It looks familiar. It sounds familiar. It is definitely a 911. But unlike the 997, which was a cleverly cost-conscious metamorphosis of the 996, the 2012 Porsche 911, code name 991, is an all-new car. Its body, which now uses aluminum for the doors, fenders, and engine- and luggage-compartment covers, features a much more modern, cab-forward design. The new interior is inspired by six generations of 911s but also takes cues from the Cayenne and the Panamera. In addition, the engineers have prepared a new evolution of boxer engines, the world's first seven-speed manual transmission, and a chassis with a bigger footprint that creates a more confident stance for Porsche's icon.
"The 991 takes a step ahead in all key areas," states chief engineer August Achleitner, a twenty-eight-year Porsche veteran who has been involved with every 911 since the 1990-94 964-series.
"The new model is even better balanced, even more compliant, even more untouchable," claims Walter Roehrl, multiple rally champion now involved with Porsche development. Both men will be demonstrating the new 911, while we ride along to get our first taste of the latest Porsche.
Still fit as a fiddle at age sixty-four, Roehrl is an eerily fast yet incredibly smooth driver. Despite the light drizzle, the lanky Bavarian establishes what felt like a new speed record on the sleepy Nockalm pass, which is dotted with 90-degree hairpins, blind crests, and pupil-widening sweepers. It was on this very road that Ferry Porsche and senior designer Karl Rabe put their type 356 roadster through its paces back in the late 1940s.
Seemingly immune to g-force, oncoming traffic and wayward cattle, Walter keeps talking while tap-dancing on the pedals and twirling the wheel. "There! Follow the nose of the car. See? It turns in like a swoosh. And it sticks, sticks, sticks. No more understeer. Incredible. All that tugging and pulling is gone. This 911 no longer fights its driver. Instead, it follows the line like a ruler, stays flat as a Dover sole, and is so well balanced you would never believe the engine sits aft of the rear axle."
Driver change. Roehrl steps out, Achleitner hops in. The steering wheel whirs into position at the push of a button. He adjusts the new eighteen-way adaptive sport seat, which has adjustable side bolsters, heating and ventilation, extendable cushions, and multidirectional lumbar supports. My hope that Achleitner will select a more leisurely pace is squashed the instant he takes off, revving to 7500 rpm in first and second gears and using every inch of suspiciously slippery blacktop through the fast sweepers that lead to the summit. "The wider front track makes all the difference," claims the chief engineer. "It rivets the front end to the tarmac, eliminates any trace of nervousness, and enhances stability and confidence. The longer wheelbase helps, too. The 991 simply feels more grown-up, more competent, more sure-footed. Those who regularly push the car to the limit may appreciate special equipment packages that further enhance braking, cornering and roadholding."
Extras on our lime-gold metallic Carrera S include carbon-ceramic brakes, Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus with dynamic torque distribution via a side-to-side differential lock, active dampers with a lower sport suspension, twenty-inch wheels, magnetorheological engine mounts, and PDCC active roll compensation. This system employs hydraulic extension elements that split the antiroll bars to reduce unwanted body movements, flatten the ride, and enhance roll stiffness. Which of these options are must-haves? Roehrl and Achleitner look at each other, mutually search for words, and eventually agree that even the no-frills base 911 should satisfy most needs.
A lot of controversy accompanied the gestation of the new electric power steering that debuts here. It is lighter and more efficient than the previous hydraulic system, but does it provide the same quality of feedback and response? "Early on in the development process, we had problems on low-friction surfaces," recalls Roehrl, who drove the car near the Arctic Circle and on the Nuerburgring. "The phenomenon was called snap-over, and it only showed at the limit when ultrafast corrections were required. But engineering quickly fixed it, and the fix was later backed up by various software updates. Although the new steering may face an acceptance problem among some Porsche purists, in my view it is superior to a conventional rack. In critical situations it can support the driver, for example, by enhancing the self-centering motion or the directional stability on split-friction surfaces." Extra money buys Power Steering Plus, which can adjust power assistance at speeds below 30 mph and in particular during parking maneuvers.
Our roller-coaster drive through the most picturesque parts of Styria, Carinthia, Salzburg, and Tyrol put the new 911 through a continually changing set of paces. On the narrow and winding toll road that leads to the top of the Malta valley, the Porsche impressed with newfound maneuverability. Up and down the challenging Katschberg, we relished the extra torque in combination with the higher rev limit, as well as the more powerful brakes that benefit from bigger cooling ducts, lighter discs, and six-piston front calipers.