I’m sitting in the passenger seat of a prototype Porsche 992, gaining a rare glimpse into the next generation of one of the world’s most famous sports cars ahead of its debut at the LA Motor Show later this month.
It won’t surprise you to hear that the 992 replaces the current – and hugely impressive – 991. For the uninitiated, these are the internal model designations given by Porsche to its evergreen sports car, the 911, the ongoing development of which remains one of the automotive industry’s greatest stories.
STILL A DRIVER’S CAR
The arrival of new Porsche 911 is always significant, perhaps more so now than ever before. For in a car market where driver assistance systems are increasingly becoming the norm, this is the first 911 to feature technology such as lane keeping assist and lane departure warnings, not to mention a ‘wet’ mode that primes the stability and traction systems when it detects damp road surfaces. These come as standard.
It’ll still be a drivers’ car though, says August Achleitner, the engineer in charge of 911 development. More than any of its rivals, Porsche expects the 911 to be driven – that is, after all, a sizeable part of its enduring appeal. And so Achleitner and his team have sought to improve upon an already winning formula, with detail changes such as the addition of a wider front track and staggered wheel sizes (21-inch rear, 20-inch front) that are designed to make the car more agile. Naturally, there’s an increase in power, too.
Certainly, here in the passenger seat, this new 992 feels every bit like a 911, albeit one that’s more modern than ever. The interior, while still partly covered in this prototype, feels like a worthwhile step forward over the outgoing 991, combining the latest technology (including a smart central touchscreen) with classic 911 details, such as the large rev-counter directly ahead of the driver. As far as it is possible to ascertain such things form the passenger seat, this 992 prototype also feels agile and extremely quick – and it sounds good, too. It is also a more mature car than before, with the biggest changes being the reduced road noise from the front tyres, fine body control, and the supple ride. Add in signature strong brakes, and Achleitner’s promise of delivering a driver’s car seem to have real substance.
Good job too, because to many people the Porsche 911 is the definitive sports car, which has allowed it to endure through seven decades and more than a million sales. During that time there have been constant revisions to keep it fresh and competitive, plus the occasional evolutionary leap to fast-forward its progress.
THE FIRST HYBRID 911
The 992 is very much intended to be the latter. Indeed, while its silhouette is familiar, under the skin the changes are arguably the most dramatic the 911 has undergone since Porsche’s switch from air cooling to water cooling for its flat-six engines in the mid-1990s. The reason? “We have prepared this car for a hybrid solution in the future,” admits Achleitner.
A hybrid 911, then. That’s hugely significant, although the word ‘prepared’ is key here. As things stand, Achleitner is not satisfied that current battery technology would add anything to the car, so we’ll not see a hybrid 911 for a while yet. In fact, the expectation is the 992 won’t receive battery technology until it is due a set of mid-life revisions, which is still several years away. However, the preparation for a hybrid future is still important here, for it has inevitably resulted in a few technical changes to the fundamental design of the car. The 992’s body, for example, has room in it for batteries, and the PDK automatic gearbox (now with eight speeds) has space inside its casing for an electric motor.
All of this inevitably adds weight, which in turn has prompted Porsche to use more aluminium in the 992’s structure and bodywork. The lighter body also helps counter the additional mass associated with the engine, which gains an exhaust filter to pass new emissions regulations.
The engine itself is a development of the 3.0-litre turbocharged flat-six of the second-generation 991. In Carrera S form it will deliver 444bhp and 391lb ft of torque, enough to give it a 0-62mph time in the region of 3.5 seconds and a 195mph top speed – performance that was once the preserve of the flagship Turbo models.
As with previous 911s, the range rolled out after the initial launch will be expansive. A standard Carrera will follow with an anticipated 380-390bhp, and at the same time a seven-speed manual gearbox will be added across the entire 992 Carrera line-up. All will be offered in rear- or Carrera 4 four-wheel drive form, the 992 being the first 911 to only be offered in wide-body form (even rear-wheel-drive versions will be as wide as the outgoing 991 GTS). A cabriolet and a Targa will join the coupes in late 2019 or early 2020.
The Carrera and Carrera S range will be bookended by the sharper, entry-level T, and the spec-laden, higher performance GTS. Go above that and you’re looking either at one of Porsche GT department’s more extreme, track focussed models such as the GT3, GT3 RS and an eventual GT2 RS, or at one of the flagship Turbo and Turbo S versions, which are anticipated to have power outputs in excess of 650bhp.
So, it’s going to be a busy time for Porsche as the 992 range populates its showrooms – and the garages of customers – worldwide over the next few years. If this first taster is anything to go by, there’s plenty of reasons to start getting excited.
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