992 LEVEL UP

IMPROVING ON PERFECTION IS AN IMPOSSIBLE TASK. AND YET IT SEEMS PORSCHE HAS MANAGED TO DO IT AGAIN. WELCOME TO GENERATION NEXT

BY GEORG KACHER

THE PORSCHE 911 is now well and truly a modern entity. Through its generations Stuttgart has thrown everything at its concept that shouldn’t work – but very much does.

Technology and computer-controlled assets mean that the rear-engined concept is now faster, more efficient and, most of all, more fun to drive than ever. We got a taste of what’s next with a bunch of pre-production cars more than half a year before the quintessential new model goes on sale globally.

The nine-eleven has had many lives and all combine a mixture of constants and variables. There is still that charismatic flat-six hanging out the back, past the rear axle, meaning the overall weight distribution seems impossible, but it works. And after all these years, the same underlying personality continues to be deliciously tangible.

The seventh 911, dubbed 992, is a thorough evolution of the preceding 991 generation. However, it’s not a ground-up new car. There was no need to go the full distance. After all, the predecessor is still remarkably inspiring and involving kit – you’d be foolish to think otherwise. Not surprisingly, then, Porsche decided to hone and tweak the proven DNA rather than recalibrate it. Interestingly, this time around the design and engineering departments took a backseat in terms of priority. Instead, advancing ergonomics, implementing new driver assistance systems and further reducing emissions was at the forefront of the next generation. Yet, as we found out, that doesn’t mean the seventh-gen 911 has lost its way.

Initially, the 911 will be available for order as the base Carrera and the Carrera S. Marketing played a long and hard game with the positioning of the two models, eventually rating the lesser 3.0-litre engine at 283kW and not 294kW (leaving plenty of headroom). The S we drove is good for 331kW – which, ironically, is the output of the current-gen GTS. You also have the choice of a new eight-speed PDK or a revised version of the seven-speed manual.

THE CARRERA S PERFORMS AS WELL AS THE OLD GTS

The twin-turbo unit redlines at 7500rpm, maximum torque is a healthy 550Nm (S) and the fuel-consumption hasn’t increased despite the addition of an energy-sapping particulate filter. It’s all pointing towards the Carrera S being no slouch. And it isn’t. With launch control activated, the PDK version can accelerate to 100km/h in a brisk 3.7 seconds and remember, this isn’t a ‘fast one’. It’ll also go on to a top speed of 309km/h, which should be plenty for most occasions. In a nutshell, the new Carrera S performs as well as the outgoing GTS, that’s how far the 992 shifts its performance game.

At a glance, the 992 is everything but a head-turner. Sure, all the traditional cues are there – this is a 911 after all – yet there are delights to be found in the details. If you look closely you can spot the contrasting black bumper inserts front and rear, the extra dose of Botox and filler for the guards and wider rims. Then there’s the new, fancier three-part pop-up rear spoiler – thanks, Panamera. More cooling is now being channelled to the brakes and the radiators via slim, horizontal intakes that can selectively block off certain louvres. And then there’s the fulllength tail-light, which delights as many as it annoys.

However, it’s time to look away from the spec sheet and actually drive the thing. And for a change, given this is a ‘new’ car, there’s not much familiarisation required. Sliding into the driver’s seat feels like putting on one’s favourite slippers. The pivotal controls are still in the same positions, the clutch action still varies from velvety to almost violent and the throttle response is still as keen as ever.

The most obvious dynamic difference is the boost in power and torque, followed by the unexpectedly muffled exhaust note and the somewhat smoother (subjective) running characteristics. From the off it’s easy to tell the 992 is, at least for the first few kays, more of a cruiser than a bruiser. But don’t fret, because there’s more sinister alter egos to uncover, ones that play to the old 911’s school of thought.

The drive loop takes us through amazing ribbons of tarmac in the Northern Californian hinterland. Whoever designed these roads must have loved driving because this area is filled with winding corners, blind crests, spoiler-chewing dives, crumbling blacktop and hard shoulders that sporadically soften. It’s a true test of the 992’s wares. It’d be a tough test for any performance car, and yet it feels like home turf for the updated 911. It delivers the goods with verve and vivacity.

