lyrical about the minutiae of nuances between each model year.
For someone experiencing the 911 thrill for the first time though, the latest Carrera is a captivatingly engaging companion, rewarding inputs from the driver’s hands and feet and encouraging you to push on that little faster and harder. What it doesn’t do is snap back with a split second’s warning and bite you on the bahookie like 911s of old. But remember, some purists rate those too.
The Carrera PDK on test also had a lowered sports chassis, the springs being reduced by 20mm over than standard model and a further 10mm lower than the more powerful Carrera S. The result is a firmer ride than the regular Carrera but not uncomfortably so. The stiffer damper ratings rein in the already minimal roll angles when cornering, allowing the 911 to cover ground with astonishing alacrity.
Understandably, this level of engineering prowess and heritage doesn’t come cheaply but you’re unlikely to feel short-changed. The level of build quality and the richness of materials alone makes the 911’s cabin feel special, if a little dispassionate. And, it’s just about usable as a daily car for smaller families, with four seats and a small boot under the shapely snout.
Personally, I’d want to keep that cream leather swathed interior all to myself and free from the unlikely arcs of reach of little arms ending in greasy, sticky palms. The 911 is a reward best enjoyed alone.
There seems to be no middle ground with Porsche, the public seemingly either in love with the engineering powerhouse each car represents or loathing the near arrogance that permeates from every 911 styling cue. Rarely do you hear anyone say “you know what – I’m undecided” when the latest model is revealed.
The reality is much less ambiguous though – the latest Carrera is a brilliant, beautiful and bold (for a 911) sports car that will reward the financial investment of the majority and frustrate a small percentage who feel core elements are inferior to generations past.
Model Tested: Porsche 911 Carrera PDK
Top Speed: 178mph
Combined cycle fuel consumption: 34.4mpg
CO2 emissions: 194g/km
VED Band/Cost: J/£250pa
Engine size: HO6/3436cc fuel injection petrol
Boot space: 135l
Kerb weight: 1400kg
Price: £73,836 (December 2011)
All photographs © Porsche 2012