Total 911’s annual road trip in three brand new Neunelfers sees the Carrera, C4 GTS and Turbo S go head-to-head
Total 911’s annual pilgrimage this time sees the modern-day interpretation of the 911 T, E and S do battle in the Peak District – but which new Neunelfer represents the best value for money?
It’s just gone 7am on a bright, autumnal morning as I roll out onto the public road, some retracting black gates and a bright-red ‘Porsche’ script atop a grey building behind filling the rear view mirrors of my 991.2 Carrera. Before long the customary visual of Porsche Centre Reading, the home of Porsche Cars Great Britain, is well out of sight, a plethora of shining cars among its grandiose setting swapped for, well, a British motorway. All is not lost, however, for I feel like a large proportion of the showroom has accompanied me on my trip due north. Looking through the windscreen of my GT silver Carrera I’m treated to the glare of that red connecting strip of a tail light adorning an identically hued C4 GTS, while in front of that, the super-wide hips of a Miami blue Turbo S occupy the horizon. It’s supertest time for Total 911 once again, which means your favourite Porsche magazine has custody of the three majestic Neunelfers in question for two days of full-on driving as part of our journey to the twisty roads among Britain’s Peak District.
As our supertest is prone to showing, there are many ways to skin a cat, so to speak; such is the 911’s dexterity to offer different driving experiences from what is essentially one car concept. This is something Porsche’s iconic sports car has always been renowned for: right from its early, pre-impact bumper days, those ‘T’, ‘E’ and ’S’ models offered vastly different flavours of the 911 philosophy. This remains true today, for while these three 911s on test are all from the latest 991.2 generation, the reality is they couldn’t be more different, varying significantly in terms of power output, chassis dimensions, spec and value.
The mention of those T, E and S models is no accident, either. Representing the entry-level, middleof-the-road and top-spec incarnation of 911 from 19651973, it’s a model lineup Total 911 has sought to mimic closely here, choosing the Carrera, GTS and Turbo S as the modern-day interpretations of those original T, E and S cars. Why no GT 911s, you may ask? Well, we discarded them from the supertest lineup as, let’s face it, you can’t just walk into a Porsche Centre and readily buy one like you can a Carrera or Turbo. So, that’s the scene justifiably set. The mission of our 2017 supertest is to look at the entire breadth of the non-gt lineup in search of the model with the greatest 911 value for money.
Our 200-mile journey north is largely uneventful, punctuated by a prolonged lunch stop in which myself, Editor, Lee, and test driver extraordinaire, Alex, trade our initial thoughts on the cars we’ve piloted. By mid-afternoon we finally leave the motorways behind us, heading west past Sheffield and into the hilly confines of the sprawling Peak District National Park. Home to the southern reaches of the Pennines mountains, the Peaks is awash with breathtaking views, historical landmarks and, best of all, good driving roads. With the latter almost exclusively in mind, our area of contention lays between Glossop to the west, the splendidly named Oughtibridge in the east and Holmfirth further north, the interlinking roads forming our trilateral proving ground colloquially dubbed the ‘Oopnorthring’ by locals. Named after its likeness for Germany’s Nordschleife, the 55-mile loop offers a challenging route changing rather dramatically in altitude and road surface, with a few tasty corners and off-camber sections thrown in for good measure. This is the perfect place to put our contesting 911s to the test.
It’s fitting I should start my supertest notes aboard the 991.2 Carrera, for here at Total 911 we’ve previously said it’s all you’ll ever need from the current Neunelfer range. Unlike previous generations, we’ve remarked how the entry-level Carrera feels plenty fast enough, with a palatable spec right out the box. Save for the added delights of optional rear-axle steer and a slightly lowered chassis, we’ve found the 50hp-more-powerful S perhaps isn’t necessarily worth the step up, certainly not for the £9,000 Porsche will demand for the privilege. The entry-level 911 really is everything you need – and so it should be, too, because the humble Carrera will now set you back £77,891 in the UK market, and that’s before you’ve
even looked at the extensive options list. This is a pricey car indeed, but such is its tactility as both a GT and genuine sports car that we’ve certainly not been put off.
