2008 Porsche 997.2 911 Carrera S first drive: classic MOTOR

2008 Porsche 997 2 911 Carrera S first drive classic MOTOR

Expectation’s a funny thing.

This review was first published in MOTOR magazine's August 2008 issue.

Too much of it can only lead to utter disappointment when things don’t go according to plan — just ask anyone who allocated their share of last month’s $58 million Powerball booty to the eternal pursuit of hedonism and vehicle acquisition, only to discover that the winning ticket wasn’t even sold in their state.

But when the guarantee of something great does exist, few things can compare to the rare, but exciting sensation that comes with it. Like the news that Porsche was going to upgrade the already brilliant 997-series 911 with a double-clutch transmission, direct fuel injection and some techno taillights.

Expectation? You could say that. Just don’t underestimate the significance of the changes lurking beneath the 2008 911’s bi-xenon headlights, restyled bumpers, Audi-inspired LED running lights and new wheels and colours.

Yes, it’s faster, edgier, sexier, better-equipped and more expensive, but it’s also cleaner, greener, more efficient and, best of all, more fun. Rarely, if ever, has embracing mother nature delivered such a rush.

Both direct-injection 911 engines are all-new. Not one single component has been carried over from the existing 3.6- and 3.8-litre flat sixes that have powered the Carrera and Carrera S 911s since 2004.

Cylinder head, pistons, conrod, crankshaft, induction system, exhaust system, oil system, engine case, you name it, they’re different. Even the screws have changed (due to new legislation, apparently).

What prompted all the effort in meeting some very specific design parameters was Europe’s strict Euro 5 emissions standard that hits in September 2009. But what better opportunity to take all the inherent advantages of Porsche’s superb horizontally opposed flat sixes — compactness, low centre of gravity and a good balance of masses — and make them, well, even better.

On paper, the most obvious change is to the engine’s bore and stroke configuration. Previously, both capacities shared the same 82.8mm stroke, but the 3.8 ran a 99.0mm bore — 3.0mm larger than the 3.6’s. While the direct-injection flat sixes are essentially still a 3.6 and a 3.8, the smaller engine is more oversquare than before (with a larger 97.0mm bore and shorter 81.5mm stroke for 3614cc), while the harder-edged 3.8 is dramatically more oversquare (running a 102.0mm bore and a much-shorter 77.5mm stroke for exactly 3800cc).

The aim was to further-separate the characteristics of both engines — giving the big-bore, short-stroke 3.8 more bang at the top end and a noticeably stronger power delivery than the standard engine. There’s now a genuine difference between the two engines.

The effect of the altered bore/stroke relationship is a raised rev ceiling (up 200 revs to 7500rpm for both), aided by reducing friction with a special coating on the cup tappets and piston rings. But it’s the DFI 3.8 that feels to have the edge.

Direct injection (and a lofty 12.5:1 compression ratio) has endowed both flat sixes with a beefy fullness to their mid ranges and overall power and torque delivery, but where the Carrera’s 3.6 winds out to 7500 in one long, linear, beautifully elastic stretch, the new Carrera S’s 3.8 clearly has more animal in its veins.

It’s hard to think of a more appropriate place to test the new 3.8’s mettle than on a blissfully unrestricted German autobahn. And that’s what lies ahead — about 35km of it.

As the manual Carrera S coupe we’re driving hugs the curling entry ramp and enters the merge lane, I grab the lowest gear possible, check briefly in my left mirror for incoming missiles, then floor it — crossing four lanes at virtually a 45-degree angle in the direction of ‘the unlimited zone’.

The new S absolutely relishes the challenge. I forget to check what third winds out to, but I manage to see 204 in fourth. Considering the ’08 manual coupe’s zero-to-200km/h claim is only 15.2sec, there’s hardly time to note down specs, so I grab fifth and keep the right pedal pinned. The S’s brilliant new 3.8 maintains the rage, but there’s a moment to notice the change in its character.

Where power swelled exponentially in the old 3.8 — growing stronger and stronger until it approached its 7200 redline — the direct-injection head-banger has several new points of interest. The DFI 3.8 feels stronger everywhere — punching out 283kW at 6500rpm (up from 261kW at 6600) and 420Nm at 4400rpm (up from 400Nm at 4600) — but there’s a noticeable spike at 5200rpm, another pep-up at 5800, and then one final lunge as it breaches peak power before howling its lungs out from 6800rpm to the 7500 cut-out.

It sounds magnificent — even better than the old engine (and that’s saying something) — but above six-eight in sixth, it’s a noise than can be truly, indelibly appreciated. At full load in top gear, the centre dial’s digital speedo keeps ticking over beyond 270 and the engine’s hard-edged wail fills the Carrera S’s cabin.

I eventually back off at an indicated 290 — 12km/h short of the new S manual coupe’s top-speed claim (up 9km/h) — only because our autobahn exit looms five lanes and just a few hundred metres ahead.

The 911 could’ve easily handled more. At close to top whack, it’s so confident, so planted, you’d think it was made for the roads skirting Stuttgart… But, contrary to popular opinion, not all German roads are billiard-table smooth.

