Legacy of the Carrera S – is it still relevant in today’s model line-up? Porsche has always championed an ‘S’ in its line-up, yet it is since the turn of the millennium where the model has developed most. looks at the development and heritage of the water-cooled Carrera ‘S’. Photography by Ali Cusick.
Legacy of the Porsche 911 Carrera S
Among a burgeoning model line-up, is the C2S still relevant today? Drive-My assesses the 997, 991 and 992.
Look back almost as far as the very dawn of the 911 and you’ll find an ‘S’ model sitting above it as a desirable upgrade. Arriving in 1967 as a 911S, Porsche has kept the ‘Super’ 911 within its range pretty much ever since, though these days the S nomenclature is partnered alongside another famous noun from the Porsche lexicon in ‘Carrera’. The subsequent ‘Carrera S’ has witnessed an acceleration in technology like no other automotive model within the same time frame. However, while technology has flourished, so has the 911’s model line-up, which has led some to ask whether or not Porsche’s Carrera S is deemed as relevant as it once was. So does the Carrera S badge still make sense?
The S in 1967 was intended to cement the 911’s superiority, bringing more power – the 2.0-litre flat six boasted 160hp, an increase of 30hp – and innovation; it was the first model to get a rear antiroll bar, adjustable Koni dampers and ventilated disc brakes, not to mention those lovely Fuchs alloys.
Engine capacity and power would both increase over the years, culminating in the 193hp 2.4S of 1973, but by the G-series cars the S had been relegated, sitting beneath the Carrera that, along with the later Turbo, would finally topple it from the pinnacle of the 911 range. Down on power and performance, it was a shadow of its former self, not to mention something of a disappointment to the Porsche faithful expecting better. Perhaps it was for the best that it would disappear for good in 1977, and it would be almost 20 years until a normally aspirated S became available – initially in four-wheel-drive 993 C4S form. Then in 1997 came the rear-wheel-drive 993 Carrera S, finally returning the badge to the prominence it deserved.
Immediately popular thanks to the wide-body styling, it ditched the four-wheel hardware and big brakes made for a purer driving experience, while the modest power increase provided ample straight-line shove. Added to the mix was relative rarity: just 3,714 were sold compared to almost twice that number for the C4S and more than 38,000 for the regular Carrera. But despite its obvious appeal Porsche would drop the model again for the water-cooled 996, giving buyers an S only in conjunction with four-wheel drive. A mistake? Not really, as the Turbo-look body and uprated suspension and brakes meant around 23,000 examples found buyers, but it could still be considered something of a missed opportunity for such a game-changing 911. It certainly makes Porsche’s decision to offer a much broader range for the 997 era a welcome one. While the Carrera was a fine car in its own right, turning up the wick for the S turned it into a very alluring proposition. Available in both two- and four-wheel-drive forms, it’s the former we are interested in here, and it’s a model that set the template for the C2S variants that followed. In first-generation form the 997 C2S vastly out-sold the entry-level car, and makes just as much sense for buyers some 15 years after its debut.
Porsche 911 Carrera S 997
After the divisive introduction of the water-cooled 996, Porsche needed a car that moved the game on, one that would appeal once again to the 911 faithful. The 997 did just that. Fine handling and terrific build quality were just some of its talents, but the Carrera S was something of a sweet spot for those who demanded more from their 911 experience. Beneath the engine cover it replaced the standard 3.6-litre flat six with a larger 3.8-litre unit, power and torque upped to 355hp and 400Nm respectively; both were useful improvements over the Carrera’s 325hp and 370Nm. On paper performance improvements appeared modest, with 0.2 seconds cut from the 0-62mph time – now 4.8 versus 5.0 seconds – and top speed raised from 177mph to 182mph, but it was how it drove that mattered. It felt even quicker than those numbers suggested, and there was a notable improvement in response and in-gear flexibility with the bigger engine feeling gutsier throughout the rev range. And it wasn’t just about numbers: the larger engine benefitted from improved cooling and a lightweight, plastic air intake with variable geometry within the manifold for a better sound.
“A 997 is one of the best-value 911s you can currently buy”
Speaking of noise, the S could be identified by the pair of twin-pipe exhaust outlets in place of the Carrera’s single item. And should power and performance have seemed lacking there was always the optional Powerkit. Not available on the standard Carrera – so another reason for choosing the S – it brought 381hp, 0-62mph in 4.6 seconds, and 186mph. Transmission-wise there was the usual choice of a wonderfully slick-shifting six-speed manual, the S getting a revised clutch, too, or the five-speed Tiptronic. As for the rest of the S specification, well that was just as enticing compared to its cheaper sibling. PASM suspension with a 10mm lower ride height was standard, as were ‘Big Red’ brakes and wheels an inch larger at 19 inches. Additional equipment included standard bi-xenon headlights, while the cabin gained a three-spoke sports steering wheel and some aluminium-effect trim garnishes, plus a full leather option. The Carrera S was subtly different to look at compared to a Carrera, its spec a fine indication of just how good Porsche could get at making lots of minor tweaks to make a big difference. It’s worth noting that you could have the improved model in Cabriolet form but not as a Targa, as that was four-wheel drive only.
