Natural Habitat 2019 Porsche 911 Carrera T 991.2. We take the new lightweight Carrera T to a place where it feels entirely at home: the rolling countryside of North Wales – location of some of the finest roads in the UK… Story: Simon Jackson. Photography: Dan Bathie.
T[/dropcap]hey say that first impressions count, but I’d counter that old adage for it is not always a bulletproof rule of thumb. For example, how often in life have you met a person who you were initially unsure of only for them to later grow into one of your closest acquaintances? It can be the same with cars. First encounters with a certain set of wheels are important in shaping your thinking towards them, focusing your mind as to whether or not you like, love or in fact hate a given motor. But with a great many vehicles you really do need to give the relationship a moment, developing an opinion gradually over a period of time under the right circumstances.
“The chassis is simply unflappable, even through big compressions and changes of direction”
When it comes to less mainstream machines – models designed to fill a given niche – experiencing that vehicle in the habitat for which it was designed really is the only way to fully appreciate its virtues. A city car feels best in an urban environment, a utilitarian pick-up truck in the countryside, ultimately it’s the only fair way to evaluate the driving experience a vehicle delivers. And that is largely why you’ll see a great many car reviews, be those magazine features or videos shot for TV and the internet, using the rolling Welsh countryside as a location to examine a sports car in gritty detail. Wales truly does boast some epic roads. However, it has become somewhat overused as a backdrop in recent times, and there’s another problem. Its sweeping fast curves and uninterrupted vistas are, I feel, increasingly at odds with the rest of the UK’s over-populated, hectic, topography.
And that begs the question: are these real world Welsh road tests really ‘real world’? Perhaps that’s an argument for another day. Besides, like I said, certain cars require a certain treatment, and just recently Porsche launched a pared-back driver-focused 911 which was simply born for Wales’ unique brand of quick, uncluttered twists and turns.
That car is the 991.2 911 Carrera T. However, before crossing the border into Snowdonia we have to negotiate more tame, arguably more ‘regular’ British territory, it’s here that those all-important first impressions will be formed.
You might say that the Carrera T and I were off to a somewhat rocky start for as I climbed inside its cabin I was fresh from driving the second-generation 991 GT3. Stepping into anything straight after one of Andreas Preuninger’s finest (unless it’s another of Andreas Preuninger’s finest) is likely to invoke a sense of disappointment. But like I said, first impressions can sometimes deceive. The Carrera T certainly looks good, especially in this bright Racing Yellow hue, one of four standard colours including Black, White and Guards Red with metallics and special order colours available at further cost. It has the credentials on paper to make it one of the most interesting ‘non-GT’ 911s to have emerged from Porsche in recent years. That’s partly because there’s an argument that in pandering to its ethos as the ‘everyday 911’, the common-or-garden Carrera has become a little soft of late. That’s undoubtedly a relative viewpoint dependant on your experience of driving 911s, but since Porsche shifted from visceral normally aspirated engines to capable, if a little less characterful, force induced 3.0-litre units, the latest Carrera’s torquey drivability and GT-like ergonomics can promote a lazier style of driving than you’d get away with in older generations. There’s no need to work these new engines quite so hard as in days of old, in most gears a modern Carrera will deliver an adequate amount of shove. From the driver’s seat the relaxed driving position and involving infotainment system all add to a feeling of comfort, and aid an untaxing driving experience. It’s a symptom of all modern motors – even sports cars – but arguably these comfort and convenience features can make a driver feel less involved with the process of actually driving.
The Carrera T looks to redress the balance here somewhat in offering a more driver-focused 911. It’s a vehicle less inclined to pander to your lazy side and more likely to prod your behind until you push on to awaken its inner animal. And yet this ‘lightweight’ 991, at first acquaintance anyway, doesn’t feel nearly as involving as one might hope, why might that be? The T is based not on the Carrera S but the Carrera, which means it receives the 2981cc turbocharged flat-six engine running a state of tune good for 370hp and 332lb ft torque. The T is mechanically identical to the Carrera with just the optional Sports exhaust added for a bit of flavour (here offered as standard). Seven-speed manual or PDK transmissions are available (PDK is a £2,786 option), the manual cracking 62mph in 4.5-seconds, the PDK once in Sport Plus achieves the same in 4.2-seconds. The car we’re in for this feature is fitted with a manual transmission which I’d wager will be the choice of most Carrera T owners, it’s the best fit with maximum driver involvement – this car’s supposed USP. What else do you get over a ‘normal’ Carrera? Well, a limited slip differential comes with the manual car (you’ll go without if you opt for a PDK gearbox), Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) lowers it 20mm over a traditional Carrera and affords it additional agility, rear-wheel steering is an option (£1,592.00), so too Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes (PCCBs) priced at £6,018.00.
Further T differentiators are its grey 20-inch Carrera S alloy wheels and matching grey mirrors together with that deep front splitter. Inside you’ll find (4-way, electric) Sports seats Plus as standard with the option to upgrade to (18-way, electric) Adaptive Sports seats Plus – £1,734.00, Sports Bucket Seats – £2,694.00, or carbon-fibre reinforced plastic Full bucket seats – £3,324.00. The seats feature Sport Tex centres and a short shift gear lever, cars specced with the special T interior package (an £1,809 option) also receive contrasting coloured-coded elements such as stitching on the leather and body coloured seat belts.
