To many driving purists, the perfect 911 is rear-driven & stick-shift
(This article was first published in #49 of TopGear Singapore in April 2016)
SINGAPORE – Porsche is never afraid to push the performance envelope, but we’re not just talking about upping the stakes in the escalating power arms race either, since that’s something every other sportscar maker has been doing.
With a spike in performance figures for all the other models (the new biturbo C2S already sees its 0-100km/h sprint time drop to 3.9secs with Sport+), many folks must surely have wondered where the limited-production, lightweight and rear-drive 911 R, with its naturally-aspirated 4.0-litre from the GT3 RS and 6spd stick-shift, would fit into Porsche’s performance hierarchy.
(Click HERE to read about our drive in the 911 R)
After all, its credentials and price point mean it nudges the top of the 911 heap, so it should naturally out-gun every other 911 model, right? Well, not quite, since that’s not quite the point of the car, but this is moot as far as the single-digit allocation for the 911 R in Singapore is concerned – from what we hear, they’re all taken, and there are likely waiting lists for any of the first wave who decide not to take up the car! You can tell from the opening picture this article isn’t about the 911 R, but it’s a roundabout way of demonstrating that it needn’t always be about the bigger and badder performance numbers, something a lot of us have lost track of.
After sampling Porsche’s excellent PDK gearbox in a great many applications, our conclusion is it’s faster, better and far more consistent than any regular Joe can humanly shift, corner after corner after corner. So we’re not drudging up that age-old debate relating to manual versus automated, because we can’t dispute the latter is as quick as greased lightning, which is A-ok as long as your prime objective is to be the fastest around any given circuit – however, this isn’t everyone’s plan for their cars. For most of the working folk who work automated 9-9 office jobs and only get a chance to enjoy their sportscars on the weekends, hitting the track may not even be on the agenda for them.
Considering these stiffs are stuck in well-oiled office environments dealing with other stiffs the whole working week, the last thing they want is to unwind in a similar environment, which is why so many enthusiasts continue to enjoy stirring the stick-shift honey-pot to this very day, be it on the cool weekend mornings around Singapore, or for half-day forays up North into Malaysia to enjoy the winding roads.
Now if these guys’ urges were along the lines of fast-faster-fastest, the easiest way to go would have been to buy a PDK Turbo or Turbo S, but that’s clearly not always the case. Porsche has a finger on the pulse of its purist enthusiast fan-base who appreciates the appeal of working a car hard, and being worked hard in return, because otherwise, something like the 911 R could never have come to pass.
If you take out the hardcore 911 GT models, as well as the snob appeal of buying the most expensive variant on sale, we’ve always maintained that the rear-drive C2 and C2 S models are the sweetest balanced 911s Porsche sells – not necessarily the fastest mind you, but certainly the sweetest – so what we’ve done here is to rustle up a Carrera gang-bang of not just rear-driven, but also stick-shift 911 variants to usher in the new type 991.2 911.
(Click HERE to read about the 964 RS, 993 RS & 997.2 RS)
911 S – Goin’ Green
Don’t laugh at her diminutive size, because this lil ol’lady still has her teeth and isn’t afraid to bite. Not only that, she also put the biggest grin on our faces whenever we took her out. In fact, her visceral, unadulterated drive proved to be so charming we would conjure up all sorts of excuses just to spend more seat-time in her. Ok, so it isn’t a real 2.7 RS, but her roots can be traced to the ‘G’ series MY74 911 S with USA-regulation impact bumpers, which like the RS from the generation before, features a 2.7-litre with forged pistons stuffed into its pert behind.
The owners have turned her into a faithful RS replica, engine, lightweight bits, fixed ducktail and all, albeit in the ‘G’ series body (with its impact-bumpers removed for more accurate reproduction). Now we’re normally not terribly enamoured of homages, but in this case, it’s not a RS collective story, but rather to celebrate the joy of rear-driven, manual 911s.
With the exception of the peppermint 964 that closely followed it in terms of sheer magnetism, this RS replica grabbed the most eyeballs with its charm, but what normally got people craning their necks for a better look was the mechanical symphony that blared out whenever the car was driven in anger. And ‘in anger’ is pretty much the only way of driving this Miss Daisy, because the close ratio 5spd gearbox lets you provoke the most frenetic responses from the flat-six – coupled to a kerbweight of pretty much a tonne, the car will leave many contenders gnashing and grinding their teeth in its wake.
