Why Porsche 911 still creates a buzz
Can we start with a quote from a children’s movie? I think we can.
Especially if the film is a creation of Jerry Seinfeld. Bee Movie starts like this: “According to all known laws of aviation, there is no way a bee should be able to fly. Its wings are too small to get its fat little body off the ground. The bee, of course, flies anyway because bees don’t care what humans think is impossible.”
Seinfeld has one of the largest Porsche 911 collections in the world. I’m sure he appreciates that, on paper, the idea of a sports car with the engine hanging out over the rear axle is ridiculous. Theoretically, it should not work. As a basic concept, it certainly hasn’t caught on. But after 49 years in production, the 911 flies along anyway. In fact, it gets even more magnificent with every new generation. The latest, now in New Zealand, is the seventh in a long line.
All those jibes from the unfaithful about the 911 being a posh Volkswagen Beetle: they hurt because they’re true. In a time before front-wheel drive was perfected, the humble Beetle had its engine at the back to ensure easy packaging with the gearbox, provide more passenger space and allow better aerodynamics up front for high(ish) speed motorway work.
For some reason Ferdinand Porsche thought it an equally good layout for his next effort, the 356 sports car. And again for the 911, in 1963. The 911 was completely new, so Porsche wanted a clear link with the 356. That’s the reason the most famous sports car in the world looks and drives the way it does. Because Porsche couldn’t be bothered thinking of anything different.
Call nine one one
Let’s not complain about the 911 getting bigger (which it does with every generation) and more practical (which it is), because that was always the idea. In 1963, Porsche limited the increase in wheelbase from the 356 to 911 to 100mm. Coincidentally, that’s exactly the increase from the previous-generation 911 to the current one.
Ferdinand Alexander Porsche III penned the original 911. He died in April this year. How wonderful it must have been to see a shape he created still being embraced and enhanced on new models nearly five decades later.
He would have noticed some fundamental changes to the 911’s proportions this time around, though. You don’t see them so much in pictures but, in the metal, you can really see how the car is wider at the front (so at least it now matches the rear) and the roofline is so much lower, especially with the steep rake of the windscreen.
These are things I’m only thinking about now, after the car has been returned to Porsche New Zealand, because time with a 911 is about nothing but driving. The new 911 is a glorious thing in Carrera S specification, with a feral bark from the flat-six behind you and the sense of a living, breathing entity beneath. There’s nothing quite like it and that’s all I can say, really.
The impossible dream
The argument about the aerodynamic impossibility of bees flying is incorrect, of course. Because they do. It’s true that an aeroplane proportioned like a bee could not fly but a bee does not have a hard fuselage and fixed wings.
There are plenty of reasons why a rear-engined car works in terms of driver entertainment. There is more traction and less weight up front, hence the 911’s now-legendary steering feel. If the pendulum effect of a heavy engine slung out the back tries to kill you every now and then, that’s just opportunity cost.
That steering feel has been slightly compromised by the change to electric assistance in the new model but it’s not fatal to driver involvement. And while Porsche successfully engineered out the “Weissach waltz” – the tendency for the heavy rear to overtake the front in extreme cornering moments – many years ago, you can still feel the tail bobbing around when you’re pressing on. It’s no longer pendulous – just pretend-dangerous, with sophisticated suspension and a matrix of electronic assistance to keep you on the road. Still fantastic fun but without the awkward phone call to the insurance company afterward.
And the noise. You have to hear it, especially with Sport mode engaged. Preferably, you should hear it from inside the cabin.
At times, I’ve argued long and hard with colleagues who say it’s impossible for a rear-engined machine like the 911 to have the ultimate dynamic ability of a mid-engined sports car like Porsche’s much cheaper Boxster/Cayman models.
I don’t care about what is impossible. If we’re talking about the science of getting from A-to-B as quickly as possible, I’m sure that’s correct. Just as I’m sure that Porsche deliberately curtails the power and poise of its smaller, less expensive models to protect the 911’s status at the top of the sports-car tree. In some respects the 911 is a triumph of development over design.
But the 911 is still the icon and there’s nothing else that feels remotely like it when you’re lucky enough to be behind the wheel.
As far as I’m concerned, as long as Porsche can generate the funds to keep developing the car, it’s welcome to build all of the ladies’ roadsters, luxury sedans and off-roaders it likes.
PORSCHE 911 CARRERA S
What exactly is it?
The seventh-generation (991-series) of Porsche’s iconic 911, in flagship Carrera S form. All-new, so much larger, yet remarkably similar in layout and profile to the 1963 original.
3.8-litre horizontally-opposed six-cylinder petrol producing 294kW/440Nm. Seven-speed robotised dual-clutch gearbox (PDK), rear-drive. Combined fuel consumption 8.7 litres per 100km, 0-100km/h 4.3 seconds.
Anything interesting in the equipment list?
Think of it as an automatic if you must but the PDK-equipped car is both faster and more economical than the conventional seven-speed manual. Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) and Porsche Torque Vectoring (PTV) are standard on the Carrera S: the former provides active damper control, the latter gently brakes the inside rear wheel for faster cornering. Options include Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC), which virtually eliminates body roll.
Price: $254,000 ($262,000 as tested).