Thursday, 18 August 2011

The New Porsche 911: Don't Tell Me It Looks The Same

First the original 901 in the '60s, then the 996 in the late '90s, now the 991. Here is the third all-new 911 in 48 years.
A world without a Porsche 911 in showrooms is a world hard to imagine. The perennial German sports/supercar has been with us now since 1963, and has evolved many times over the years. First the 901 (changed to 911 after Peugeot had a strong word with them), then the 930, then 964, 993, 996, 997... and now this, the 991. Why they've gone backwards, I'm not quite sure.

But despite this being the seventh-generation Porsche 911, it's only the second time that evolution has leapt forward for what Jeremy Clarkson parrots call "a squashed Beetle", as it's only the third all-new 911 in 48 years. So what's changed?

The Proportions

997.5 Carrera on 18" wheels vs 991 Carrera S, possibly on 20" wheels. Images not 100% to scale, but pretty close
Key to the new 911 is a longer wheelbase. The rear wheels have been pushed 70mm backwards, improving the weight balance while still keeping the engine right out at the back (a new gearbox allowed them to do this). The front wheels have also been pushed forwards a little, but the overhangs (amount of body ahead of/behind the wheels) have been shortened at each end, so it isn't actually a great deal longer. It's also no wider than the outgoing car. As well as improving the handling, the longer wheelbase means the interior is longer, making the rear seats actually usable for a change. The longer interior also makes for a longer roof, which makes for a sleeker profile and looks like it has narrower side windows, but this is likely to be a mere optical illusion, thanks to them being longer.

These changes also make it more aerodynamic, improving top speed and fuel efficiency. Other aerodynamic changes include a straighter back than the outgoing 997, a tiny lip spoiler, new engine air intakes and a slightly pointier nose. Whilst it has a more raked windscreen, the A-Pillars are still relatively upright, continuing one of many 911 traditions and making it easier to see out of than most comparable cars.

The Design Details

991 on left, 997.5 on right
The 911's evolutionary styling has provoked many to say that each generation looks exactly the same. They don't, of course, but the key elements have remained over the years, such as round headlights, the basic shape and so on. However, you can tell the difference if you pay attention. For instance, the three grilles in the bumper are more evenly proportioned than previous years (this isn't something you really need to measure with your eyes or anything nerdy, it should combine with other details to make it just look 'newer' when you see one), and the pointier LED bumper lights are now pushed outwards, with a bit hanging off the side. It also has new headlights, but that's not so noticeable. The 997 has a wide-eyed smiley face, whereas the 991 looks more modern and somehow flatter or wider IMO.

991 Carrera 2S <-- -->997.5 Carrera 2
It's at the rear, however, that the changes are more apparent. The soft, curvy behind of the 997 has been replaced by something a little sturdier, and perhaps more divisive. The tail lights are much narrower, with a single strip of LEDs apparently taking care of both reverse and the indicators. The new lip across the top is what really changes the shape, and is there for aerodynamic purposes (guiding the air off the car smoothly). Speaking of aerodynamics, the pop-up spoiler has completely changed design since its introduction on the mid-nineties 993. Previously, part of the engine cover with the horizontal slats raised up (hinged at the top/front) to improve cooling as well as rear downforce at high speed. Now, however, the spoiler runs around the bottom of the slats, which are now fixed. The hinge (just visible in the above pic) is roughly in line with the lowest/rearmost slat, so it's more of a ] shape. The rest of the now-tiny engine cover can be opened to reveal... nothing. Like an Audi A2, the driver can't access the engine itself, just the stuff they need to access, like fluid reservoirs and the dipstick, a bit like how you can only see the battery and SIM/memory cards when you take the cover off the back of your phone. I wonder what the mechanics who will have to work on these engines are going to make of that...

The Mechanicals
The "Mezger" Flat-Six is dead. Long live the new Direct-Injection flat six. The new H6 was actually first used when Porsche updated the 997 (to what I call 997.5) in 2008/9, but the old engine named after a long-serving engineer at Porsche was still being used in the GT# models, alas no more. The base model 991 has a 3.4-litre engine (down from 3.6) based on that of the Boxster/Cayman S, but producing 350bhp instead of 310 (the 911 needs to keep its distance from the mid-engined models, and is now a little more upmarket inside). The Carrera S has roughly the same engine as before, but with new injectors and camshafts and such like, meaning it now revs to 7800rpm and produces 400bhp. Both engines are more efficient than before, and both are high-revving and naturally aspirated, as it should be.

As I said earlier, the reason the rear wheels could be pushed back to improve the handling was because of the new gearbox. The 7-Speed Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetreibe - mercifully shortened down to PDK - has been in the 997 post-facelift, but to replace the old manual transmission option, they have merely converted PDK to use a gearstick and clutch pedal instead of a computer and some buttons, so the 991 911 will be the first ever road car to have a 7-speed manual gearbox. One assumes that seventh gear sits on top as a cruising gear for motorways, to keep the revs down and improve fuel economy, but who knows? Maybe the GT3/2 (and/or the RS versions thereof) will use much shorter ratios to significantly improve acceleration and utilise seventh for top speed like an F1 car.

Moving away from the powertrain, the platform and structure were designed with weight-saving in mind. The floor, the main structure at each end and most of the external panels are made of aluminium instead of steel, although the rear wing and inner/outer body sides are still steel, along with the front crash structure. The new shell and other weight improvements shave around 30-40kg off a base 911 Carrera. If the whole thing was still all-steel, it would have put on as much as 60kg, because it's around 2.5" longer and has more kit as standard, including 19" wheels (on the basic Carrera).

The Interior

The new interior combines Panamera luxury with 911 tradition, both equally important these days for a new 911. The five dials with the rev counter smack bang in the middle are still present and correct, but the rising centre console covered in fancy buttons is heavily inspired by the Panamera. The interior pictured shows the PDK transmission is still operated by buttons (the closely-related manual is a cost-free option all sports car drivers should tick - this smooth semi-auto is more for dentists and golfers), which I've never understood the point of. Typically, one side changes up a gear and the other changes down - right to go, left to slow, like the foot pedals - but in PDK Porsches, those silver buttons on the steering wheel both do the same thing. Push to go up, pull to go down. Why? It doesn't make any sense. It probably doesn't matter either, as most of the dentists and golfers will just leave it in Auto mode anyway...

When Can I Get Behind The Wheel?

The official debut for the new new 911 will be at the Frankfurt motor show in the middle of September this year, and it will go on sale next year (after which we can expect lots and lots of different versions and special editions to come out over the next 5 years or so). When it does, it will be around 10% more efficient than the old 997, and probably 10% better in every other way too, because that's how Porsche rolls. Gradual evolution works for them, and their knack for honing and fine-tuning always makes their cars the class benchmarks (except for maybe the Cayenne SUV, although that does still sell like crazy). It will probably sound about the same too, which is no bad thing. Even someone who doesn't know a great deal about cars could pick out a Porsche's flat-six engine note, and it means that GT and endurance races will still have the same backing track as they have now for decades.

Images "borrowed" from Jalopnik, extra information found on

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