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There’s usually a 0-100kmph time followed by the top speed. Cars the world over are built around these two ever-so-important numbers and so at engineering meetings in R&D facilities, your car has to be faster than your competitor’s. If you are Porsche though, it doesn’t matter. Porsche hasn’t chased numbers – smaller capacity engines than usual, claimed acceleration times that are conservative and usually slower than what you will achieve, even a classic shape that is understated. There’s only one thing a Porsche must achieve – accessible speed. You must be able to drive a Porsche faster than any of its rivals. Whatever your level of skill, a Porsche must feel manageable at a higher speed than you would expect of it. These values are amplified in the 911, the quintessential German sportscar.
Before the AMGs and Ms and RSs of the world, there was the 911. It was unique, even strange when the rear-engine rear-drive layout was introduced in 1963, but it just worked so well that there was an urgent need for a sportscar in every manufacturer’s line-up to take on the 911. Everyone, though, stuck to the traditional (most would say logical) front or mid-engined layout, leaving the 911 unique in being a mass-production, rear-engined, sportscar. Porsche didn’t change with the competition but instead kept improving on this configuration, defying physics on the way.
I remember my last experience with Porsches less than a year ago. The Dubai autodrome was lined with Boxsters, Caymans, Macans, Cayennes and the 911, all so I could learn track driving with different Porsches and understand the dynamics of each vehicle since they are so different from each other. It was the first time I had ever driven a Porsche and what a way to start. Taking the Carrera and Carrera 4S out on track on that beautiful morning, I just couldn’t get over the naturally aspirated flat-six shrieking at 7800rpm. In the meat of its mid-range as the tacho needle rapidly climbed to its redline, it gave me a eargasm. Multiple laps at full chat and heavy braking into corners didn’t cook the brakes, we didn’t have to keep the engine running after rolling into the pits to cool it down and there was no fatigue whatsoever on these road cars after such hard track driving. I walked out impressed. I can’t forget that exhaust note, and the minute I drove this new 911 Carrera S Cabriolet, I yearned for that naturally aspirated flat-six.
It could be that the closed confines of a racetrack made the 991.1 sound much better than the 991.2 you see in these pictures. But that deep build-up of revs in the naturally aspirated 3.8 is a lot more entertaining than the turbo whistle and boomy exhaust note of the turbocharged Carrera S. Turn the sports exhaust on and step on the throttle. You hear a slight turbo whistle as it spools leading into a bassy growl, which sounds quite nice with the top down, but the raspiness of the 3.8 is missing. That high pitched shriek as it redlined is a bit dialled down, but as far as turbocharged engines go, it’s still quite a nice soundtrack. While a great exhaust note isn’t one of its strong suits now, it does what every Porsche aims to do, lets you drive faster.
This has massively increased the amount of torque this engine produces compared to the 3.8 it replaces. With 500Nm available at 1700rpm, 60Nm more than in the 3.8, and crucially available at 3900 less revolutions than before, acceleration gets a whole new meaning. The Carrera S pulls strong and hard, and by the time you have accessed all the torque and are in the higher revs of the tiny six-pot, you get an extra 20 horsepower than before with 414bhp on tap. Peak power is developed at 6500rpm, but it will still rev up to 7500rpm like an NA motor and then give you a crisp upshift from the fantastic PDK dual clutch gearbox. It is rapid for a sportscar, and it loves to rev its heart out. The Carrera models were known for being the relatively slow entry level 911s in the line-up, but with this new engine, no 911 is slow. This particular Carrera S, equipped with the optional Sports Chrono pack does the 0-100kmph sprint in just 4.1 seconds and has a top speed of 304kmph.
Porsche had to chase efficiency and hence the departure of the naturally aspirated engine, but with this new 3-litre, that sense of urgency remains intact. Full throttle extended runs with the Carrera S still returned a very acceptable 5kmpl on the digital readout.
Sportscars have to be practical. If you have the money to buy a supercar and you still go out to buy a sportscar, you are the kind who wants to drive the car more often than not. If you do, you do not want the suspension to break your back; you want the car to be small and nimble enough to manoeuvre and the drive to be manageable. The Carrera S is one sportscar that ticks all these boxes. The seats are comfortable, the driving position is excellent, the predictability of the car’s dimensions, the accuracy of the steering; it is all there. The ride is supple at low speeds, yet doesn’t feel soft at high speeds, the dampers just know the surface so well that you will push harder.
Then there’s the easiest launch control system on any car I have experienced. Get the gearbox in Sport+, step on the brakes, step on the accelerator, let the revs build till the launch control indicator flashes on the instrument cluster and lift off the brakes. Every single time, and I repeat every single time, no overheating nonsense, the car will launch perfectly with absolutely no drama, in the dry and in the wet.
Once you are overjoyed by the impressive acceleration runs, you push the car around a bit and notice the rear steer come into play. This is an optional feature, but if you are picking the Carrera S over the Carrera, your main reason (apart from the additional power) has to be the rear axle steer as you can’t even option it on the Carrera. The feature that has trickled down from the Turbo S and GT3 steers the rear wheels in the opposite direction to the front ones under 50kmph, essentially reducing the 911’s turning radius. At higher speeds, it steers in the same direction as the front wheels, virtually increasing the 911’s wheelbase by 500mm according to Porsche. A longer wheelbase, as we know, improves stability, and a shorter wheelbase improves manoeuvrability, making it planted on the highway, and nimble in the city. Even in this convertible form, the speeds this car can do in long sweeping corners or a tight hill road are just a cut above the sportscars it competes against.
The 911 is an iconic design that has required little radical change to its styling since the sixties. It is a lot bigger than before but the character lines have remained the same, so no one expects a sweeping change with the facelift of the 991. A keen eye will spot the revised bumper, four LEDs in the headlights inspired by Porsche’s Turbo models (which still sit at the top of the range despite nearly all Porsches now being universally turbocharged), marginally wider rear fenders and vertical cooling slats on the new engine cover. It gets air outlets like in the rear bumper of the old Turbo and a slightly revised tail light. There are fewer changes on the inside. A new rotary drive mode selector is now placed on the new 918-inspired steering wheel, there’s a boost button that, when activated, puts engine and gearbox in its most urgent state for rapid overtakes, and a new infotainment system that connects smartphones over Wi-Fi and has Apple CarPlay connectivity.
The Porsche 911 Carrera S involves you so much with the driving experience and the new engine makes this such a fast car that you tend to miss the fact that it looks so hot with the fabric roof tucked in. That classic 911 design seems to be meant for open top motoring. That beautifully humped rear end that houses the new motor, the low hips, the deployable spoiler, it all looks like a very cohesive design. Despite losing the hardtop roof, the dynamics of the 911 haven’t been compromised. More than anything, with the top down, the sense of speed is always amplified, and even then, as a few ripples of air find their way into the cabin, you will still want to go faster.