I have a theory that the patchy quality of the GT-R’s cabin and its heavily dated switchgear is a running joke at Porsche. ‘Reinhard’s new briefcase is so cheap,’ they might laugh, ‘it must have been made by Nissan!’ Yes, the GT-R’s cabin is completely outclassed by the modern German offerings, but that does nothing to diminish what is one of the highest quality driving experiences at any price. ‘It isn’t really my sort of car,’ says Colin, ‘but it is incredible to drive. I think it could be the best four-wheel-drive performance car ever.’  

The magazine group test isn’t necessarily an environment in which the F-type thrives. Being a bigger and heavier car than its rivals, it can feel a bit wallowy and floaty in direct comparison. Never dim-witted or leaden, though, because it has so much grip, such a keen front end, such immediate steering response – to the point of being contrived, in fact – and so much raw performance that it always feels like a livewire. 

What it doesn’t have is the Porsche’s or the Nissan’s rock-solid body control, both in terms of roll and also over crests and undulations. If you take the time to tune into it, though, rather than jumping from one car to another, as tends to be the way on group tests, you soon learn how to get the best out of it. 

The trick is to be smoother and more fluid with your inputs, allowing the car to settle on its springs on initial turn-in before really committing to a bend. Nonetheless, there is still a disconnect for me between the strong self-centring effect of the steering and the manic rate of response at the front axle. The car will dart into an apex with immediacy and laser-like precision, but the lifeless, elastic helm leaves you feeling removed from it all. 

Ultimately it isn’t a major hindrance to your pace or enjoyment down a winding stretch of road, once you’ve grown accustomed to its ways. This rear-wheel-drive F-type R, rather than the All Wheel Drive models we’ve tested on a couple of occasions in recent months, is clearly very traction-limited in the wet – supercharged V8s do tend to overwhelm two contact patches in greasy conditions – but in the dry it is more engaging. With so much power on tap, you can provoke the rear axle under load alone, not needing momentum as well to feel the back end of the car sliding away from a corner. It’s a much simpler and more timeless driving style than the GT-R’s and, although the F doesn’t have that car’s outright dynamic ability, it is a great deal of fun. It has character, too, thanks in no small part to that 5-litre engine and a comically flatulent exhaust note. 

The new, turbocharged 911 Carrera’s £76,000 price tag pitches it against some seriously hard-hitting rivals, including Nissan’s mighty GT-R, Jaguar’s ballistic F-type R and BMW’s feisty M4. Here it takes on its new-car rivals, while on the next page it squares up to some tempting second-hand alternatives

By DAN PROSSER

I’m yet to lose any sleep over the 911’s switch to turbocharging, but I can’t help but feel a tinge of trepidation the very first time I apply any meaningful pressure to the Carrera’s throttle pedal. What if the car’s been completely ruined? Second gear, 2000rpm, foot down. Response is good. The rev-counter needle sweeps around quickly and in a completely linear manner. There’s no sudden surge as the boost arrives. The needle swings around to 7000rpm, the exhaust note hardens a little and I change up with a tug of a paddle. It all feels so… familiar. 

I repeat the process a number of times and, soon enough, a question forms in my mind. If Dr Wolfgang Hatz – the now former head of R&D who oversaw the development of these new turbo engines – were to call my mobile right now and explain, while laughing hysterically at the brilliance of his hoax, that the whole turbocharging thing was just a hilarious wind-up that everybody fell for and that, obviously, 911s will always be naturally aspirated, you idiot, would I have grounds to doubt him? What exactly is there to tell me that this engine is being boosted by a pair of exhaust-driven turbines?

A few hundred miles later, and with no missed calls from Dr Hatz, I have my answer. You would need to have become very familiar with the earlier engines, I reckon, to notice that this new unit is more muscular from low down, that it doesn’t fizz with quite the same energy throughout the rev- range, that it doesn’t have quite the reach right at the top end and that the exhaust note is just a little flat. I’ve never come across a turbocharged engine that disguises its manner of induction as effectively as this one. It just does not feel turbocharged. But when I think back to the old atmospheric motors, it just isn’t as soulful or as exciting, either. 

With one hand Porsche giveth, with the other hand it jabbeth in the ribs. It was always inevitable that these new engines would be better in some ways and worse in others and, overall, the trade- off seems reasonably fair. The added flexibility at lower revs is useful – undoubtedly even more so with a manual gearbox – and fuel economy has improved slightly in normal driving. But there isn’t the effervescence of old, nor the soundtrack. As Colin Goodwin notes: ‘911s always made a wonderful range of noises. This one is just a bit monotonous until you get it right to the top end. 

‘But what would Porsche have to do to completely ruin the 911? It’s such a great car that even turbocharging hasn’t done it,’ Goodwin continues, before muttering something derisory about water-cooling. 

