By Jonathan Crouch
There's nothing quite like a Porsche 911 - and on the used market, as for new buyers, there are plenty of options to choose from. Whether it's rear or four-wheel drive, hard top, soft top, normally aspirated, turbocharged, businessman's express or race refugee, the sheer number of different variants can be absolutely dizzying. So let's simplify things. Essentially, there have really only been three completely all-new 911 models ever launched. There were the air-cooled models, which lasted until 1998, then a design with water-cooled engines built over two generations from then on. And then this car, the seventh generation so-called '991' series.
It may not look much different from its predecessors but at launch in 2012, it very much was, with an all-new aluminium/steel composite construction, a world-first 7-speed manual gearbox, better packaging, higher quality, a whole raft of efficiency improvements and, yes, more power. As the used sportscar you've always promised yourself, it's a force to be reckoned with.
2dr sports coupe (3.4 Carrera & Carrera4, 3.8 Carrera S & Carerra 4S)
For half a century, there have been sportscars. And then there's been Porsche's 911. Today, you simply wouldn't design a high performance model of any kind like this, engine pitched right back, hung over the rear wheels. Which is exactly why, since it first appeared in 1963, there really has been nothing quite like this car. And probably never will be. Porsche doesn't need to fundamentally change the formula, for in its Cayman model, it already offers a more conventional performance coupe. But back in 2012 when this '991' series model was launched, the company was very much aware that it needed to finesse it in the face of increasing competition from desirable high performance alternatives made by Audi, Jaguar, Maserati and Aston Martin.
This was the seventh generation 911 to be made and at its launch, it was without doubt the most fundamentally different design in this model line since the old air-cooled 911s were replaced by more conventional water-cooled variants in 1996. The MK7 version turned out to be bigger, more stable, more subtle and, of course, faster than ever before. It also had to respond to customer demands that sportscars should not only be safer - so potentially heavier - but also ever-cleaner and more frugal: hence the controversial introduction of an electric power steering set-up.
Despite all this, Porsche still managed to retain this car's legendary sense of driver involvement and it sold steadily until the Autumn of 2015 when the range was thoroughly updated with a slightly evolved look and the introduction for the first time of turbocharged power.
What You Get
First things first, you wouldn't mistake this car for anything other than a Porsche 911. At launch it remained the most compact car in its class, with the curvy shape, the trademark wide-arched wings all present and correct. Perhaps the evolutionary styling undersells quite how dramatically different the engineering that underpins this model is in comparison to what went before. Ninety per cent of the ingredients here were different from those of the previous '997' generation version.
This '991' generation model was a bigger car with a wider track, sitting 56mm longer with less overhang at the front and rear. It was sleeker than its predecessor - with a slippery 0.29cd drag factor. And lighter too, with the use of aluminium-steel composite construction that made the body up to 25% more torsionally rigid, yet shaved up to 80kg from its total kerb weight. The most obvious changes were to be found at the rear, where the triple-slatted engine cover and slit-like LED rear lights were obvious departures from the previous model. The front revisions were a little more subtle with reshaped larger side air intakes and repositioned door mirrors.
And inside? Well buyers familiar with the previous '997' version found that everything had changed - and yet nothing was different. So, as ever, you slide behind the wheel to find traditionally upright dash with an instrument cluster dominated by a large central rev counter, flanked by two circular dial spaces either side. But look a little closer and the changes start to become evident. For a start, it feels a slightly bigger car as the windscreen is now a touch further away and you're hemmed in by a high centre tunnel. And then there are all the modern touches. The electronic handbrake. And the read-out to the right of the rev counter that isn't actually a dial at all but instead turns out to be a high resolution multi-function screen that can display anything from a sat nav map to a G-forces meter. The rising centre console design echoes that used in the old Carrera GT supercar and includes a larger 7-inch colour touchscreen for the Porsche Communications Management system that controls a vast array of functions. Most importantly, everything is of significantly higher quality than before. This was truly now a cabin now worthy of a six-figure sportscar.
