The Turbo was never the most tactile car in the 997 range, but the underlying sensations from its hydraulic steering still beat the 991’s EPAS. It’s surprisingly close, but there is just a richness to the movements, particularly around the straight-ahead, that the electric system can’t match. The Turbo’s four-wheel-drive system, on the other hand, is a mixed blessing, for while it provides the astounding traction that makes 479lb ft deployable even on a road that resembles a river, it also locks the car down dynamically in the corners. Outright grip is favoured over adjustability. In some ways the new Carrera is very similar – yes, the 991 feels purer because it’s rear-wheel drive, but it also feels remarkably tied-down. It is precise and enjoyably nimble with a huge amount of front-end grip, but, like the Turbo, it’s not a car you will unsettle without some real commitment. Even the rides are not dissimilar, both best left in their normal PASM damper settings.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise that these two are so closely matched, but which you would prefer will come down to the importance you put on an interior and how you like your performance delivered. Do you crave the heady rush of a single big hit, or the sharper responses and more linear delivery of the new engine? The old car certainly highlights how un-turbo-like the new car feels, as though the turbocharging is really just there to subtly torque-fill the lower end.
However, as an aside (and just to throw a spanner in the works!) the Turbo that I’ve found myself lusting after recently is a late gen-1 997, with the second-generation Porsche Communication Management and a manual gearbox. It was a more malleable car dynamically and the manual gearbox, although hefty, gave it a lot of character. They’re quite rare, but that just adds to the appeal. Richard is in agreement, but confesses that the PDK of this generation was a must for him for its ease of use, as he’s not the only one who drives the car. Talking of manual gearboxes…
Even before you pull open a swan-wing door, the Aston Martin is an easy car to fall head over heels for. I’m not sure you would ever get bored of seeing that compact yet graceful shape parked up outside your house. This car has the subtlest of the available paint options on an N430, with the white lipstick and A-pillar highlights blending coolly into the overall silver colour scheme.
Settle into the comfy and beautifully trimmed driver’s seat and you find yourself in an elegant if not tech-heavy environment, but there is Alcantara on the steering wheel, which makes up for any fiddliness in finding a Bluetooth connection. The glass ‘Emotion Control Unit’ also seems slightly less silly these days with all the chunky keyless keys. Sinking it into the dash, the starter spins briefly before the exhausts split the cold air with a mighty eruption of V8 noise, dislodging a squirrel from a nearby tree in the process. The N430 has always sounded good, but not this good.
The owner of this car, James McAllister, has had a full Bamford and Rose exhaust fitted to his N430 and, although it costs £6000, it releases an extra 41bhp and 33lb as an added bonus on top of the glorious soundtrack. Even better, you can simply turn the Sport button off and it’s as though the conversion never happened, allowing you to slink along almost covertly. Tuning like this is obviously appealing, particularly on a second-hand car, and I’m sure plenty would also think about a DMS upgrade for the 997 or a set of AC Schnitzer springs and dampers for the M6.
I’ve been a big fan of all the ‘N’ variants of the V8 Vantage, and the 430 is the best of the lot. The manual gearshift has always felt as though it’s set a touch high, but it’s so nice to have the interactivity of three pedals that any minor ergonomic foibles are easily overlooked. A blip of the throttle requires a more concerted lean on the accelerator pedal than you might expect, but again you quickly get used to it.
The suspension doesn’t quite have the incredible damping capacity of the new 991’s, but the balance it strikes between soaking up the bigger Welsh bumps and providing support and precision in the corners is pretty much spot-on. What’s more, the steering is possessed of a greater tactility than the Porsche’s. Some of this is simply due to the extra weight of the steering in the Aston, but its hydraulic assistance also gives you more feedback about what the surface of the road is like under the tyres. As a consequence, the Aston is an easy car to push hard but also a very rewarding one.
A front-engined rear-drive balance feels so right and, although the Vantage can feel a little reluctant to tuck into the tightest corners, for the most part it is just beautifully balanced. You can play with the grip at both ends, subtly pushing the car into almost imperceptible slides as required by the situation. It all adds up to a beautiful flow through the bends and, of course, if you want to indulge and corner with a bit more of a flourish, the Aston is happy to oblige, remaining stable and easy to read at remarkably big angles.
It’s not a particularly fast car in the modern scheme of things (photographer Dean Smith’s long-term Audi RS Q3 does a worryingly good job of filling my mirrors on the sodden roads) but to be honest it feels fast enough from behind the wheel. And if you have to wring out the revs from each gear to keep the pace brisk, well, that’s not really a hardship – the thunderous soundtrack just gets more and more spine-tingling.
Of all the cars in this section of the test, the Aston is the one that, for me, provides the most compelling reason not to get into the 991, given the choice of keys. It is the most old-fashioned but, like seeing a Sunday roast on the menu in a pub, its simple mix of traditional ingredients is very tempting. Although the metrics of depreciation are not the most precise, you would have to say that a limited-run, special-edition Aston is probably the safest bet for clinging on to its value, too.
For my money, it would be the Aston by a whisker. I really, really like the new 911, and objectively it is the more technically accomplished of the two, but it’s also a car that will no doubt be bettered again by a future iteration. The Aston, on the other hand, feels like it is at a sweet spot in its development. It’s a car with qualities that will stand proud through the test of time.
With thanks to Joe Robinson (M6), Richard Lane (997 Turbo) and James McAllister (N430).