The back roads snaking to our lunch car-swap point serve up a combination of on- and off-camber bends, up- and down-hill hairpins and one particularly scar-riddled section of road Porsche must have missed when tuning the ride of every Cayenne. And again, the new 911 performs beyond expectation.

Fine-tuning of the springs, dampers, and anti-roll bars has focused on improving the ride quality of the PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management) set-up in ‘Normal’ mode, while in ‘Sports’ mode providing “smoother and more harmonious spring action without requiring the driver to make any concessions in terms of performance.”

The improvement is small, but worthwhile — the Carrera S (on new-design, slightly lighter 19s) absorbs road hits with greater suppleness while nailing bends with unflappable poise and even greater connection.

Our manual coupe’s optional (and bloody brilliant) Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes (PCCB), denoted by their yellow calipers, carry-over their 350mm sizing and six-piston front, four-piston rear calipers from last year’s S, but the base Carrera scores an all-new brake system — 330mm drilled and vented front discs (up from 318) with stronger, stiffer four-piston calipers, and same-size drilled and vented rear discs.

The after-lunch strafe offers a whole new perspective on the updated 911 — PDK (or, wait for it, Porsche-Doppelkupplungsgetriebe).

The steed is a 911 Carrera S PDK cabriolet featuring the optional Sports Chrono Package Plus. This incorporates a ‘launch control’ for the seven-speed PDK transmission, as well as an additional Sport button on the dash (Sport Plus) that cuts overall reaction and shift times to less than half of what they were in the Tiptronic S, and the new Carrera S coupe’s 0-100km/h time to just 4.3sec (4.5 without Sport Plus, or 4.7sec with the regular six-speed manual).

Indeed, with this racetrack-focused system, the PDK 911 finally overtakes the traditional manual version as the ultimate in sporting performance. But you’d expect a double-clutch Porsche 911 to nail the hardcore stuff. It’s the depth of the PDK’s personality and its brilliance at simple, everyday tasks that really elevates it beyond the similar offerings from other manufacturers, bar maybe the excellent seven-speed DSG in Bugatti’s multi-million-dollar Veyron.

Indeed, in Drive, all settings in default, the only way you can tell the PDK has changed gear is by the alteration in engine note.

No vibes through the pedals, no twinkle through the 911’s terrific new steering wheel. It’s simply flawless. Unlike some of the VW/Audi DSG offerings, Porsche’s PDK doesn’t roll back on hills and never hesitates or clunks shifts. It’s arguably the easiest, most user-friendly two-pedal car in existence, yet there’s wickedness lurking just a simple movement away.

Click the alloy steering paddles towards you for a downshift (or four) and PDK matches revs to perfection, nailing the 3.8’s electronic throttle and magnifying its addictive induction wail through our ’08 cabrio’s redesigned, twice-as-hardy cloth roof. Then if you leave the paddles alone for a moment, PDK unobtrusively drops itself back into Drive.

Hit ‘sport’ and the transmission mapping becomes more alert, but never stupidly over-eager. In any mode, mashing the throttle sends PDK down as many ratios as it can go in one deliciously seamless, throttle blipped action, but ‘Sport’ is so intuitive that even when you do that, it somehow settles again quicker than any two-pedal car I can think of. And there’s still ‘Sport Plus’ to go.

Select ‘Sports Plus’ at standstill and the words ‘Launch Control Active’ are highlighted in the centre dial’s digital screen. Then all you need to do is left-foot brake and quickly nail the throttle.

Once the engine spikes to 6500rpm (which is peak power), you simply lift the brake and the Carrera S explodes out of the blocks. And even in the cabrio, there’s no body shudder or shenanigans. Just forward motion. Lots of it.

Relax again and you notice how calm PDK is when effortlessly swapping between seventh and sixth at a fast cruise over hilly terrain. At 100km/h, top gear in the old Tiptronic S saw it ticking over at 2450rpm, but PDK’s highest drops that to just 1750. No wonder the new double-clutch ’box has been so helpful in achieving such impressive reductions in carbon-dioxide emissions and fuel consumption.

At a steady cruise, it’s easy to spot the changes to the 911’s interior. The original 997 series broke new ground for a Porsche cabin — transforming the 911 from brittle and rather workmanlike to something much more in keeping with its position as an automotive benchmark. But the 2008 car has upped Porsche’s game again.

The superb new steering wheel’s round centre boss wheel isn’t as fat and ugly as last year’s effort, and the slightly thicker, re-shaped rim feels just about perfect.

The main dash architecture remains the same, but the centre console’s more tactile switchgear is all new, and its colour screen is now touch-activated.

There’s a SIM-card slot, an iPod connection, and a Volvo ‘Spaceball’-style gearstick surround for the PDK (remember the advertising guff about the original S60 T5 manual?), as well as (optional) seat-ventilator buttons next to the heat-producing pair, cooling your arse through new perforated leather trim. But anyone who remembers, or loves, some of the out-there colour schemes of the early 1970s will love what Porsche has done with the new 911’s colour palette.

