I greet the dawn as an old friend, offering to share my cup of coffee with the sun from the comfort of my Northern California hotel room. As the pre-dawn shades of grey recede and are replaced with the colors of real life, sunrise paints the flanks of my steed a breathtaking blue. The forested hills around me slowly exhale their cigarette-smoke misty gloom out to sea, and I feel myself want to follow along. A steady westerly march toward the coast is calling to me, a hundred miles inland, and I must abide. Perhaps, somewhat foolishly, Porsche places a set of keys to their new 2017 991.2 into my waiting hands. This Porsche is more than a car, it is an escape pod. I’m leaving behind the real world and heading for paradise. With a turn of the key I light the fires and set off on the journey of a lifetime; destination happiness.
As I pulled out of the parking lot and began my ascent into the wooded hills of the NorCal morning, I felt that there were a whole lot of similarities between the outgoing 991.1 car and this new 991.2 Carrera. The interior is much the same, save for a larger PCM module screen in the center console, a new 918-inspired steering wheel, and a few other minor tweaks, this is definitely a dance with a familiar friend. The drive route ahead of me is probably the perfect place to explore the benefits of the new engine, as the switchback curves, altitude, and relatively low speeds all conspire to show off the turbocharged lump’s instant-on torque curve and additional shove. With only a couple dozen minutes of drive time, I can already tell that Porsche has got the formula right with the 991.2. This new engine is Porsche’s biggest drivetrain change since the switch to watercooled back in the late 1990s. Does this new engine keep the Porsche faith, or is it as big a paradigm shift as people fear? Read on to find out.
Let’s begin by gathering around the elephant in the room, and we’ll discuss it for a minute before we move on. The new turbocharged 3-liter engine does sound different. It is quieter, it is more muffled, and it is certainly less aurally engaging. That’s not to say this engine doesn’t sound good, mind you. It still has a lot more character than your average sports car. You can tell that there is a deep underlying snarl to the exhaust note, something like an ursine growl obscured under a thick blanket. Where the last naturally aspirated Carrera sounded like a howling grizzly, this new car sounds like a bear whose hunger has been sated. The sound is assuredly enhanced when the PSE (Porsche Sport Exhaust) option box is ticked and the button is pressed. If you’re like me, however, you’ll only want to drive the car with the sport exhaust flaps open, or you’ll immediately order an aftermarket sport exhaust to install for permanent aural enhancement. Keeping the decidedly non-Carrera sound in mind, is this power unit improved enough to be worth the compromise? In a word, absolutely.
The Driving Experience
As mentioned before, the driving experience of the new Carrera is very similar to the outgoing car, but everything has been slightly enhanced. The wheels and tires are wider to provide more lateral grip, the power is increased, and comes on earlier, giving you a healthy improvement in seat-of-the-pants shove, the already impressive steering is further improved, and the Porsche now sits lower. That’s just the standard stuff, If you are lucky enough to get a Carrera S, you can order rear wheel steering (RWS). The RWS system takes a little bit of getting used to, as it gives a bit of a ‘loose back end’ feeling in high-speed corners if you’re not familiar with that unique sensation. Once you grow accustomed, though, this system makes the Carrera feel like a much smaller car than its footprint would have you believe. At low speeds, the turning radius is greatly reduced, and at high speeds, the car has an artificially enhanced “short wheelbase” feel. Everything about the Carrera that you loved before has been tuned up, enhanced, and tweaked to provide an improved, and yet familiar, drive.
As you mat the throttle, you notice that the engine produces more power quicker, and acceleration is impressive. In the past I’ve been relatively milquetoast about the “normal” Carreras, preferring the GTS models for that extra bit of flair, or any of the myriad other higher-performance models. With this new 991, however, I think that the Carrera has been elevated to among the greats. The Guards Red car above is a low-spec model, and it delivered a connected toothy-grin-inducing drive on par with the best I’ve ever had. Fitted with a 7-speed manual, sport seats, a sport exhaust system, and not much else, this Porsche was under $100k delivered, and it was glorious. You can spec your 911 however you want, but I’d suggest at least test driving a car in low spec like this. As amazing as the Carrera S was, what with rear steer, PDK, fancy paint and all the bells and whistles, I’d be hard pressed to pick anything but this bog-standard model. It is the simple and elegant solution.
For the morning portion of the day, I spent all of my time in coupes, which worked out well, as the pre-lunch cold was enough to keep the windows up and the heated seats providing warmth. The drive through some of the ancient redwoods was truly awe-inspiring, and considering we were on some of the best driving roads north of Sacramento, it couldn’t have been better. For the afternoon, I traded in the keys of the gorgeous MiamiBlau Carrera 2S for a set that fit the ignition of a GT Silver Metallic Carrera 4S Cabriolet. Because the sound of this generation of 911 is so inexorably linked to the driving experience, I’m going to briefly talk about it again here, as to how it changed with the juxtaposition of coupe and cab.
