Time changes everything. A little over a decade ago, I picked up a local magazine and read a review of a Porsche 996 Turbo. At the time, the 996 Turbo was the most powerful variant offered and touted some massive numbers – 420PS/560Nm and only 4.2 seconds from Zerotohundred. I remember day dreaming about having the best job in the world. Fast forward to 2012, and I’m staring at the rump of the latest Porsche 911; a 991 Carrera S with 400PS/440Nm and 4.3 seconds zerotohundred. Perhaps the only thing time hasn’t changed, is the altogether familiar shape of the Porsche 911.

Porsche designers and engineers alike, tasked with creating any next-generation 911 have the monumental responsibility of ensuring the signature silhouette remains, but yet mechanically be a step forward from the car it replaces. As with the transition from 996 to 997, the 991 can lay claim to that accomplishment. Despite not looking very different from the 997, the 991 just maintains 5% of parts from the car it replaces. A Porsche 991 Carrera S weighs almost 40kgs lighter than a similarly equipped 997 Carrera S; this despite the 991’s more extensive list of equipment and trim.

Look hard enough, however, and you will begin to notice the visual differences. The new car is wider and lower, has a wider front track, and in ‘S’ guise, sport 20-inch wheels as standard. The front bumper has been restyled with bigger air inlets, DRLs have now been integrated and headlights are now mounted slightly higher (also slightly droopier). Move on to the rear, and things get a little more exciting. The 991’s arse now sports slim LED tail-lights that look fantastic and hark back to the 911’s original design. It also sports a lowered roofline, with a more tapered glass section that help to give the new car a more muscular, aggressive stance and yet maintaining its elegant lines.

As before, the engine is mounted at the rear, behind the car’s rear axle, but is no longer visible. This 991 Carrera S has a 3.8L flat-six and the horses travel to the rear wheels via 7-speed PDK box. As we mentioned a little earlier, both power and torque have slight gains (+15hp +20Nm). Whilst these numbers seem tame by today’s standard, Porsche is quick to remind us that the 991S laps the ‘Ring in 7 minutes 40 seconds; same time as a 997 Turbo. Pretty damn impressive, if you ask me.

Slip into the driver’s seat and it is not much different than in other recent models. Our test car came fitted with the optional sports steering which lost its multi-function capability, but gained instead a welcome set of paddle shifters. Materials in here are of top-notch quality and feel great when touched. Typical of a 911, the instrument binnacle has five gauges displaying a multitude of information. The car’s German roots are apparent here; button placement is perfectly intuitive and no control is difficult to find. Very premium in design, occasionally exuding an impression of being in a grand tourer (thanks in part to cues from the Panamera).

Fire up the engine and you listen as the flat six growls to life in a gruff, bassy tone, not unlike the 997. But that’s not all – press the exhaust button mounted on the centre console, and the 991S immediately sounds different. Louder, deeper, cracklier… opening up at higher revs and utilizing all four exhaust tips. Porsche calls it the Sound Symposer and the science behind this is an acoustic channel that picks up intake vibrations between throttle and valve, channeling the sound into cabin via a thin membrane. Is this an artificial sound? Could this be cheating? Maybe. But engineering the 991’s symphony was a critical aspect to the development of the car, and I for one am very happy with the results.

Perhaps the most significant change in this new car is its new electro-mechanical steering. Porsche purists will lament this new steering system, but the truth is, the wheel in your hands feel well connected to the front-end, providing super slick, precise changes. Yes, the steering has lost some communication, there’s a little less drama and some will say that the 991 has lost some of the 911 purity… but I’m not well acquainted with nine-elevens from the past, and it was easy for me to adapt to this slick machine. Millimeter perfect with every turn; yes, I’d gladly lose some feedback for that level of precision.

For what the 991 loses in steering feel, it gains in handling and balance. In this aspect, I’m surprised Porsche managed to even achieve this. Let’s be honest here; with the engine mounted in the back above the rear axle, the law of physics dictates that this engine/chassis layout shouldn’t handle very well. But in German fashion, Porsche have given the finger to the law of physics and improved on what was already a dynamically awesome package. The 991 is now more precise than ever before; the nose pointing in exactly the direction you want. Turn fast into a corner and the body squats down towards the rear, increasing the available grip and enabling you to squeeze the throttle and power out towards the 7,800rpm redline.

Which brings me to this car’s ballistic ability; standard Carreras have always been regarded as sports cars but with the 991S, the game has moved on. This car is brutal. The 991’s PDK system has benefitted from a new mapping that allows for lightning fast shifts; there’s plenty of torque across the range, but I found myself always going past 3,500rpm where the engine would start its addictive aural symphony. Tick the Sports Chrono Package (and every potential buyer should) in the options list and you get Launch Control – allowing for wide-eyed starts off the line (4.1secs Zerotohundred), with the first two gear-changes slamming you deep into the seats. No, no… the Porsche 991S is no regular sports car; I would regard it as a very able, baby supercar. What is even more shocking is how the 991S is almost ‘just’ an entry-level nine-eleven. I have trouble trying to imagine just how quick the Turbo and GT2/3/RS will be…

The power, the acceleration, the way it sounds, the fade-free brakes, it’s surefootedness, the way it can carry speed into a corner, how it accelerates out of a corner – all these are skill sets of the Porsche 911, and the 991S delivers all that, and more. It is fast, and can be very practical, coping well with all road surfaces on most Malaysian roads. The 3.8-litre flat-six can be quiet and reserved; perfectly happy to be driven leisurely. But when you need to pick up pace (and I had trouble finding reason not to), you will never be disappointed. While its looks are not particularly shouty, there’s always a sense of occasion each time you’re seated in the cockpit. Only three things annoyed me: 1) there was nowhere to rest my phone 2) I kept having to engage the exhaust button every time I started the car and 3) the auto stop/start system that I couldn’t disable.

So the question remains then – is the 991S better than the car it replaces? The 991S is a very driver-friendly car, coaxing you to push it to its absolute limits. It demands less from the driver, and yet delivers maximum thrills with minimum risk. It makes drivers of moderate ability feel better than they are. Experienced drivers will find the 991S less rewarding (perhaps even a little too perfect), but for me, the new Porsche 911 Carrera S is a definitive winner.

You can view/download all images of the Porsche 991 Carrera S in hi-res here.

2012 Porsche 911 Carrera S (991)
Zerotohundred: 4.1secs
Top Speed: 294km/h (tested)
Engine: 3.8L naturally aspirated flat-six
Power: 400PS / 7,400 rpm
Torque: 440Nm / 5,600 rpm
Weight: 1,485kg (kerb weight)
Fuel Economy: N/A
Wheels: 8.5J x 20 (front), 11J x 20 (rear)
Tyres: 245/35 R20 (front), 295/30 R20 (rear)
Price: ~RM930,000 as spec’d (OTR excluding road tax and insurance)

You can view all previous comments on the old platform here.