Second gear, let the sound of that naturally aspirated flat-six engine build until the symphony of revs reach a crescendo before hitting the cold aluminium paddle to execute yet another instant gear change, courtesy of the seemingly telepathic qualities of that remarkable PDK transmission.
Repeat from 3rd to 4th and right up until the number gears and revs run out, usually a lot later than your nerve. The sound, the experience – it could only be a Porsche. And in this case, the latest 991 generation of the legendary 911.
But let’s take a step back. Just what is it that makes 911s so irresistible to many car enthusiasts? Here is a car that throughout its 52-year history has not often been the fastest, most beautiful or the most luxurious in its class, nor the most exotic – that particular accolade more often than not finding its home in Maranello, Sant’Agata or Modena, the homes of Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati.
So what is this magical spell that a car with its engine located in the most inappropriate place imaginable has cast on its legions of fans around the world?
A fundamental sense of rightness from the moment of first acquaintance – the sense that this is a car designed by driving enthusiasts for driving enthusiasts: a car with a purity of purpose, that purpose being extracting the greatest amount of enjoyment possible from each and every drive. For me, that is the defining characteristic of the 911.
The history of the Porsche 911 could fill a substantial section of any national library. The multitude of models and special editions that span the car’s illustrious past frequently generate as much debate today as they did the day they were launched. An air-, as opposed to water, -cooled engine, a simple “GT” or “RS” moniker making all the difference between a model that is to be admired and one that should be revered.
I shan’t attempt to cover the previous generations of the 911 here, firstly as a summary of this iconic car’s history in a few brief paragraphs is unlikely to do it justice; and secondly, I would surely quote an inaccurate detail that would have crowds of pitchfork-wielding 911 enthusiasts battering down the doors of Drive Tribe HQ.
It would also be disingenuous, as truth be told, 911s only really caught my eye in their current generation, perhaps because the 991 series marked a complete overhaul of the 911’s entire design, rather than a mere nip-and-tuck as had been the case with some of its predecessors.
I remember the first time I spotted a new 991 in the wild- a brown Carrera S sitting in the mellow glow of that winter evening’s sunshine, its exhausts tinkling after a spirited drive through the Alps. The car looked simply stunning.
How the Porsche Design Team must dread the task of designing a new 911, their creation constrained by the car’s mechanical layout and iconic shape, yet required to satisfy both the demands of a fickle supercar market and the lofty expectations of the 911 cognoscenti.
To my eyes, the simplicity and purity of the current generation’s styling showcases the 911’s iconic lines more effectively than any previous incarnation. Yet remarkably, the 991 achieves this while endowing the car with a crisp modernity that has been somewhat lacking in its predecessor’s appearance.
Simple, elegant curved surfaces define the shape of the 911, rather than rigid lines. A shallower glass area, pencil-slim LED rear lights and slightly bulbous front lenses are the most obvious identifiers of the latest 991 generation of the 911.
Over the generations, Porsche 911 cabins have prioritised function over form. Thankfully, Porsche has brought design to the fore in the current model, while retaining the inherent quality that underpins that hewn from granite appearance. Imitation metal and plastics have made way for highly polished aluminium detailing and acres of stitched leather. The 911 finally feels as special on the inside as it looks on the outside.
More importantly, it holds its own against competitors such as the Audi R8, Mercedes AMG GT and Aston Martin Vantage, being as luxurious and well appointed as its rivals.
The 400 bhp Carrera S model can be distinguished from the entry level 350 bhp Carrera by its quad, as opposed to dual, tailpipes. Four-wheel drive models’ hips are 21mm wider either side than those of the standard car, while the range-topping 520 bhp Turbo and 560bhp Turbo S add a further 14mm, spreading the car’s hind quarters over an even wider rear track.
Cabriolet versions of nearly all variants are available, but none are as interesting as the Targa, its distinctive retro silver rollover hoop a nod to previous generations of a model not often favoured by 911 die-hards.
