Jason Barlow31 August 2011

Porsche's new 911 up close

Jason Barlow's first impressions, including a rare snap of that seven-speed gearstick

Rarely - make that never - have I been confronted with a sexy new sports car and thought, ‘hold up, I need to check out the gear-lever'. But then how often have you seen a car with a seven-speed manual gearbox? Top gear emphatically isn't what it used to be.

You think that sounds nuts? Apparently, Mercedes is hard at work on a nine-speed auto 'box, this ratio frenzy, of course, all in the cause of improving efficiency. The new 911's seventh gear is an über-overdrive, and Porsche is quick to point out that the other six close-ratio ones are as exciting as ever. We'll see, but 194g/km and 34mpg overall sound pretty convincing.

See more pics of the new 911

At a slick unveiling in the company's magnificent Stuttgart museum -complete with a giant Minority Report-style screen - this seventh-generation 911 made its world debut ahead of the imminent Frankfurt show. First impressions? Well, you don't expect any fresh iteration of 911 - not even one that's apparently 90 per cent new - to blow your socks off or slacken your jaw. As new(ish) CEO Matthias Müller told us, ‘the 911 represents Porsche like no other car. It has been the backbone of the company for 50 years...' That's a long time for a baby to stay in the bath-water, and no-one's planning an ejection any time soon.

But while this latest 991 version keeps all the familiar styling elements - the windows, the swollen rear arches, the front lights and dipped bonnet - there's a clever new tension to those lines, and a more machined quality.

The 911's business end is particularly well-surfaced. It's extremely classy, beautifully executed, and probably won't remotely interest Premiership footie players or any other shameless show-offs who not only want the latest thing, they want the world to know they've got it. Besides, short of
sticking the engine on the roof, what else could Porsche do?

It's also bigger, and visibly so. Although it's only 56mm (2.20 inches) longer overall, the wheelbase has stretched by 100mm (3.94 inches), and it looks it. OK, so both front and rear overhangs have been shortened, the track's wider and the roof lower, but alongside the previous 997 model, never mind an exquisite 1960s 911, it's clear that Porsche has pushed one of the 911's main attributes - its wieldy size - to the limit. There are rumours of a Panamera Coupe, which Porsche R&D boss Wolfgang Hatz wouldn't confirm - but glance quickly at the new 911 and you could be forgiven for thinking it's already here.

Same sort of deal inside, too. There's a Panamera-style cockpit feel, with the gear-lever mounted much higher than before. Old-school 911 cowled instruments jostle for attention with new-look switchgear, and the quality is exceptional. Business-like, and a little lacking in flair perhaps, but
exceptionally well put together.

The rest will be in the driving. Hatz talks openly of the challenges posed in tuning the electro-mechanical steering - given the 911's reputation in this area, probably the new car's most controversial aspect - but claims that Porsche has developed some handy new software to help. (Software? All you need is a Walter... Rohrl, who may or may not be completely happy with the
finished result.)

The chassis is an aluminium/steel mix, which is both 40kg lighter than the old car, and 20 per cent stiffer. There is the optional PDCC (Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control) to reduce roll, PTV (Porsche Torque Vectoring) to improve agility, stop/start as standard, 350bhp 3.4-litre and 400bhp 3.8-litre direct injection six-cylinder engines with mighty impressive CO2 numbers (194 and 204 with PDK fitted), a ‘sailing' mode which disengages the engine, brake energy recapture... it's a long and massively thorough list, as intelligent a sports car as there's ever been.

We drive it in November. Let's hope that in the pursuit of all this efficiency - and boy could we use a sports car that can do 34mpg - that Porsche hasn't forgotten how to have a good time.

UPDATE

Porsche has just released a video of the 911 being driven on the road for the first time. Watch it below.

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