Just when you were thinking that Porsche might be running out of tricks to make its venerable 911 fit for the 2020s, along comes the latest Carrera 4S.
It’s just days after Porsche’s director of sportscars, Dr Frank-Steffen Walliser, told the British publication Autocar that its 911 model line, now in its eight generation and well into its sixth decade, would be the last of the company’s automobiles to go electric. That won’t happen, he said, until 2030 at the earliest, “coming hopefully after my retirement so I’m not responsible and no one can blame me”.
Walliser also implied that there’d be no hybrid version before the ninth-gen model at the earliest, adding that he’d “fight to let the 911 keep its gasoline engine”. So you might say that with its future in more-or-less recognisable form guaranteed for at least the next 10 years, this is the perfect time to be stepping into the latest version of the car that’s not only defined the Porsche brand for more than half a century, but is also considered by many autophiles as the greatest sportscar ever.
Walliser’s words are ringing in my ears when I twist the starter switch of the Carrera 4S and, as the largely digital dashboard display lights up, the busy, buzzy chattering of a gasoline-powered, 3-litre flat-six engine out back reassuringly announces that in some key areas at least the 911 remains much as it’s always been. Of course, there’s a huge gulf between this latest 992 iteration of the 911 and the first machine to bear those legendary numerals back in 1964.
The latter looks modest and almost diminutive compared with today’s longer, wider and infinitely more muscular Carrera – and with a weight of less than 1.1 tonnes, diminutive is exactly what that early model was. But the links between the two remain compelling, not just in the rear-mounted six-pot boxer engine, but also in concept and styling that still echo those of the Volkswagen Beetle, which was designed by the Austrian-German engineer Ferdinand Porsche in the 1930s, reborn in the aftermath of World War II and remained in production for almost 60 years. Crucially, the Beetle also served as the basis of the first sportscar to bear the Porsche name in 1948 and its rear-engine layout was adopted for all the company’s road cars until the mid-1970s.
The Reinvention Of A Classic
While the design and construction of the 992 Carrera are claimed to be all new, it remains a given that it’s straight out of the 911 mould: in fact, its central bonnet cutline directly references that of the ’60s original, as does the small front-bumper indent. Yanking the look into the third decade of the 21st century, however, are the broad hips that now feature on every 911 model, distinctive four-element LED headlamps, a full- width lower front intake, a row of vertical black cooling vents beneath the rear window (which also incorporate an additional brake light), and door handles that politely extend from the bodywork to aid entry and then retract to the flush position – clearly as an aid to cleaner aerodynamics. Familiar though the exterior is – an impression reinforced by the sprinkle of retro touches – it’s also a beautifully smooth re-interpretation of a classic silhouette.
As with all Porsches, the current 911 will be tailored to fit into every possible market slot, from the baseline Carrera 2 sportscar, to the rip-snorting, supercar-threatening Turbo S that’s only just been unveiled, not to mention track-day-focused GT3s and the full array of limited editions that will doubtless follow in the product pipeline. There are already Carrera Cabriolets, while the semi-open-top Targa variant that’s scheduled to arrive a year or so from now will complete the portfolio of basic body styles.
Likewise, power outputs currently range from the 380bhp of entry-level models to the 641-plus horses of the fully weaponised Turbo S; my all-wheel-drive 4S test car gets 444bhp and 530Nm beneath its engine cover, numbers that, with the aid of the optional Sport Chrono Package (a box that most customers tick), are good enough for a 3.4-second 0-100km/h standing start and a maximum speed comfortably north of 300.
An update of the twin-turbocharged engine found in the 992’s immediate predecessor, this new motor features bigger and more responsive blowers, a higher compression and revised injectors, all of which contribute to a significant power boost. It’s mated to an eight- speed PDK gearbox that delivers torque to each corner of the car via an electronic coupling, with up to 40 percent of traction vectored to the front wheels when necessary – meaning this is a 911 for all circumstances and seasons, a rear-engine car that can be driven with the utmost confidence in pretty much any conditions barring sand dunes and snowdrifts.
Taking It To The Next Level
The creeping expansion of the 911’s dimensions over the years also applies to the interior, which though appropriately sportscar cosy is palpably roomier than before. As with the exterior, there are sufficient touches – such as the resolutely analogue central tachometer in the otherwise totally digital instrument binnacle – to make those acquainted with earlier models feel entirely at home in the new car, though Porsche has elevated the cockpit amenities and finishing to new levels of style, comfort and advancement. The latest-generation infotainment system is cleverly integrated into the architecture of what resembles an old-school dashboard, and not only looks great but works very well indeed. Seats, it goes without saying, are marvellous (though those in the back remain notional at best, in spite of the extra space), the driving position is excellent and I’m especially taken by the tiny console-mounted shifter, a tactile and lovely item of cabin jewellery that just begs to be, well, shifted.
Part of the 911’s legendary appeal stems from the fact that it can be driven to the office or shops one day and then taken to the racing circuit the next – a mix of docility and outright performance that few other cars can match. And this latest Carrera 4S iteration moves the goalposts closer to genuine supercar territory than any stock 911 has ventured before. It’s not crazy, surfing-the-Niagara-Falls-in-a-rowing-boat fast in the way that more extreme Ferraris and Lamborghinis can be, but it is an incredibly quick car.
That’s not only due to the super-flexible boxer engine’s abilities to pile on the grunt from upwards of 3,000rpm – and it’ll spin to 7,500 – but also the gearbox’s propensity in auto mode to immediately find the right ratio, one that places you bang in the sweet spot of the power band. It sounds just like a 911 should, too, so good in fact that you rarely find yourself regretting the fact that for the vast majority of Porsches these days, natural aspiration is a thing of the past.
Nor does the all-wheel-drive 4S ever leave you wishing for the “purity” of the rear-wheels-only Carrera 2. Yes it’s heavier, though not massively so, and I’d guess the steering is ever-so-slightly mushier, though not so you’d notice, because never does this car feel anything other than a razor-sharp tool that’s most in its element when carving through the countryside. It corners impeccably, grips like a limpet and is so comfortable that after several hours at the wheel you’re still wanting more, while wondering why you’d seriously countenance any other sportscar.
We often invoke Venn diagrams when talking about motorcars but if there really is a motorcar that for years has occupied the perfect spot where robustness, everyday usability and the sheer enjoyment of driving intersect, that has to be the Porsche 911. Judging from this latest Carrera 4S, it just got even better.
PORSCHE 911 CARRERA 4S
Engine 3-litre twin-turbocharged flat-six
Transmission eight-speed dual clutch
Max power 444bhp
Max torque 530Nm @ 2,300-5,000rpm
Max speed 306km/h
Acceleration 0-100km/h in 3.4 seconds