June Neary tries that archetypal toy for the boys - Porsche's 911
Will It Suit Me?
I must admit to being faintly amused by the antics of the lads on the road test team while they were awaiting delivery of the latest version of Porsche's seventh generation 911. They leapt to their feet every time somebody arrived in reception, only to return dejected when it was just the stationers or a bike courier. We've had a number of sports cars through before, but this was different. I couldn't really appreciate why they were like kids on Christmas Eve. Even when the 911 was delicately backed off the transporter, I was failing to see what the excitement was about. For an all-new car it looked a lot like the previous model. I was rather underwhelmed. Given the opportunity to take a walk around the Porsche, even I could appreciate that the design was cleaner and less fussy than previously, but it was still something that, and how can I put this delicately, seemed a little 'gender specific'.
The first surprise is that even though your posterior does drop quite a way before it makes contact with leather, the driving position of the 911 isn't at all intimidating. Compared to something like an Audi R8 or a McLaren, the 911 feels comparatively upright and visibility all round is excellent. The fascia is one area that has improved leaps and bounds over older versions of this car. Although I wasn't too keen on the rather cheap-looking driving mode controller on the steering wheel, the dashboard looks smart and classy, with LCD screens that can actually be read in bright sunlight. The optional stopwatch mechanism on the dashboard is huge fun to fiddle with. Operated via a column stalk, you can time the intervals between which builders retort in disgust when they realise there's a woman at the wheel of their dream car. I tried the Carrera coupe but there are also pretty Cabriolet and Targa models available which, given the weather conditions on the week I received the car, I was rather glad I hadn't specified. The 911 has its reputation as the most practical and usable model in its class to uphold. Hence the inclusion of the two small rear seats that you'd have to do without in the brand's 718 Cayman and Boxster models - and in many rivals. It's yet another thing that makes this car so usable. Yes, it's very cramped in the back, but you'd put up with it in preference to a rainy walk back from the pub - and two small children would be fine over relatively short distances. There are ISOFIX seat mountings for them too and another practical touch is provided by coathooks placed on the front seatbacks, with another two provided on the door pillars of Coupe models. Bear in mind that if you go for the Targa bodystyle, these back seats are sacrificed to allow the folding roof section to store itself away. The Cabriolet though, doesn't suffer this compromise as its hood secretes itself neatly behind the passenger compartment. Much of the time of course, you'll probably be using the rear pews purely as a stowage point of briefcases or designer shopping bags, some of which might fit behind the backrests where there's a 150-litre compartment. Fold the backrests forward and you've have a total of 260-litres of room to use. Which is important given that, as with any supercar, trunk space is at a bit of a premium. The mid-engined configuration of Porsche's 718 Boxster and Cayman models frees up space for a rear boot compartment but with the twin turbo 3.0-litre six slung out at the back, you don't get that with a 911. This means anything you can't fit inside therefore has to go in a compartment beneath the sculpted bonnet. Whatever bodystyle you choose, the boot out front is 145-litres in size - or at least it is in a 2WD variant like the one I tried. Bear in mind that the capacity falls to just 125-litres if you go for a four wheel drive model.
Behind the Wheel
Poke in the car-shaped key and the 911's latest 370bhp twin turbo 3.0-litre flat six engine springs to life with real verve. That engine is slung out at the back, so doesn't encumber the steering which, as a result, feels brilliantly responsive. The acceleration is, of course, astonishing. Quite why anybody feels the need to fork out another £9,000 for the more powerful 420bhp Carrera S is something that doesn't transcend the gender gap too well, as the standard car will accelerate to 60mph in under 5 seconds and zip right up to 183mph. Despite this, the combined fuel economy figure of around 35mpg is almost unbelievable. Even if you were to get a bit too over-exuberant, the PSM (Porsche Stability Management) electronics will probably save you from an expensive horticultural incursion. Active safety is well addressed in the first instance, as most will agree that Porsche brakes are the best in the business, and the 911's stoppers are suitably retina threatening.
Value For Money
An asking fee of around £77,000 for the entry-level 911 Carerra coupe sounds a lot of money, but the car is actually reasonably cost effective to run. Much of that comes about through reasonable servicing charges, decent fuel economy and, most importantly of all, healthy residual values. Run a 911 for three years and your pence per mile figure is likely to be lower than if you'd bought something like a top of the range Mondeo. If you do want to run a premium sports car, this one makes the most financial sense.
Could I Live With One?
As much as I enjoyed the 911, it's really not my sort of car. Given that sort of money, I'd opt for something a little more modest and pocket the change. That said, on the right day and on the right road, little can touch the Porsche. I can see why the boys get so excited.