What is it?
The 2016 Porsche 911 is a big break from tradition. For the first time, the mainstay of the Porsche line-up foregoes normally aspirated power in favour of a contemporary turbocharged engine – one that endows the volume-selling Carrera and Carrera S models with greater reserves than ever before, along with better fuel economy.
For aficionados of the fabled German manufacturer, its adoption symbolises a seismic shift in priorities for one of the world’s most sought-after sports cars, overturning a convention that began with the original 911 more than 40 years ago.
Known under the internal codename 9A2, the new engine adheres to the customary horizontally opposed layout, in which the individual cylinder banks are set 180deg apart. However, the new induction process and the associated changes it has necessitated to the cooling system are a significant departure from anything that has gone before.
The new six-cylinder engine boasts a considerably smaller swept volume than the naturally aspirated mill it replaces. However, the inclusion of two turbochargers, which spool up incredibly quickly to enhance combustion, see it deliver greater levels of power and torque than any naturally breathing powerplant used by the 911 through the years.
In its mildest form, running a nominal 0.9 bar of boost pressure in the 911 Carrera, the new rear-mounted powerplant delivers 365bhp and 332lb ft.
With a larger turbocharger and 1.2 bar of boost, it also provides the 911 Carrera S driven here with 414bhp at 6500rpm – 20bhp more and some 900rpm earlier in the range than with the earlier naturally aspirated 3.8-litre unit. With 369lb ft, the new forced-induction unit also offers 45lb ft more than the old engine, and it’s developed 3900rpm earlier, at just 1700rpm.
The new 911 Carrera S is differentiated from its predecessor by a series of subtle exterior styling changes. They include a reprofiled front bumper with active air ducts that close at speeds above 10mph and then open again at 106mph. The shape of the headlights remains the same, but revised internal lenses and standard Xenon projectors now provide a more distinctive four-point daytime running light graphic.
Further back, the door mirrors adopt an LED blinker function, the door handles receive a new design, the rear spoiler sports a fresh look and the rear bumper features cooling ducts down low on either side to help extract hot air from the engine bay.
Inside, the new 911 Carrera and Carrera S receive a new Communication Management system featuring a 7.0in touchscreen monitor with Google Earth and Google Streetview-supported navigation, WLAN connectivity and Apple CarPlay compatibility. Other changes include the choice between a standard 375mm-diameter and an optional 360mm steering wheel – both similar in style to that used by the 918 Spyder.
What’s it like?
Everything we were expecting – and more.
It is hard to believe Porsche could have made the 911 Carrera S any more exciting to drive, but that’s exactly what it has done. Granted, its new engine lacks the characteristic induction hum and hard mechanical edge at certain points within the rev range that made the old naturally aspirated unit so invigorating. But what it loses in outright aural qualities, the turbocharged mill more than makes up for with sheer ease of driveability and accessibility of its performance.
At start-up there’s little to indicate that a new engine is sitting in the back. The initial timbre and associated exhaust note are uncannily similar to those of the old powerplant. But nudge the throttle a couple of times and the first subtle difference in temperament is evident. The turbocharged unit happily accepts revs, but it is not quite as rabid in its action as we’ve become accustomed to with the naturally breathing engine.
Easing out into the traffic, the differences in disposition become even more marked. At low speeds in town it requires fewer revs to pull taller gears. The new-found flexibility is one of the defining divergences between old and new, endowing the 911 Carrera S with a far more relaxed gait.
With the torque arriving so much earlier, there’s no pressing need to keep the engine stoked with frequent visits to lower ratios to ensure solid levels of in-gear acceleration. An earnest nudge of the throttle in all but the highest ratios is now sufficient to unlock the haughty performance potential.
That’s not to say any of the intrinsic enjoyment has been taken away; the impressive response of the new engine and the way it propels you up the road with such engaging fervour on a wide-open throttle make every interaction memorable, even though the revs fail to fall off with quite the same enthusiasm as before when you step away from throttle.