However, this car is more about what is missing than what is present. Less is more and that’s the case with the lightweight glass (side and rear) lifted from the GT2 RS, the rear bench has been deleted and the usual Carrera sound deadening reduced. For the really hardcore enthusiast the car comes with no infotainment system as standard – though it is a no cost option to reinstate it. In reality we envisage few, if any, will live without. If you’re thinking that doesn’t sound like a whole heap of stuff to promote a vast reduction in weight you’d be right. A manual Carrera weighs 1,430kgs, the car we’re driving tips the scales at 1,425kgs – so put another way the weight difference is approximately that of the average domestic cat. This highlights a potential issue, this car is not a ‘lightweight’ Porsche in the traditional sense to which we have become accustomed, and yet at £85,576.00 Porsche asks a £7,685.00 premium for it over a (manual) Carrera.
Driving the T around A-routes clogged with slow moving traffic, narrow B-roads (where a 991 can feel bum-clenchingly wide at times), and through town centres and on motorways it can rarely shine. It feels simply like a slightly louder (on account of its lack of sound deadening) ‘normal’ Carrera – which is far from offensive I have to say. The second-generation 991 Carrera is a wonderful car, a capable bit of kit and a usable daily steer, but this T model did promise more so am I slightly underwhelmed? Perhaps. We had better see how this car performs in true Carrera T country – I point its nose at Bala on the edge of Snowdonia.
We cross into Wales on the A5 and immediately turn off in search of more exciting roads, in this part of the world they’re not hard to find – it’s as if the T can sniff its natural habitat. Here on fast sweeping routes we’re able to stretch this special Carrera’s legs – it likes it. We navigate quick mountain passes and undulating riverside valleys maintaining a constant heady speed, never does the car squirm or struggle no matter what travels beneath its wheels or appears ahead of its bonnet. It merely takes everything in its stride. This 3.0-litre engine is not the most characterful Carrera mill of all time, nor the most powerful unit to propel a modern 911, yet its mid-range torque and 370hp feels plenty, even on the quicker sections of road. In this car the seven-speed manual gearbox takes a little getting used to, it doesn’t deliver the satisfying notchy change of the six-speed – it uses the same ratios as those found in the Carrera S – and moving down the ’box often proves frustrating. Given the option we’d take the six-speed gearbox all day long over this one. Nevertheless thanks to the nature of this car’s power delivery it does not require a constant shifting of gears if you’re not so inclined, though cycling up and down a sorted 911 ’box does very much provide an added level of engagement and excitement.
With this level of power the T’s chassis is simply unflappable, it is utterly planted when weight is shifting around, even through big compressions and changes of direction, bobbing its nose ever-so-slightly on occasion. In the slower speed corners it takes a committed and overly aggressive style of driving to unstick it at the rear, even then any movement underneath you is far from massive and entirely controllable – the LSD takes up the slack out of the corners. This truly is Carrera country out here and in this car we have a wholly accomplished and highly polished version of the model, but is that what we want from a ‘lightweight’ driver centric 911? Does it go far enough?
I’m a little torn over this car. I very much enjoyed driving it on fast Welsh roads, but rather than that being the result of the T impressing me it simply served to highlight the brilliance of the latest Carrera with which this car shares almost everything important. Does it deliver £7,685.00 worth of additional driving pleasure over an entry-level Carrera? I’d struggle to say it does, and I wonder how many would rather spend an extra £1,759.00 to get into a 420hp Carrera S – admittedly one devoid of options! The cynical side of me says that the Carrera T is a marketing exercise, not a car honed to deliver enthusiast levels of driver involvement. But no matter if you choose to share that viewpoint, it remains a special Carrera that is great to drive with an eye-catching specification sure to garner the right kind of attention from those who know their 911s.
However, what if I said there was another current two-seater Porsche coupé that you could buy which is sure to provide the same, if not more, driving pleasure. What if I added that it weighs 50kgs less than the Carrera T, gives away just 5hp and 22lb ft toque, and that it would save you a whopping £25,710.00?
There is, and it is called the 718 Cayman GTS. Now, the Cayman might be missing two cylinders over the Carrera T and the kudos of being a 911, but it is very much a driver’s Porsche and (perhaps a little unfortunately for the T) it is far more playful and exciting to drive, too. Another consideration might be this: some of the optional extras are cheaper on the Cayman, such as PCCBs at £5,177.00 (£841.00 cheaper) and Sports Bucket Seats at £2,315.00 (£379.00 cheaper). That means that you could be driving a 718 Cayman GTS with those two very desirable options for £18,218.00 less than the cost of a Carrera T with neither. Food for thought perhaps?
I’ll admit that I found the charms of being let loose in a 911 on Welsh roads very appealing, and I’d stress that I do not dislike the Carrera T’s prospect at all. However, I do feel that Porsche could have taken this car an awful lot further given its intended end user – the enthusiast.
For me the Carrera T should feel as loose as a 718 GTS in the slow stuff, as close as possible to a baby GT3 in the fast corners, and almost as hair-raisingly special as a 911 R to look at – somehow it falls short in each area. Perhaps that lacklustre first impression I had of this car counted for more than I first realised. Would I like to take it back to Snowdonia? Of course I would! It’s just that at the same time I know I’d probably have as much, if not more fun, in something else from the current Porsche range – even a ‘normal’ 911 Carrera…
“The cynical side of me says that the Carrera T is a marketing exercise”