It’s hard to tell if you have to sell out to be successful, or if the successful have to sell out. Ice Cube went from rapping about police brutality and racial profiling to making kid’s movies like Are we There Yet. Taylor Swift moved from being a successful country artist to world domination with pop songs. And Porsche went from making iconic sports cars to making the ever popular Cayenne, Macan and Panamera.
Those four-door vehicles immediately became the best-selling Porsches, and people stopped thinking about the company as a sports car maker and started thinking of them as a luxury brand.
Fortunately, the 911 has been seriously updated, and by the looks of it, the automaker hasn’t sold out and certainly hasn’t forgotten the car that put it on the map so many years ago. To demonstrate that it has not strayed from its roots, we had a chance to drive the vehicle as part of the 911 Grand Tour, an event that’s taking place across Canada to showcase the latest and greatest changes to the iconic 911.
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Of course, that original masterpiece I’m referring to is the first 911, born in 1963. A car with an uncompromised approach to speed, it featured a flat air-cooled engine at the back of the car, over the rear wheels. Its performance was revered, creating an unmistakable aura of coolness. Seen on the roads today, an old 911 is easily identifiable by its unique design. When one drives past, everyone swoons.
More than 50 years later, the car is still using this rear-engine layout and a design that hasn’t changed a whole lot over the years. But somehow, new 911s don’t have that same mystique that the old vehicles had. Why is that? Have we become accustomed to the look? Is the sheen of a high-end interior and high-tech driving aids detracting from what’s an evolution of an iconic car? Are they simply too popular? Or have we all just forgotten about Porsche, as new sports cars like the Nissan GT-R, Mercedes-AMG GT and Jaguar F-Type have hit the road.
Fortunately, we had a whole day set aside to test the car on the streets, an autocross course and a track to see what the new 911 is all about and try to figure that out.
If you’re looking for the pricing and differences between the various 911s, check out this handy 911 guide, but we had a chance to drive the base level rear-wheel-drive 911 Carrera, the slightly faster Carrera S, all-wheel-drive Carrera 4S and variations of each in Cabriolet and Targa body styles.
In the Trunk
Much has changed over the years, but the biggest point of contention in this refreshed 911 (referred to by those in the know as the 991.2) is the engine. A twin-turbo 3.0-liter unit now powers the Carrera and Carrera S models, which changes the personality of the rear-engined car, but not in a bad way. In the past, naturally aspirated 911s needed to be revved up to their redline to feel fast and fun, but these turbocharged units don’t need that same treatment. Peak torque comes on at an astounding 1,700 rpm and stays with you until 5,000 rpm. Any concerns about turbo lag is left behind as soon as you hit the throttle, which sets the car off convincingly.
Having tested both Carrera and Carrera S models, it’s clear that the difference between the two engines aren’t as large as the spec sheet hints. The Carrera is good for 370 hp and 331 lb-ft of torque, while the Carrera S packs 420 hp and 368 lb-ft of torque. The 911s can be had with all- or rear-wheel drive and are offered with a seven-speed manual transmission or the PDK dual-clutch automatic transmission with the same number of gears.
Fast no matter the model
Zero-to-60 times are low no matter what trim you chose. The range varies from 3.6 seconds for Carrera 4S models with the dual-clutch transmission and launch control to 4.6 seconds for manual Carrera convertible models. Based on our time on a smaller track exploring the limits of the various models of 911, it’s hard to decisively say that the S models have a huge advantage over the base models. While the power output may be a bit low on those cheaper versions, they were still a blast to drive hard in all situations. Maybe if you’re power hungry or like knowing that there’s no better version of a model, then the S model makes sense.
While three-pedal models are a must for driving enthusiasts, the quick-shifting PDK is too good to discount immediately. It changes gears so quickly and with no shift-shock or jerkiness. At slow speeds, the car moves extremely smoothly and gently rather than operating with the jittery behaviour other dual-clutch transmissions are known for. This is done through “virtual gears.” The car partially engages two gears at the same time slipping them gently to get the perfect city-speed driving dynamic.
Once you mash down on the throttle, though, the car cleverly grabs a gear and takes off. Gear changes while moving quickly are natural, as if the car has a telepathic link to what you want to do. On the autocross, the car downshifts quickly when we hit the brakes hard, but on the track where a downshift isn’t completely necessary, it didn’t trigger. A manual mode is also available, and it holds gears even at redline.
