2020 PORSCHE 911 CARRERA S 992
In a word? EmphaticClearly, my freshly minted argument isn’t going to hold water. After a few hours swapping from low-slung Audi to LMP1-serious McLaren and back again, I’m all set to hop back into the Porsche and declare it lacking as an out-andout sports car. I mean, do they not have physics or history books in Germany? Haven’t they read about how, some half a century ago, the plucky British popped a ditch-pump in the middle of a single-seater, rather than at the front, and gleefully brought about the mid-engined revolution in Grand Prix racing (after a tease from Auto Union in the ’30s)? Don’t expect to compete when your engine’s at the back and you’ve space for four – physics doesn’t negotiate. Honestly. A little homework wouldn’t have gone amiss, lads.
Three minutes later, like a big-fee prosecutor whose entire case has just been shot from under him by a rogue DNA result, I’m left in absolutely no doubt that a fundamental re-think is in order.
This magnificent stretch of empty Lincolnshire B-road is doing almost everything at once, generously scattering spring-stretching crests and chin-scarring compressions upon an impressive bedrock of endless corners: corners of every conceivable camber, radius and severity. Just when you expect the Carrera S to start running out of answers – when you push it to really excel and excite in the company of two true mid-engined supercars, on a stretch of road that asks for grip, power, agility and driver confidence all at once – it simply refuses to do so, preferring instead to go to another level; one that, in the words of Carly Simon, makes you feel sad for the rest.
And the gearbox? Oh, the gearbox. Eight ratios, and shifts so fast and smooth you’ll think you dreamt them
Allow me to elaborate. First, imagine your dream driving position: butt on the deck; great seats that are comfortable because they’re the right shape, not because they’re fat with padding; and a wheel that feels incredibly rigid – somehow engineered – in your slightly clammy palms. In front of you, the new 911’s new touchscreen infotainment and similarly slick frameless, floating driving instruments. Capable of showing everything, from your nav route to a night-vision image of all the innocent nocturnal mammals you’re bearing down upon, it’s nevertheless of no interest now: you need only the huge central tacho. Twirl the drive mode wheel on the wheel to at least Sport (ergonomically, the McLaren wins here – fussy though its Active Dynamics panel is, it’s the only mode selection system that doesn’t ask for a visual check) and depress one of the five central toggle switches, with their deliciously precise, military finish, to slacken the stability control leash. Into Drive on the lovely little selector, prod M for manual shifting, go.
Great fast cars breed trust, and in moments you’d trust the Carrera S 992 with your life, the lives of your children and – no kidding – that of your dog. As speeds and effort build, the Porsche refuses to relinquish its composure. Body control is virtually absolute, with no roll and, thanks in part to a new generation of more sophisticated PASM damper, wheel movements are dealt with in a single stroke, with no lost motion to manage or allow for. At the same time you guide the low, broad nose apparently on thought alone, as if the intervening physical mechanism – your arms and hands; the car’s wheel and electrically assisted power steering – cease to exist. The front axle’s dependability under duress is astonishing, and the biggest dynamic step forward over the 991.
But still you don’t need to be driving like your trousers are on fire to enjoy the Porsche’s chassis: it delights and rewards at any speed.
Push it and the 911 goes to another level that; one that, in the words of Carly Simon, makes you feel sad for the rest
But while grip and stability are beyond reproach (the Carrera S’s 21-inch rears and broad front track are inspired by the GT3 RS, and there’s plenty of that car’s miraculous combination of pliancy and poise here), the 911 is no blunt instrument. Just as the steering’s accuracy and tactility are as pleasing at five-tenths as they are at nine, so the car’s clearly telegraphed sensitivity to weight transfer is there for everyone to enjoy.
Carrying so much speed that the view in the mirrors is a haze of engine heat, dust and roadside debris blown in the sky by the Porsche’s passing, my foot leaps to the brake pedal. It’s a key point of interaction with this most interactive of sports cars, and nothing less than the best of both worlds: the reassuring solidity and accuracy of the McLaren’s pedal with something of the Audi’s table manners. You can slow the Porsche at will, while also helping it change direction with such conviction that, as with this car’s astonishing engine, you wonder where the inevitably harder, faster GTS and GT3 can possibly go from here. And once into the corner, this monstrously tyred machine is as pliable and sensitive as a Caterham, tweaking its line and attitude to the tune of your hands and feet. Toweringly capable but accessible, indomitable but playful, the Carrera S is every bit as brilliantly oxymoronic as its engineering layout.
The powertrain, too, is persuasive. An evolution of the 3.0-litre flat-six that came before, the main changes are particulate filters and shorter, more direct plumbing for the turbochargers, for quicker responses, achieved via expensive cast manifolds and bespoke turbos for each cylinder bank, rather than a common design flipped. With oceans of torque, a midrange that’ll drop a Civic Type R at full chat and a top end that doesn’t feel far off the McLaren’s, despite the on-paper deficit, it’s not hard to forgive the occasionally comedy turbo-heavy soundtrack, not least because that haunting flat-six cry is still in evidence (helped here by a £1844 sports exhaust).
And the gearbox? Oh, the gearbox. Eight ratios, shifts so fast and smooth you’ll think you dreamt them, and no pointless theatre to the action of the paddles, just a near-silent click that is the entire car in microcosm: precise, engineering-y (not a word, I know; forgive me) and entirely bewitching.
It’s at this point you normally have to start making excuses for the 911’s dated interior but, right now, the 992’s is a triumph. Elegant, luxurious and yet appropriately focused and flab-free, it makes you smile every time you climb in, just as the 10mm lower suspension option, while worth its weight in gold when you’re really trying, makes you wince. (Too unyielding for UK roads, you need it only if you’re planning regular trackdays – same with the ceramic brakes.)
So, there it is. The 992 is an inspired update of Porsche’s timeless sports car, one that manages to broaden its versatility while trading none of its purity. Come on then, Audi and McLaren, waddya got?
PRE-FLIGHT BRIEFING PORSCHE 911
Why is it here?
Because it’s the new 911. (Porsche says it is, at least: sceptics argue it’s a comprehensive update to the 991.)
Any clever stuff?
Oh yes. New body uses more aluminium to save weight. Inspired by the GT3 RS, the new Carrera S also gets vast 21-inch rear wheels and 20-inch fronts, plus broader track widths. 9A2 Evo engine makes more power (444bhp) while offering sharper responses and cleaner emissions. Even quicker twin-clutch ’box gets an eighth gear. Inside, the interior’s made a giant leap with Panamera-style infotainment, while the car’s electrical architecture is all-new and hybrid-ready.
Which version is this?
Rear-drive Carrera S with PDK transmission (Carrera 4S is also available now, as is the convertible – manual gearboxes will come later). This car has the 10mm lower suspension (£665) but no rear-steer.