With Its New 911, Porsche Improves the Unimprovable

Automorbit, Sport – The evolution of the 911 has always relied on key incremental advances, and the eighth generation continues the tradition of striving for perfection.
As he tosses the car into a sweeping left-hand turn, Mark Webber expresses sympathy for the folks who made this lap possible. “I feel terrible for future Porsche engineers,” he says, flitting 450 horsepower over the red and white curbs of Spain’s Circuit Ricardo Tormo, on the way to a track time fitting his status as a retired Formula 1 legend. “At some point you really do wonder how they can keep improving on these things.”

The thing in question is the new Porsche 911 Carrera, the eighth generation of a beloved car that has been thrilling drivers and producing purists since 1964. Prices start at $114,550.

As Webber sends the car into the next turn, just sideways enough to make the tires squeal, his question hangs in the air. There’s only so much grip that tires can provide while cornering. Only so many milliseconds you can shave off a 0-60 run. Only so much power an engine can wring from petroleum. How can this 911 outperform its stellar predecessor, which is itself built on decades of improvements? How can its successor do even better?

Porsche’s answer is as simple as it is brutal: It will advance the 911 in perpetuity by making every conceivable metric and component just a hair better, over and again. If you bump everything by just 2 or 3 percent, you might enjoy a 2 or 3 percent improvement in lap times, which Webber will attest is enough to stay ahead of the pack, at least on the track.

In the case of the new 911—known by Porschephiles by its internal 992 designation and initially available as the S model and the all-wheel-drive 4S—that means tweaking key chassis, body, powertrain, and electronics elements. In the rear, the new 3-liter flat-6 engine receives new, more precise fuel injectors, higher compression, and asymmetrical valve strokes that improve fuel efficiency and smooth out performance. Larger, now symmetrical turbochargers respond faster, improving efficiency and power delivery. The improvements push the engine from 420 to 443 horsepower, and torque from 368 to 390 pound-feet.

The new 8-speed automatic transmission uses data from oncoming traffic and the navigation system to respond predictively to driving conditions. If you’re coming up on a slowpoke, it will over-rev the engine instead of upshifting, allowing you to respond faster to pass or match its acceleration. It will do the same leading into hills, giving you more power to tackle the early stage of the ascent. The result is sportier performance in the best parts of a drive. In short, you rarely had to second-guess the transmission or override its decision making to have the most fun. And if you insist on self-control, you can always switch to manual mode.

Other changes nudge the 911’s numbers still further. The Porsche is down to just 30 percent steel construction from 63 percent, with lightweight aluminum increasing its territory and a variety of chassis stiffening strategies boosting rigidity. The air intakes up front include continuously variable flaps to better control brake cooling. A larger adaptive rear spoiler can be set for eco or performance, and will flip up to serve as an air brake when you get on the pedal at high speeds. The 911 now features bigger wheels in the rear (21 inches) than up front (20 inches). This, Porsche says, creates more linear behavior in sportier situations via improved temperature stability, due to the increased mass in the rear, and smaller deformations in the contact patch thanks to more even pressure distribution.

Those nuances can be tough to detect on the track—unless you’re Mark Webber—but the changes to the steering performance are easy to spot. Porsche added a stiffer torsion bar for more direct response and greater precision, and improved stability while turning via an optional, battery-assisted rear-axle system. The front steering, also electrically boosted, has a righter ratio that makes it 10 percent quicker than its predecessor, while the rear system is six percent faster than previous. Sitting in line at the track, the driver of the 911 ahead of me cranked the wheel and I noticed the rear end wiggling slyly even while stationary, courtesy of the two degrees it can turn in either direction. (Matching the front initially, say for changing lanes, and going opposite with greater steering input.) On the track the system proved clearly more agile and immediate, and ready to sling itself around corners far faster than I could probably manage myself.

Other updates nod to the fact that the 911 will spend most of its time on the road, and that drivers and passengers may want a weekend getaway experience that doesn’t involve lapping a track. Visual changes include recessed door handles and a modernized rear end, with a vertical taillight and full-width LED brake light. The new cabin has a more horizontal feel, echoing the early days of the 911’s design, boosted with larger infotainment screens and improved, persistent connectivity, via onboard LTE, to streaming music services.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *