Porsche very kindly coincided the launch of the new 911 with our 300th issue. So enter the 992, the eighth generation of the car that defines all things ‘sports car.’ More power mixed with more tech and an inevitable increase in size. But has it moved the game on and back into the hands of the driver? Words: Clark Thomas Photography: Porsche.
NEW 992 DRIVEN Is it a return to form for the new 911?
EVOLUTION OF THE SPECIES It’s here, and what perfect timing as we get behind the wheel of the new 911 for our 300th issue
Curious thing the future, it’s uncertain by its nature, which makes developing a car for it a difficult task. The 911 has always been defined by its ability to evolve, Porsche’s iconic sports car nothing if not adaptable, fitting the particular zeitgeist it finds itself in. That it’s able to do so while retaining at its core its ability to thrill is testament to Porsche’s engineering ability, every new 911 an important, significant step, but one that’s ever-more complicated thanks to ever-tightening legislation.
In the 911’s life we’ve witnessed air-cooling turned to water, hydraulic to electric assistance, natural aspiration to forced induction and more besides. The familial line remains true, the 911 remains a unique proposition in the sports car market. All of which makes this new one significant, hugely so.
The 992 arrives in 2019. It’s bigger, more technologically advanced, safer, stiffer and, as a result of all of that a bit heavier. Rolled out at launch in S and 4S guise, the 992 will initially be offered only with a PDK transmission with eight, rather than seven gears. Fear not three-pedal activists, there’ll be a stick to command as the 992 range expands, the manual being introduced – across all the Carreras at least – when the non-S Carrera and Carrera 4 arrive later in the year.
Until it does, the S here comes with PDK, which allows manual control via the paddles only, the transmission tunnel-mounted gear selector only offering the choice of Drive, Park and Reverse. No + or - here, the curiously shaped selector not offering it, nor shaped in such a way as to allow it easily if it did. Above it there’s a sizeable screen, which contains all the things you might realistically need, and plenty more that you never knew you did, and more than likely don’t, the 992 embracing the fully connected, streaming, app-based world that it finds itself existing in. It’s smart, all easily operated, and finished beautifully.
Underneath that sizeable central screen there are some more conventional buttons, some configurable, the others for the important stuff like the hazard lights, PSM off and, on this well-equipped launch car at least, the PDDC. There are conventional controls for the vents rather than the ludicrous complication of the Panamera’s touchscreen set-up. A further pair of screens frame the large, analogue central rev counter that dominates the instruments ahead of the driver, the red-line indicated at 7400rpm, those screens containing a digital rendition of four more dials, or mapping, entertainment or night vision functions, depending on the specification and the driver’s selection.
You’ll do well to see those screens if you opt for the GT Sport steering wheel. With its sizeable hand hold contours at ten-to-two it adds unnecessary, view-hindering girth to the otherwise nicely designed steering wheel. Opt for Sport Chrono, as if you wouldn’t, and the Mode Button is present on the wheel, too, allowing you access to the usual drive modes of Normal, Sport, Sport Plus and Individual, with the new Wet Mode – see sidebar – selection also being added to the driver-selectable choices.
Whether Carrera S or 4S, or latterly, Carrera or Carrera 4 there’ll be no visual signifier save for the badge that your 911 diverts some drive to the front axle. The narrow bodied 911 is no more, a victim of the 992’s greater need for cooling, cooler turbocharged engines being more efficient ones. The standard 992 is the width of an outgoing 991.2 GTS or GT3, with its more muscular stance comes dynamic benefits, the chassis people certainly not complaining when the notification came of the 992’s greater width, even if the 992’s growth, and the now eight-speed PDK and other hybrid preparedness measures does impact negatively on its mass.
To partially offset that there’s a gain in power, the 992’s width not the only number it shares with the outgoing GTS, the 3.0- litre twin-turbo flat-six’s output being the same at 450hp. That’s developed at 6500rpm, the 530Nm of torque on offer delivered between 2300rpm and 5000rpm, maximum engine speed being 7500rpm. All that, with launch control enabled through Sport Chrono, allows a 0–62km/h time of 3.5 seconds in the S, and 3.4 seconds with the 4S. That’s 0.2 seconds quicker than without Sport Chrono, the 4S topping out at a 190mph maximum, the S gaining 1mph top end and closing and bettering the 4S’s advantage when traction’s less of an issue, the S’s in-gear acceleration also being marginally quicker thanks to the need to shift a little bit less weight.
