Nine reflections after 577 miles in new Porsche 911s

Published: 05 March 2012

1. The 911 is still awesome at hunting down tail-lamps

There's a savage sound as you pin the 911 Carrera's throttle in third, an 'awoooo' like the howl of a wolf. It's spine-tingling and utterly appropriate, because this leg of my journeys in new 911s is a pitch-black B-road blast across Salisbury Plain. Like American Werewolf in the west country in fact, as a new sound symposer directs noise from the 345bhp six into the cockpit. Ahead on the moor, tail-lamps glint: can we catch them? With the headlamps illuminating the towering vergeside, the 911 surges like a torpedo powering along its launch tube. It feels as single-minded and precise as weaponry: the 911 has more bodily self control than slimmer of the year, the nose's incessant bobbing is gone. The brakes dismissively wipe away speed for the third-gear corner: flick the right wrist and the front end is in: its grip levels outweigh my bravery tonight. With such precision and grip, and acceleration that annihilates 0-62mph in 4.6secs, those tail-lamps are soon close enough to reveal a Seat Exeo. And with the howling engine acting like a whip to our horse, then we are past and heading for Stonehenge.

2. PDK is the transmission of choice...

The £71,449 Carrera had the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, and this £2387 option was sensational. Kickdown is beautifully calibrated: you'll drop to third with a moderate boot of the throttle, a psychotic boot and you're seamlessly in second. And with the Sport button depressed, the PDK 'box obediently hangs onto a gear, waiting for you to summon the upshift with a flick of the paddle. You're always in control, assisted rather than impeded by the gearbox's thought processes and responses.

3. The seven-speed manual is infuriating

I started my six-day 911 jaunt in an £81,242 Carrera S with a manual version of the PDK cogs. I always likened the old 911's springy gear action to yanking on Action Man's elasticated leg; this new box feels closer-stacked and less truculent. But you’re more likely to find Narnia in the back of your wardrobe than locate sixth when changing down from seventh: every time I landed in fourth with a surge of revs and a feeling of inadequacy. I wasn't wild about the heavy clutch's glacial take up either.

4. Fuel economy was 26-28mpg

I covered almost 200 miles of B-road blasting and motorway cruising in the Carrera, and returned 27.9mpg. The official combined figure is 34.4mpg. In the Carrera S, I averaged 25.9mpg over more than 300 mostly rapid motorway miles. The S's extra urban figure is 39.8mpg, and its combined figure is 29.7.

The new Carrera is the first sub-200g/km Porsche sports car, and both variants benefit from fuel saving measures including reduced weight, stop/start, thermal management to ensure the engine gets up to its optimal operating temperature rapidly and so on. Plus there's a coasting mode. Coasting downhill on a motorway, it's common to see the tacho drop to 500rpm, because the engine has been disengaged, to potentially save a litre of fuel every 62 miles. Eerie and fun, as you try to prolong the coast as much as you can.

5. A Friday afternoon Porsche?

Friday of 911 week was spent at a Land Rover event at Pinewood Studios in Berkshire. I rolled the Carrera S up to the gates of James Bond's second home, braked to a standstill, dipped the clutch and selected neutral. Sure enough the 395bhp engine engaged stop mode, but it wouldn't restart. I was dipping the clutch, applying the brakes, but I couldn’t get it to fire; the ignition went off and on but no joy. We even disconnected the battery to reset the system, but that didn't work either. After leaving the Carrera S for a couple of hours, I tried again. It missed a beat but then fired, with the engine running perfectly until I parked it for an hour. Upon restart, the engine fired but then died, and could only be cajoled into life again after another hour-long hiatus.

I suspected electronic gremlins in the engine management system, but Porsche's technical department says a faulty vehicle tracking system caused the immobiliser to intermittently stop play. The Porsche forums will no doubt reveal whether this incident is a one-off or more insidious but the upshot was me driving to Porsche HQ and swapping into the PDK Carrera.

6. The 911 has optional mantelpiece comforts

Sitting in a stranded Porsche and you notice a soft, steady ticking like the carriage clock on your father's mantelpiece. It was the analogue clock/stopwatch which comes with the £1084 Sport Chrono Package Plus option. This includes Sport and Sport Plus settings with more aggressive power delivery and gearshift patterns, a highly entertaining launch control mode, and dynamic engine mounts. These act like the magneto-rheological dampers fitted to the TT or Evoque, stiffening when an electric current is applied, here locking the engine still and avoid wagging the rear end during cornering. Conversely when you're pootling along, the mounts are softened to prevent vibrations buzzing into the cockpit.

7. It looks noticeably different

Sure, the form language is pure 911. But with the 100mm longer wheelbase and the 20mm lower body, the proportions are strikingly different. It looks bigger, more imposing, with strong visual links to the Panamera's rump though thankfully not its humped back. With its curvy hips and arrowhead rear lamp graphics, the 991's back end is reminiscent of an Aston Martin's. And that's no bad thing.

8. The electrically assisted steering is spot on

Switching from hydraulic steering assistance (which cannot be deactivated) to getting an occasional helping hand from an electric motor saves a tenth of a litre of fuel every 62 miles. But it has caused Porsche a world of grief from concerned motoring journalists and chatroom warriors. My view? The 991 steering feels deliberate and meaty, and the wheel still jiggles in your palms, though more sedately. Yes, it does not feedback like a raw, unassisted Elise, but it's still communicative, precise and you know exactly where you stand with it. It feels grown up and entirely appropriate for this more refined Porsche. In my view, you can climb down from the ledge, Porschephiles.

9. It handles very differently

All these revisions make for a very different Porsche 911. Launching old 911s into corners, you often had to cut through some understeer before the magic started; the 991 has rabid front end grip and feels much more neutral. But get brutal on the accelerator coming out of corners and that rear-engined tail will still happily wag for you. Second and third gear acceleration will take your licence away in the Carrera, and your breath away too in the Carrera S. It's ballistic, delivers a step-change in refinement - and in six days in the new 911, I feel I've barely scratched the surface of its new technology, new character, new potential. But I know a 911 Carrera with a PDK 'box would make me a very happy man indeed - so long as it didn't go on the blink.

By Phil McNamara

Editor-in-chief of CAR magazine