Dial 911 - Luxury Travel Magazine
|By: Joshua Dowling, Issue 49 – Summer 2012|
|FOR ITS LATEST RELEASE, THE PORSCHE SPORTS CAR HAS UNDERGONE ITS MOST RADICAL CHANGE IN 48 YEARS, WRITES JOSHUA DOWLING.|
Trying to design a new Porsche 911 is like trying to repaint the Mona Lisa. The German sports car’s classic silhouette – a frog-like outline so simple even a child can draw it – has barely changed in half a century. Messing with the formula is risky. Every time there’s anew 911, the reactions from purists are the same. Some wonder if it’s as good as the previous model – while others query whether it’s different enough. Inevitably, the new one is always better. But that doesn’t stop the debate. As with the six generations before it, the latest 911 then has to meet high expectations.
The previous two new models – the 997 released in 2005 and the 997 Series II released in mid 2008 – were in fact updates of their predecessors. Although the 2005 model wore new clothes, the bones of the car dated back to the 1990s. At the time, Porsche argued the previous DNA was so good it didn’t need to build an all-new, ground-up car. (It went onto become the biggest selling 911 in the brand’s history). But the times, they are a changing, and Porsche is moving with them. The seventh generation Porsche 911, due in Australian showrooms in early 2012, is genuinely all-new – even if it wears a familiar face. The new body is bigger than before, especially at the back. If you get the chief engineer in a quiet moment, he’ll tell you there is space behind the engine to make way for a hybrid system – should one become necessary over the life of the car.
Don’t distress, he insists the 911 will be the last vehicle in the Porsche line-up to get the hybrid treatment, if the company has its way. But strict emissions rules in Europe – which aggregate pollution from all cars sold by each brand – may force Porsche to adapt the petrol-electric system it developed for its sedan and SUV. The pressure on fuel economy is so strong, Porsche developed the world’s first seven-speed manual transmission for the new model (to match the seven-speed, quick-shifting PDK auto). Meantime, the new 911 has been stretched between the front and rear wheels to create more cabin space. The aim: to broaden the iconic sports-car’s appeal among luxury buyers, not only weekend racers.
Perhaps that’s why there is a hint of Aston Martin design in the tail-lights. Porsche is trying to appeal to the grand-tourer market. And if you get the chief engineer in another quiet moment, he might tell you the sleek tail-lights looked even more like an Aston Martin’s during the original concept stage. The luxury of the interior has been amped up a notch, too. With Porsche’s fine leather stitching available in more colours and more designs than ever before. Although North America – and in particular California – is the 911’s home away from home (the company sells more of its sports car there than in Germany) Porsche has one eye firmly on China, which became the world’s biggest car market in 2009.
Today, all the major brands, from Ferrari to General Motors, sell more cars in China than they do on home soil. That’s why there is a Porsche badge on the back of the new 911 for the first time in decades – the Chinese only really know of Porsche as a maker of fast 4WDs thanks to the popularity of the Cayenne. They could be forgiven for the faux pas; more than half of all new Porsches sold worldwide now are 4WD wagons; it uses the profits from these cash-rich vehicles to fund future sports- car development. Incredibly, despite being a bigger car, the new 911 weighs 100 kilograms less than the last model, an amazing double-act, even for Porsche. Giving the new 911 a broader footprint has also made its breath-taking abilities more accessible to mere mortals. The changes have enabled Porsche engineers to remove some of the hyper-sensitivity of the steering of the previous models. Because 911s are so light over the nose (because the engine’s in the back) the front tyres more readily follow the contour of the road. This gives some drivers the feeling of being better connected to the tarmac, while others find it off-putting.
Complicating matters is the fact that the new 911 has an electric power steering system, which also tends to minimise feel compared to older hydraulic systems. All this was a recipe for controversy at the international launch of the car, where Porsche plotted a route through northern California wine country on the way to a regional airport where it laid fresh bitumen for four weeks of media-drive demonstrations. Purists argued that a 911 should scare you just a little bit. Some journalists share this view. I don’t. I think the more people who can enjoy the 911 the better.
What’s been forgotten in all of this is that the new 911 is so much faster in every way – acceleration and in corners – you need all the help you can get. Why should race drivers get all the fun?
|PORSCHE 911 CARRERA|
Price: From A$229,900
Engine: 3.4-litre six-cylinder
Economy: 6.5/6.8 L/100km (auto/manual)
Weight: 1,400/1,380kg (auto/manual)
0 to 100km/h: 4.6/4.8s (auto/manual)
PORSCHE 911 CARRERA S
Price: From $263,100
Engine: 3.8-litre six-cylinder
Economy: 6.7/7.1 L/100km (auto/manual)
Weight: 1,415/1,395kg (auto/manual)
0 to 100km/h: 4.3/4.5s (auto/manual)