The Sounds Of The New 991.2 Turbo Charged Engines
Chances are, in this car you’ll rarely even notice that it is turbocharged. The torque curve of the new engine looks like a plateau in that it steeply rises and then stays flat for essentially the entire rev range. The car still revs ridiculously high for one that’s turborcharged, and the turbos are relatively small to produce near-instant boost and down low power. Because of the small turbos and the level of insulation provided, you’ll rarely hear the traditional turbo spool woosh in the coupe. I did notice it for a bit between about 4000 RPM and 6000 RPM, but you really had to listen for it to even hear it at all. In the Cabriolet, however, I spent a lot of time with the top down just modulating the throttle going up and down the rev range intentionally listening for the turbo sounds. Perhaps it was just the fact that I was often driving in a canopy of trees, or next to a natural wall of stone to reflect the sound, or that the insulation of the coupe was gone, but the spooling turbos were much more audible in the cabriolet. From as low as 1500 RPM, you start to hear the ‘SSSHHH’ sound, and abruptly stepping off of the throttle pedal gave a clear ‘CHOOO’ as the pressure vented to the atmosphere. Are these bad noises? I’d argue definitely not, but then again I love turbocharged engines and the noises that come with them. If you’re used to the traditional naturally aspirated Carrera sounds, though, it’ll for sure take some getting used to.
Again, the inside of the car is essentially the same as the outgoing model, with only a few changes.
One of the most important changes to get used to in the new car, assuming you order a car of the PDK persuasion, is that the shift pattern has been reversed. The new PDK shifter requires a pull backward for an upshift and a push forward for a downshift. This is how every other automated-manual transmission in the industry shifts, and even how Porsche sets up their GT3 Cup cars with full sequential gearboxes. Another change to the shifting involves the paddles, which are now standard on all PDK equipped cars, and mounted with the upshift paddle on the right side of the steering wheel and the downshift paddle on the left side of the steering wheel. Again, this is essentially an industry standard, and a welcome change in Porsche land.
Benefiting everyone who has ever driven a Porsche, the new Porsche Communication Management unit in the center stack is vastly improved. Where Porsche used to use a finicky and fiddly navigation system, the new system is derived from Google Maps, and is so much better and easier to use than the old one. The touch screen, too, has been improved. Touch sensitivity, swipe-and-pinch operation, and general user interface are all much better, and it helps make the center stack of the Porsche feel as upmarket as the rest of the car has for years.
Selecting the C4S Cab for the afternoon could not have worked out better. The roads in the morning were seemingly hand-crafted for a relatively lightweight two-wheel drive sporting automobile, and the weather was more conducive to a closed top. In the afternoon, however, the Cab was the hot ticket, as the heavier Porsche featured a more comfort-oriented interior, all-wheel drive, a PDK gearbox, and of course a top that would go down. The sun came out and heated things up a bit, the roads also transformed into more straightaways and long sweeping curves, making the 991.2 with more “Grand Touring” style options the one to have. Any 911 would have handled this route superbly, but this particular piece was an absolute joy. I have a near-spiritual connection with convertibles, and given the option, I’d always prefer to have a top that goes down on my street cars. Everything just seems more relaxed and carefree when you can put the top down.
With all of this in mind, I can definitively say that Porsche has improved on an existing formula by adding turbocharged engines. Everything about the 991.2 is improved with a touch more power, and you even get the added benefit of improved fuel economy. I was worried about the changes to the sheetmetal, but after spending the day looking at new Carreras, I can say that it is coming around on me, and I really enjoy some of the changes made. The rear decklid, especially, brings to mind a long history of Porsche decklid grilles. The sport exhaust features two center-exit pipes that look really great, again linking the car to a long line of Carreras that came before.
No More Waiting
If you were waiting to place your order for a new 911 to see if the reviews came back positive, I’ll tell you right now that you shouldn’t wait any longer. This is a great Porsche, and after a short acclimatization period, you’ll grow accustomed to the new engine note. Yes, you’ll probably occasionally miss that full-throttle PDK upshift ‘POP’ sound, but you’ll get some great crackle on the overrun and an interesting ‘Schooom’ sound layer in the symphony of exhaust in the new car. The improvements to this generation of 911 definitely make up for its minor shortcomings. Go test drive one already!
[Images ©2016 FLATSIXES.com/Bradley C. Brownell, All Rights Reserved.]