BY ANDY ENRIGHT
An introduction? You want an introduction to the Porsche 911 Carrera 2? If you're thinking of buying one of these modern classics and feel the need for an introduction, may I humbly suggest your money would be better spent on something a little less focused and with a little less history. The heritage would be wasted on you. If, on the other hand, you're pretty certain of where the latest 997 series 911 sits in the pantheon of sporting greats, then read on and think of it as a celebration.
Models Covered: (2 dr coupe, 2dr convertible 3.6, 3.8 petrol [Carrera, Carrera S])
Let's start at the beginning. Shortly after all the dinosaurs died and turned into oil, Porsche launched the 911. There were a huge number of models spawned after the first officially designated 911 appeared in 1965. The basic shape hasn't changed radically to this day, nor has the rear-engined layout, although there have been a few developments along the way. The key milestones in 911 development include the 1972 Carrera RS model - still viewed by some as the definitive 911 - the launch in 1974 of the first turbocharged model, the arrival of all-wheel drive variants in 1989 and, in 1997, the introduction of water rather than air cooling. The model that ushered this change in was the 996 generation (latter day Porsche models having a three number 'code' to denote their model type. For example an early Boxster is a 986, a late one a 987 in Porsche speak). The '996' marked a shift in Porsche's development of the 911 range. The 996 also did enormously well for Porsche and survived fully seven years before the model we examine here, the 997, was launched. Where the 996 was revolutionary, the 997 is more an evolutionary finessing of the 996 theme, tidying up the styling, imbuing the car with a higher quality, more technologically dense feel and adding even more exciting models to the mix. At first, just 3.6-litre Carrera and a 3.8-litre Carrera S coupes were offered, with Cabriolets arriving in December 2004. In mid-2008, Porsche announced a revised range featuring their new Direct Fuel Injection (DFI) engine. Buyers could also specify the revolutionary PDK semi-automatic gearbox, offering manual pleasure with automatic convenience. There were also a series of very subtle styling changes. These included larger rear view mirrors, newly-designed 18-inch and 19-inch wheels and new lights featuring LED technology.
What You Get
Although the shape is reassuringly familiar, in fact only the roof was carried over from the previous model and a whopping 80 per cent of the car is different. Porsche fans came to realize the huge step forward when they heard August Auchleitner, director of 911 development, say that 'the 997 is to the 996 what the 993 was to the 964." A huge leap forward in terms of sophistication, quality and driving enjoyment in other words. Under that sleek bodywork there's a bigger, punchier engine. It's still a flat six and it's still hung out at the back but Carrera buyers will get a 321bhp 3.6-litre powerplant and Carrera S customers will be treated to a 350bhp 3.8-litre unit. It's a naming convention that mirrors the Boxster and Cayenne ranges and is easy to comprehend. 911 purists were glad to see a return to the 993-style round headlamps on the 997, the so-called 'runny-egg' smeared on lamps of the 996 being consigned to history. The wheelarches are pumped up to accept the Carrera's 18-inch wheels and the 19-inch wheels of the Carrera S give this 911 a voluptuous coke-bottle profile. The wheelbase of the car remains unchanged at 2350mm but it's slightly shorter and a few centimetres wider. Windtunnel work has helped to reduce drag and lift although the aerodynamicists were constrained by the desire to keep the car recognizably a 911. The easiest way to tell the two models apart is that the Carrera has a pair of oval tailpipes whereas the S model sports a quad set of exhausts. That and the badge on the back. The 997 took its quality cue form the Cayenne 4x4 and features a three-spoke wheel and an in-dash LCD monitor. Some aspects are pure 993, however, such as the location of the air vents and the roll top along the upper dash. Porsche know their history and so do their customers and the design of the 997's cabin pays homage to Porsches of the past. The quality of materials, however, is like no 911 built to date. Expensively slush-moulded fascia materials make a welcome change to the hard plastics seen in the 996 and it's possible to specify leather trim. The front seats are bigger, the driver sits 20mm lower and there's a choice of four different seats depending on how racy you want to feel. Another neat option to be found on some cars is the dash-top mounted Porsche Sport Chrono, a stopwatch that can time laps.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
Porsche claims to have solved the cylinder liner problem that sporadically afflicted the 996 and has also made changes to the design of the big ends and Variocam system - other potential fault points. No significant faults have yet to develop with the 997 but it's worth seeking out a Porsche Approved car as even apparently trivial faults can be very expensive to rectify without warranty protection. The 19-inch alloys fitted to the 997 Carrera S are very prone to kerbing damage so check these over individually. Check the bodywork, especially the bonnet, as this can easily be damaged by owners slamming them onto protruding items in the front boot. 997s are very colour sensitive and white and black cars are currently in vogue with the ubiquitous silver now starting to fall from favour. Speed Yellow attracts a select clientele.
(Estimated prices, based on a 2005 Carrera S) Consumables for a 911 are almost laughably cheap. You'll pay £15 for an air filter, £4 for each spark plug, £10 for an oil filter, £16 for a alternator chain, and £15 for a fuel filter. Offset these costs by running any 911 exclusively on synthetic oil. Other parts are rather pricier. You'll need to put by £300 for a replacement tinted windscreen, £450 for a clutch kit and do try not to damage your xenon headlights as Porsche will charge you £556 each for replacements.
On the Road
The 997's sleek body is a massive 40 per cent more resistant to bending thanks to advanced welding and adhesives techniques. Weight crept up by 25kg over the 996, although Porsche claim the 997 is a lot safer than its predecessor and able top pass stringent 64km/h crash tests. A number of other firsts were incorporated into the 997. Take the steering for instance. Bar perhaps that intoxicatingly breathy engine note, Porsche steering and brakes do more than anything else to differentiate the marque in terms of sheer excellence. Down the years, 911s have always had a linear steering rack that delighted in the amount of feedback it supplied to the driver. The 997 departs from this system and adopts a variable ratio system that gets quicker the further the wheel is turned. Getting rid of the old 17-inch wheels also allows Porsche to fit bigger and better brakes to the 997. The S gets brakes similar to those fitted to the 996 Turbo and the truly well-heeled can even opt for ceramic discs. The chassis was thoroughly revised too with Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) standard on the Carrera S. This system is built around specially designed Michelin Pilot sport tyres and Bilstein adaptive dampers that can be set in one of two modes, normal and sport. The sport mode also sharpens the throttle action. An optional sports chassis set up offers stiffer springs and dampers, a lower ride height and a more aggressive limited slip differential. Thus equipped and with an experienced driver behind the wheel, the 997 Carrera S can run a lap of the Nurburgring in under 8 minutes, the true acid test of a supercar. The straight line performance of the 997 Carrera is nigh-on identical to that of the 996 Carrera 2, the extra 6bhp being offset by the additional weight. Both hit 60mph in 4.9 seconds and zip through 100mph in 11 seconds on the way to a top speed of 177mph. The Carrera S is that little bit feistier, recording a 4.7 second sprint to 60 and a 10.7 figure to 100mph. Top speed is pegged at 182mph. Despite this, the combined fuel economy figure of 24.6mpg is almost unbelievable. The Cabriolets are only fractionally slower.
If you can afford one and appreciate what you're buying into, you'd be mad not to. My recommendation would be an early Carrera S Coupe in white or black. Have fun.