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After forty years, the Porsche 911 is moving into its sixth generation, retaining the classic outline created by Butzi Porsche but using it to cloak a car that has little in common with the original — except its purpose, as a pure sports machine.
The new generation — the 997 as
Porsche and its aficionados will refer to it — carries the Carrera model name
that goes back even further in Porsche heritage than does the 911. It is
improved in every way over the outgoing 996 model, with smoother aerodynamics, a
wider body covering wider wheels, a more powerful engine, an even more powerful engine in the S model, lighter weight,
more driver aids and an all-new interior. All this will be on sale in the
Pied piper power
Ahead of its launch, Porsche invited
the press to drive the car in the countryside around the German town of
In some ways, the 911 has come a long way from the 1963 original. That car still had strong DNA from the VW Beetle derivations that were the firm’s first products. With the air-cooled engine slung out behind the driver, the 911 needed a wary driver to take it to its limits, snapping into a spin with little warning in the hands of the careless or clumsy. Recent models retain the flat-six format of the original, but now the engine is water-cooled and benefits from variable valve-timing and the many electronic controls we now expect in performance power units. The chassis has been continuously modified too, and now it is difficult to assess where the 911 stows its engine. It’s still in the rear, of course, and the 997 points up its location by new air vents in the engine cover that leave nobody in any doubt that this is a mid/rear-engined car.
2005 Porsche 911 Carrera SThe new body also gives strong visual
hints that it is also a performance car. It’s almost 1.5 inches wider across the
rear axle, giving space for larger wheels (18 inches on the Carrera and 19 on
the S) and emphasizing the slender waist and wide haunches that have been
Porsche shorthand for power ever since the first Turbo. Surprisingly, in a world
where every new iteration of a car seems to expand in every direction, the 997
is microscopically shorter — by just over a tenth of an inch — than its
2005 Porsche 911 Carrera SEnlarge Photo
The overall shape is still unmistakably 911, but there are subtle changes that will keep the purists on their toes and contented. After the much criticized “broken egg” headlamps of the 996, the 997 reverts to a more rounded shape that’s more in keeping with the car’s classic form. There’s nothing classic about the lighting technology, however, and the S comes as standard with bi-xenon bulbs. A separate light cluster below the headlamps combines foglamps, parking lights and indicators, and below this slim unit are cooling intakes that underline the car’s performance characteristics.
The overall shape of the body, together with detail work that includes aerodynamic twin-boom mirror arms and smooth transitions between the windshield and rear window and the body, have reduced the car’s drag coefficient from 0.30 to 0.28. This is an appreciable improvement that undoubtedly has an influence on top speed (182 mph for the Carrera S) and impressive gas consumption figures of 20.5 mpg on the S model.
Heart of a champ
The heart of a modern Porsche is its engine, and the new generation of the 3.6-liter flat six has a number of major improvements. Chief among them is the introduction of a 3.8-liter version for the S. The extra 200cc boosts power from 325 hp to 355, which is developed at 6600 rpm, 200 rpm below the peak of the smaller engine. Torque is impressive too, 273 lb-ft at 4250 rpm for the Carrera and 295 lb-ft at 4600 rpm for the S. The engine is lighter than previously thanks to careful weight saving, mainly in the exhaust system, and the whole car has been lightened, by almost 90 pounds. Overall weight is almost the same, however, because additional features have replaced what has been taken out of the component weights.
The 997’s chassis has been improved in detail, with a lighter front suspension that has a slightly wider track. There is also a new rack and pinion steering system with a variable ratio. Many steering systems have power assistance that is lighter at the straight-ahead position, but the power system actually changes the ratio when the wheel is turned by more than 30 degrees. The aim is to give a less “nervous” feel when travelling in a straight line at high speed, while giving a more linear feel on twisting roads. Parking is also easier, with steering that has 2.62 turns from lock to lock compared with 2.98 for the previous model. The rear axle has more aluminum in it to reduce weight, and the track is greater.
The 997 introduces Porsche’s own
Active Suspension Management system, which operates on the Bilstein dampers to
continuously vary their response in line with road conditions and the driver’s
wishes. Selecting ‘Sport’ or ‘
Proof of the pudding
On the road, the 911 is appreciably better than its predecessor, a car that was already outstanding. The power is instantly available, and acceleration from a standstill is truly eye-opening. In the case of the S, the power is a major element in the car’s appeal. Thanks to the fact that Porsche held its press preview close to one of the remaining speed-limit free sections of the German autobahn, it was possible to run the cars at speeds far in excess of those that are legal in most other countries of the world. The S accelerated smoothly to the upper limits of the speed range, and 145 mph was a realistic cruising speed, at which one could appreciate the variable-ratio steering. In a straight line the wheel held the car perfectly, without the feeling so often met at very high speeds of the need to make constant small corrections to the car’s line. One aspect of the car that the engineers have studied closely is that of sound (rather than noise). The S has a powerful, muscular sound to it, which is particularly noticeable when it overtakes with the power on.
On the country roads around Hamelin, both the Carrera and Carrera S, in either six-speed manual or five-speed Tiptronic automatic form, were superb. There was never a feeling that this was a rear-engined car that could snap back. The steering was light and responsive, the gearshifts smooth in automatic mode and satisfying in the manual, and the car felt safe, smooth and luxurious.
The luxury was due to a large extent to the new interior and new seats, which adjust not only for reach (as does the steering column) but also for girth. Porsche customers are not always in the first flush of youth, and seat bolsters that can adjust in and out to grip the lower back perfectly were extremely comfortable.
2005 Porsche 911The cockpit uses hand-stitched leather
in sweeping shapes to provide a comfortable environment that is far from the
spartan tradition of the ‘thoroughbred’ sports car. Even the plastic components
look good, and Porsche is to be congratulated on the fact that it has avoided
the temptation to add panels of false wood or carbon-fiber to dress up the
interior. It is restrained, with all the electronic goodies for sound and
navigation, and the traditional Porsche instrument cluster, designed to group
all the instruments in an arc that can be seen through the top half of the
steering wheel, is a lesson to manufacturers whose dashboards are styled rather
than designed. The graphics of the digital displays that are part of the
instrument cluster are particularly well done.
2005 Porsche 911Enlarge Photo
Sitting atop the dash is the optional accessory that will be a must-have for the enthusiastic driver. The Sports Chrono Package places a neat stopwatch, which combines analog and digital readouts, on top of the dash just off the driver’s eyeline. Controlled by a switch on the steering-column, it reads off lap times for drivers who enjoy track driving. But it does much more than just record time. The package also varies the engine-management system and the shift-management system of the Tiptronic gearbox to give the car much more sporting characteristics, more suited to track driving. The system also records lap times in a memory and allows them to be called up and analysed on the car’s information screen. At around $700, it will probably be the most popular option on the long list available.
The new 911 may look like a forty year-old with a very expensive facelift, but under that still smooth complexion beats a heart as passionate and exciting as the day it was born. It would be difficult to justify paying more money for a sports car — this one has it all.