The 911 is no stranger to change. It’s been fettled and tuned, restyled and evolved over more than half a century – ongoing improvements are a key part of this iconic sports car. They’re what’s kept it relevant, kept it alive.
So it’s no surprise that Zuffenhausen has unleashed a mid-life facelift on the 991-generation of nine-eleven, ahead of the all-new 992 due in 2018. And there’s more than meets the eye to the mechanical changes under that same-again skin…
So what’s new on the 2016 Porsche 911?
Plenty. This is an overhaul akin to the more radical evolutions of the coupe – think water-cooling – as the company ushers in downsized, mostly turbocharged engines across the range. Yep, you read that right: even the humble Carrera and Carrera S, tested here, are now blown by forced-induction flat sixes.
It’s all in the name of improved efficiency, naturally. How apt that we’re driving the new 991.2 in the wake of the VW #dieselgate emissions scandal – just as toxic emissions and CO2 become flavour of the day. Both base 911s are powered by 3.0-litre six-cylinder boxer engines, tuned to develop 365bhp or 414bhp. Which explains just how far base sports cars have come over the intervening decades.
What are they like to drive?
You can tell where the focus has gone on this mid-life facelift. There’s no keyless entry or head-up display here, though the updated connectivity and smart touchscreen are welcome. The attention is all on dynamics. So there’s Porsche’s four-wheel steer system made available more widely and we’re testing a Carrera S thus equipped, with brash 20in wheels, 245/35 front tyres and 305/30 Pirelli P Zeroes at the back and optional carbon ceramic brakes (epically powerful, graunchy when cold).
We’re also testing the double-clutch PDK transmission, fast becoming the de facto choice for many 911 owners. A quick flick of the old-school, analogue key and the flat six wakens from its slumber – marginally quieter, a little less clattery to these ears. Is that the turbos drowning out some of the flat six magic? We fear it may be…
The 911 and the great noise debate
Even at idle, the new Carrera S sounds more subdued and there’s a nagging feeling that it’s a backward step. Does it still thrill when you’re ‘on it’? Yes. And no. Rev it hard and that boxer format raises its head – it still has a distinct timbre under all the new plumbing. The latest rev-match PDK function on downshifts is quite an aural event; Porsche research finds owners love this digital trickery.
There are naturally upsides to forced induction. It’s mind-crushingly fast for a one-step-up-from-entry-level model, dispatching the 0-62mph sprint in just 3.9sec in PDK spec. Brutal overtaking muscle is available across the rev range, transmission and flat six unhesitatingly slick to provide blistering pace at all road speeds. Yet the drivetrain also cuts the engine at a coast, helping to achieve the remarkable 36.5mpg combined economy and CO2 emissions that’d beat some executive cars.
Handling, fun quota
Note also the new Ferrari manettino-style rotary selector on the new 911’s shrunken steering wheel, nabbed from the 918 Spyder. Choose from Normal, Sport, Sports Plus and Individual, letting you customise many of the car’s electronic parameters. Sport Plus is best reserved for track use, but we found the car most alive in regular Sport mode. Would we order the sports suspension, fitted to our car and lowering the ride height by 20mm? Probably not, judging by the rather busy ride on stiffer springs and updated dampers.
The four-wheel steering tightens the turning circle at low speeds, switching focus to directional stability above 50mph, the car changing direction swiftly, the weight out back neatly controlled. But the digital manipulation and eerily flat torque cover (peak pull plateaus from 1700-5000rpm) only adds to the suspicion that the new Carrera S is more of a grand tourer than a hardcore sports car. On the right road, in the right conditions, the 991.2 is brilliant. Period. But sometimes we regretted not being in a somewhat simpler, more old-school 991.1 GTS. And that’s telling.
It may be a predictable answer, but the now-turbocharged 911 Carrera S remains a benchmark sports car on this first evidence. Do we regret some of the character bypass caused by turbocharging? For sure. And the ride and composure on rough roads leaves something to be desired. Does the new 911 remain supremely fast, sharp-handling and built to last? You bet.