Pity poor Porsche. Whatever improvements they make to the latest evolution of their evergreen 911 model, there seem to be a group of pundits who proclaim loudly that the old model was better. The latest 991 model is no exception, with the nay-sayers claiming that the car had been dumbed-down, and that the move to electric power steering has robbed the drive of that famed Porsche accuracy.
So a recent day spent at the Millbrook Proving Ground courtesy of the SMMT proved to be a great opportunity to catch up with the 991 and find out whether the pundits tales were accurate. To provide a real comparison, my transport to the event was a generation 2 997, which was the model immediately preceding the 991.
The test car for the day was a Targa GTS. Previous 993, 996 and 997 Targa models were equipped with an ingenious all-glass targa roof which when opened slid down inside the car to stow nestled snugly adjacent to the rear window. Whilst providing a large wind-in-the-hair opening, rearward vision through the rear window could then be a little restricted. For the 991 however, Porsche have reverted to a targa system similar at first glance to the original Targa models of the 1980’s, with a broad roll hoop behind the rear seats and a fixed rear window.
Beyond that, though, old & new systems vary tremendously. The original Targas had a cloth lift-out section bridging the gap between the windscreen and roll hoop. In contrast, whilst the 991 still retains this section trimmed in cloth, it now forms part of a comprehensively powered folding roof system which is neatly tucked away under the rear deck when stowed. The roof can be raised or lowered within 20 seconds at the press of a button, although unlike some lesser convertibles, this can not be carried out unless the car is stationary.
Visually, the GTS features the 911 Carrera 4 body with wide-flared rear wheel arches and a wider track. Also standard are 20-inch diameter alloy wheels with centre-lock mechanism, painted in an exclusive matt black finish. Accentuating the nose styling are special trim elements and smoked bi-Xenon headlights, whilst the air intake grille on the rear engine lid features bespoke GTS black trim strips. Black chrome-plated exhaust tailpipes add to the strong visual identity.
Inside the car, it is instantly recognisable as a development of the 997 – and indeed the 996. From the trademark five-dials located clearly in front of the driver, to the very familiar seat controls, this is a case of evolution not revolution, at least on the surface. This is something which Porsche, in common with much of the German auto industry, are incredibly good at – steadily refining the package without compromise to the essential DNA of the product. Indeed, the most noteworthy change to the interior compared to the 997 is that there is now an electric handbrake, again to the dismay of the pundits. In reality, it proved entirely straightforward to use, releasing automatically as the throttle was pressed, and, unusually, being applied via a discreet lever under the dashboard.
On this, the GTS version, the seats were superbly trimmed in alcantara, indeed the entire cockpit exuded a quality of fit & finish which can only be dreamed of by lesser manufacturers. I thought the 997 cockpit was a special place to be: the 991 surpasses it.
The evocative flat-six power unit of the GTS is tuned to develop 430hp, an increase of 30 hp over the Carrera S. Even at this power, the car emits only 212g/km of CO2 and achieves a claimed combined 30.7mpg. 0-62mpg is despatched in an impressive 4.3 seconds, with the GTS going on to 187mph where conditions permit.
The test car was fitted with Porsche’s 7-speed PDK gearbox, as apparently are some 70% of 911’s sold presently. After starting life as a motorsport-only transmission some 20 years ago, this box is now widely regarded as one of, if not the best auto boxes available today. Gearshifts are barely detectable, and the car invariably presented the right gear to suit every road condition. Although gearchanging can be carried out manually via the steering column mounted paddles, in truth you would need to be hard pressed to beat the unerring and uncanny ability of the PDK unit to be continually in the right gear at the right time.
And what about that much-maligned electric steering? Well, I have to say that it does give a different feel to the 997’s hydraulic set-up. Is it worse? No, I really don’t think so. Certainly the car felt extremely planted & stable on the road, with the steering being absolutely neutral, absorbing the worst of Millbrook’s Hill Route negative cambers and the like with ease.
One area where the 991 beats the 997 decisively is in ride quality. Even in the PASM’s softest setting, the 997 can be over-harsh on certain road surfaces; the 991 in similar conditions provides a much more smooth ride, evidence of just how much suspension technology has improved in just a few years.
Performance, with the 430hp on tap from the GTS’s 3.8 litres, was superb and never found wanting, whether the car was being wafted along in best Sunday afternoon motoring style, or attacking the aggressive & unforgiving grades & corners of the Hill Route it invariably inspired confidence.
This relaxed yet focussed performance was also evident at higher speeds. Although the Millbrook High Speed Bowl was subject to a 100mph upper speed limit on the day, the 991 hit this speed with ease, and felt as if it would sit at that speed all day. And the Targa roof at that speed? Incredibly, with the roof open, conversation at normal volumes was easily possible, and with no more than a relatively gentle disturbance of the hair on the top of your head, with no icy blast at the back of your neck such as would be expected from most lesser drop-tops at speeds much lower than this.
The verdict? A worthy successor both to the 997 and previous Targa models, offering worthwhile improvements. Not cheap – the test car retails at £116,457, even without dipping into Porsche’s extensive options list – but a stunning example of automotive engineering at its best.
Interested? Find out more on the Porsche website here: http://www.porsche.com/uk/models/911/911-targa-4-gts/