Both our cars had chocolate-leather interiors, just like a modern lounge, and that includes not only the seats, but the dash, wheel, doors, carpets, everything.

One of the German PRs described the bright-tan offering inside a cream-coloured Carrera as “just beautiful”, though ‘like a vomit-inducing caramel space-food stick’ would’ve been more accurate. But the all-red interior is a knockout. Which is a term that beautifully sums up our first, glorious taste of the new direct-injection Porsche.

No, the 2008 911 won’t be cheaper, making it even less attainable than it ever was, but what an achievement. More ability and more character. More style and more choice. The Carrera S is so close to perfection that it’s hard to imagine how it could ever be better, but it will be.

Porsche confirmed on the launch that the next-generation 911 will be “faster again”, which is great news for us, if sobering news for its rivals. Poor old BMW. If it does decide to build a new-generation M1, what a challenge.

More throwbacks on classic MOTOR

Have Cake, Eat Too

We knew that Porsche was readying direct fuel injection for its iconic 911, but didn’t expect 2008’s 3.6- and 3.8-litre flat sixes to be all-new.

Measured from mid-crank height, they’re 20mm lower from the top and 10mm lower from the bottom, which lowers the centre of gravity. They weigh 6kg less, despite the use of stainless-steel for all components that carry fuel (so they can run on all types of petrol), yet the power units are 22% more rigid.

The oil circuit follows the principles of dry-sump lubrication, but employs an electronically-controlled pressure oil pump that operates on demand – thereby reducing weight and simplifying construction compared to a traditonal full dry-sump design. But the proof’s in the numbers.

The manual Carrera S is 9km/h faster, 0.1sec quicker to 100, 8% more economical and produces 10% less CO2. But the PDK is 15km/h faster than the old auto (at 300km/h), 0.8sec faster to 100 (or 1.0sec with Sports Chrono Plus), 13% thriftier (at 10.2L/100km) and 15% cleaner (at 240g/km). Indeed, the 3.6 PDK does 4.7 to 100, yet sips 9.8L/100km – less than a bloody Camry!

7-Speed PDK

Denoting the wonderfully unpronouncable ‘Porsche- Doppelkupplungsgetriebe’, Porsche spent nearly six years designing its dual-clutch ‘PDK’ gearbox. And it owes nothing to the Volkswagen’s DSG iteration, despite Porsche’s soon-to-be-51-percent stake in the VW Group. PDK weighs 10kg less than the five-speed Tiptronic S torque-converter auto it replaces, but makes huge strides in efficiency.

But, more importantly, it’s up to a second quicker to 100km/h (4.3 v 5.3 for an S with Sports Chrono Plus) and is now the ’box du jour for serious track addicts. It’s only rated to 440Nm, though, so don’t expect one in the Turbo any time soon.

Double-clutch Pioneers

It might have taken them 25 years to put a double-clutch transmission into a road car, but Porsche pioneered the technology. The world’s first car to use PDK (as Porsche calls it) was its 956 Group C race-car at the end of 1983. A PDK-equipped Porsche 962 won the Nurburgring Supercup in 1984, then followed up with victory at the World Championships at Monza in ’86.

Who was first?: Dual-clutch gearbox

Fast Facts

2008 Porsche 997.2 911 Carrera S
Body: 2-door, 2+2-seat coupe
Drive: rear wheels
Engine: flat 6, DOHC, 24v
Material: alloy head/alloy block
Bore/Stroke: 102.0 x 77.5mm
Capacity: 3800cc
Compression: 12.5:1
Power: 283kW @ 6500rpm
Torque: 420Nm @ 4400rpm
Redline/Cut: 7400/7500rpm
Fuel/Tank: 98 octane/64 litres
Kerb Weight: 1425kg
Power-to-Weight: 199kW/tonne
Transmission: 7-speed double-clutch
Ratios: 3.91/2.29/1.65/1.30/1.08/0.88/0.62
Final Drive: 3.44
Suspension: struts, locating links, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar (f), multi-links, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar (r)
Length/Width/Height: 4435/1808/1300mm
Wheelbase: 2350mm
Tracks (f/r): 1486/1516mm
Steering: power rack and pinion
Turning circle: 10.9m
Lock-to-lock: 2.6 turns
Brakes: (optional) 350mm ventilated/drilled ceramic discs, six-piston calipers (f), 350mm ventilated/drilled ceramic discs, four-piston calipers (r), ABS, EBD, PSM
Wheels: 19 x 8.0-inch (f), 19 x 11.0-inch (r), alloy
Tyres: Michelin Pilot Sport 235/35ZR19 (f), 295/30ZR19 (r)
Price: $235,000 (estimated) 

Fast Times
0-100km/h: 4.5sec (4.7)*
0-160km/h: 9.6sec (9.9)*
0-200km/h: 14.8sec (15.2)*
0-1000m:     22.7sec (22.9)*
Top speed:   300km/h (302)*
* Manufacturer’s claims PDK (manual)

Likes: Everything you could want in a sports coupe – even economy!
Dislikes: Shame it’s such an extravagent purchase for most of us

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