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Why Porsche ruled the world in 2013

  1. Human beings, particularly British ones, like quirks, foibles and idiosyncrasies. We love an underdog. Give us flawed genius over machine-tooled precision any day.

    Then again, there’s Porsche. At times during 2013, it looked as though this was actually Porsche’s planet, and the rest of us merely lived on it. Can excellence ever be boring? Not around here, which is why TG finds itself awarding Porsche a gong for cars of the year, plural, rather than just one. The 911 GT3, 911 Turbo and Cayman stand out, but the Panamera S E-Hybrid shows just how far these guys can push towards the outer reaches of their comfort zone without coming a cropper (410bhp, 71g/km of CO2, 23 miles on electric power all the way out of Stuttgart… I loved it).

    Pictures: Lee Brimble/Rowan Horncastle

    This feature first appeared in Top Gear magazine

  2. And while we’re still reeling from the McLaren P1’s other-worldly pace and EVness, remember that Porsche arrived at the Frankfurt show in September touting a film of the 918 Spyder lapping the Nordschleife in a barely believable 6min 57secs. According to R&D board member Wolfgang Hatz, factory test driver and racer Marc Lieb simply turned up with a modest support crew, stuck on some new rubber - road tyres, not super slicks - then obliterated the track record for a production car. Whatever your view on the value of the ‘Ring as a barometer of a car’s overall ability, that’ll have had the boffins in Woking and Maranello scratching their heads.

    In 2013, Porsche made good on the Cayman’s promise, for several reasons. Firstly, 2006’s original always felt too much like a Boxster derivative, rather than the small, mid-engined Porsche we craved. The new one achieves self-determination, with a distinct character. Secondly, the latest 991 version of the 911 has moved the range’s centre of gravity north, both in terms of price and personality. It has electric steering and a longer wheelbase, so it feels more rational and less unpredictable.

  3. Visually, it’s more coherent now, a little over-bodied in places perhaps, but crisply styled and nicely detailed, with plump front wings you can see from the driver’s seat. There are chunky doorhandles, and it communicates that stereotypical German build quality from 40 paces. It’s stiffer than the carbon-fibre-tubbed Lamborghini Aventador, and its engine - 271bhp 2.7-litre or 321bhp 3.4-litre - now sits within the wheelbase for improved agility. It’s also lighter than before, with more aluminium about its person.

    Climb into it, and it’s definitely a sports car, with a seat that drops you low into the essence of it. Like most things these days, you can option the hell out of the Cayman, until its price is borderline ridiculous. But go for the bucket seats, manual ‘box, sports exhaust and adaptive chassis, and forget about the other stuff. There’ll be a few telltale switch blanks, and we can’t remember the last time we had our hands on a steering wheel that does nothing but precisely that. It’s a reminder of how over-specified our world now is rather than a reflection on Porsche’s parsimony.

  4. The graphics and interfaces on its multimedia are also outclassed in what is an increasingly important realm, but that ceases to matter when you start the Cayman up. My introduction to the S model came at the Circuit de Charade near Clermont-Ferrand, where TG held this year’s Speed Week. Both Sir Jackie Stewart and 1970 Le Mans winner Richard Attwood later told me that they rated this track as one of the best they ever raced on, and it’s easy to see why.

    With its looming concrete walls, volcanic topography and 300m change of elevation, carving a lap round here focuses your mind and puts a premium on chassis excellence. To nobody’s great surprise, the Cayman S is a sensation. Despite the electro-mechanical steering, it turns in with absolute accuracy, maintains an awesomely linear trajectory and stays utterly unruffled. Its manual gearbox is magnificent.

  5. But the big moment for the Cayman S came at home time. Despite being thrashed around a track for two days, and with no support crew there to administer TLC, the Porsche and its tyres were absolutely fine. Which was a relief, because I was driving it back to the UK, with the mother-in-law’s birthday to go to and zero room for mishaps. The computer’s read-out at journey’s end was a real-world endorsement of this brilliant car: together we’d covered 563 miles, at an average speed of 67mph and a mean fuel consumption of 29.2mpg. “When it came down to the final reckoning, the Cayman’s only failing is that it’s somehow too good.

    Which matters bugger-all if you’re spending your own money on a car,” Tom Ford concluded at the end of Speed Week. Well, that goes double at the end of 2013.

  6. Unless, that is, you have double to spend - £100,540, to be precise. Which is how much the new 911 GT3 costs. It would be trite to suggest that this thing is twice as good as the Cayman S, because it’s a completely different proposition. But let’s just say that this might well be the best 911 ever and leave it at that.

    Of course, the GT3 also features several apparently heinous developments. It, too, has electric power steering, an unholy set-up that improves the car’s efficiency at the expense of the 911’s steering feel. It’s also hooked up to an electro-mechanical rear-wheel-steer system, which turns the back wheels in the opposite direction to the front ones at speeds up to 37mph for greater agility. Also, you can only change gear in this latest GT3 using the dual-clutch PDK - and there is NO manual option.

  7. Trust us, after five minutes you won’t even remember that you could ever change gear manually in the GT3, much less care. There’s just no denying the accuracy and mindwarp speed of the PDK. It’s also racecar snarly. Work your way through the ‘box, via wheel-mounted paddles, and you’ll find yourself right in the middle of one of the all-time-great man-machine interactions.

    It also allows you to focus more closely on squeezing the best out of this incredible chassis, which beams what your brain wants the car to do directly onto the road. And it doesn’t matter what sort of surface you’re dealing with, either.

  8. Then there’s the engine itself. It’s a reworked version of Porsche’s 3.8-litre flat-six, and produces 469bhp at 8,250rpm, though it will keep revving until 9,000rpm. Blindingly fast - 0-62mph takes 3.5secs, top speed is 196mph - and blessed with monumental front- and rear-end grip, the GT3 is one of those cars that is made up of a whole series of magnificently optimised mechanical bits, yet somehow transcends them all. In the year that gave us the LaFerrari, P1 and 918, the 911 GT3 sets the new template for everything we look for in a truly spine-tingling high-performance car. It’s a work of unutterable genius.

    In fact, it’s so ridiculously good it relegates the new Turbo S to the last paragraph. Unlike the über-tactile GT3, the new Turbo is more of a Veyron-annihilator - a 911 that just pummels all opposition into tiny little pieces. Its bi-turbo 3.8-litre engine produces 553bhp and the same amount of torques, and with four-wheel drive, this is almost certainly the fastest point-to-point real-world performance car, well, ever.

  9. God knows what they have planned for an encore. But don’t bet against Porsche annexing the top step of Le Mans in 2014, after a 16-year absence.

    Like the shots in this feature? Download them as wallpapers here

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