Every once in a blue moon a car is designed in such a way that it becomes a cultural icon, a paradigm shifter. Think Mini, Fiat Cinquecento, or even VW Beetle; they have all recently been redesigned to perpetuate their legacy. The moment the original 911 was born in 1963, as a 2+2 replacement of the stunning 356, it became an icon...a very desirable one! Although the 911 has undergone design updates to keep up with the times, its innate beauty has never been quite so masterfully captured as model 991 has been by Michael Mauer, Head of Porsche Design, and his team. At a glance the design shift might not seem seismic, but upon closer inspection it is clear that there is so much design innovation going on that it will soon take its place in automotive history as an icon and trendsetter. Lets see why.
There are very clear design changes that in, and of, themselves would simply seem like a capricious designer moving things around the sake of it; such as shifting the side view mirrors back onto the body ‘where they belong on a sportscar’ according to Mauer. This simple move, however, entirely integrates the interior driving experience with the exterior, a rare thing, as the voluptuous shoulders are constantly in view to be admired and adored. Also moved are the headlights, down and out, and daytime running lights that are integrated into the air intakes bring the face of the car into visual contact with the tarmac.
It is as if Mauer’s team was given a chance to unleash the 911’s pedigree DNA and allow it to evolve into a superefficient Bauhausian form. Nothing is superficial; the rear is a clear example. Where there was a clear dissection of parts, wing, lights, and rear window, there is now one chamfered line that pulls the viewers eye from the massive wheel arch round the back to the opposite wheel arch accentuating width and stance. Beneath this line sit high-tech taillights, radically narrower that the 997, that are housed within another highly sculpted form that is allowed to have the slightest of frivolity...a slight swoosh pointing to each other.
The wings, front and rear, have been enriched to give the car back a muscular tension that had been lost as its size increased over the years. Yet, this curvature is tempered, so as not to become fancy, by a ‘precision edge’ that runs the long of the roofline and down the rear creating that streamline sports Porsche character. The new 911 is no longer a compact sports car, it has grown (find out more below) into its own legacy’s footsteps, worthy of the name ‘Porsche’. Michael Mauer has also grown into his role as Head of Design and has an acute understanding of its heritage without allowing this to blur his beautiful vision for some of the most beautiful cars in the world. We will not be surprised if he finds himself in ten years mentioned alongside names such as Bruno Sacco and Marcello Gandini, if the 911, Boxster, and 918 are anything to go by. The 991 is one car that you will actually prefer to observe, at length, while its static rather than racing, much like a work of art.
When Porsche released the 993 Turbo in 1995, I can clearly remember wondering whether it was mechanically possible to attach larger wheels to a performance car. The turbine-style alloys looked colossal, and their size was reflected in the car’s ride, which felt as if the chassis was made of granite.
Seventeen years later, and the current batch of 911’s, somewhat confusingly codenamed 991, will typically be adorned with now standard 20-inch alloys – a full 2-inches more excessive than on 911’s of the mid-nineties. Of course, our voracious appetite for larger wheels has been, by-and-large, driven by vanity, but having experienced these enormous wheels on British roads recently in a 3.8- litre Carrera S, the 911’s ride is more cultured that you would ever credit a ‘grass-roots’ sports car with, and overall the 991 is faster than the frankly brutal 408bhp 993 Turbo. Times have changed, in other words. The new 911 is also considerably larger than any of its forebears; with a wheelbase that is 4-inches longer even than its direct predecessor, the 997. It also has seven gears, even in manual models (a world first), and the centre stack is lifted directly from the statelier and generally more laid back Panamera.
It’s clear, then, that this new 911 is a disciple of a vaguely different philosophy to 911’s past. We took a PDK-equipped 3.4-litre Carrera clad with (more reasonable) 19-inch wheels to find out more. The arrival of a new 911 is always heralded by two questions: “how does it drive?” and, “how does it look?”. The answer to the later is ‘very good indeed’. Chief Designer, Michael Mauer, and his team have undoubtedly been helped by the Porsche engineers’ request for a wider front axel (2.1- inches wider), but even so, there’s no denying that the 991 looks more purposeful than the 997 it re- places and the car’s overall design emphasizes that oldest of Porsche design traits: poise.
As is often the case with Porsche, however, the beauty of a new 911 is far from skin deep, and this time it’s no different. By reducing the piston stroke, the Carrera’s flat six has fallen from 3.6- litres to 3.4-litres, and whilst power is up a fraction to 350bhp, a number of measures have been taken to improve the car’s eco credentials, starting with materials.
Half the battle against fuel consumption is weight, and as a result around half of the body is constructed from lightweight aluminium, whilst many com- ponent parts are made from magnesium as well.
Overall, our PDK-speced Carrera weighed approximately 50kg less than the outgoing model, which represents a significant achievement for a car that’s grown throughout. In fact, this Carrera weighs in at just over 100kg heavier than a new Golf GTi (but whilst Golfs are getting heavier, 911s are getting lighter).
The new 991 also features stop- start technology, as well as something Porsche have coined ‘sailing’. Sailing disengages the engine from the transmission when the driver takes their foot off the throttle, thus allowing revs to fall to idling levels and saving fuel. The system is effective to the point that you’ll not notice it unless already made aware of its existence. It’s also touted to save as much as a litre of fuel every 60-or-so mile.
The spec sheet rates the standard Carrera’s combined fuel economy at 32mpg, but at a steady motorway pace we managed an almost implausible 38mpg. This from a car that will crack 60mph from rest in less than 4.5 seconds and reach nearly 180mph when the road/weather/driver’s sanity permits. During a round trip to North Wales on a mixture of roads with varied driving styles, the Carrera averaged just over 29mpg, which earns it a concrete stamp of approval from us. And so does the driving experience.
There’s no doubt that this 911 has grown up rather a lot. It’s more settled than the 997 on any road surface and an accomplished motorway cruiser too. Don’t kid yourself, however, that Porsche have eliminated tire roar, they haven’t.
There has also been a lot written about the decision to ditch the 997’s much-loved hydraulic steering system, and replace it with a lighter, more efficient electromechanical setup. Push-on in the 991 and you’ll feel the difference without too much difficulty, but whilst driving north up the wonderful A543 towards Llyn Brenig, it didn’t matter a jot. The 991 goes, stops and corners beautifully, and any reservations or loss of confidence you may (or may not) experience near the limit are more to do with misplaced nostalgia than any mechanical discrepancies. 911’s, with their powerplants slung out back, will never have the inherent balance of a mid-engined sports car, but this latest 911 feels more sure-footed than ever before and really inspires confidence when pushing on.
The downsized 3.4-litre flat-six delivers its peak torque and power higher up the rev range than previous models, but despite a very slight lack of torque at lower revs, it’s still a fantastically flexible and charismatic powerplant. Equipped with the Porsche Sports Exhaust, it’s a treat for anyone with a soft spot for these engines, and mutates from ‘bellow’ to ‘wail’ as you demand more and more revs.
Porsche were never going to miss a beat with this one. The 911 is revered worldwide and the Stuttgart-based outfit have had the measure of their target market for many years now. The real achievement has been to develop a focused sports car that, from bumper to bumper, is more efficient and environmentally friendly that the majority of hot-hatches seen on British roads. The upshot is that blinding performance and real-world economy are no longer mutually exclusive. 991 is a different type of car to its forebears, but is that to its detriment? Absolutely not.
Photography Olgun Kordal
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