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In-depth reviews

Porsche 911 review - Engines, performance and drive

All 911s have impressive performance, but different engines respond in different ways

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.5 out of 5

Engines, performance and drive Rating

4.7 out of 5

Price
£99,405 to £124,405
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The key component in each of the three threads within the Porsche 911 range is the engine. Carrera, Turbo and GT models each feature a different type of flat-six engine, and each of these units responds in very different ways, offering different strengths. Let’s start with Carrera. 

Porsche 911 Carrera models utilise a twin-turbocharged 3.0-litre flat-six engine that’s tuned to respond in a very linear and controlled manner. It does this with two small turbochargers that are primed for quick responses at relatively low boost pressures. The tell for how these engines perform is not the power but the torque curve, as the peak (450Nm) is reached from as low as 1,950rpm in the base Carrera and Carrera T. The slightly uprated units in the S (530Nm) and GTS (570Nm) are only a few hundred rpm behind at 2,300rpm. Power in all models is relatively restrained by modern standards, with the base and T producing 380bhp, and the S and GTS producing 444bhp and 473bhp respectively. 

All Carrera models are fitted with an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission as standard, but the T, S and GTS are all available with an optional seven-speed manual at no additional cost. As with many modern Porsches, the manual adds a certain level of driver engagement, but they also have very long gear ratios that blunt in-gear performance. Porsche says this is an unfortunate side effect of needing to hit emissions targets, and that it uses these annoyingly long ratios because it has to, not because it wants to. Just to make things even more complicated, base, S and GTS models are also available with an optional all-wheel drive system that’s predominantly rear-biased in its torque-split. 

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The Porsche 911 Turbo, as its name suggests, uses a twin-turbocharged flat-six, but the engine is larger at 3.7-litres. This larger capacity gives the engine even more performance, but it’s actually the more sophisticated turbochargers that define its personality. 

The VTG (Variable Turbine Geometry) turbochargers are designed to give the Turbo and Turbo S more of an old-fashioned rush of torque after an initial pause of turbo-lag, just like 911 Turbos did in the past. The fact that these new engines are so much more heavily boosted makes this a genuine side effect rather than something engineered-in, but the VTG element reduces lag to a manageable amount. Both the 572bhp Turbo and 641bhp Turbo S offer astounding performance. This is backed up by high torque figures of 750Nm and 800Nm, both of which are available over a narrower band in the rev range compared to the Carrera.

All Turbo models feature the PDK transmission and a standard all-wheel drive system, with the limited-run Sport Classic eschewing both to offer a manual, rear-wheel drive combination that did come with a lower power and torque figure. 

911 GT models feature a naturally aspirated 4.0-litre flat-six with 503bhp for the GT3 and 517bhp in the GT3 RS. These engines have a completely different character to the turbocharged units, with a more visceral sound and razor-sharp responses.

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The lack of a turbo does make them much less toruqey, with 470Nm (GT3) and 465Nm (GT3 RS). RS, in fact, has the least torque of any Porsche 911 but this is made up for with revs. And more revs. Both cars reach a stratospheric 9,000rpm. The GT models also have their own transmissions, dropping a ratio compared to the other 911 models with their six-speed manual or seven-speed PDK boxes – the RS is PDK only – and they’re also rear-wheel drive only.

From here it’s tricky not to fall down the slippery slope of chassis variations, because it’s almost endless. From the very basic Carrera, which has passive dampers, staggered 19- and 20-inch alloy wheels, steel brakes and a mechanical limited-slip differential, right through to the fully-loaded Turbo S that has (deep breath) adaptive dampers with active anti-roll bars, forged centre-lock 20- and 21-inch wheels, carbon ceramic brakes, rear-wheel steering, and four-wheel drive with an electronically controlled limited-slip differential and power torque-vectoring – we could go on. All 911 variants generally fall between those two extremes. 

Except, that is, the GT models, which have totally distinct engineering. Both the standard GT3 and RS feature a unique double wishbone front suspension design. RS models have all manner of active aero that nearly matches that of a competition GT3 race car, and actually eclipses Porsche’s own Cup racing car.