On the motorway drive north, the Carrera is a wonderful place to be. The basic seats are comfortable, the chassis rides brilliantly over lessthan-perfect roads and noise levels are among the quietest we’ve ever experienced in a 911 – you’ll only really hear tyre noise. Engage that long seventh gear and revs are kept to just above 2,000rpm at 70mph. Staying out of Sports mode brings the coast function, as well as auto stop/start into play, extending the car’s range between fuel stops too. 35mpg therefore isn’t uncommon on a motorway blast. Now, though, on the serpentine roads of the Peak District, the Carrera’s grand touring contentions are well and truly parked, its sporting prowess now called upon if it is to keep pace with the faster GTS and Turbo S ahead of it.
Certainly, on the road the 991.2 Carrera feels fast enough. 0-62mph is dispatched of in just 4.2 seconds (using Launch Control with PDK), that twin-turbocharged 9A2 flat six pulling hard from just before two grand. As we know, the 911 has always created an event in reaching for high revs, the car most appealing to the senses when the second half of the tachometer is being explored. Though peak torque in the 991.2 is delivered between 1,700
and 5,000rpm, this is still impressively true from a sensory experience, those small turbochargers not perceptively running out of puff and choking the flat six of power. Doing this, to the course roaring sound emitted from the optional (and highly recommended) Sports exhaust, means hanging on for the redline at some 7,400rpm is still a rewarding practice.
So impressive is the 991.2 Carrera that corners are dispatched of with an astuteness rarely seen on an entry-level 911. There’s now so much front-end grip available that it’s relatively easy to keep the car balanced, this sensation boosted by standard PASMequipped suspension drastically eliminating body roll. The car is so well poised! It’s not overkill, either, for there is still plenty of fun to be had. The car is lithe and playful thanks to the extra low-down kick provided by the turbos. It’s spirited, and certainly far more so than the 991.1 Carrera at lower speeds, feeling comparatively more explosive in performance should you really decide to keep your foot in.
Expectedly, the Turbo S ahead of me absolutely monsters the Snake Pass, yet I’m shocked by how much ground the C4 GTS is able to pull, too. We pull over to relay our thoughts on the cars and I ask the driver, Alex, how that GTS is so damned fast.
“Try it for yourself,” he says, chucking me the keys. Fair enough.
Sliding into the car for the first time, its cabin feels vastly different to that of the entry-level Carrera. Alcantara lines the smaller GT wheel, the material also used to trim the seat centres, glove box, centre arm rest, door inserts and even the PDK lever, as standard GTS specification. Offset by carbon accents, there’s a real racing feel to the cockpit, accentuated by a Sport Chrono clock mounted in the centre of the dashboard. Without doubt, this is already a more exciting place to sit, and I’ve not even turned the key in the ignition yet.
Continuing our clockwise assault of the Oopnorthring, we leave Glossop and head north towards the steep rise of Holme Moss. Attacking the sweeping corners at the beginning of the climb, I notice there’s little change in the GTS’S soundtrack compared to the Carrera, yet just about everything else is a step up. First off, you can really feel that additional 80hp and 100Nm torque, for the GTS is devilishly fast off the block. Its peak power band is almost identical to the 370hp Carrera (max torque kicks in just after 2,000rpm now), yet the punch it delivers is much harder, the GTS firing out of corners and up the road with an absolutely devastating turn of pace.
Then there’s the grip, which is sensational. The 44-mm-wider body caters not only for one-inchwider wheels, affording a greater contact patch at all four corners, but a wider track delivers even greater composure to the car through turns. As a result, at the point where the limits of adhesion can be felt in the Carrera, this GTS remains comfortable, its own boundaries found at remarkably greater speeds. Being a four-wheel-drive car, the nose of the C4 GTS is less prone to wander than the rear-drive Carrera, though to the credit of the latter this sensation is unperceivable at the pace you’ll be able to achieve on public roads. Similarly though, the all-wheel-drive car’s tendency to understeer isn’t felt either.
