Once upon a time, the 911 was Porsche's bread-and-butter product, but these days, the Cayenne and now the Panamera are easily outselling the sports car icon.
Not surprisingly, the competition is facing similar problems. Audi, for instance, has scaled down R8 output from more than thirty to less than ten units per day, and Chevrolet has cash on the hood of the Corvette (including the ZR-1).
Porsche feels that the best remedy for this decline in sports car sales is fresh product with advanced technology, and thus is preparing the most ambitious 911 update in years.
Unlike the current-generation 997, which was a thoroughly revised 996, the next 911, codenamed 991, is definitely brand-new. Big advances include a redesigned suspension (albeit still the same basic strut-front, multilink-rear setup), electrically-assisted power steering, a push-button handbrake, optional twenty-inch wheels, more powerful engines, and last but not least, a seven-speed manual transmission. That's right, seven. Additionally, the 991 is said to be about 100 pounds lighter and ten percent more efficient than the current car. To achieve that last aim, Porsche is refining the aerodynamics, introducing a new thermo-management complete with advanced battery management technology, and incorporating stop-start technology and brake energy regeneration. There will also be new high-performance capacitors, which can store -- and release -- more electric power than a battery alone. Predictably, the next 911 remains loyal to the traditional rear-engine layout, but to improve cabin space, directional stability, and the handling at the limit, the rear axle moves back nearly three inches.
The 991 also seeks to set new standards in the ride and handling. That's why the Carrera S gets more powerful, six-piston front brakes, Porsche Torque Vectoring, optional dynamic engine mounts and a bunch of suspension-related wizardries labeled PDCC. Depending on model and specification, the ride height will be lower by 0.4 to 0.8 inches and the brake discs will sport a larger diameter. The S model features twenty-inch wheels and quad tailpipes. The base Carrera can be identified by dual oval exhausts, black brake calipers and nineteen-inch rims. In all models, the motorized tail spoiler automatically extends at 60 mph.
Inside, one finds a cockpit layout inspired by the Panamera. This applies in particular to the more legible instruments and the wider centre console, which rises from the transmission tunnel to the dashboard. New options include third-generation radar-based cruise control, dual-zone automatic air conditioning, keyless ignition, a Burmester sound system, and even more elaborate power seats. Thanks to the four-inch wheelbase extension, the 991 is said to be more spacious, more stable, and more comfortable. In terms of engines, the evolution is mild, with slightly more powerful direct-injected flat-sixes. The Carrera will be powered by a 350-hp 3.4-liter unit (up 5 hp from today's base 3.8-liter), while the S model benefits from a beefier 3.8-liter rated at 400 hp. Although Porsche has plug-in hybrid applications in the pipeline, it is still tight lipped about power, range, price, and timing. And, of course, there will be the aforementioned new seven-speed manual gearbox, which has been derived from the PDK dual-clutch automatic. We can't wait to come to grips with its dogleg shift pattern.
One year after the coupe debuts, Porsche plans to launch the cabriolet. If you think you've seen it all when it comes to novel drop tops, then wait until you get a look at this open-air model, which ditches the classic canvas roof for a lightweight retractable hardtop covered with man-made fabric. As far as novelty value goes, you really couldn't ask for much more than that.