Kicking off the launch of the eighth-generation Porsche 911 (that's the 992 if you're into model names) is the Carrera S variant. Stylistically it's a relatively gentle evolution, as ever, but it's very new, especially in terms of the interior and technology package. Thankfully, it's also rather special to drive.
In the metal
Pictures don't properly convey how different the 992-generation Porsche 911 looks in comparison to its predecessor, as, obviously, it's still very much a 911. The car's stance is what grabs your attention first, thanks to much wider arches and mixed-size wheels (20-inch front, 21-inch rear). The rear is perhaps the most obviously new part of the car with its full-width LED light bar joining the distinctive back lamps. Above that is an automatically deploying spoiler that's much wider than before and incorporates a high-level brake light. That's because it blocks the view to one of my favourite aspects of the new 911, the vertical air intake louvres into which a brake light is integrated.
Elsewhere, you need to look closely at pictures of old and new 911s to spot the many changes. These include flush-fitting door handles (though they are a little annoying in operation as there's a microsecond of a delay between you pulling the handle and the door electrically unlatching) and bonnet detailing that harks back to 911s of old. What you can't see is that there is much more aluminium used in the body of the car, bringing the weight of the shell down. Even so, the 992 is about 55kg heavier overall than the 991, which is a tad disappointing, regardless of the extra performance.
Some of that, however, is explained away by the rather lovely new interior with its gorgeous new sports seats. The cabin is probably the most obviously new aspect of the 911 from afar and it starts with a brand-new dashboard layout that focuses on one main horizontal layer and the centre console separated by air vents rather than integrated. It's a design nod to older versions of the 911 and it works well with the big 10.9-inch touchscreen in the middle. The instruments themselves feature a large analogue rev counter in the middle and a customisable digital screen either side of it. The graphics are crisp, and the switchgear is beautifully made and a joy to use. Indeed, the tactility of the driving controls has stepped up a gear, too. The three-spoke steering wheel's rim is just on the right side of thick and behind it are proper metal gearchange paddles that require a decent tug to operate. It's a shame then that the PDK transmission is operated by such a small and insignificant looking nub of a lever on the centre console. Saying that, it is a solidly engineered thing, feeling far more substantial in operation than it looks.
In terms of practicalities, Porsche has freed up a few millimetres here and there in the 992 model, but it's still best thought of as a car for two people. I'm a few inches short of six-foot tall and with the passenger seat as far forward as it will go, I can just about squeeze in behind, though I need to bend my neck because of the low roof so I wouldn't want to stay there for long. As before, this space is likely to be used by most buyers for luggage, to supplement the small 132-litre volume found under the nose.
We had a bit of a baptism of fire on the launch event for the 992, as, following a pre-dawn shuttle bus to the Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia, then a detailed presentation on the new Porsche 911, we were ushered into the pitlane for our first taste of the Carrera S - on an unfamiliar track, with a 911 GT3 RS leading the way. We needn't have worried, as the new car is the 'friendliest' yet to drive and it's very easy to get up to serious speed very quickly. The 911's stability shines through in this scenario. Whether braking heavily from well over 220km/h or trying to keep the GT3 RS in sight through a long, long fast left-hander, the Carrera S felt assured and comfortable with the situation.
That's not to say that it does it all for the driver. Throughout it all, there's a sense of movement in the chassis that is well-telegraphed, allowing you trim your cornering line with the throttle or, for the most part, keep it pinned and make minute adjustments with the direct steering.
Our test cars were optioned up to the hilt, with ceramic brakes (PCCB), rear-axle steering and active anti-roll bars (PDCC) among many other extras, so don't read this as a review of the standard model. All versions of the new 911 get more direct steering than before, though, and it's a lovely system with loads of feedback through the rim. You really can tell what's going on at road level, making it possible to lean on the big tyres with confidence.
Speaking of which, while there's huge grip in the dry, it's the traction out of tight corners that'll astound the uninitiated. Sure, it'll allow a minute wag of the tail if you provoke it, but for the most part it just grips and goes, quickly. Improvements to the twin-turbocharged flat-six petrol engine help in that regard, as there's never anything other than immediate performance on tap. Power and torque are up for the S versions thanks to widespread upgrades to the engine, and while some will still lament the loss of the old naturally aspirated wail, there's no doubting this engine's output. It kicks hard. Only at lower engine speeds to you really hear the turbos spooling up. Push harder and the exhaust takes over, especially if you've chosen the Sport Plus drive setting.
At the other end of the driving mode spectrum is a new Wet mode. This is driver-selectable, but the car can also neatly sense a wet road, prime the control systems and suggest that the Wet mode is used. To get a feel for its effectiveness, we took the 911 on a tight kart track soaked in water. It did indeed make progress smooth and safe, taking all nervousness out of the car, which will be great on the public road in poor conditions. Incidentally, we also attacked the course in Sport Plus mode and the 911 still managed to find astounding levels of grip, though the traction control allowed far more rear end slip and was quite sudden with its intervention. Saying that, it was possible to sense where that limit was through the steering wheel and drive up to it rather than letting the PSM (Porsche Stability Management) cut in and detract from the flow. If anything, this better demonstrated the car's feedback and communication to the driver than the flat-out laps on the dry main circuit.
Later in the day, we spent a few hours at the wheel on the public road, too, on a variety of surfaces. On the motorway, in Normal mode, the engine settles down to a distant rumble and wind noise is remarkably well-suppressed. Only on certain surfaces do the large tyres create noticeable roar, and there's no doubt that the 992 is a quieter cruising companion than the car it replaces. The suspension is undeniably firm, especially in the sport modes, but it manages to deal with poor road surfaces well, enabling you to use all the performance.
Indeed, the Carrera S's pace is so accessible that you really need a lot of self-discipline on the public road. Nonetheless, even when the road turns too tight and twisty to use the top end of the rev counter, the 992 is a joy to steer and balance the throttle through a series of bends. It's an incredibly well-sorted car.
What you get for your money
It's not that Porsche is tight with the equipment (it's not, and the 992 has even more as standard than its predecessor), but close to €170,000 is a hell of a lot of money to spend on this car. And it'll cost a fortune to run in terms of insurance, tax and tyres, etc. It's possible to get the same level of performance for less, but that's perhaps missing the point of the 911 and it's not the priority for most buyers. At the end of the day, we'd have to agree that it's worth every cent.
Porsche's customary evolutionary approach to car development is epitomised by the 911, but while the 992 is obviously the next step on the nameplate's progression, it also moves the badge forward in terms of civility and technology. Somehow, in a bid for all that, Porsche has not forgotten that this is a sports car at heart, so it still stirs your soul when you get a chance to drive it properly. And to think that this is just the beginning for the new generation...