The car’s party piece, however, is undoubtedly its roof mechanism, a carefully choreographed operation that sees its enormous curved glass rear window rise to allow the roof panel to slide beneath it before gracefully lowering again.
The appropriately named Gran Turismo Sport (GTS) 911 Carrera and Targa models sit between the ‘normal’ Carreras and the track-bred GT cars, offering a blend of luxury and GT performance, dynamics and styling cues. Boasting 30 bhp more than a standard Carrera S and with performance enhancing features such as the Sport Chrono Pack, dynamic engine mounts and Porsche Traction Management, the 911 Carrera GTS was an absolute joy to drive at the Ascari Circuit in Spain.
The 911s guaranteed to get pulses racing however are those bearing the “GT” moniker, namely the sublime 475 bhp GT3 and the recently launched 500 bhp GT3 RS, the pinnacle of the current range.
The race-bred GT3 RS is the 911 in its purest and most focused form to date, a track car for the road. Stripped out with an alcantara interior and exterior styling incorporating race car features homologated for road use such as the front wing mounted air vents, the latest model is a thoroughbred GT3 RS. The car’s magnesium roof and carbon fibre bonnet, front wings and engine cover render it c. 10kg lighter than the GT3, and so dedicated are Porsche Motorsport to the pursuit of weight loss that even the bonnet emblem is not a Porsche badge, but a decal.
Personally however, it is its lesser sibling, the GT3, that strikes the more perfect balance between elegance and aggression, its narrower track and rear wing blending more seamlessly into the 911’s iconic shape.
Many 911 purists that bemoaned the passing of hydraulic in favour of electric steering in the standard model were shocked that Porsche had chosen not to offer the new GT3 or GT3 RS, the pin-up car of almost every Nurburgring fan, with a manual transmission – the argument being that we have now reached an era of such sophistication in dual-clutch paddle-shift gearboxes that the standard PDK transmission is more likely to execute the perfect change at the perfect moment than the majority of drivers. PDK is so accomplished a transmission that I can only agree.
The race-bred Mezger engine of the GT3’s predecessor was also for the chop, the unit replaced by a 475 bhp tuned version of the Carrera S power-plant that howls all the way until the needle on the rev-counter hits 9.
The 991 is unsurprisingly Porsche’s most technologically advanced 911 yet, Porsche giving the alphabet a serious workout with its numerous performance-enhancing systems and their acronyms. Porsche Torque Vectoring (PTV), Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC) and Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) are but the tip of a very large alphabetic iceberg.
There are, however, several cars that are technical marvels, many that are beautifully styled with exquisite detailing, and a select few that surpass the efforts of any 911, so, apart from the cachet of the coveted Porsche insignia on the bonnet, what does this iconic machine bring to the table?
It would also be remiss of me not to mention some of the 911’s less characterful features : the rare but dreaded intermediate shaft (IMS) failure and cylinder scoring of some older 996 and early 997 models; the fact that earlier 911s without electronic safety aids could catch out even the most accomplished drivers – thankfully issues that have been consigned to history long before the latest 991 generation was developed.
Time does not stand still for any car, regardless of its iconic status. The need to reduce CO2 emissions and the constant drive for greater performance and efficiency driving Porsche to take a step with the forthcoming second generation of the current range that is going to again raise the eyebrows of 911 diehards — namely the introduction of turbocharged, as opposed to naturally aspirated, engines across the mainstream Carrera models of the range — fuel for another debate that will no doubt rage for decades to come.
The reality is however, that the 911, now in its sixth decade, is a constantly evolving car, each generation moving the game on, pushing the boundaries of the possible.
While there are cars that shadow the 911 in any one department, it is the 911’s sublime combination of heritage, styling and performance that sets its apart; the sense that it is more than the sum of its parts, a car whose primary purpose is the business of driving, and that this should be directed by and centred around the car’s most important feature: its driver.