With such a broad range, every 911 drives a little bit differently – some amounting to sweet spots in the range and others that should be avoided. Broadly speaking, though, all 911s have such high thresholds of grip that you have to be driving at quite some speed to unsettle them. In wet or cold weather, the 911’s inherent balance is more tangible, with the front end still needing to be managed for understeer and the tail displaying a pendulum effect due to the rear-heavy weight distribution. Yet these quirks do not show themselves in general day to day or even fast road driving. They only arise when you provoke the car in slippery conditions. 

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To drive, we’d say the entry-level Carrera isn’t quite the sweet spot it once was, as the performance from its engine just isn’t enough to make the chassis come alive. Four-wheel drive Carreras do have added security under hard acceleration, but the extra mass is just about evident and takes the edge off the 911’s agility further still. Turbo S models are immensely fast, but the chassis control systems can rob some valuable feel from the driver – even if they remain about the fastest road car on sale point-to-point. Instead, it’s the rear-wheel drive Carrera GTS models, Carrera S and GT models that are the highlights of the current 911 range. For purity, we’d suggest forgoing any optional chassis support hardware such as the dynamic chassis control or rear-wheel steering, but so configurable is a modern 911 that it’s really just a matter of personal taste. 

Convertible and Targa models have obvious compromises in their structural rigidity and extra weight, so from a pure driving engagement standpoint are a bit of a no-go. But for those who really feel that the appeal is in an open-top 911, they’re more than good enough to recommend. 

0-62mph acceleration and top speed 

When it comes to a 911’s acceleration times, there are general rules to follow. When comparing a Coupe to Convertible and Targa models, add 0.2 seconds to the 0-62mph time due to the extra weight, and cars fitted with the manual transmissions are all between 0.4-0.5 of a second slower due to the slower shift speeds and longer gearing.

The optional Sport Chrono package will then improve any 0-62mph time by 0.2 seconds regardless of power output or body style due to the in-built launch mode, but this only applies to models fitted with PDK – launch control’s beneficial effect is negated when paired to the manual. 

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Using the popular Carrera S coupe as a starting point, it hits 62mph in 3.7 seconds with the PDK, 3.5 seconds as fitted with PDK and Sport Chrono, or 4.2 seconds with the manual. This variance can then be applied up and down the range, depending on whether certain transmissions are able to be paired with certain models, and whether the Sport Chrono is fitted as standard or not as it is on higher spec models. At its slowest, the Carrera T with a manual transmission hits 62mph in 4.5 seconds, meanwhile a Turbo S will do the deed in just 2.7 (adrenaline pumping) seconds. GT3s hit the benchmark in 3.4 and 3.8 seconds for the PDK and manual respectively, and the GT3 RS brings that down to 3 seconds dead. 

These numbers all reflect the inherently brilliant traction all 911s get due to the engine’s placement above the rear wheels, but on the road performance is always strong. The Carrera T manual can need a bit of stirring due to its moderate power and long gearing, but the mid-range is where all Carreras are happiest, as while the engine doesn’t strain on the way up to its 7,250rpm redline, there’s not much point holding holding off a gear change. Turbos have a much more fiery top-end, and pull hard from around 2,400rpm onwards, while the GTs all need to be revved to within an inch of their life, which is the appeal. Your natural instincts will tell you to change up at around 8,000rpm, but there’s still 1,000rpm to go! 

No 911 has any form of artificial speed limiter, so anyone willing to push the limits on an Autobahn better be ready for some big speeds. Even the most basic 911 is capable of 181mph, with Turbo S models topping out at 205mph. GT models are restricted by their aero and so hit 199mph, the RS tops out at 184mph with its ‘DRS’ flap open. 

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Which Is Best

Cheapest

  • Name
    2dr PDK
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £97,000

Most Economical

  • Name
    2dr PDK
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £97,000

Fastest

  • Name
    GTS 2dr PDK
  • Gearbox type
    Semi-auto
  • Price
    £122,000
Senior staff writer

Senior staff writer at Auto Express, Jordan joined the team after six years at evo magazine where he specialised in news and reviews of cars at the high performance end of the car market. 

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