Compared to the feature-laden cabins and electronic what-have-yous of the later water-cooled 911s, the two air-cooleds in our company boast a minimalist simplicity that allow one to concentrate solely on the drive. As far as we’re concerned, the only music we ever needed came from the powertrain and engine as we worked one another to the bone.
Every aspect of the drive is unassisted, from steering, brakes, clutch and shifts, so when you hear the blips on downshifts from a distance, you can be sure it’s the driver not the car doing it. It’ll even sit two in the rear, but with no air-conditioning, the car is best exercised in the early morning or night, because the sweat you’ll work up from working her out already provides loads of deep heat without the added sear from the sun.
The dainty proportions make it such a cinch to place in the corners that you’ll have a hoot tackling them hard, while its lightness of being is something that’s conspicuously absent from its predecessors, even though the new models do see a jump in performance figures.
Like we said before, we don’t always need the fastest model available to enjoy fast-road driving, but the car has to be engaging enough to feel like the driver is doing his part, and not just stomping-and-going quickly. The sight, sounds and smells from the ol’lady as you’re gripped by the D’Eser sports-seat add to her appeal, with every workout leaving you sweaty, smelling of her, but most importantly, smiling...
964 C2 – Minty Freshness
The type 964’s first appearance was as the all-wheel drive Carrera 4, with the 100kg lighter C2 following later – both wore identical body-shells, unlike more recent times, where the C4/C4S feature wider, more aggressive bodywork, although we’re not sure why considering the choice for passionate drivers should be the rear-drive model.
Most important for the marque was the introduction of a 4spd Tiptronic transmission for the Carrera models – previously, the ‘automatic’ option was Porsche’s semi-automated Sportomatic system. Although the 964 maintained the same classic shape as the ‘G Series’, the 964 featured 85 per cent new parts including improved aerodynamics and a rear-spoiler that deployed at speeds above 80km/h, but could also be manually actuated from within the cabin. Like its predecessors, the cockpit features zero embellishments to distract one from driving.
The C2 shares that same nimble agility of the RS, but there’s slightly more looseness to its tail compared to the latter, so tackling unfamiliar stretches require plenty of commitment and a healthy dose of caution. As much as the driver is plugged-into everything the car is doing, you’ll always be conscious of the engine’s bobbing weight in the rump end of the car.
On the move, there’s a feisty urgency from the car and you can really hustle the 5spd stick-shift, albeit not to the extent you’ll be worried for your license. The ride isn’t unnecessarily firm, and there’s so much information available to the driver from seat-of-pants and steering it’s never hard to drive it like you stole it.
Like so many cars from the era, the driver can be happily engaged at fast-road speeds that will still give you time to react to changes in the road environment – compare this to the ‘effortlessly fast’ new cars that are truly happy only on a closed circuit. Like the RS, there’s an achingly melodic note to the C2 that really stirs the soul and even though it features air-conditioning, we’re unashamed to admit we drove with the windows down to enjoy the full experience.
As we drive the cars in old-to-new chronological order, it’s easy to pick-up on the levels of refinement that have started encroaching into the 911 that have led to its evolution from a hard-nosed driver’s car to an all-rounded sportscar. Porsche’s iconic sportscar is also expected to be a trailblazer at the forefront of technology and progress – the latter not just means going faster, gripping better and braking harder, but also points to features that make it easy and more accessible to owners other than the hardcore purist base the brand originally appealed to.
993 C2 - Silver Fish
The type 993 not only marked the end of the air-cooled 911s, but it was also styled and equipped in a manner that befitted a premium sportscar. This generation kick-started the trend for the S models to receive the wider Turbo bodywork, although the engine remained unchanged from the non-S’s 3600cc. Plush insulation, sunroof, cold air-conditioning and electric seats were just a few of the concessions to comfort and it’s easy to be seduced by the refinement of the cabin in the daily drive to work.
Compared to the earlier two, the 993 C2 is a slippery, sharp instrument but it’s also gradually masking the full onslaught of a 911 drive experience from the occupants. This particular car had Varioram fitted; the induction runner length could be actively changed depending on engine rpm and the flexibility of the power-band resulted in a slick all-rounder that could be used as readily in start-stop traffic as it could chasing the red mist or high-speed grand touring the highways.
