First Impressions: The New Porsche 911 (aka 991)
March 1, 2012
By Harvey Yancey, President
Photos from Charlotte 991 Reveal

Unless you are now in your late 60’s or early 70’s your first experience with a truly new 911 was in 1998 when Porsche launched the 996. Yes, you can argue that the 964 was 90%+ new and the 993, well, it looked new and there was a new rear suspension. But in reality the core of those cars was the same as it was in 1964, which is not a bad thing. What other platform lasted 34 years? The VW Beetle definitely, but not many others.

Porsche takes a platform and refines to the point that it cannot refine it any further or is forced into making a change. The original 911 platform reached its’ pinnacle with the 993. If you have ever watched the movie ‘Blade Runner’ think of Roy Batty as the 993 and Dr. Tyrell as a Porsche Engineer explaining the facts of life: ‘You were made as well as we could make you.’

Enter the 996.

I think of myself as a bit of an anachronism when it comes to Porsche. I am a traditionalist in that I truly love the air cooled cars, especially the 356. All of my other track buddies, you know who you are (Bob, Rob, Bill, Jeff & James) don’t get it. They think of the 356 as an oddity. Sort of an experiment Porsche did with VW parts that was a stepping stone to the 911. But if you have ever driven or owned a 356, you get it. There is a purity and solidity that is impossible to find with other cars.

On the other hand I am a non-traditionalist, in that I have never had an issue with water cooled cars. I actually fell in love with the 928 after an encounter with a new one on the streets of Daytona Beach in 1978 during the Daytona 500 weekend. I also had an encounter with Linda Vaughn (aka Miss Hurst) the same weekend. Ok … I was 16 and I did meet Miss Vaughn.

I have owned two Boxsters, a 928 S4 and currently a Cayenne S. I would argue that all are true Porsches. Different approaches and different missions to be sure, but Porsches nonetheless.

So when the 996 hit our shores, I thought it was a great car. Yes, it was a bit slab sided but so was the original 911. I saw this as a clean sheet starting point as well as an homage to the 901. The flares and other refinements would come later… as they did. They always do with Porsche.

My personal car at the time of the 996 Launch was a 1983 911SC Coupe. It is one of probably three cars that I wish I had kept. Black on black with no wing. Torsion bar suspension and non-power steering goodness. So it should come as no surprise that when I first drove a 996, I think it was Rick Leander’s Guards Red 996 Cabriolet, it was a bit of a revelation. The engine so powerful and suspension so competent it made my SC seem like a throwback to the Stone Ages.

Since then I have driven several flavors of the 996 including the Turbo as well as the GT3 variants. All well engineered and all very fun to drive. The subsequent 997 took most all of the criticisms of the 996 and corrected most if not all. Many would say they let Tony Hatter, designer of the 993, loose on the 996 (actually it was Pinky Lai). We did get the hips back as well as the signature round headlamps. Sort of 996 + 993 = 997 I guess.

But in reality the 997 was an evolution of the 996. An evolution, but a very good evolution sprouting, I think at final count, 14 variants including the Speedster and the GT3 RS 4.0 as a final send off to the model.

991: Evolution or Something Else?

I, like most of you reading this, keep up with happenings in the automotive world. I generally think of Porsche enthusiasts as gear- heads with a love of all things mechanical that have experience with many marques, but settled on Porsche for one of several reasons. For me, it is the purity of the engineering. Everything that is there has a purpose. You may not know what that purpose is, but a German engineer probably did a thesis on it.

We have known that the new 911 had been coming for quite a while. We have seen it in the spy photos, we have seen it in videos from the Nurburgring. Now it is here in the flesh.

David Foster, GM at Hendrick Porsche, had told me a few months ago that he wanted my impressions of the 991 when they got one in. On January 26th I received an email from David asking if I had time to swing by the dealership.

About an hour later I was standing in front of a 2012 911 Carrera S with a PDK. First impressions … lower … longer … bigger. Not ‘holy cow’ bigger, but more like ‘I see where the extra 4 inches in the wheelbase went’ bigger. BTW – Most of that increase went between the rear of the doors and the rear wheel well. All the details were there. Tight gaps, impressive finish, well thought out.

Walking around the back of the car I had to confront one of the most controversial elements of the 991, the styling of the rear. This is the most obvious break with tradition on the entire car. For some reason, this part of the car does not photograph well but in person it works. But you will have to be the judge of that for yourself.

Upon entering the interior the first thing you notice is the rising console. Originating in the Carrera GT, this has become a design signature for Porsche that has been incorporated into the Panamera, followed by the second gen Cayenne and now the 911. We should see the same treatment in the recently announced next gen Boxster and then the next gen Cayman.

Overall the interior is familiar, but new at the same time. 5 dials, center tach, ignition on the left, etc. Immediately comfortable.

David drove the car initially as we headed down Margaret Wallace Rd. We soon pulled off and swapped seats. Taking time to adjust the seats, the steering wheel and then the mirrors. While adjusting the side mirrors however, I noticed one of the hidden elements of the car: hips. This car has hips more pronounced than the 993, but you don’t really notice it outside the car.

Interesting.

Before we pulled off to swap seats, my initial impressions with David driving were good power but kind of sedate. But before pulling out again David made it a point to set the car to Sport Plus and opened up the optional sport exhaust.

Dr. Jekyll, meet Mr. Hyde.

Upon entering the road and having some space for a full throttle burst, I began to experience something that I had only previously experienced in one other street car … a Ferrari F430. The pull and the linearity of the engine was astonishing. It felt more like a turbo but without the requisite delay and ‘whoosh’. Similar to the pull of a 996 GT3 but stronger. And the sound … oh the sound. Stunning.

Then the corners started coming. And although we had slowed due to traffic, I could tell that the chassis was planted. Oh, and the stories about the electric steering filtering out too much feedback … non-issue. While I could tell some things were being filtered out in my opinion it was negligible. I was getting the feedback I needed and wanted.

And the PDK? While I am still a dyed-in-thewool manual guy I really like the new PDK. It is infinitely better than the previous version in the 997 and very, very quick with that luscious blip of the throttle on the down shifts. My only complaint? The implementation of the push/pull shifter. I would order the optional paddle shifters with the PDK. Simpler and cleaner.

We decided to drive back to the dealership on the same outbound route, so we turned around at a shopping center where a guy driving a Mercedes SL probably got whiplash trying to get a look at the car. He clearly knew what it was.

We then had an open road with a sweeping turn … I took full advantage. In my 993, the pace at which we took that corner would have caused the rear to start coming around. In the 991, the chassis was completely unruffled and clearly wanted more however, in deference to my gracious host I decided not to push further.

The feel is more mid-engine than I had imagined but the 911 weight transfer on acceleration is still there. Similar yet different at the same time. And the brakes? One thing I always tell people about Porsches is that while they go great, they stop even better. This car is no exception. Great binders.

Upon our arrival at the dealership, it was hard not to smile. During the drive it was hard not to giggle to be honest. I told David that all he had to do with anyone sitting on the fence over buying the car is to let them take a test drive. That would seal the deal. I know of at least one member that has already taken delivery of one and know of several others that have placed orders.

My verdict? It still has all the elements of the 911 that we have all come to know and love, but it has raised its game and is now in the league of the F430 or the 458 Italia. It is like strapping on Superman’s cape.

My current ask of David is a drive in a 991 Carrera with a 7-speed manual transmission. I want to be able to compare a base car with few bells and whistles to the loaded Carrera S that I drove for this article. I can’t wait.