Sitting in the passenger seat is August Achleitner, R&D chief of the sports car division and a hardcore Porsche veteran. “We are offering again a choice of transmissions, a seven-speed manual and a new eight-speed PDK which packages plug-in hybrid componentry should we ever decide to go that way,” Achleitner tells MOTOR. “Although one must prepare for all eventualities, weight and complexity remain tall hurdles.” In the 991, the seven-speed ’box was a counter-productive and frustrating attempt to come to grips with emissions regulations. In the 992, at least the shift quality has markedly improved. That last shift from sixth into seventh is no longer a haptic game of chance. Although having said that, even the modified manual can’t quite match the slick and precise movements of the six-speeder available in the GT3.

The optional rear-wheel steering doubles the competency and excitement factor. It’s a more robust experience. Turn-in is reassuring with the chassis and tyre grip joining forces while the steering and throttle establish a super smooth handling balance. Without steering added to the rear axle, the new 911 feels rawer and edgier as it revels in its inherently tail-happy self. We’d be inclined to choose either the conventional manual sans the extra steering, or the PDK with rear steer.

THERE ARE MORE SINISTER ALTER EGOS TO UNCOVER ...

After more than an hour of spirited driving, the car and the driver finally begin to gel and form a common flow. There is no doubt about it, this 911 moves in a more compliant, yet also more aggressive manner. It can go at a faster pace and it hangs on for quite a bit longer. Its biggest individual dynamic improvement is the extra front-end bite, which allows for higher apex speed and a broader sweet spot at the limit.

“The 992 builds up quantifiably more mechanical grip than the 991”, says Achleitner. “The adjustable Bilstein dampers cover a broader range of action, the new passive engine mounts take the sting out of lift-off manoeuvres, the steering ratio is about 5 percent quicker. Little things perhaps, but on aggregate they do make a difference. While the manual cars come with a mechanical diff lock, the PDK models boast an electronically controlled side-to-side torque distribution.”

ONES THAT PLAY TO THE OLD 911’S SCHOOL OF THOUGHT IT’S A PRAGMATIC EVOLUTION NOT DEVOID OF EMOTION

While the Carrera comes with 18- and 19-inch wheels, the S is shod with 245/35 ZR20 tyres up front and 305/30 ZR21 Pirelli P Zeros at the back. With the grunt underfoot, all hell would break loose if it wasn’t for the host of traction aids. There’s even tech confined within the front wheel arches that acts as multi-stage rain and ice sensors – clever, that. Sadly, a software glitch prevented us from fully deactivating the ESP

Ultimately, a handily specified 992 can do much more than merely accelerate swiftly, steer accurately and brake promptly. It can answer the driver’s every dynamic whim by adjusting the damper action, the ESP mode or the throttle response.

The 911 now has five different levels of excitement to tune the various parameters. Tap the big screen and those options will pop up. They are labelled Wet, Normal, Sport, Sport Plus and Individual. Gone are the direct access buttons next to the gear lever, so every single menu and submenu needs to be opened via the main display. Surely the old-fashioned way would have been better here. No?

Finding fault with the seventh-gen 911 is nit-picking at its finest. However, the tuning of the PDK ’box when it is in Normal mode is too dozy, a clear sign that economy and emissions factors came into play. Conversely, in Sport and Sport Plus, high-revving hooliganisms are once again the name of the hectic game. Yet still, when stationary and flooring the throttle, revs are capped at 3500rpm – strange indeed.

Inside, the new 911 welcomes you with a different blend of fashion and function. The fascia looks familiar, bit it is actually quite a sophisticated new design. The central rev counter still swings an analogue needle and, somewhat refreshingly, you still need to turn a key in the ignition. However, when the flatsix fires into life, four of the five round dials are now digital and freely programmable. They’re quite complex as far as the depth of their talent goes. High in the centre console resides a large touchscreen, which invites you to zoom, scroll and swipe (thanks to the Panamera and Cayenne). Finger training also comes in handy when operating the new multi-function steering wheel. The rotary thumb wheel remains with the boost option ready to push at will.

Ultimately, the take-home story to the new 992 is this. The seventh generation directs a greater portion of its enhanced, high-tech content towards convenience and comfort. Thankfully, it does so without compromising the core qualities that have made this sports car a legend in its own right. It’s a pragmatic evolution that’s not devoid of emotion.

Now that’s progress.