REVIEW DATE: 18 Jun 2008
The latest Porsche 911 might look the same as the others but the technology has leapt forward. Steve Walker reports
Young pretenders to its throne have come and gone but the Porsche 911 plods diligently onward. Significant technological advancements in the latest car should prolong its tenure at the top yet further and the heritage in the 911 name still carries plenty of weight with target buyers.
As automotive legends go, the Porsche 911 is a good one. Lots of cars that enjoy a loyal and committed enthusiast following are, when viewed in the cold hard light of day, a little bit rubbish. The 911 on the other hand, has been consistently brilliant since the early 60s. OK, so certain versions may have dipped into the territory of the merely very good but by and large the 911's has been a glittering odyssey through the motoring ages, made all the more exceptional by the fact that the basic concept behind the car has remained intact throughout. Today's 911 seeks to move the game on again but as always, it's doing so within the confines of its essential 911-ness.
This is still the 997 Porsche 911 but the raft of changes brought to the latest car must have almost qualified it as a completely new model. The flat six engines use direct injection for the first time, technology that forced a thorough redesign of the cooling system, and there's now the option of Porsche's PDK twin clutch gearbox. These are big steps in the 911's famously gradual evolution but true to form, the changes to the exterior do little to draw attention to the new car. At the front there are LED daytime running lights and the rear lights are completely LED based. There are also larger mirrors, but that's about it.
The engine still sits way out at the back of the 911 and it's still a flat six but nowadays it's a DFI flat six. Porsche's Direct Fuel Injection system uses a sophisticated engine management computer and high pressure injectors to fire a fuel and air mixture directly into the combustion chamber. This mixture is constantly adjusted according to the demands being placed on the engine at the time. The results are said to include a more efficient combustion cycle, superior engine response and more power. It means that the 3.6-litre 911 Carrera has 345bhp while the Carrera S comes in with 385bhp and a top speed of 188mph. If you need to go faster, there's a 435bhp GT3 model. The Turbo has 480bhp and there's 530bhp if you've got the bottle for the GT2.
"The latest 911's innovations are significant landmarks in the history of a car that's famed for its gradual evolution."
The Doppelkupplungsgetriebe is now available across the 911 range. This might not be something those with less than fully-functional German would want to risk ordering if they spotted it on a Munich restaurant menu but far from being some fantastically pungent sausage, it's actually the Porsche double-clutch gearbox. This isn't a new innovation as such, (the technology debuted on this manufacturer's entrants in the Le Mans 24h race back in 1982) but the latest 911 is the first production Porsche to get it. That long period of gestation prior to its release on the public hasn't dulled its impact either. The PDK, as we shall hitherto refer to it, is a conventional seven speed manual gearbox with a hydraulic control mechanism which is divided into two separate units. There's one clutch looking after the even gears and one taking care of the odd ones. It means that the clutches can work in unison, producing super fast shifting marshalled by buttons mounted on the steering wheel. Each gearchange is around 60 per cent more rapid that that of a conventional automatic transmission.
The Carrera S achieves the 0-62mph sprint in 4.5s with the PDK box which is 0.2s faster than an expertly driven manual car. Install the Porsche Sport Chrono Package Plus on the car and its launch control system will get it off the line more smartly, lowering the sprint time again to 4.3s.
Porsche is rightly proud of the evolutionary styling development of the 911 but the policy doesn't generate the buzz around each model that some more extrovertly-styled rivals enjoy. With Porsche, the focus is on the technology and the driving experience and that's the way the company likes it but it sometimes seems as though our ancestors progressed from hitting woolly mammoths with clubs to inventing the microwave oven quicker than 911s change headlights. The classic lines of the car still hold water today and Porsche leaves it to the hardcore GT3 and GT2 to make the visual impact with their scoops and skirts.
Inside, the 911 is as classy as its exterior lines would suggest. Expensively slush-moulded fascia materials made a welcome change to the hard plastics seen in the 996 and it's possible to specify leather trim. The front seats are large comfortable items that still sit the driver low to the ground but there's a choice of four different seat options depending on how racy you want to feel. The PCM Porsche Communication Management system dominates the facia with its 6.5" colour screen display. It bundles satellite navigation, together with the various settings menus together with the audio system and even an optional TV tuner.
911 customers can choose the Coupe or Convertible bodystyles with the drop top typically adding £7,000, roughly the same amount needed to go from a Carrera to a Carrera S. There's also a glass-roof Targa version if you go for the C4 model. Prices for the 435bhp GT3 model start at just over £80,000. Then you have the lunatic GT2 and the Turbo. The options list is bulging with desirable extras and it's perfectly possible to stoke up the asking price for your car to something way in excess of the list values.
The Porsche Stability Management (PSM) system is standard on all 911s. These days it also includes the Brake Assist and Brake Pre-Filling functions that were once offered only on higher spec models. The Porsche Vehicle Tracking System is also standard and approved to Thatcham Category 5.
Even the mighty 911 is forced to tow the environmental line these days and the greater efficiency of the latest DFI engines has pronounced benefits in terms of fuel economy and emissions as well as upping performance. In addition, the PDK gearbox has no impact on fuel economy and shared the same figures as the standard manual car. Those figures are 29.4mpg and 225g/km from the Carrera Coupe which is very respectable for a car sporting this kind of firepower.
After years of trying but failing to topple Porsche's sportscar crown, a select band of rival manufacturers were starting to get uncomfortably close. There are some seriously capable products out there in the £60,000-£100,000 bracket and the latest 911 is Porsche's riposte. The pricing isn't cheap but Porsche has put together a formidable technological package with the latest 911 and the discerning sportscar buyer is still likely to be seduced by this as well as the car's unparalleled heritage.
The latest 911 for the first time benefits from DFI direct injection engines and the PDK double-clutch gearbox. These innovations are significant landmarks in the history of a car that's famed for its gradual evolution. The hallowed 911 styling themes are followed to a tee but beneath the surface beats a heart of cutting edge technology that rival underestimate at their peril.
|For 911 997 RANGE|
|OVERALL||7.5 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||6|