Porsche 911 Carrera review
by David Finlay (27 August 2012)
Yes, I do understand that conclusions are meant to come at the end. It's what they're for. If they didn't do that, somebody would have made up a name for them that wasn't so closely related to the word "conclude". Nevertheless, at this admittedly very early stage I'm going to sum up everything that follows this paragraph by saying that I rather like the latest-generation Porsche 911. In fact, if I found myself owning one I don't believe I would mind one bit.
This, I need to explain to anyone who doesn't realise the significance of that announcement, is not the normal way of things. I have driven many 911s in the past, and while there is undoubtedly a certain magic to them - something that makes driving a 911 just that little bit different from, and in some ways better than, not driving a 911- I have never, ever, not at all, not even once, been sorry to hand any of them back.
The reason in every case has been the same, and it's one of which Porsche has been conscious for a very long time. It was just about defensible, given the company's previous work, that early 911s should have had their engines mounted behind the rear wheels (than which no other location could provide less stability), but had already become a matter of concern by the time John married Yoko, and it has been so ever since.
Unable to stop producing the 911 in the face of continuing customer demand, Porsche has spent generation after generation trying to engineer its way out of the problem. With each new version, the company has come closer to solving an insoluble problem, but the basic horribleness of a car with so much mass mounted in such a ridiculous place has never (to me, anyway - I'm well aware that many other people don't give a stuff about it) been overcome.
And I'm not going to pretend that it has now. But here's the thing about the latest 911. The light-nose-heavy-tail issue is certainly still evident; you know about it when the car starts pitching over crests and in dips, and when you turn the steering wheel and not much happens for a heart-kicking half-second because the rear tyres haven't got the message yet. You know about it in these situations, but not in others. You have to be reminded of it. In previous 911s there was no avoiding the whole sorry business.
That, then, is why the first note I scribbled down after driving this car for the first time went like this: "My fav. 911 ever."
And yet, although I've devoted so much space to this, it's by no means the only thing I like about the car. The interior is attractive (Porsche's habit of simply slapping a few dials on a vertical surface in front of the driver having long since been superseded), and the ride is far better than it should be. The test car had optional 20" wheels with 30-section tyres, along with a suspension upgrade which made it 20mm lower than standard, but even with the dampers at their most severe setting it was still impressively comfortable on all but the most poorly-maintained road surfaces.
This car also had the £1772 optional sports exhaust, which made it sound pretty good most of the time and even better if you pressed the button to raise the decibel level. I liked listening to it best when I was pressing the throttle hard at under 3000rpm, when there's a purposeful burble, but the scream that develops as you rev nearer the limit of the 350bhp 3.4-litre engine was enjoyable too, though in a quite different way.
In fact, as you wind up the engine on full throttle you discover a very curious effect. There are three or four distinct changes of engine note, each of them accompanied by what feels like an extra burst of power. My colleague John Fife describes it best: he says it's as if the engine starts out as a two-cylinder, and as you push it harder more cylinders keep being added until you eventually gain access to all six as you approach maximum revs. That's very much the way it feels.
Although the engine does its best work at high revs, it has enough power further down the range to make it feel very flexible, as if it needs no more than four gears.
In fact, it has seven.
Yes, seven. And that's not just if you choose the optional PDK twin-clutch semi-automatic transmission (which, incidentally, gives this 911 the lowest CO2 emissions of any Porsche sports car at 194g/km) but also if you stick with the standard manual. The world's first driver-operated seven-speeder needs to have a very precise shift quality, since there are no fewer than five forward slots for reverse, first, third, fifth and seventh, and fortunately this is indeed the case.
The only slight issue is that the lever is sprung towards the third-fourth plane, so it's easy to change down from seventh to fourth when you actually wanted to select sixth, and I imagine it might take a long time to get so used to the action that you get this right every time. The gap between ratios is so small, however, that if you do skip three gears in one go the worst that will happen is a slight jolt and a greater increase in revs than you were expecting.
Assuming you're going through the ratios one at a time, smooth gearchanging is very easy thanks to the beautiful clutch action. The other major controls - steering, accelerator and brakes - are equally delightful to use, though in Porsche's usual style they muffle the connection between the driver and the things being controlled. Although the modern Carrera can be pushed very hard (and with much more confidence than was the case with its predecessors), this muffling and the comfortable ride mentioned earlier combine to make it more of a tourer than an out-and-out sports car.
Or, if you prefer to look at it this way, it can be used as one or the other, according to taste and circumstances. I like that idea, but my strongest reaction to the car is amazement that Porsche has finally built a 911 I would genuinely like to keep.