Unlike the Boxster or the Cayman, 911 buyers get a pair of occasional rear seats and you might hope that the 100mm increase in wheelbase provided by this MK7 model would make these more usable. Sadly not: a marginal 6mm more legroom means that they're still really only suitable for children, though for a family buyer, very useful at that. The extra wheelbase does tell however, when it comes to bootspace. As in every 911, this is partly located under the bonnet. Whether you choose Coupe or Cabriolet, there's 135-litres on offer in this '991' series design, 30-litres more than the previous generation model could offer. That's in the 2WD models. In Carrera4 variants, you'll need to bear in mind that the space available falls to just 105-litres. Bear in mind also though, that you get another 150-litres of space behind the rear seats, which are separately foldable to increase capacity to as much as 205-litres.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
No significant faults have yet to develop with the seventh generation 2011 to 2015-era 911 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 only reported fault we could find recorded was a radiator leak - and that seemed to apply to a rogue example.
The 19-inch alloys fitted to the 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. 991-series cars 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.
(Based on a 2012 Carrera ex VAT - prices quoted for guidance purposes only) Expect to pay in the £10-£15 region for an oil filter, an air filter is about £15 and you're looking at around £42 for brake pads. A brake master cylinder would be around £225. A cylinder head gasket is around £32. Things like clutch discs can be pricey - you're looking at nearly £230 for a Sachs item for example.
On the Road
So, to the 911 experience. Let us tell you how it is. There is no other car in the world, we think, that you get into and feel as ready to confidently drive - and drive hard. It could be down to the ideal driving position, the perfectly supportive seat or the way that the extremities of the car are so easy to place. Or a combination of all that, mixed with the adrenaline that goes with a drive in any legendary sportscar. Adrenaline fired from the moment that you slot the chunky car-shaped key into the ignition slot. The engine fires with a guttural roar unmistakably belonging to a flat six Porsche, then settles down into the usual pulsing beat. You're ready to go.
Very quickly as it happens, so it's just as well that the brakes, as ever, are brilliant, even if you don't go for a car fitted with the pricey ceramic ones. Here, we're focusing on the first two rungs of the 911 performance ladder, the Carrera and Carrera S, both more powerful than before in '991' guise, despite MK7 Carrera buyers being offered a flat six de-stroked from 3.6 to 3.4-litres. You still get 350bhp though, 5bhp more than the equivalent previous '997' series model could offer and good enough to get you to sixty in as little as 4.6s. You'd probably ideally want the 'S' model - most customers do. This variant's engine was still 3.8-litres in size (as with the previous MK6 'S' version) but in the '991', it pumped out 400bhp (only 35bhp less than the old '997' track-specified GT3) which was good enough to smash the sixty barrier in as little as 4.3s on the way to nearly 190mph.
That's if you choose a car with the PDK double-clutch auto gearbox that most original customers preferred, a transmission almost all new model customers decided to control with the proper, tactile-feeling paddle-shifters that Porsche provided at the launch of this MK7 version in place of the nasty little steering wheel switches offered previously. It's a seven speed set-up as is, very unusually, the manual transmission alternative. To be fair, it would perhaps be more accurate to call the stick shift option a 6-speeder with an extra overdrive top, since if you leave the car in 7th, even a gentle motorway gradient is going to see you changing down. Get used to it though and it works well.
Changing gear in fact is something 911 owners get quite used to. In an era where we're used to turbo-type engines delivering great slabs of torque - of pulling power - low down in the rev range, the flat six on offer here is intentionally quite different in character, delivering its performance in layers, faithful to the successful motor racing formula of increasing power through higher revs. You need to be up around 3,500rpm before the car really bucks forward, then it pulls lustily again between 4,500 and 5,000rpm before reaching a full-blooded crescendo above 6,500rpm, at which point you're only just about getting to the stage of exercising everything the engine has to offer. Hard work? Perhaps, but it's bloody fun while you're doing it.
Which brings us to the aspect of this MK7 model that die-hard 911 fans will approach with the most caution: the electro-mechanical power steering system. Steering, you see, is sacrosanct to enthusiasts of this car who loved the way that the old hydraulic set-up got the wheel writhing in your hands throughout the driving experience. All very nice - but all very Nineties. Hydraulic systems milk the engine of power even when you're doing nothing with the wheel: electric ones don't. So for this '991' series model, the Porsche people got on and developed the best electric steering system in the world. No, it doesn't have the leather-stitched wheel jiggling in your hands like before, but neither does it feel like you're at the wheel of a PlayStation game either, the response direct, well-weighted and with fine feedback. Thank goodness for that.