“Despite initial worries, turbocharging has not been to the detriment of the 991 driving experience”
Where the C4 does flex its muscles on the road is in adhesion at its front end, which is managed brilliantly by the Porsche Active Traction Management system. Its grip into corners is phenomenal, it’s sharper at its nose through a turn, while traction afforded to the front axle out of corners allows for the 911 to cover simply breathtaking amounts of ground, quickly. Though it is 85kg heavier than the Carrera, this weight penalty here is immaterial: the GTS simply bulldoses its understudy on test.
Crucial to the GTS’S turn of pace is its PDK gearbox. Optional even in GTS spec over the 7-speed manual, Porsche’s dual-clutch transmission is fit for a race car. Super responsive even in ‘normal’ mode, utilise Sport Plus and each gear change is sharpened substantially. It’s a far superior gearbox to the 7-speed manual from a technical point of view, though even in reality we think the clunky nature of the manual’s shifts detracts from its own experience in terms of driver feel. PDK transmission is the one to have.
All too soon we reach our overnight stay just past Holme Moss and, as we park the cars, I consider how impressed I am by the GTS. In truth, I’m surprised by how quickly it’s made that Carrera seem so honest.
It’s a topic we soon find ourselves discussing over dinner. Lee questions whether the GTS is worth £22,000 over a 991.2 Carrera, though the reality is after options the gap between the two cars is less than that, considering the GTS comes with such a good spec out the box.
With much driving still to be done, we’re up and out early the next morning – way before our B&B can serve breakfast. It’s still a little dark outside, though the monumentally wide hips of the Miami blue
Turbo S are still recognisable in the limited daylight. It’s my turn to spend some good time with this top-spec 911, and immediately its visual differences are apparent, even from the driver’s seat. Ahead of me, that centrally mounted tachometer doesn’t boast the same rev count as its Carrera siblings, while out each side-view mirror, the car’s 1,880mm-wide rump is punctuated by a gaping air intake to keep those intercoolers happy. Though at first there’s nothing to look at towards the end of the car, the Turbo’s fixed wing extends skywards in Sport Plus, eventually coming into view from the internal mirror.
Unlike the two Carreras on test, the Turbo S (and lesser Turbo) still make use of a tweaked version of Porsche’s 9A1 flat six, used for every 991.1-generation car. Its performance figures are as mighty as its appearance suggests, boasting 580hp and a monumental 750Nm peak torque. Some 300Nm more than the entry-level Carrera and 200Nm more than the GTS, in a sprint the Turbo S is simply unrivalled. Plant your right foot to the floor and the Turbo S launches itself forwards with such ferocity it’s scarcely believable for a road car. Unlike the two Carreras, a spirited squirt of the gas pedal in the Turbo S sees the car lean backwards as weight is transferred to its rear. It’s here where PTM again shows its excellence in sending power towards the front of the 911, while mitigating traction at the back. That whoosh of acceleration, felt in the pit of my stomach, quickly becomes addictive – this thing is so bloody fast! Too fast, in fact, for I shortly find that every burst of acceleration is succeeded by nervous glances in my mirrors to check nobody has seen my antics.
Speed isn’t the only trick up the sleeve of this bona fide supercar from Stuttgart. The Turbo S demolishes corners with the pace and precision of nothing else I’ve ever experienced in a road car. Sure, the silly speeds this 991 is readily capable of reveals the car isn’t as sharp at its nose as other 911s, however it still seems like I can enter a corner at any speed I like and, no matter how fast, the car just sticks to the asphalt before blasting out the other side. PDCC works wonders here; standard on the Turbo S, this active anti-roll bar system keeps the chassis wonderfully balanced, even under heavy loads. There is a caveat in that the lack of perceptive roll reduces feedback to the driver, a sensation I find strange at first, though our Editor is a clear champion of it.