Therein lies the crux of the matter: Porsche has implemented turbocharging with such skill and sympathy that the net loss is pretty minimal. As it turns out, though, 911 purists have an entirely different reason to be concerned… 

NO OTHER SPORTS CAR ENGENDERS the same protective instinct among car enthusiasts as the Porsche 911. Perhaps it’s because so many of us own one now, have done so in the past or aspire to in the future. Maybe it’s because the 911 has been around in one form or another for more than five decades. Whatever it is, the mournful cry of the purist in response to yet another raft of irreversible changes – be it the switch from air- to water-cooling, from hydraulic to electric power steering or, most recently, the turbocharging of all mainstream models – has become almost a part of the car’s fabric.  

The facelifted 991-generation Carrera models now use twin-turbocharged, 3-litre flat-sixes, which brings to an end 53 years of robustly guarded tradition. Whether you consider it the end of days for a once great car or you find the frenzied outcry entirely laughable, we can surely all agree that this is a significant moment in the ongoing narrative of the sports car. 

A great deal has been made, not least by Porsche itself, about the fuel efficiency improvements that have been achieved. The factory reckons on ten per cent reductions in consumption for both Carrera and Carrera S, which hardly seems like a significant enough return to outweigh all the mudslinging. There is another reason that Porsche took the decision to turbocharge, though, and it’s illustrated very neatly by the collection of cars you see on these pages. The 911’s rivals all use powerful turbo or supercharged engines, and given that the unique architecture of the 911 rules out a bigger motor with more cylinders, Porsche had to turbocharge simply to stay on the pace. Those naturally aspirated 3.4 and 3.8-litre engines that powered the pre-facelift models had nothing more to give and, while you and I might agree that they were far from underpowered, we must also accept that the game just isn’t played that way.  

After the event, though, it only really matters how well the job has been done. If Porsche has set new standards for forced induction and broken new ground for the turbocharger, the frenzy could all be for nothing. The Guards Red 911 you see here is a plain rear-wheel-drive Carrera, rather than the more powerful S version. Apart from its PDK gearbox and sports exhaust, it’s more or less as basic as new 911s come, which will give us the best opportunity to not only understand this new power unit, but also to assess the updated car’s dynamics without the added complications of rear-wheel steering and variable anti-roll bars – both options on the Carrera S. 

The numbers are 365bhp, 0-62mph in 4.6sec and 183mph flat-out (4.4sec and 182mph with PDK). They’re strong figures, but at £76,412 basic the Carrera is positioned alongside some much more powerful cars, with cheaper alternatives also offering considerably more power.

The Nissan GT-R costs just £1600 more than the basic Carrera, but, with 542bhp and a startling sub-3sec 0-62mph time, it exists on an entirely different planet to the 911 in performance terms. The Jaguar F-type R Coupe, too, is vastly more potent than the Porsche. It matches the GT-R for power output and will hit 62mph in 4.2 seconds, although, at £86,810, it is £10,000 more expensive (we’ve opted for the R model because it’s closer in price to the Carrera than the £62,000 V6 S). 

The BMW M3 – or M4 these days, to the detriment of pithy references – has long been a screw in the tread of the Carrera. It has always been both more powerful and significantly cheaper than the base model 911, and so it is with these latest versions. The M4 is the better part of £20,000 cheaper, but with 425bhp it has a 60bhp advantage and gets from 0 to 62mph in 4.1sec.

‘In performance terms, the GT-R exists on an entirely different planet to the 911’

‘Nobody has ever explained the concept of understeer to the front axle of the M4’

‘Rather like the Carrera, the M4 also tries to disguise its turbocharging’

‘The rear-
wheel-drive
F-type is clearly very traction-limited in the wet… but it’s a great deal of fun’

Unlike the Carrera, the GT-R is supposed to feel distinctly turbocharged. It’s a big part of the car’s character. No matter how many times I drive a GT-R, I’ll never grow accustomed to the rate of acceleration it’s capable of. In fact, I’m surprised by it at every corner exit. In contrast to the 911’s smooth linearity, the Nissan’s 3.8-litre V6 is sleepy at low revs, starts to pull really hard from around 3000rpm, then snaps up to its limiter with a scary ferocity. It’s a very different approach to turbocharging and, although it does demonstrate that a blown motor can be a thrilling thing, there’s nothing the Carrera can learn from it. 

Even after all these years, the GT-R driving experience is an utterly intoxicating one. The hydraulic steering – unique in this test – is feelsome and surprisingly delicate, which seems to sit at odds with the overall brutishness of the rest of the package. It’s like finding out Tyson Fury reads Romantic poetry. It also means you can place the big Nissan with real precision on the road, and you get a clear picture of how much grip there is to lean on, although regardless of the prevailing conditions that never seems to be anything less than ‘chuffing loads’. 

You can have the GT-R heavily loaded up mid-corner, feeling as though you’re really pushing it hard, and yet, if you were to dial in another 20 degrees of steering lock and stand hard on the power, the car would just snap into a new trajectory without fuss. It has agility to burn, but despite its enormous reserves of grip there’s a real liveliness to the chassis balance, too, both in the entry phase to a corner and under power. The GT-R is so much more than a grippy, point-and-squirt machine; once you get it up on its toes it’s incredibly malleable and adjustable. Combine that playfulness with its outrageous straight-line performance and you have a machine of unrivalled excitement and intensity.  

