Slightly older British sports are now the price of a hot hatch. Here's how to own one...
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What’s this, another new Porsche 911? Sort of. It’s the first time we’ve driven the newly turbocharged 911 Carrera with a manual gearbox here in the UK. This matters because it’s a chance for the standard 911 to deliver extra driver interaction now that twin turbos have robbed the engine of its snap and snarl. It’s also in base spec - a non-S, non-4wd, non-Targa Carrera. Historically, the entry-level 911 tends to be the sweetest car in the range. Hang on, wind back a bit. Have the turbos really, honestly robbed the flat six of its character? They have. It’s mostly the noise rather than the power delivery that has suffered. It’s softer in tone now, more muffled, has lost the tingle, zap and yowl. It’s interesting though. Around town it still has the low-rev chunter that gives you hope of more to come, but as you go faster you leave the noise behind.
What, literally? Yes – the noise is still there, just further back. If you blat through a tunnel with the windows down it sounds great, raspy and hard, but despite having a resonator tube running behind the rear seats, it’s not rowdy inside. The tune comes from the exhaust, not the induction. You said the power delivery is better though? It is. Unlike the full-strength 911 Turbo, this 911 uses monoscroll, not variable vane, turbochargers. These are simpler because the pitch of the turbo vanes doesn’t change, allowing more of the engine’s characteristics to come through. In other words, you can feel the valve-timing changes where the engine kicks, plus the flat-six gets more forceful as the revs rise. Also, for my money, the boggo Carrera feels a little less boosty than the S, the low-rev torque delivery more progressive. There’s a definite reason to hold on for high revs, which is great, but it’s a shame that the top end of each gear is such a reach away. Third runs to 112mph. Which means that despite having seven gears to choose between, unless you involve a track or autobahn, you can only really experience 7500rpm in the first two. Shorter gearing please, Porsche. Not going to happen though, is it? No. Because emissions. The irony is that in actual, real-world driving, the turbo isn’t any more economical than the old naturally aspirated engine. Both will do 30mpg on a good run, and around 25-26mpg overall.
Not bad, now on to the gearbox. It’s fantastic, so nice to use with a lovely short shift, lovely clutch weighting, lovely action. It’s just lovely. I know almost everyone opts for PDK these days, but honestly this new seven-speed manual is so good-natured and easy-going that it’s no hassle at all, no matter how sticky the traffic. It also gives you a closer personal relationship with the engine. Sounds daft, but it’s something which I’m sure makes me feel better disposed to this car. Put it this way, if someone gave me a choice between this manual/turbo engine combo, or a PDK /naturally aspirated engine, I think I might well have this. That’s how much I enjoyed the manual and what it adds to the experience. How’s the rest of the Carrera? It’s superb. Honestly, you just don’t need more. I know that Porsche is gradually buffing the edges off the 911, and it’s losing personality as a result, but this isn’t a recent process; it’s been going on since the demise of the 993 20 years ago. And, all things considered, the losses are very, very slight. And there have been gains, considerable gains. This car just feels so fabulously useable, so effortlessly rapid. The ride on the now-standard adaptive dampers is utterly superb, it’s very fast across country on difficult roads, you don’t need 4WD when this car feels so clean and tidy, and carves such smooth lines around corners. The steering may be a little numb, but it’s beautifully weighted, accurate and gives you plenty of confidence. In fact, what struck me about this 911 is the oiled, supple athleticism with which every component from the gearbox to the touchscreen infotainment works. It’s an honest car, fast, smooth and extremely capable. As a daily driver, the basic 911 – with a manual gearbox for the extra interactivity – takes a hell of a lot of beating. So you’d definitely have the manual? Absolutely. It just feels so natural that you’ll wonder why you considered PDK as an option. If you are buying a 911, please drive the manual before the dealer convinces you that, for residual values reasons, you need to have the PDK.