Despite its creature-comfort refinements it was only marginally heavier than the 964 so there was still pokey performance to be enjoyed at this ‘entry-level’ of the 911 range.
Independent suspension all-round also resulted in a pliant ride, yet the body-control and keen reflexes of the car on the winding roads was never short of exemplary. Although it had a sports exhaust, it’s best appreciated as a bystander because the cabin insulation means you'll never get to enjoy the ruckus it raises under hard acceleration.
996 ‘40th Anniversary’ - GT-up
In the tradition of Porsche’s ‘Anniversary’ models, the 996 40th Anniversary has been endowed with choice bits that make it look different, but also out-handle the regular Carrera. These ‘40 Jahre’ 911s are individually numbered out of a total of 1963 units (the first 911 nee 901 was shown at the motor-show in Frankfurt in 1963) and only available in GT Silver, with redesigned front and rears and other trim niceties compared to the regular C2 – it gets the Turbo front with larger radiator air inlets.
In fact, this is perhaps the most prominent view of the car, especially with the controversial ‘fried egg’ headlights of the 996, never mind that this water-cooled 911 was designed completely from scratch and boasted the largest number of variants at that time. Of course in today’s context, Porsche’s line-up ranges from Boxster to Panamera, with Cayman, Macan, Cayenne and 911 in-between, so there’s a mind-boggling array of model derivatives to suit every niche, budget and purpose, from runabout to high-performance.
In addition to the trim and equipment, the 40th Anniversary also enjoyed slightly more engine performance thanks to the X51 Powerkit, but more importantly, sharper handling, with sports suspension, PSM and limited-slip differential as standard. The sports seats feature colour-coded seat-backs and grip well but not snug so there’s good comfort even on long drives, even for four occupants.
There’s a more incisive feel to the 40th compared to the 993 C2, with a good blend of involvement and refinement, so it wasn’t quite uncompromising GT3 (and the later RS) hardcore, but had performance that would egg the driver into eking out the most from her potential, yet be able to serve commuter duties and clear parking humps with aplomb.
Enough of the drive gets through to the driver, while the high levels of torsional rigidity provides dynamic body-control while cornering. On the move, the gear-shifts are snickety-snick short-throw and slick enough to allow quick-shifts, especially since the 0-100km/h sprint time of the 40th has fallen below five seconds. Despite the criticisms of Porsche’s move to water-cooled engines, the 40th’s 3.6-litre’s aural performance is thrilling and quickly raises the hackles on your spine, especially since Variocam Plus with valve timing and lift control also bolsters up the low and mid-range with a nice wedge of torque for slow-traffic progress.
997 C2 S - Pitch Black
The only C2 S in our company, the type 997 also brought bigger engines into play for the ‘S’ models beyond just big bodywork. This pre-facelift model (facelift 997s came with direct-injection and PDK) displaces 3824cc and is one of the rare ones in Singapore in 6spd manual. It’s certainly bulked up over its predecessors, but more power and even sharper dynamics see the sprint from standstill to 100km/h dispatched in just 4.8secs.
However, everyone knows that fast straight-line performance is just a means to get you cosy with the corners quickly, especially if you’re stringing together a series of corners on the winding roads.
The 997 also sees the introduction of a variable transmission ratio for the steering to aid handling and ease the driver’s effort as the car transitions from city streets, to wide highway and then the B-road battles.
The fact that it’s manual gives one a modicum of control, and it makes all the right noises but you can see how far it’s come from the original image of the 911.
It used to be you’d exit the car with a rumpled shirt, stained jeans and sweaty body with no complaints, but with the latest cars, you can get in and drive in full business attire and exit without the slightest discomfort or aching arms…
...such is the price of progress so make of it what you will, but what’s most laudable is how Porsche has managed to preserve its sporting DNA even with such concessions to comfort.
PHOTOS Zotiq Visuals
Engine: 2687cc, 12v, flat6
Transmission: 5spd manual
Top speed: 220km/h
Engine: 3600cc, 12v, flat6
Transmission: 5spd manual
Top speed: 260km/h
Engine: 3600cc, 12v, flat6
Transmission: 6spd manual
Top speed: 270km/h
996 ‘40th Anniversary’
Engine: 3596cc, 12v, flat6
Transmission: 6spd manual
Top speed: 290km/h
997 C2 S
Engine: 3824cc, 12v, flat6
Transmission: 6spd manual
Top speed: 293km/h