Review: Porsche 911
It's a two-seat manual track car, a four-seat auto convertible, and everything in between
What is it?
It’s the Porsche 911, perhaps the world’s most famous sports car. It’s certainly one of the best-selling: production has surpassed one million. The Mazda MX-5 has done that too, but then it’s a cheaper, more attainable car. And Porsche reckons around three-quarters of those million 911s are still in good nick and being driven.
You won’t fail to notice that the 911 range is considerably more complex than when it launched in 1963, one million cars ago. As we write this there are 23 different models of 911 available to buy new – by the time you’re reading this, that number could well have risen.
Understanding the range has the potential to be tricky, then, but it’s easy to find which car might suit you with a few simple questions. Coupe or convertible? Will you use it on track? Do you need back seats? The good news is they’re all very good – some brilliant, some superlative – so you’ll hardly pick a duffer no matter which configuration wormhole you end up in.
The 911 was last updated in 2015, when the most basic models received turbocharging for the first time, a move that displeased the most ardent purists. Don’t let it bother you – if anything its performance is now a bit more accessible, and the car more exciting at the kind of speeds you actually drive on the road, thanks to more torque at much lower revs.
You can essentially split the 911 range into three sections. You have the 911 Carrera – and Carrera S, Carrera T and Carrera GTS – all of which get a twin-turbo flat-six engine. They’re the most useable 911s of all. Each one can come with four seats and all but the Carrera T comes in convertible form, too. You can have each as either a manual or a PDK automatic, and several of them offer four-wheel drive as an option. These are the most flexible 911s when it comes to configuring one to your own taste.
Then there’s the 911 Turbo and Turbo S, the all-weather supercars that are four-wheel drive and PDK only. They offer back seats and all the everyday usability of the Carrera models, but mated to sub-three-second 0-100kph times and some of the most shockingly easy performance on offer at any price. They’re probably too heavy to be natural track cars if that’s your thing, though.
If it is, you want a ‘motorsport’ 911, either the GT3, GT3 RS or GT2 RS, the most hardcore 911s on sale. They’re rear-wheel drive only. Only the base GT3 offers a manual gearchange, though. The GT3s offer some of the purest driving joy on the market, whereas the GT2 takes their recipe and adds a pair of turbos, making it less delicate and more savage. Until recently, it was the quickest production car around the Nürburgring’s infamous Nordschleife.
What is it like on the road?
So there are three different ‘classes’ of 911, but the differences in their driving experiences are far more nuanced than that. There isn’t a bad one to drive, either.
All have tons of steering feedback, wonderfully spaced pedals, superb gearboxes (the manual is one of the very best on sale, the PDK isn’t a bad substitute if you need the convenience)… Essentially, all the basics are nailed so that you climb in and immediately feel comfortable, with a rich flow of information from each of the car’s components allowing you to drive right at the top of your own limits. If not the car’s; even the ‘base’ 911 has 370bhp these days, so you’re rarely going to be flat-out on the road.
If outright performance is your aim, you need a Turbo, Turbo S or GT2 RS, as these are the most shockingly fast 911s on sale. If you want the most involving, invigorating driving experience – the highest rewards when you put in the utmost effort – you need a GT3 or GT3 RS. They’re two of the most exciting sports cars at any price.
A base Carrera is pure and, with the least power of any 911 on sale, the one you can actually work the hardest in the real world. The Carrera S adds power, the Carrera T strips weight and the Carrera GTS opens up an unfathomable world of options, but all have the base Carrera’s simple joy at their core. If it’s all the 911 you can rationalise, you won’t be missing out too much.
On the inside
The 911 is probably the most rational sports car on sale. The buttons are laid out with extreme ergonomic precision, the cup-holders are perhaps the best-damped in the whole car world, while the classic 911 five-dial layout is not only iconic, but really easy to decipher.
As we mentioned earlier, the driving position is just spot on, and this is an easy car to see out of. A boring thing to point out, perhaps, but in the sports car world that’s pretty rare. Here’s a car where you could actually live without the parking sensors.
The infotainment system has gone through continual improvement and now comes with great iPhone link-up, and it’s one of the better integrations out there, with a voice command function that understands even the most complex of regional accents. We speak from experience…
The 911 may have lots of different rivals, but it’s still relatively unique in being a four-seater. Kids will easily slot in the back, as will smaller adults if they’re sitting behind people of similar height. Not all of the 911 range offers back seats – the Carrera T is a two-seater as standard, while the GT2 and GT3 models don’t offer back seats at all – but they compensate with loads of luggage space in the back. All 911s get a huge front boot (the engine’s in the back, don’t forget).
You don’t sell one million sports cars by accident. The 911 may have all the facets of something specialist – bombastic performance, exquisite handling, a low-slung driving position – but it’s also simple to live with and extremely flexible to different needs.
Here’s a car that can be wheeled out of the showroom as a manual, rear-driven two-seater on trackday tyres with no radio, or as an automatic, four-wheel-drive, four-seat convertible with leather on every interior surface. Both will be one of the very best (probably the best) car in their respective market.