There are two other really important hi-tech developments on this car and both majorly contribute to the astonishing speed at which it can go around corners - one reason why a '991' series 911 could lap the Nurburgring Nordscliefe an astonishing 14 seconds quicker than its very capable predecessor. Let's start with PDCC - Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control - standard on the Carrera S but offered as an option to original buyers of the entry-level model. It's an active roll compensation system that detects the very instant the car begins to roll when cornering, eliminating it almost entirely. Hit a bump mid-corner and the car just shrugs it off and continues on as if nothing had happened. It's almost erie. Also standard on the S model is PTV - Porsche Torque Vectoring - which uses either a mechanical or an electronically-controlled rear differential lock and selectively brakes the inside rear wheel through sharp bends, firing the car on towards the next bend like a bullet from a gun. Brilliant.
If you owned the previous '997' series 911, you'll already be familiar with the other key electronic driving aid on offer here - PASM, Porsche Active Suspension Management, which offers active continuous damper control to create either firmer or more supple ride quality with a choice of two settings - Normal and Sport. Again, it was standard on the S, but optional on the ordinary Carrera. Both sets of buyers had to pay extra if they wanted to mate PASM to the optional sports chassis, which lowered the car by 20mm and offered an aerodynamics package for reduced lift and more downforce. Even the standard model offered 880Nm of that thanks in part to an automatically activating rear spoiler. This helpfully alerts police patrols to your speed when it rises at 75mph, then falls again when the speed drops below 50mph.
But then this is a car designed to be driven very fast indeed, preferably in the 'Sport' mode, a setting that offers more agile engine control and quickens the changes if you've a PDK automatic version. Opt, as we would, for a 911 fitted with the extra-cost 'Sport Chrono' package (which includes a launch control function for PDK owners as well as a lovely centre-dash stopwatch) and you can go a step further with this system, thanks to an extra 'Sport Plus' setting, specifically designed for circuit use and able to slash a further 0.2s from the 0-60mph sprint times.
Activate it and all hell breaks loose. Behind you, the dynamic engine mounts developed for the track-orientated GT3 model that come as part of the Sport Chrono package switch to their stiffest mode for a tauter and sportier damping and chassis setting. And if you've got yourself a car specified with the other hi-tech dynamic gadgetry we've mentioned, it'll all automatically follow suit as the Dynamic Chassis Control, the Torque Vectoring system, the Active Suspension Management - even the optional Dynamic Lighting system that adjusts itself according to speed and conditions - all configure themselves instantly into red mist mode.
Which might still be a touch disappointing were there not also to be a few aural fireworks. Fortunately, there are plenty of those too. All '991' series 911s have what Porsche engineers call a 'Sound Symposer', there to emphasise the boxer engine's distinctive sound whenever - but only - when you're in 'Sport' or 'Sport Plus' mode. We'd want to go even further and find a car fitted with the optional sports exhaust system with its two double tailpipes. Tap a centre console switch and the engine note goes from barnstorming to ballistic. So that as the car tenses itself, every system primed for the challenging road ahead, so do you. But don't infer from all that this can't also be a quiet, long distance trans-continental express, should you need it to be. In fact, the extra cabin refinement is one of the first things that strikes you about this '991' series model. Something you can enjoy safe in the knowledge that that wonderful engine roar is just a prod of your right foot away.
The 911. Whether you've a classic model or this seventh generation version, it's an automotive icon that's globally loved, with around three-quarters of a million cars sold worldwide over five decades, 80% of which are still on the road. Though with this '991'-series model, Porsche took a bigger step forward than this model line had ever seen before, the company didn't mess with the fundamental formula. In other words, if, like us, you've always loved this car, then you'll love this one.
But of course, not every well-heeled sportscar buyer is a 911 enthusiast. For such people as these, tempted by Audi R8s, BMW M6s, Maseratis, XKRs and Aston Martins, the 911 had to evolve in its seventh generation form. To be more comfortable, efficient, refined and more stable, as well as being faster than before. It did. If you're searching for a used car of this kind, then you owe it to yourself to try this one.