Unsurprisingly, neither feels slow, the 992’s performance in the realm of recent 911 Turbos, so, searingly fast then, such is the pace of development. While the 3.0-litre turbocharged flat-six is derived from that of the 991.2, the need for the 992 to pass ever-more stringent emissions and economy standards have seen some significant revisions. Piezo injection allows more precise fuelling, giving a cleaner, more efficient burn. The entire intake system has been revised, the turbocharging and intercoolers also being enhanced, the intercoolers now placed above, rather than either side of the engine. All that allows shorter flow paths, which aids the turbocharger’s response, the goal of the engine boffins being to give the 992 an immediacy and eagerness to rev more akin to a naturally-aspirated engine, yet with the useful low rev flexibility that’s inherent in the character of a forced-induction engine.
That flexibility is obvious, there’s urge in any gear, the PDK’s first six ratios largely similar to those of the previous transmission, with the seventh and eighth gears effectively overdrive, economy ratios. Underlining that is the fact that the 992’s top speed achieved when in sixth gear. The gearbox, derived from the Panamera, but re-engineered to suit the 992’s situation in front of the engine – and thus prevent it having eight reverse and a single forward gear – has space inside for the eventual hybrid’s electric motor. It sits empty for now, though even without it there’s a weight penalty, the gearbox, and the engine’s exhaust filters, the latter on EU models at least, being largely responsible for the 992’s weight gain over the 991.2.
The gearbox shifts crisply, the translation from a finger pull to the selected ratio instantaneous, whether you’re going up or down the ’box, the new future-proofed gearbox not bringing any other compromises to the drive. Porsche has, with the addition of significantly greater amounts of aluminium, offset the 992’s increased weight as much as possible. Indeed, taking into consideration the transmission, those exhaust filters and the larger, 20-inch front wheels and 21-inch rear wheels combined with the wider track and it’s remarkable Porsche has managed to keep the increase to the circa 60kg that it has.
You’d do well to notice it on the road, the 992 feels physically bigger, no question, but its agility affords it the ability to shrink that scale, that aided somewhat by the launch cars’ flattering specification. There’s been some tick-box checking here, with the fitment of PDDC, Rear-Axle Steering, a Sports Exhaust, Sport Chrono with the steering wheel-mounted Mode Button, PASM with a 10mm drop, and PCCB brakes.
What’s very apparent on the road is the improved refinement, the 992’s greater stiffness, allied to significant work on the front axle, all but eradicates the 911’s traditional road noise from the front axle. That’s to the benefit of the 911’s touring ability, without impacting on its engagement elsewhere. The wheel and body control is exemplary, the 992’s ride being supple, aided by the lower unsprung mass of that comes with the fitment of PCCB. Their huge, reassuring and consistent stopping power is useful when the 992 is on track, too, their feel and modulation great on the road.
While there’s greater civility to the 992, it’s in addition and not at the expense of its core 911 attributes of driver appeal and agility. The turn-in belies the 992’s size and weight, the nose quick to react, it feeling marginally less prone to understeer with the 4S than it does with the rear-driven S. The S counters with marginally more detail in the steering, it so slight that in all but the extremes of the 992’s dynamic ability that you’ll feel it.
What is deeply impressive is the 992’s ability to both flatter and involve, this a car that’s hugely rapid, surefooted and capable in anyone’s hands, yet absorbing and hugely entertaining to drive if you’re more experienced. Switch the PSM off and the 911’s unique engine position can be brought into the equation, judicious lifting allowing weight transfer to occur, that shifting mass meaning the 992 will swing its tail around to any degree you want, the immediacy of its response, the clarity and quickness of the steering allowing you to catch and hold any resultant slide.
The specification here flatters, the agility brought by the fitment of rear-wheel steering undoubtedly helps, but there’s an inherent correctness to the way that the 992 drives that underlines the good work the chassis people have done with it. The weighting of the steering is good, the feel as detailed as you’ll get in a modern system, and the brake pedal offering reassuring, consistent performance, regardless of what you’re asking of them. If there’s a but it’s the engine’s sound, with EU cars you need the optional sports exhaust to counter the slight muffling effect of those exhaust particulate filters, with US-spec cars delivering a crisper, more visceral sound in comparison. It’s marginal, but back-to-back it’s noticeable, the American cars benefiting from a very slight improved low-rev response, too.
What is undeniable is that Porsche has achieved the tricky balance of adding an even greater breadth of ability to the 911, while retaining at its heart the enthusiasts’ appeal that defines it. Given the ever-tighter and tougher regulations that constrain it that the 911 can still deliver all that and more is testament to both the company’s engineering integrity as well as its continued recognition of what the 911 should be. The 992 could have been different, it is, but in a way that only enhances the car’s overall appeal, the iconic sports car in safe hands, then, and for the foreseeable future, too.