Ultimately the changes wrought over the standard Carrera were certainly enough to warrant the additional expenditure, improving an already fine car, but what about choosing one today? Two things worth bearing in mind are that the Gen1 models can still suffer from IMS bearing issues, while the 3.8 motor is susceptible to scored cylinder bores – some specialists therefore won’t sell the S as a matter of course. Evidence these have been addressed is good news, but with prices for a manual Coupe starting at less than £30,000 and a decent supply of examples to choose from, it’s impossible to view the C2S as anything but a very desirable iteration of the Gen1 997, and possibly one of the best-value 911s you can currently buy. The 997 marked a brilliant return to form for the enhanced, rear-drive Carrera, so it’s no surprise that Porsche would want to repeat the trick with the next generation of Neunelfer.
BELOW Guards red is a rare but beautiful hue on the 997.1, its smaller footprint making it easier to place on narrow country roads compared to its generational rivals.
Model 997.1 Carrera S
Compression ratio 11.8:1
Maximum power 355hp @ 6,600rpm
Maximum torque 400Nm @ 4,600rpm
Transmission Six-speed manual or five-speed Tiptronic
Front Independent; MacPherson strut; coil spring
Rear Independent with LSA multi-link
Wheels & tyres
Front 8×19-inch; 235/35/R19
Rear 11×19-inch; 295/30/R19
0-62mph 4.8 seconds
Top speed 182mph
Porsche 911 Carrera S 991
Following its debut at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show, it was immediately clear that things had changed for the 911 in a big way. Where the 997 could still be considered relatively compact, the new 991 model had grown in both length and width, not to mention by 100mm in the wheelbase, and this bigger, more luxurious 911 wasn’t met with universal acclaim. Had it gone soft and become nothing more than an opulent cruiser? Of course not, but there is one other elephant in the room that needs addressing. The GTS was a fitting last hurrah for the 997, a special model that featured a power-kitted engine and a lavish specification, but come 2014 Porsche made it a regular part of the 991 range. Costing an additional £7,000 over the substantial £81,242 asked for a Carrera S, itself around £10k more than a base Carrera, it was no surprise that some asked whether the S had become superfluous. It’s not an unreasonable question: a 991 Carrera GTS represented better value than a Carrera S, and more theatre to its drive, too. In the used market today values have reflected the experiential difference at the wheel of a GTS, where a five-figure sum can separate an S from it.
In used terms that difference in value of more than 10 per cent certainly doesn’t render the C2S superfluous, and when you consider the specification on offer, it becomes clear that the Carrera S is hardly lacking in desirability. The normally aspirated 3.8-litre engine – that also features a two-stage resonance intake system – is a peach, one that boasts an additional 50hp and 50Nm of torque compared to the Carrera, while still managing to be more efficient compared to the 997. Headline figures are 400hp and 440Nm, and the result is the sort of sledgehammer performance that should silence any doubters. In seven-speed manual form 62mph is reached in 4.5 seconds, with a top speed of 188mph. Both are useful increases, but the improvements didn’t end there.
Once again PASM was standard, but spending that extra cash on the S also brought Porsche Torque Vectoring and Monobloc front brake calipers with six pistons for the first time, the Carrera making do with just four. Buyers of the entry-level model were also denied access to some tasty options, including the Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control anti-roll system.
Externally it could still be identified by the twin exhaust outlets and bigger 20-inch wheels, while inside the changes were minimal. Not that the cabin really needed further enhancement, the impressive build and material quality backed by advanced digital instrumentation that included a TFT screen within the dials for displaying a trip computer, audio and navigation information.
In terms of the used market now, the Gen1 991 C2S doesn’t suffer one iota from having the GTS sitting above it, and remains a hugely impressive package in its own right – devastatingly quick and with a real depth to its handling repertoire, it’s a fitting continuation of the Carrera S bloodline. There’s a beauty to its slim, narrow-bodied appearance, too, particularly among the ubiquity of widebody-only 911s today – a real case of elegance through simplicity. The 991 has aged well, both inside and out, and though the popular PDK transmission is a little primtive by today’s standards, the 991.1 C2S is a delight to drive. It’s a worthy component of the 911 line-up, bridging the gap beautifully between the GTS and base Carrera.
