Test Drives

2019 Porsche 911 review: Return of the King



Porsche makes far more sport utility vehicles than sportscars these days, and the company is fired up about the all-electric Taycan. Where does that leave the 911?

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND — Unless you’ve somehow only just teleported here from another world, you’ll know that you’re laying eyes on a Porsche 911. It happens to be the latest of the lot, and it’s just been launched in Singapore. But we spent time in the saddle it in New Zealand, where motorsport-mad Kiwis already got their hands on the new 911 in April.

Porsche makes far more sport utility vehicles than sportscars these days, and the company is fired up about the all-electric Taycan like crazy, if insiders are to be believed. Where does that leave the 911? Read on to find out.

So, what’s new?
With the Porsche 911? Pretty much everything. This is generation eight (or the 992, if you’re into the whole codename Shibboleth), and all of its body panels are new. Even their composition is new — the previous 991.2 was about one third aluminium, but this one is made up of roughly two-thirds of the stuff.

It’s a longer, wider car and it has a new engine, new gearbox and new cabin. So, not just a heavy facelift, then. What’s new with you?

Looks kinda familiar somehow…
Of course it does. It’s a Porsche 911. There’s that unmistakable shape, with the sort of frog’s squat of a stance and an upright windscreen that happens to give a terrific view out.

Given how the lamps sparkle at four points and the front bumper has wide corners, you can almost mistake one for a Panamera when it’s in your rear view mirror, but there’s no mistaking it for anything else but a 911 from any other angle.

The rear has raised lettering a la the earliest 911s, and there’s a horizontal LED strip that links the tail-lights — very contemporary Porsche, but if you ask us, also a throwback to the 993 (the last of the air-cooled Porsche 911s, and a very collectable car).

If you still have trouble telling the latest 911 from the others, the easiest giveaway is the third-brake light built into (or onto) the engine cover’s vents. 

Presumably it’s new inside, too?
Practically all-new, and highly contemporary as a result. There’s been a noticeable jump in quality and it all feels surprisingly solid now, but the dominant theme is (you’ve probably guessed this) digitalisation. There’s a central touchscreen to control all the infotainment and navigation stuff, along with the majority of the car’s settings.

That said, there are nods to the analogue world, which is important when a car has as much heritage as this one.

A row of physical switches sits under the main screen, and you start the car by twisting a sort of key-like lever — on the left of the steering wheel, where it belongs on a Porsche 911. There’s another classic Porsche touch in the form of a five-dial layout, but four of them are digital. The most important one — the rev counter — remains analogue and occupies pride of place in the centre.

It’s all new and familiar at the same time, though there is the odd ergonomic lapse. The outside door handles sit flush and tilt out to greet you, but the previous cars’ grab handles were easier to, well, grab.

Also, now you put the transmission into manual mode by pressing a button (right next to the Park button, as it turns out), instead of tipping the gearlever to one side as before, which was a quicker way to do it.

Why change what worked?
Why, indeed! To be fair, there are steering wheel paddles so you can drop a gear or two pretty much the instant the idea pops into your head. And maybe the gearshift is new because the transmission is new. It’s an eight-speed, twin clutch auto now. The lower gears have shorter ratios than before (meaning the engine revs higher for a given speed), which helps the 911’s acceleration, while the top two gears are for fuel economy’s sake — the car actually hits top speed in sixth!

Er, how fast does it go, exactly?
Very. Two versions are sale, although both have the same 3.0-litre, twin-turbo flat-six engine (meaning the cylinders are horizontal). It’s good for 450 horsepower and an epic 530 Nm of peak torque.

You get your choice of a Carrera S and Carrera 4S, which has all four wheels driven. In the past, all-wheel drive versions had wider bodies, but that’s all been harmonised with the 992, so it’s tough to tell the S and 4S apart now.

It’s even hard to separate them on paper, with the rear-drive Carrera S leaping to 100km/h 3.7 seconds (or 3.5 seconds as tested, with a Sport Chrono Package adding a Sport Plus driving mode that gives a fiercer launch from standstill), and the 4S taking just 0.1s less time to do the same.

Unless it’s snowing (or maybe extremely wet), it seems unlikely you’ll be able to feel the difference between them, too. We certainly didn’t.

What nutter would drive a Porsche 911 fast in the rain, anyway?
Actually, the 992 has a new “Wet Mode”. The car uses tiny microphones to listen for the sound of moist tarmac, and suggests you switch to Wet Mode if it detects potentially slippery conditions. We haven’t tried it, but presumably it calms down the power delivery, puts the stability control system on high alert, and so on. The point is actually to make driving in the rain safer, not to make your laptimes faster in the wet — although with Porsche’s habit of taking 911s racing, you never know!

Fair enough, but what’s it like in the dry?
In a word, fabulous. In more words, the 911 is more 911 than ever. Of course there’s buttock-clenching levels of grip, but more than that, it feels natural and organic, like a thing alive. On a nice road — and New Zealand has plenty — it flows along like water down a channel.

Over bumps, dips and esses it just glides with enormous grace, and always feels secure even as its agility imposes itself over the proceedings.

A new steering rack makes it feel more eager to turn but the 911 never feels darty, and though the optional rear-axle steering adds just a smidgen of deftness, without it things are very, very close.

The ballistic new engine only adds to the sense of coherence. It’s tirelessly powerful, but never, ever feels like it’s about to overwhelm the chassis.

Consequently, full-bore acceleration in the 992 is a thrill, but it doesn’t feel scary. The standard mixed tyres must help with that: 21-inch wheels at the back for traction, 20-inch in front so steering feel doesn’t disappear.

A dozen years ago this would have been the stuff of fearsome 911 Turbos, but now you can have it in “just” a Carrera S.

Surely there’s no such a thing as “just” a 911?
Actually, on one level the Porsche has always been delightfully unpretentious. This is something you plop into, fire up, and drive to work, day-in, day-out. There are rear seats (but only for kids) and the boot in front might not sound huge at 132 litres, but it’s very deep. 

The suspension dampers are now active ones as standard, and they have a wider envelope of settings than before, but even in the Sport mode things never really get jiggly inside. The ride is firm, as you’d expect, but you roll over something, the car reacts, and that’s the end of that until the next bump. About the only threat to refinement is the intrusion of tyre noise; on the highway you’ll have to turn your podcast up quite a bit to hear it.

On the whole, though, this is a remarkably comfortable car considering it’s good for more than 300km/h.

In fact, that’s pretty much the neatest trick in the Porsche 911’s rather thick book of them. If there’s a good road separating you from your destination you’ll have the most engaging time negotiating it, yet when you’ve arrived you’ll feel like you wanted more, because you’ll have gotten there feeling fresh. Almost as if you teleported in from another planet.

Porsche 911 Carrera S

Engine 2,981cc, flat-6, twin-turbo
Power 450hp at 6500rpm
Torque 530Nm at 2300-5000rpm
Gearbox 8-speed dual-clutch
Top Speed 308km/h
0-100km/h 3.5 seconds (with Sport Chrono Package)
Fuel efficiency 9.5L/100km
VES/CO2 C2/216g/km
Price S$546,588 without COE
Agent Stuttgart Auto
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Leow Julen
Leow Ju-Len is a lot older than he behaves. He's been writing about cars for 25 years. Someday he might do it coherently. Ju-Len believes in world peace and V8s, but not necessarily in that order.