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Porsche at 70: The new 911
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Porsche at 70: The new 911

By Stuart Gallagher

Published on :
Porsche at 70: The new 911

There are a handful of cars that, no matter what newbie comes and goes fighting for the attention of genuine car enthusiasts (let’s call them evo readers), still stop us in our tracks and make us look up from our smartphones. News of a new BMW M3 or mid-engined Ferrari, a Ford Fiesta ST or Honda Civic Type R, or pretty much anything from Renault Sport and Lamborghini always causes genuine excitement. And then there’s the Porsche 911. Not the GT models that sell out before they set a time at the Ring, but the vanilla Carrera. The 911.

The Porsche – Achleitner equation

For the last 20 years August Achleitner has been instrumental in the Porsche 911’s life, part of the engineering team that managed its transformation to water-cooling and its evolution into the most prolific range of sports cars imaginable (there were over 20 iterations of 997-series 911s). Today he’s removed the covers from the fourth generation of water-cooled 911 and the ninth overall in the model’s 54‑year history.

From 996 to 991, the 911’s evolutionary story is a clearly defined one

It has grown in width, height and length (the outgoing car saw the first change in 911 wheelbase for 14 years), and while its flat-six engine may be similar in spirit, the current turbocharged units are barely recognisable to that first 3.4-litre water-cooled ‘six’, let alone the original’s 130bhp 2-litre air-cooled motor. There have been new gearboxes, drivetrains and suspension systems along the way, with Achleitner also taking the decision to swap the hydraulic steering for an electric set-up back in 2012, proof that he and his team aren’t afraid of playing with the 911’s ingredients in order to serve a more flavoursome example than has gone before.

“This generation of 911 is as big a step forward from the car it replaces as the shift from 997 to 991 and, arguably, 993 to 996”

True, a number of diehard enthusiasts have found a few of these developments a little unpalatable, but with the 911 remaining one of the most sought-after performance cars on the planet, it’s hard to argue against the majority of the changes. Life for the 992 started back in 2014, when August gathered his team to define what the new 911 should be. The answer? ‘Simple. It has to be better than the old one.’  This generation of 911 is as big a step forward from the car it replaces as the shift from 997 to 991 and, arguably, 993 to 996. It also marks a number of firsts in the water-cooled era.

All 992 derivatives will use the wider ‘S’ body

Only a single body size will be offered this time, which means those hoping for a return to a narrow-bodied 911 will be disappointed, as all 992 derivatives will use the wider ‘S’ body. There are, as you would expect, sound engineering reasons behind this decision. By using the wider body, the front track could be widened by up to 45mm, and as Achleitner explains: ‘With the wider front track we are able to transmit more rolling force through the front axle, without having to stiffen the anti-roll bars: the stiffer the bars, the less traction you are able to generate. It also means you can generate more feedback and increase rear-axle stability.’ Other benefits, claims Achleitner, are more direct steering (by 10 per cent) and a better-looking car in terms of design: ‘If we had kept the smaller body with the wider track the proportions would have looked wrong,’

“It’s at the rear where you notice it most, with a deep-set bumper and long engine cover pulled tightly over the turbocharged flat-six”

Sitting on a longer wheelbase than its predecessor, the new 911 is only a little longer overall thanks to shorter overhangs. It’s wider, but not by an amount that would have you breathing in anymore than in an outgoing 911 GTS, but it is certainly more muscular than before, with some sections of bodywork wearing the appearance of a T-shirt being stretched over a steroid-fuelled body. It’s at the rear where you notice it most, with a deep-set bumper and long engine cover pulled tightly over the turbocharged flat-six, and pumped-up arches wrapped around larger-than-ever forged alloy wheels. Overall it looks unmistakably a 911, perhaps more so from the front than recent models due in part to a bonnet that features the distinctive inset design of old, plus LED matrix headlights that are far more pronounced.

444bhp and 550Nm

This evolution mixed with a sprinkling of revolution continues under the 992’s skin, too. Initially only a Carrera S will be offered, using the more powerful version of the 3-litre twin-turbocharged flat-six from the outgoing GTS; the new WLTP emission tests mean we’ll have to wait until March 2019 for the entry-level Carrera. Outputs for the S increase from 414bhp with 500Nm of torque to an outgoing GTS-matching 444bhp with 550Nm. There are incremental changes and updates to the majority of the motor’s components, including a particulate filter, while an all-new exhaust system produces less back pressure, bringing vastly improved flow, and adds to the natural soundtrack, with less reliance on the sound-imposer system.

More teeth for the PDK

Along with the lower-powered engine you’ll also have to wait for a manual gearbox in your 992, as it too won’t appear until Q1 of 2019. In the interim Porsche’s latest PDK auto will be the only transmission provided to drive the rear or all four wheels. But this is an all-new 911, so the PDK unit has also undergone a considerable amount of work, including the inclusion of an extra gear. The first six ratios are as short as the outgoing ’box’s, but seventh is no longer front. On the Carrera this means a 19-inch front and 20-inch rear tyre, for the S a 20-inch front and 21-inch rear, the latter requiring a much larger wheelarch housing than on any previous Carrera model. The larger wheel and tyre combination also increases the tyre’s footprint, not only in width but length too: ‘This has allowed us to put more force across the rear axle, increasing grip and stability,’ explains Achleitner.

Wet mode in the 2019 Porsche 911

Within those enlarged arches is a noise sensor that detects a decibel change when the road is wet. The driver is then notified of the change in conditions and can take the decision to engage the car’s new ‘wet’ mode, which adjusts the torque distribution to all four corners on the four-wheel drive models, optimises the stability control and braking systems and softens the throttle response.

There’s more revolution inside the 992

New instruments feature an analogue central rev counter with a design reminiscent of a 901’s Velo item, flanked either side by TFT displays that complete the traditional five-dial layout. The dial immediately to the left of the tacho is the speedo, while the dial to the right shows driver settings and infotainment displays. The pair of outer dials, which are slightly obscured by the larger-diameter steering wheel, show the ‘non-essentials data’ such as the clock, fuel level and engine temperature. ‘You only need to glance at this occasionally on a journey,’ explains Achleitner.

“The entire dash has a flat surface to its base, reintroducing some character to what has, in the past, been best described as a plain and functional interior”

The rising transmission tunnel is inspired by the 918’s, and houses controls for the air conditioning and stereo volume. The remaining switchgear is above, on the leading edge of the dash beneath the infotainment screen, and comprises delightful metal rocker switches rather than plain old push buttons. The entire dash has a flat surface to its base, reintroducing some character to what has, in the past, been best described as a plain and functional interior. Two seat styles will be offered from launch – the standard semi-electric seat and an 18-way adjustable unit. You’ll have to wait until the new GT3 (still naturally aspirated) arrives before you can order a bucket seat.

Achleitner has given the 992 the technical arsenal needed to take on a sector that feels like it is travelling as quickly as the cars themselves. Internationally, Aston Martin (Vantage), BMW (M850i), McLaren (540C), Audi (R8) and Lexus (LC500) are just a few of the marques looking to take a bite of the 911’s pie. Some of their rivals are more GT focused, which is why the 992 is claimed to be more refined, quieter and even more suitable for longer journeys (suppressing the noise from those 21-inch rear tyres must be quite the challenge). Others are pure sports coupes, with a remit to slice and dice with the 911 across any given topography and around any circuit. Others blend the two, looking to serve a portion of the duality that the 911 has maintained over the last half century. When we drive the 992 in the new year we’ll get a taste of just how close Porsche and Achleitner have got to perfecting the freshest 911 recipe.