Model 991.1 Carrera S
Compression ratio 12.5:1
Maximum power 400hp @ 7,400rpm
Maximum torque 440Nm @ 5,600rpm
Transmission Seven-speed manual or seven-speed PDK
Front MacPherson strut; coil springs
Rear Independent with LSA multi-link
Wheels & tyres
Front 8.5×20-inch; 245/35/ZR20
Rear 11×20-inch; 295/30/ZR20
0-62mph 4.5 seconds
Top speed 188mph
ABOVE The 991.1’s PSE soundtrack was the best on test. PDK is best for exploiting the S’s 3.8-litre engine, though it’s not as clinical as 992
“There’s a beauty to its slim, narrow-bodied appearance, particularly among the ubiquity of wide-body-only 911s today”
ABOVE Sleek, narrow-bodied 991.1 C2S is the 911 form at its unfiltered best. 3.8-litre engine was more engaging than 991 Carrera’s 3.4, too.
Porsche 911 Carrera S 992
It took nine months of 992 Carrera S production before Porsche felt it was ready to unleash a base Carrera model of its 8th generation 911. It’s perhaps a sign that it’s keen to protect sales of its C2S model against the GTS which, as we’ve mentioned, does step slightly on its toes in terms of showroom sales. The 992 Carrera S is the sort of advance you’d expect from Porsche, with notable improvements in power, performance, opulence and tech. There are some less desirable traits, though, including the fact that its wide body, which is now compulsory, is bigger than ever, not to mention heavier – tipping the scales at 1,515kg, it’s put on close to 100kg over the Gen1 991. But that’s only part of the story, because the twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre engine – the 9A2 evo unit – gives us the most powerful S yet, one that manages 450hp and 530Nm of torque. Driving through the standard eight-speed PDK transmission, that translates into stunning performance, the 0-62mph sprint reeled off in 3.7 seconds, 100mph passed in 8.1 seconds and a 191mph maximum. Opt for the Sport Chrono package and acceleration improves to 3.5 seconds. That’s mighty quick by any measure, especially for a model that represents just one step up from the base variant and places this new S in 991.1 GT3 territory in terms of price.
Mind you, the price has risen accordingly and now kicks off at £93,110, with a further £10k or so needed if you want your Carrera S in drop-top form. You do get plenty of tech for the money, though, with the potent performance accompanied by PASM, PTV and big brakes. And for the first time ever on a 911 there are staggered wheel sizes, with 20-inch items up front and 21-inchers at the back. With the base Carrera having only just arrived and the 992 GTS still waiting to be released, history is yet to judge the 992 C2S, but while it’s the most technologically advanced Carrera S ever, it isn’t the star of our three-way Carrera S test. Instead it is the 997.1, looking proportionally tiny next to its successors, which takes the crown as the best-value modern 911, while the 991.1 offers the most visceral modern 911 driving experience. All three, however, do prove the Carrera S always has and perhaps always will form an integral part of the 911 philosophy, even if that S philosophy has changed rather spectacularly since 1967.
TOP 992 C2S boasts a 65hp increase in performance over the base 992 Carrera, though its 450hp total power and 3.5-sec 0-62mph time could be overkill in a 911 outside of the GT range
Model 992 Carrera S
Compression Ratio 10.5:1
Maximum power 450hp @ 6,500rpm
Maximum torque 530Nm @ 2,000rpm
Transmission Eight-speed PDK
Front MacPherson strut; coil springs
Rear Independent with multi-link
Wheels & tyres
Front 8.5×20-inch; 245/35/ZR20
Rear 11.5×21-inch; 305/30/ZR21
0-62mph 3.7 seconds
Top speed 191mph
“While it’s the most technologically advanced Carrera S ever, it isn’t the star of our three way Carrera S test.”
Porsche’s ethos is constant development and improvement, and two of the three cars featured would morph seamlessly into a second generation. For the 997.2 iteration the S was fitted with the thoroughly updated DFI engine, still in 3.8-litre capacity but now more efficient and without any IMS-related worries. And more powerful, too, of course – 385hp and 420Nm being the key numbers. But the biggest news was the adoption of the slick PDK gearbox, a seven-speed unit that swapped ratios up to 60 per cent faster than the previous Tiptronic. Purists still preferred the manual, but this was now a fine alternative. Elsewhere, the exterior and cabin were treated to a minor nip and tuck.
There was equally major news for the 991.2 C2S, the 3.8 motor making way for a twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre flat six. A move to forced induction wasn’t met with unanimous approval, but it’s hard to argue with the improvements it delivered in power and performance. Very much a case of less is more, there was now 420hp and 500Nm to play with, and you could make the most of it with optional rear-wheel steering. Both the 997 and 991 were undoubtedly improved over the Gen1 models they replaced, so the second generation of 992 promises to be quite some car.
Thanks The 991.1 C2S was supplied by RPM Technik. For more information visit rpmtechnik.co.uk. Thanks to Sonya Matharu and Max Newman for their help with the feature.