Road Tests

New Porsche 911 PDK road test

Time 11:52 am, July 15, 2008


So, this is the ‘new’ 911 then, eh? Doesn’t look very new does it? Well, squint a bit harder. You may spot the fog lamps have disappeared at the front, replaced by LED driving lamps. Oh, and aren’t the air intakes bigger? Those rear lights, they’re new too, aren’t they? Those wheels and some of the colours don’t look very familiar, either. 


But the rest of it does. Very familiar. This is, in Porsche-speak, just another ‘997’, right? Ah, don’t be fooled. This is ‘Zee Germans’ we’re talking about. Not only is there no such thing as just a 911, there is also no stopping the engineers from tinkering. 


No, the 2008 model year 911 Carrera and Carrera S (either Coupe or Cabriolet) don’t look much different from last year’s. That’s how Porsche evolution works – it’s why the 911 is the familiar icon it always has been. But, beneath the surface, Porsche has introduced some of the most significant changes since the 911 went air-cooled back in 1996. 


Such as? Try an entirely new engine with direct fuel injection, a new double-clutch DSG-style gearbox, tax-beating CO2 emissions and, of course, a thorough makeover of the chassis. This is comprehensive stuff, for sure. 


The 3.6-litre engine in the Carrera produces 345bhp, up 20bhp. The Carrera S though, has a 3.8-litre unit. Both are brand new. Simpler, lighter and flatter, which helps the handling, the main draw of them is the direct injection.


This helps improve economy, up 14 per cent, meaning we now have – can you believe? – a 29mpg 911. It’s also there to reduce CO2 emissions, a concern even for sportscar makers. The base Carrera actually falls into the sub-225g/km bracket, making it the greenest sportscar in the world! 


As for power, the extra 30bhp of the Carrera S we drove, taking it to 385bhp, makes it even more blinding. Smoother and faster to respond, the 911 is now even faster. More like a rocketship than a car; don’t sneer at even ‘base’ 911s, because they’re in a different league compared with almost any other car. Particularly as releasing the power is now so easy.


You see Porsche has made optional a seven-speed (yes, seven speed!) VW DSG-style gearbox, called PDK. That means something very long in German (oh, if you must: Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe), and it works blindingly well in practice. The usual Tiptronic-style buttons remain, rather than paddles, but shifts are next to flawless – and, in Sport and Sport Plus settings, amazingly rapid. 


Choose the optional Sports Chrono Plus pack and you even get launch control. Coupled with the car’s famed rear-drive traction, traffic lights are going to become very interesting places. And if it’s not manly enough for you, consider this: not only are they more economical, PDK cars are also faster than standard manuals.


The PDK lever is a rare stand-out in an interior that’s very similar to before. Don’t look for Aston Martin-style here, as it’s all sensible, sober quality. Black leather suits the businesslike environment, showing off the trademark well-stocked elongated dial pack to its best. 


A classy steering wheel is placed inch-perfect, too, and there is bags of space for adults in the front, even if the rear seats offer bag-space only. A choice of five different front seat types include standard, comfort, sports, adaptive sport or sports bucket; just another example of how bespoke the 911 can be. And the options list is almost a brochure in itself – it’s as long as wallets are deep. 


Jibes about the engine being in the wrong place, hanging out behind the axle, just don’t hold water when you drive the 911. Driving experiences are rarely bettered. Tactile steering directs the responsive chassis accurately through corners, with instant response and well-sorted feel that really is the stuff of dreams. 


Even Audi’s R8 isn’t this good. All the time, it’s chattering away, the nose bobbling in that highly satisfying way, rear end sitting down under power as it prepares to fling you up the road – noise trailing behind, unable to catch up. It’s so incredibly rewarding because it flatters you without leaving you out of the action – you’re a complete part of it, even though it’s the hugely talented car that’s doing the real hard work. 


You can make it even better still with Porsche active suspension, PASM. It might sound like a medical condition, but comes standard on the Carrera S and is a must-have option on standard cars. There is also sports suspension, which sits 20mm lower than standard. 

The new engine punches you out of corners with real vengeance, boasting both shed loads of torque at low revs and thrilling high-rev bite in the upper reaches.

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No, the noise isn’t quite as pure as before, but even that’s easily sorted with one of Porsche’s famed sports exhausts. The sort of systems you can’t quite believe have made it past the legislators, so voluminous are they. 


The new 911 is a cracking drive, and one we’d argue betters that of the incredible Audi R8 or even the Aston Martin Vantage – brave words we know, but ones that we stand by. The new 911’s that good. 


Of course, whether that’s enough to lure customers tempted by stand-out looks is another matter, but one thing’s for sure, the latest 911 is a blinder. Even if, at first glance, you wouldn’t believe it has changed at all.


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