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Thursday, November 22, 2012

First Drive: 2013 Porsche 911 Carrera S

There’s no shape more instantly recognizable than the silhouette of a Porsche 911. With its illustrious history going back to 1963, no other car has been the epitome of careful progress and evolution from the stables of Stuttgart in Germany. From tip to stern, the all-new 911 (internal designation 991) continues the legacy penned by Ferdinand “Butzi” Porsche but modernized with cutting-edge technology.

The all-new 911 is one of the biggest development steps in the history of the model. Almost 90 percent of components have been redeveloped including an all-new platform, only the third since the original 911. The new 911 grows 100 millimeters between the wheels and some 55 millimeters in overall length, but with shorter overhangs (minus 32 millimeters in front and 12 millimeters at the back) and a lower roofline than the previous model. Yet despite the increase in size, because the 911 predominantly uses aluminum in its construction, the new car is up to 50 kilograms lighter than before.

Designed by a team headed by Michael Mauer, the new 911, like other 911 models, pays homage to the 1963 original while still giving it an avant-garde touch. At the front, it has very wide-set headlights that are more three-dimensional. The front fenders are a bit more prominent while the signal lights now appear to float above the air intakes. At the side, larger alloy wheels (19’s are standard) and a more convex windshield contribute to an even jauntier appearance. At the three-quarters rear view, the 911’s more voluminous form becomes much more obvious and is juxtaposed by the use of thin taillight slivers which cap off at the protruding area of the bodywork.

Inside, the new 911’s interior is crafted with “driver integration” in mind. Taking cues from the legendary Carrera GT supercar, the driver feels in full command of the 911’s various controls thanks to a well-designed center console that rises up and joins a seven-inch touch screen. All of the functions and settings are grouped in logical clusters with the high-set gear selector located in close proximity to the steering wheel, very reminiscent of motorsport applications. The sport seats have been redesigned too, offering excellent support with electronic adjustment for both front occupants. And despite these modern touches, some of the more iconic Porsche touches such as the five round instruments (with central tachometer), an ignition lock located to the left of the steering wheel, and the Sport Chrono sitting top dead center on the dash remain on the all-new 911.

It’s easy for manufacturers to simply up the displacement to get better performance out of their sports cars, but Porsche has gone down the path of “downsizing” for the newest 911. The base 911 sees a reduction in displacement from 3.6 liters to 3.4 liters. And yet, power is up from 345 to 350 horsepower with torque remaining the same at 390 Nm. The 911 Carrera S tested ups the displacement to 3.8 liters and yields a nice, round 400 horsepower (up 15 from before) and 440 Nm of torque (up 20 Nm). These figures may not seem a ton of power these days, but Porsche has squeezed the most out of each and the 911 delivers a 0-100 km/h time of around 4.6 seconds for the Carrera and 4.1 seconds for the Carrera S.

More important than sheer raw figures is the way the Porsche 911 feels on the road. The suspension uses the tried-and-tested MacPherson Strut/Multi-Link setup, but modified spring rates, new damper characteristics, and longer travel (for the rear) improves ride and stability. This suspension set-up combined with Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC) active roll stabilization, makes the new 911 feel superbly neutral through corners and very level even during hard acceleration and braking. 911s are known for their unsettled balance because of its rear-engine, rear-drive layout, but the cornering limits and quick transitions on this new 911 aren’t unnerving this time around. Credit this to the Carrera S’s new Porsche Torque Vectoring technology which brakes the inside rear wheel in corners, enhancing the car’s handling. The new 911 also uses the brand’s first electro-mechanical power steering which starts off with a light effort with weight building appropriately as the speeds build up. The feedback through the 20-inch Pirelli P-Zero tires (245/30ZR20 front, 295/30ZR20 back) aren’t as transparent as a hydraulically-assisted rack, but it remains the best electric power steering set-up in the market today. And despite the thin tires, the ride quality is surprisingly compliant, even up through the elevated manhole covers of Bonifacio Global City.

As a daily driver, the 911 is also surprisingly quiet with the improved aerodynamics cutting down the wind noise and the stiffer structure with additional acoustic damping thrown in, curbing road noise. On the sound front, the Sound Symposer selectable exhaust note may sound gimmicky at first, but it’s actually a welcome development. It’s a passive system and does not create an artificial engine sound. It simply reinforces the boxer engine’s distinctive sound by picking up the intake vibrations through the throttle valve and air filter. The acoustic channel incorporates a membrane that transmits the vibrations into the interior in the area of the rear window shelf and a controllable valve in front of the membrane allows drivers to enjoy the flat six’s engine note on its open setting when driving for pleasure or can be closed for long-distance driving civility.

Diehard purists would certainly gravitate towards Porsche’s new seven-speed manual transmission, but there’s no denying that the Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe or simply PDK is an excellent piece of work that the average car guy will enjoy. Dual-clutch transmission may not be news, but this latest system is genuinely entertaining to drive while incorporating low-speed civility that rivals a traditional automatic. It also delivers quicker acceleration times than a conventional manual. With the Sport Chrono package installed, it adds launch control into the mix. It’s a simple system to use. From a stop, select the Sport Plus button on the center console, then press and hold the traction control button below it. Then step on the brake and the accelerator. Release the brakes and the 911’s off in rapid, repeatable fashion.

All in all, despite a shape which can be traced back close to fifty years ago, the Porsche 911 remains at the forefront of the sports car race. The new 911 once again sets the new standards thanks to its improved dynamics, enhanced driving dynamics and greater everyday practicality. From 1963 to 2012, things have changed: men went to the moon, communism in Europe has fallen, and the internet was born. Yet, there’s one thing that has remained the same: the Porsche 911 is still the measure by which all other sports cars are measured against.

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