Out on the open road the new 911 is sensationally quick, with a wide performance spread – something that shows up particularly when you call up a tall gear and rely on the prodigious torque to briskly haul you along.
A good deal of the engagement comes through the extraordinarily linear delivery. While it is unable to serve up quite the same aural intensity of a naturally aspirated unit up high, the turbocharged engine rapidly builds to a 7500rpm climax with a blast of exhaust blare.
As well as being the first model to adopt the new turbocharged engine, the Carrera S also benefits from changes made to its optional PDK seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox. With a new dual-mass flywheel to help dampen vibration, revised ratios and new software mapping, it now shifts with greater urgency and smoothness, both in automatic and manual modes.
The most significant development brought to the optional gearbox, though, is the change in direction of the gear selection via the lever. As with the unit used by the 911 GT3, you now pull back to select a higher gear and push forward to change down, bringing the Carrera S in to line with the system found on Porsche’s race cars. Alternatively, you can shift via the steering wheel mounted paddles.
The improvement in shift quality is most apparent on part throttle loads at lower speeds, where the updated gearbox now engages taller ratios without the customary jerkiness of the old model. There’s also a perceptible improvement in the overall speed of the shifts performed under full load at higher revs, leading to enhanced standing-start acceleration.
Although the new Carrera S tips the scales 45kg above the old model, at 1460kg with the optional dual-clutch ’box, Porsche claims the car is 0.2sec faster than its predecessor from 0-62mph, with a time of just 3.9sec. Top speed is also extended by 2mph to a new maximum of 190mph.
The lift in performance is accompanied by a significant improvement in fuel economy. Porsche claims combined cycle consumption of 36.7mpg for the new 911 Carrera S with the PDK gearbox – a boost of 4.2mpg. Emissions of CO2 have also fallen from an earlier 205g/km to a very impressive 174g/km.
Porsche has also succeeded in heightening the 911 Carrera’s already invigorating driving traits. In a move that serves to extend its dynamic envelope, the Carrera S now receives Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) as standard. The car also sits 10mm lower than its predecessor, with an optional sports suspension, as fitted to our test car, providing an additional 10mm lowering in ride height.
The steering is superb, delivering added feel and engaging weighting away from the centre point. It is also better tied down than before, with flatter and more progressive body movement during cornering. Braking performance is tremendous, aided by superb pedal feel. As a measure of the effectiveness of the chassis tweaks, Porsche claims the new model can lap the Nürburgring circuit some 10 seconds faster than its predecessor, in 7min 30sec. We’ll need more seat time to fully understand the new set-up, but for now it receives a hearty thumbs-up. The 911 Carrera S is now also compliant enough to allow it to deal with most surfaces without ever feeling uncompromising. It’s still resolutely firm, but it now rides with greater aplomb, both at lower speeds around town and out on the open road.
Another option is four-wheel steering, although it was not fitted to our test car. It provides 2deg of counter steer on the rear wheels at speeds below 31mph and 3deg of parallel steering at speeds above 31mph, giving the new 911 a tighter turning circle in town and the promise of even greater agility at speed.
Should I buy one?
To hell with tradition – yes, buy one. Throughout its illustrious history the 911 has adopted various changes that have made it a better and more exhilarating car to drive; the water-cooled engine of 1998 is just one example of a departure from the original that served to improve its standing.
The purists will be up in arms at the prospect of the 911 receiving a turbocharged engine. But as with all the other changes made down through the years, it is progress, and that’s what we have with the Carrera S.
To say it is simply a better car than its predecessor is perhaps understating things a little. This new model has taken a big step forward. It is now more rounded than ever, more powerful and more economical. Importantly, though, it is still as invigorating as ever to drive. And that is what really counts.
2016 Porsche 911 Carrera S PDK
Location Stuttgart; On sale Now; Price £88,245; Engine 6 cyls horizontally opposed, 2981cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 414bhp at 6500rpm; Torque 369lb ft at 1700rpm; Kerb weight 1460kg; Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch automatic; 0-62mph 3.9sec; Top speed 190mph; Economy 36.7mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 174g/km, 29%
What is it?