Choose Your Drive Mode
Responsiveness is a priority for the Porsche 911. A number of different driving modes are available with Normal, Sport, Sport Plus and Individual settings that adjust the car’s throttle response, shift logic, steering feel and suspension set up to deliver a driving experience that’s more in line with your expectation of the vehicle. If you want the car to be fun, the Sport mode will work well. If you want the car to be a razor sharp track weapon, Sport Plus will suit you. Normal will work well in everyday driving situations.
ALSO SEE: 2017 Porsche Macan GTS Review
Vehicles equipped with the Sport Chrono Package and PDK also get a neat switch on the steering wheel to activate these settings, and a button that puts everything into its most performance-oriented behaviour for 20 seconds. Inspired by the automaker’s 918 Spyder supercar, this is like a push-to-pass button. Another important change is the noise the car makes. Although it’s not the same distinct noise that Porsche used to have with its naturally aspirated flat engines, it still sounds good and even better with the Sport Exhaust system. Once the tach reaches 3,000 rpm, the exhaust flaps opens up and the 911 lets out its power ballad.
There’s no digital trickery with the noise either, and all sounds you hear are legitimate, as a sound tube pipes sounds from the engine into the cabin to tell you how its doing. It’s like an old-school cup and string setup from your old treehouse days! So authentic!
World Class Handling
What’s a bit less natural is the way the car handles. Although the weight of the vehicle ranges from 3,153 lbs (for a Carrera) to 3,527 lbs (for a Carrera 4S Targa) it can still corner extremely well, but that’s thanks to an available rear-wheel steering system. This clever system turns the rear wheels opposite the front wheels at lower speeds, and turns them in parallel to the front ones at higher speed.
The result is a car that can handle sharply in tight settings, and feel stable at high speed. On the track and autocross circuit, it’s evident how much of an impact this makes. In the same conditions, 911s without this system still feel like they can rotate nicely, but not as confidently and as stable as vehicles equipped with this system.
Purists may balk at the car’s electric power steering setup, but it worked fine on the track and helped us guide the car through the fastest lines on the course. No cones were killed on the autocross circuit, which is a testament to how agile the sports car has become, despite its growth in size over the past 50 years. (Original 911s had a length of 168.9 inches a wheelbase of 87.0 inches and a width of 66.9 inches, while modern models have stretched to 177.1 inches long with a wheelbase of 96.5 inches and a width of 71.2 inches.)
Still Cool (Technically Speaking)
Porsche also gave the car additional active aerodynamics and cooling systems. We should already be acquainted with the active rear-spoiler that so many 911s have, but now in the turbocharged era of 911s, the system also opens up a channel of air to help cool the turbo system. The 911 also has active cooling air flaps in the front, again inspired by the the 918 Spyder. Three flaps in each front-end air intake open and close as needed for cooling purposes. If there is no need for additional cooling air, they close and improve the airflow around the front end.
In case it was ever in doubt, the 911 is the benchmark for performance; not just for handling, but speed, too. It’s a very balanced car that boasts a number of improvements to ensure it doesn’t get eclipsed by the latest Corvette or Nissan GT-R in terms of pure driving pleasure.
Interior Is Solid
And unlike those other sports cars, the 911 boasts a well crafted, premium interior. While some will argue that the cabin has a few too many buttons, I found them to be well placed, and easy to read, far from anything like trying to operate a keyboard on your dash. There’s a new infotiainment system that includes Apple CarPlay, wifi connectivity and navigation information provided by Google Earth and Google Streetview. There’s also a new lane-change assist system, that expands the functionality of a blind-spot warning system to when you’re trying to change lanes.
The Verdict: 2017 Porsche 911
Are the new 911s cooler than the old ones? Technically, yes (you did read all that stuff about the active cooling systems right?) but it’s hard to recapture the sports car magic that Porsche once had with the rear-engined car. It’s a world class car and a standard to hold every other sports cars to. To put it simply, Porsche has a much broader appeal, especially thanks to the Cayenne and Macan, and its cars are hitting customers that it never could before, but that doesn’t mean they’ve watered the brand down, and this will stay true if they keep pumping out awesome 911s like this new one.