First drive: 2012 Porsche 911 in the UAE
It’s been a while now since the new 2012 Porsche 911 was unveiled to the world a few months ago, so the changes are already obvious to all but the casual observer. Longer, wider and lower than before, it is a completely new model. And yet, when we laid eyes on it at the GCC launch event in Abu Dhabi, it looked like a facelift of the previous generation. But then again, so has every other 911 since 1963.
The event started off at the Yas Marina circuit, although the first day of this overnight event did not involve the racetrack at all. We drove off in a convoy of 911 Carrera S cars, all with the 7-speed “PDK” automatic gearbox, to make sure that no “automotive” journalists stumbled with the new 7-speed manual that will also be available when the first shipments hit showrooms around Dubai and Abu Dhabi in February.
The 911’s interior is beautifully trimmed with stitched leather all over the place, in keeping with its price tag. The cabin design is largely similar to the outgoing model, with the same level of customisable upholstery, but with one huge difference being the raised centre-console with a pile of buttons, something that already adorns the Panamera and the Cayenne. Apparently this will now be a Porsche trademark, but while it looks great, it wastes space and necessitates the removal of the handbrake. Now the 911 comes with an electronic parking brake.
On the road, there isn’t really anything to complain about. The forward visibility is good and the seating position is adjustable every which way, with traditional gauges and computer screens all nestled within the instrument cluster. Be warned though that the seats felt pretty tight, so fat people will never get comfortable. We didn’t mind the seat while driving, but as a passenger, they felt too firm to relax in. The rear seats are still severely cramped, despite the longer wheelbase.
The Carrera S is powered by a 400 hp 3.8-litre flat-6, good for 440 Nm of torque at a high 5600 rpm. That latter part was obvious, as the car never offered enough acceleration to snap your neck like a Nissan GT-R or even a Porsche Turbo would. Still, calling this car slow is like saying the Burj Khalifa is small compared to Mount Everest. It is a pretty fast car, with linear power build-up and ridiculously-quick gearshifts. The sport modes hold the gears well, and the growling exhaust note is suitably loud on full throttle.
The 911 rides pretty decently as well, with the only hard knocks being from deep potholes and sharp speedbumps. Wind and road noise never go beyond moderate levels at highway speeds, and the engine is quiet enough to not be bothersome while cruising. There are no weird clunks from the gearbox either, like you would hear in a Nissan GT-R or a Ferrari F430.
After a round on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi, being careful not to get into trouble with cameras of all sorts, we reached the Park Hyatt hotel for a free overnight stay, the 911 crowd clogging the valet area but not looking out-of-place either. The next day, we were shuttled back to the Yas Marina circuit for a much-awaited stint on the track.
The second day started off with a few circuit laps, again with the 911 Carrera S. Split into several convoys, we were lucky enough to be in a convoy of two only, having to follow an instructor in his Boxster S. And as we’ve come to expect from Porsche driving events, the instructor practically flew off, leaving us to chase his tail as fast as we could. In fact, we were going fast enough to lap the other longer convoy. Similar track events by BMW and Mercedes-Benz simply cannot compare.
The car is truly fast and safe on the track. Body roll was a non-issue, while the seats were more appreciated now. The reasonably-linear brake feel and strong stopping power made short work of the track. Grip was superb, and we were going fast enough to squeal the front tyres only occasionally on the sharper turns.
The drive was adventurous, to say the least. At one point, I went a little wide on a very sharp turn as I tried to match the entry speed of the nimbler Boxster. On another longer curve, I lifted off the throttle and the rear slid out, and I noticeably felt the stability control kicking in and making the car straight, surprisingly without losing any speed. We suspect the car could’ve pulled itself straight without the nannies anyway, because it seems that planted.
The steering is now an electro-mechanical unit, and while it is still pretty damn good, very sharp and responsive with a fair bit of feedback, there is noticeably less feel than the traditional wheel on the previous 911. Of course, none of that matters as we didn’t even notice the difference on the road.
After the exhilarating track session, we were taken to another part of the track, where we got to drive fast through a slalom course and another small medium-speed circuit, so that we could try out the difference between cars with and without the optional “PDCC with PTV Plus” system. While it sounds like the name of a Pakistani TV station, essentially, the Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control is an all-encompassing electronic nanny that includes the Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus system.
The systems are supposed to reduce body roll, among other things, but while that part is unnoticeable, what really stunned me was how I could enter a sharp curve at speed and then make mid-corner steering corrections to tighten the turn. Normally, that makes the front tyres howl with understeer as it starts going wide, but this car barely let out a mild squeak and continued to make the turn speedily. The tight S-curve on the course even nicely upset the rear-engined car’s balance, so we were swinging the tail once again, if only mildly, but the car became straight again without any noticeable computer interference.
This is what real driving is all about. The fact that this car can safely let its tail wag a little before gaining grip and continue on its way around any turn without slowing down at all, this is the kind of hair-raising fun that only a Porsche can offer. Also, the fact that the 911 is easily one of the better daily drivers out there, makes it an astounding product that continues to impress. The robotic GT-R is good for lap times and the fragile Ferrari is good for filling garage space. The 911 is in a class of its own.
Some photos by Jorge Ferrari.