Turbocharged M4 chases supercharged F-type R. Both cars
are fast and fun but also flawed

‘Others may be faster, but the 911 remains the purest sports car experience’

PHOTOGRAPH By ASTON PARROT


‘Some days I would want the insane sense of grip, turbocharged punch and diff-controlled agility that you get in the Nissan,’ says Henry Catchpole, ‘and other days I’d long for the on-demand fun of the Jaguar’s simple front-engine, rear-drive oversteer and the crackling, over-endowed V8. I can’t choose between them.’ 

We’ve criticised the latest-generation M3s and M4s in the past for feeling rather run-of-the-mill in the cabin, but this particular test car’s leather-lined dashboard – a £1075 option – does an enormous amount to lend it a sense of occasion. The seating position remains just-so and the seats themselves are terrific, too. 

Within a few hundred metres, you can detect the M4’s saloon-car underpinnings. It’s the cheapest car here by a huge margin precisely because it’s a derivative of a mainstream model, rather than a ground-up sports car. We should forgive it for falling short of its rivals here in certain ways, then, but as we’ll discover, there are one or two aspects of its behaviour that are difficult to excuse. 

Rather like the 911, the M4 also tries to disguise its turbocharging. The M3/M4 committed the Carrera’s forced-induction sin – if you choose to look at it that way – the best part of two years ago, bringing to an end almost 30 years of naturally aspirated tradition. The twin-turbo, 3-litre straight-six is a responsive and potent thing, but, like the Carrera’s flat-six, it lacks energy through the rev-range, a vibrant top end and a spine-tingling soundtrack. It’s more evidently a blown motor than the Porsche’s, though, its boosty, torque-rich delivery leaving you in no doubt about how all that power is being made. 

In dynamic terms, the M4 is a car of two halves. In sweeping, flowing bends and over an undulating surface – the sort of road where you’re not really cornering but you still need body composure – it’s loosely controlled and wayward. It can feel as though it might pogo off the road. It never does, of course, but that’s not the impression you want when you’re pressing on.

In tighter corners, though, it’s really very good. The key difference is that you can really load the chassis up, work through that phase of floatiness at the very beginning of the suspension travel and sit the weight of the car on its outer edge. Set that way, it then digs in and slices through corners like a real sports car. Nobody has ever explained the concept of understeer to the front axle and the optional carbon-ceramic brakes (£6250) give massive stopping power. 


Rather like the F-type, though, the M4’s rear axle is often overwhelmed by the engine’s torque, which can make it feel edgy and spikey on low-grip surfaces. What’s frustrating is that the slightly wayward body control hampers your pace, simply because you have to allow the chassis to recover from one input before making another. You have to drive with patience, noting with every hesitation that the other cars are gradually getting away. 

‘For me, an M-car should be able to provide most, if not all, of the honed polish and precision of the Porsche, just in a front-engined package,’ comments Henry. ‘It shouldn’t feel so much chubbier. I still enjoyed my drive over the Llanberis Pass with Goodwin chasing in the GT-R, but I felt like I was having to be pretty brave, taking a few risks to get it up on its toes where it comes alive. I just want it to be a bit more lithe and transparent.’ 

What else of the new boy? I had hoped this updated 911’s steering would have benefited from following in the tracks of the GT3 and GT3 RS, both of which steer with so much more of the texture and feel of previous generations. Unfortunately the new car’s helm is still pretty untalkative. I love the sensation of a steering system loading up just as the car squats down in hard cornering, and that’s not something this 911’s rack ever does, though it is very direct and keenly weighted.

What is very impressive, though, is how positive the front axle feels on turn-in on both dry and greasy roads, even without trail-braking. It just seems to snap into an apex despite being naturally unloaded. There is abundant body control, very cleverly combined with pliancy over bumps and an easy smothering of ruts and cambers. The Carrera just finds its way down a road with real quality and so little fuss. 

Were it not for the fact that the engine noise comes from a few feet away rather than just behind me, I might well believe that this was a mid-engined car. I don’t feel as though I’m managing a very light front end or a pendulous rear axle – at road speeds, at least. 

There’s a parallel here with the turbocharged engine: the chassis is so hard to fault in objective terms, but the distinctive 911 character has been eroded a little further once more. 

Certain diehard 911 fans will find that regrettable, but it’s not enough to cost the Carrera the group test victory. Others may be faster and more characterful, but, in spite of everything, the 911’s remains the purest sports car experience in the sector. 

‘The 911 is the worthy winner, despite not really driving like a 911,’ reckons Henry. ‘It’s just a very, very good sports car. The neutrality of the balance is almost Cayman-like and the flatness that it retains in corners is very un-911, but somehow you don’t care about that when you’re driving. The only real vestige of the rear-engined nature is the traction on the way out of corners.’

For the disappointed purist, Henry offers a grain of hope: ‘Interestingly the Carrera S that I drove on the launch did still feel very much like a 911…’

With thanks to Anglesey Circuit and RPM Technik.

New Carrera stays remarkably flat through corners – unless there’s a bump mid-turn...