Two days ago I asked myself whether Porsche’s new 991 911 would crack my all-time top 10, and if so, would it supplant any of the four 997 models presently residing in my 10-car fantasy garage. After a day of hard driving in the mountains around Santa Barbara, California, the answer is yes and no.
Yes, the new 911 is a car so accomplished, so fast, so luxurious that it bashed down the door to my top ten with all the subtlety of a US airstrike. My misgivings about Porsche’s decision to switch to electro-mechanical assistance for the power steering proved largely unfounded. But for all of its clever tech, reduced NVH and outstanding fuel economy, it is not the best car I’ve ever driven. That honour still belongs to the 997 GT3 RS 4.0. Nor can the 991 topple my silver medallist Ferrari 599 GTB. But I acknowledge this is a very personal ranking and that neither the hardcore GT3, nor the three-times as expensive Ferrari are natural rivals for the everyday, every drive 991 Carrera S.
Things get trickier at number three on my list which until yesterday morning had the 997 Carrera GTS in residence. Now I just don’t know. Do I prefer the polish of the new car to the involvement of the old?
Two GTS models sat in the carpark at the international launch, but Porsche rebuffed my entreaty to drive one. Instead, they’d wheeled out examples of previous models from their excellent museum collection – the most modern of which was a Series One 997 Carrera S. For purposes of back-to-back
testing, it’d have to do. With fewer than 3000km on the odometer, the 2004 997 had less travelled than the 991 I was testing. As a first-gen 997 Carrera S it was powered by a 261kW 3.8-litre port-injected flat six. The 991’s 3.8-litre direct-injection engine (code-named 9A1) was introduced on 997 Series Two. For the 991, power jumps 11kW to 294kW at a howling, GT3-like 7400rpm. That’s a full 900rpm farther around the centrally-mounted tacho than the 997. Torque is also up (20Nm) but again the peak - 440Nm at 5600rpm – is found 1200rpm higher.
The seven-speed PDK is brilliant at masking the on-paper peakiness of the engine and with Sport Plus engaged the shifts are blindingly quick. With the aid of launch control, the PDK-equipped Carrera S blasts from rest to 100km/h in just 4.1 seconds – matching the 996 GT2 of a decade ago. Around the Nurburgring, the same PDK C2S has recorded a 7:40 lap time, equalling the 997 GT3 and Turbo. And as Porsche Cars Australia boss Michael Winkler pointed out, “It doesn’t do it with power, it does it with balance.”
Much of that balance comes from a 52mm increase in front track for the Carrera S (46mm for the 3.4-litre Carrera which will begin production in February). The front end now asks less patience from the driver to settle into corners giving you greater confidence to lean on it harder and earlier. Back-to-back with the older car (a six-speed manual), the 991 covers ground faster, safer and with less fuss. But that’s not to say it’s anodyne and boring. Compared to the 997, though, which is practically alive, the 991’s finesse has cloaked the raw 911 character we know and love.
Over the same roads you needed to work the 997 harder. Brake earlier, get the nose to settle and the front tyres to bite. Fail to do so and the nose would wash away with your confidence. Squeeze too hard or too soon on the throttle and the rear would slide. To provoke either reaction from the new car required brutal inputs and at least 20km/h more corner speed.
The 991’s composure extends to its ride quality as well, which for a car on 20-inch alloys is nothing short of astounding. Even switching between sports damping failed to elicit the fore and aft oscillation for which 911s are famous.
Aside from the ease with which the 991 covers ground, the other vast improvement is NVH. Where the 997 rumbled and grumbled over seemingly smooth surfaces, the 991 remained premium-sedan-quiet over coarse-chip tarmac. This relative quietness only amplifies the seductive moaning and wailing flat six when you’ve opted to give the exhausts their full voice via the console button.
Jumping back into the 991 after the older car, it feels bigger even though the size differences are minimal and the new car is 45kg lighter. The 991’s steering certainly lacks that old-school ‘feel’. In the 997 you sense what the front tyres are doing on so many levels – the whorls of your finger prints, the knuckles in your fingers and the fibres of your forearms. In the 991 you are aware that the front end is sharp, direct and willing to do as you tell it.
There is no question that the 991 is a better car. It is a phenomenally accomplished GT, could happily handle track days or transport you, your partner and two pre-teenage children for a week’s getaway. As the first salvo from a 911 armoury that will stretch to around 20 variants – think Cabriolet, Targa, Turbo, 4S, GT3, GT2 etc – the new 991 Carrera S almost certainly won’t be the greatest model of its generation, but I’m not willing to bet that one variant won’t end up being my greatest ever drive.