When: November 2011
Where: Santa Barbara, USA
What: 2012 Porsche 911 Carrera S
Occasion: International first drive
Overall rating: 4/5
A more grown-up Porsche 911 arrives in the form of the new 991. In Carrera S form it's faster, more refined and as competent as ever, though has some of the old magic has been lost in the pursuit of efficiency?
Engine: 3.8-litre flat-six petrol
Transmission: Seven-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Body style: two-door coupé
Rivals: BMW 6 Series, Mercedes-Benz SL, Audi R8
CO2 emissions: 224g/km (Band F, €1,050 per annum)
Combined consumption: 9.5 litres/100km (29.7mpg)
Top speed: 302km/h
0-100km/h: 4.5 seconds
Power: 400hp at 7,400rpm
Torque: 550Nm at 5,600rpm
In the Metal:
Not known for its revolutionary styling Porsche has played it safe with its core 911 model. For all the similarities, the new 911 (model series 991) does look different enough from its 997 predecessor to mark it out as the new model it is. There's a longer wheelbase - by 100mm - a wider front track, lower roofline and extensive use of aluminium to keep the weight down - as much a 45kg depending on which flavour Carrera you choose.
Around the rear is where the most obvious changes are, where the typical 911 haunches blend with a truncated rear and recessed lights. The flanks are familiar, but the lower roofline and more curvaceous wings are allied to a steeper rake on the windscreen, bubble covered headlamps and standard 20-inch alloys give it a more aggressive stance. The wider front track allows the headlamps to be pushed out to the extremities, while the neat driving lights blend well from above the air intakes into the lower wing. Inside it's a real triumph, with soft-touch tactility and typical 911 functionality mixing in an interior that finally feels worth the money you're paying for it.
You sit low in that cabin, the shallower windscreen and rising centre console increasing the effect. It's a pleasant driving environment, the pedals well-spaced and the steering wheel easily positioned. The gear lever is higher than in its predecessor, and it's dealing with an extra ratio - the seven-speed manual a development of the gearbox used in the PDK dual-clutch system. First impressions aren't great, the shift quality lacking the precision feel and mechanical action of the 997's six-speeder, the movement through fifth, sixth and into seventh a touch clumsy.
The new 911 is stupidly quick though, thanks to the addition of 15hp and some weight loss the manual 911 reaches 100km/h in just 4.5 seconds and tops out at 302km/h. It's a flexible unit, with any-rev pace, but the heightened peak power and torque - coming in at 7,400rpm and 5,600rpm respectively - does somewhat change the engine's character, it needing high revs to produce its very best. That requires some quick work on the gearbox, something that's not so enjoyable thanks to the new seven-speeder.
The steering too loses out to efficiency, the electro-assisted system lacking in the rich communication that made the old car such an enjoyable drive. It's quick and direct, and of all the electrically assisted systems we've sampled it's the best yet, it's the old 997, with its hydraulic steering, set a higher bar for feel.
That's not to say that the Porsche 911 loses all its driver appeal. There's masses of grip thanks to numerous systems like 'torque vectoring' and a mechanical locking differential, a glorious soundtrack via a 'Sound Symposer' (which channels engine noise into the cabin) and mighty brakes, the 911 proving to be a ridiculously fast and capable all-rounder. Optional PDCC adds roll-free cornering and comfort, despite the S's standard 20-inch alloy wheels. Refinement is up too, with little of the 997's tyre intrusion or wind noise apparent, allowing you to better hear the flat-six's timbre via both the optional sports exhaust and the standard Sound Symposer - which activates at the push of the Sport button.
What you get for your Money:
Standard kit is enhanced, the new Carrera S including 20-inch alloy wheels, a Sport button, Porsche Active Suspension Management, leather seats and PCM (Porsche Communication Management) with navigation. You'll inevitably spend a bit more though, on things like the PDCC and that sonorous (must have) Sports Exhaust. No prices for Ireland at this stage as there are no new Porsche sales outlets here.
That seventh gear combined with stop-start and other fuel saving technology allows this 302km/h sports car to achieve a combined consumption figure of 9.5 litres/100km (29.7mpg). CO2 is impressively low too at 224g/km, which means it sneaks out of the top tax band.
New 911s always get criticised for removing some of the driver appeal over their predecessor and this car is no different. Measured entirely rationally it's a phenomenal achievement, though it's not quite as involving or rewarding to drive - even if it's more efficient, both at the pumps and in the way it goes about going fast.