2019 Porsche 911.
2019 Porsche 911.

New Porsche 911 road test: World’s best sports car

THE SUVs keep the tills ringing, electrification is in the future but for many, the only Porsche that matters is the 911.

Here, some 56 years after the first, is the eighth generation 911. The silhouette may be practically unchanged, but nearly nothing carries over from the outgoing model.

The engine's still in the back, power goes through all four wheels or just the rears, and this automotive perennial remains the benchmark sports car in its class.

It's longer, wider, heavier and slightly higher than its predecessor. Also more powerful, faster and even better at cornering and stopping.

Porsche engineers can't sit on their hands. Somehow, they need to improve on what's gone before.

"The 911's the halo product; the top of the tree," says Porsche Australia technical expert Paul Watson.

The new 911 evolves its well known styling.
The new 911 evolves its well known styling.

"We want the latest technology while keeping the heritage of the car. When you look at the dashboard there are horizontal lines from the early 911 but modernised, an analog tacho in the middle instead of a full digital dash, the bonnet line is borrowed from the 1980s and the styling cue for the headlights is 964 (the 1990s 911)."

Such retro touches are appreciated by 911 aficionados - but make no mistake, this is a technically top-shelf sports car.

This doesn't come at the expense of driving joy. Purists may curse turbocharging to electric steering, pining for the days of air-cooling and analog everything. Buy an old one if that's what you want.

New 911s (codenamed 992), arriving first in Carrera S and Carrera 4S grades, claim 331kW/ 530Nm from their twin-turbo six-cylinders, can crack 100km/h in 3.6 seconds and top out above 300km/h.

The 911 is the world’s benchmark sports car.
The 911 is the world’s benchmark sports car.

These are practically entry-level 911s. To follow are madder GTS, Turbo, GT3 and other niche grades, with niche prices to match.

The Carrera S starts at $265,000, with unflappable chassis and giant rear rubber bringing phenomenal grip and control. Only those likely to be snowed in need the 50kg-heavier $281,100 four-wheel drive 4S.

Style-wise it looks muscular, dramatic and elegant all at the same time - all 911s inherit the wider arches once the reserve of 911 Turbos.

Additional aluminium used in its construction endows greater rigidity. There are a new eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox and new steering ratios.

The Porsche doesn’t come cheap with the Carrera S starting at $265,000.
The Porsche doesn’t come cheap with the Carrera S starting at $265,000.

The new braking set-up with 350mm rotors all round pulls it up 12m shorter from 300km/h than the previous car.

There's a smidgen more headroom in the cabin, which is driver-focused with digital readouts curving around a central rev counter. A 10.9-inch screen sits flush above a centre console with tactile switches but the stubby angular gearshift might be better as a classic round, leather item.

True 911 fans may care less for the basic active safety tech now included but should appreciate a Wet mode - sensors detect wet conditions and, when you opt-in, alter power delivery, throttle, damping and braking. It works like wizardry, ensuring the car turns in on a wet skidpan with barely a hint of understeer or oversteer.

As ever, the options list is mighty. That includes radar cruise control, four-wheel steering, Sport Chrono package and ceramic brakes - none of it's cheap.

PPorsche has lifted its game with the 911’s new interior.
PPorsche has lifted its game with the 911’s new interior.

On road/track

Despite all the technology, the drive experience somehow remains blissfully pure, truly 911.

This being the "sensible" 911, city and town driving is tolerable even on massive wheels thanks to smart damping. On back roads, the sweeping Adelaide Hills in our case, it shines.

Acceleration is phenomenal but never brutal, steering response sublime and the 911 flows through twisties with lightning direction changes, all with a playful zest, despite its weight gain.

It doesn't sound bad, either. Porsche's acoustic team went to great strides to replicate the non-turbo six-cylinder tunes of old.

The 911 enjoys corners as much as the straights.
The 911 enjoys corners as much as the straights.

Only a race circuit could reveal the 911's true potential, and The Bend's lengthy but slippy track had the required mix of long straights for sheer velocity, and corners both tight and sweepingly open.

Engine response is mighty no matter your revs, the brakes revel in punishment and the way this car encourages to turn in harder, brake later and get on the power sooner is addictive.

What's new

Price: Up about $10,000 each for Carrera S and 4S. Cheaper Carrera (about $230,000) will arrive later this year.

Technology: 10.9-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. Two seven-inch dash displays flank an analog tacho.

Performance: 3.0-litre "boxer" six-cylinder turbo adds 22kW and 30Nm, nearly matching current 911 GTS. Sprint to 100km/h trimmed by 0.4-secs to 3.7-secs (RWD) and
3.6 (AWD). Top speed now 308km/h.

Driving: Wider front track, Wet driving mode and optional rear-wheel steer help to corral the tremendous performance, making it easier to drive harder and safer.

Design: Unmistakably a 911 but there is wide body for the S as well as 4S; 45mm wider up front, recessed door handles, retro bonnet styling and classy light bar runs between rear lights.

Porsche 911 Carrera S and 4S

Price: $265,000 and $281,100 plus on-roads

Warranty/servicing: 3 years/unlimited km, about $2650 for 3 years/45,000km

Engine: 3.0-litre 6-cyl twin-turbo, 331kW/530Nm

Safety: Not yet rated, 6 airbags, AEB, rear camera, parking sensors front and rear, lane change assist

Thirst: 8.9L-9.0L/100km

Spare: None; repair kit

Boot: 132L

ASK AN EXPERT

Mark Webber is unsurprisingly a big fan of Porsche.
Mark Webber is unsurprisingly a big fan of Porsche.

Motoring journalists think we can steer a bit but it's healthy to be reminded otherwise by sitting beside a proper driver. Nine-time Grand Prix winner and Porsche's 2015 World Endurance Champion Mark Webber, for example.

Webber took control of the new 911 around The Bend race circuit and riding beside him gave privileged access to just how capable - and how much fun - the new car is in expert hands.

"It's still a driver's car, mate," Webber enthuses, conscious of the vast amount of technology in a modern 911.

"It's not numb, I can still manipulate this car (dance it sideways, that is) through high speed corners."

Chatting away while within millimetres of the track's edge, drifting through a fast triple right-hander section, Webber says the wider front track is "the same as the GT3, but now for a standard Carrera. This helps cornering and turn-in, and she really rewards precision. You can still drive it on its tippy-toes and, for a base model, there's insane performance."

After 20-odd laps at silly speeds, Webber drives the same road car back to the airport. There's no fakery in the retired racer's Porsche ambassador role: his enthusiasm's as real as his talent.