Of course, the Turbo S is a heavy beast, tipping the scales at 1,600kg, yet the honest truth is its performance is so savage, you won’t care. PDK, compulsory on the Turbo S, is key to this, its infinitely clever mapping doing a fine job of
keeping the car in its peak torque band. I ponder for a moment what the drive would be like with a manual shifter, though another squeeze of the accelerator soon leads to the conclusion there simply wouldn’t be time to take your hands off the wheel for a cog swap. Besides, if it’s a degree of driver involvement you’re after, you can find it with PDK just fine – engage manual mode to change gear using the steering wheel-mounted paddles (their own limited travel and glorious weighting adding to the system’s precision) and get your left peg into action for braking duties. With those outstanding Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes scrubbing speed from the Turbo S with even a minor tap of the stop pedal, I guarantee you’ll find your own limit before that of the car’s.
To summarise, the 991.2 Turbo S is completely and utterly indomitable – and therein lies its problem. Its own limits are so far beyond that of what you can reasonably accomplish on the road that it’s very hard to draw satisfaction from its drive without risking your licence. It’s very much a reversal of the Carrera’s situation: the Turbo S is all you could ever want, not necessarily need. At more than double the cost of the entry-level car, I’d much rather have the pleasure of over-driving a car than sitting in a flash upsell, unable to get near its limits. The Turbo S has simply become too good to really enjoy on the road.
We complete another loop of the Oopnorthring, swapping cars more frequently now to hone our opinions of each model, before heading south towards Winnats Pass. We arrive near lunchtime, though heavy throngs of tourist buses on the road mean we don’t hang around too long. Still, it’s nice to enjoy the sounds of our throaty flat sixes echoing off the canyon’s limestone walls, the popping and cackling of our Sport exhaust systems (most vocal in Sport mode and not Sport Plus) filling the air between the cavern. Not long after, we all pull over for a lunch break, gathering around the Turbo S’s rear wing, which acts as an impromptu table for our food and drink. It’s time to draw our conclusions.
Though it is by far the most capable car present, we wanted to establish the best value for money 991 on our supertest, and here the Turbo S falls short.
It’s a uniform agreement among the Total 911 team: at nigh-on double the price of a 991.2 Carrera, the unending list of gizmos on this technological tour de force are rendered pointless if the driver is unable to really tap into its capabilities on the public road.
That leaves us with the two Carreras, and though the entry-level 911 is now an incredibly well-sorted machine right out the box (we really are so impressed by it), the greater focus of the C4 GTS makes it worth the relatively small premium over the base car. Fast and incredibly agile – while still displaying the driving traits of a proper Neunelfer – it is the GTS that’s undoubtedly the sweet spot of the non-gt 911 range. So much so, in fact, that I attempt to put my money where my mouth is, putting a call into my local Porsche Centre during the drive back south to begin proceedings over a build slot.
As you may know, with the wait for such slots in mind, there’s not long left to secure a car in the current range before the switch to 992. The 991.2 has split opinions since its inception two years ago, though the reality is it has born a truly fantastic spread of 911s for us to choose from. Despite initial worries, turbocharging has not been to the detriment of the 991 driving experience, even if throttle response generally isn’t as good as the naturally aspirated cars, and updates to the PCM system are welcome in a world where such technology moves fast. All are great modern 911s, but, outside of the GT cars, in our opinion the GTS is the best of the lot.
“The GTS is the sweet spot of the current 911 range”
ABO VE Joe, Alex and Lee compare initial notes on their trio of 991.2s after arriving in the Peak District
LEFT Entry-level Carrera offers a luxurious cabin. NON-GT wheel feels quite large to hold, and while the presence of a 7-speed manual is welcomed, its throw is far from fluid
LEFT AND BELOW Widebody GTS looks sensational, though optional PCCBS aren’t necessary. Revised front PU looks more sporty than Carrera
RIGHT Swathes of leather and carbon present the finest 911 interior you can hope to sit in. Turbo S’s exhaust isn’t as loud as its Carrera counterparts
ABO VE Super-wide Turbo S monsters practically any road, but it’s a potential licence loser if you’re not careful