Plain sight. I'm guessing that's the idea, hiding, that is, as much as you can in a convoy of four 911 Carrera Ss. We're leaving the hotel car park in Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, the sights and delights of the tourist area enough to distract people's attention from the black-clad 911s.
Familiarity helps, because let's face it, the 992's shape is never going to be radically different, and there are a fair number of its 991 predecessors here making up the traffic to help our convoy slip through unnoticed.
We'll see the Carrera properly in about six weeks, when the silk cover slides off it at the LA Auto Show. Before that though we've joined the engineers in the US as they go through some final checks and measures, this test taking in about six weeks and countless thousands of miles.
The location is picked for its predictable weather, variable gradients and the aggressive local driving style. Terrabytes of data are being collected from a myriad of sensors in the cars, those backed by cameras, even today, the engineers finding details to tweak before the management arrive later as part of the sign-off.
Some of them are here already, joining Alex Ernst (Testing Team Leader) is Matthias Hofstetter (Director of Powertrain Product Lines 911/718) and August Achleitner (Vice President of Product Lines 911/718) the later often referred to as 'Mr 911'. He's driving, as we sit alongside.
First impressions are good. Refinement is notably better, the 911's characteristic front tyre roar not so obvious here, even on the horrible combed concrete that makes up a lot of America's highways. "Everyday usability is very important for us," says Achleitner, the 911 being fairly unique among its sports car rivals in that it'll likely be a daily driver. With the 992 that inevitably means some changes, this car coming with Lane Keeping Assist and Lane Departure Warning systems. Achleitner is quick to point out that's for convenience, not the inevitability of autonomous intervention by stealth.
"I think the 911 will be one of the last cars which will be offered with an autonomous system. And we want to keep this character in the future for as long as possible, so in my opinion autonomous driving maybe comes on a higher level from generation to generation, but as long as it's possible to switch it off then it's fine. The 911 is still a driver's car."
That's obvious when we escape the city, Achleitner and the 992 attacking the country roads with real enthusiasm. All four cars are Carrera S models, some rear- others four-wheel drive, all but one being the PDK. That's significant, Porsche revealing the new car to the world in LA in S, Coupe PDK guise, because the PDK is now an eight-speed unit. Another ratio isn't necessarily news itself, but the space left in the casing is. "The rear of the gearbox is empty, in preparation for hybridisation, says Achleitner. Note that's 'preparation' the 911 boss saying that current battery technology isn't good enough for the 911.
His engine man Hofstetter agrees, saying it'll likely be the second-generation Carreras that gain battery assistance. The gearbox is ready, though, as is the body, with some space allocated for eventual battery storage. Hofstetter has been busy enough with the changes to the engine.
It's the same base 3.0-litre flat-six, though there have been extensive revisions to help it pass present and future emissions and consumption regulations. The turbos are re-housed, the intercooler moved to the top of the engine, while there's piezo injection and an all-new intake system and exhaust, which in EU cars is required to have a particulate filter.
All that's been done with economy in mind, though the efficiencies do result in improved performance - with the Carrera S unit's 450hp and 390lb ft of torque enough to give it 997 Turbo levels of performance. If you need reminding, that a comfortable sub-4.0 seconds to 62mph, and a 190+mph top speed. It feels that quick and more, too, the low rev urge being forceful, yet having a naturally aspirated-like enthusiasm as it spins up to the 7,400rpm redline.
Traditionalists will be pleased to hear that that redline's marked on a good-old analogue dial in front of the driver, framed by a pair of configurable screens. The centre console contains a screen lifted from the Cayenne, with all the entertainment, information, navigation and driver selectable modes.
Among them is a new Wet Mode, it joining the Normal, Sport, Sport+ and Individual settings. It's standard, and automatically switches on if it detects a wet surface via acoustic sensors in the front wheel arches, priming the stability and traction systems, changing the angle of attack on the rear spoiler and setting the PDK's shift strategy to a less aggressive one. The driver can, if desired, select it themselves, Achleitner saying it's a been added as a consequence of the "911 being quite a light car on wide tyres".
Wide tyres of different sizes, the Carrera featuring staggered wheels, with a 20-inch front and a 21-inch rear wearing 245/35 ZR20 and 305/30 ZR21 tyres respectively. The grip they generate is impressive, that helped by the fact the S has the same rear track as the GTS, and a 40mm wider one at the front.
That, as well as a new stiffer, more direct mounting of the engine to the body, allows the 992 to generate greater cornering forces as well as improved high-speed stability, Achleitner enthusing about the effect it has on the front axle, improving the turn-in response. Certainly, from the wrong seat, the Carrera S feels agile, while the suspension's ability to ride out the less than perfect surfaces of the mountain roads is genuinely impressive.
The car we're in features optional rear-wheel steer, improving things further. That's good because, as anyone who's ever driven a 991 knows, the 911's quite a big car now. All new 992s will be, too, with this generation of 911 seeing the model only offered in one width, that being the widebody here. No narrow Carreras, then, regardless of whether it's rear- or four-wheel drive.
There'll be plenty of choice elsewhere, Porsche always offering a sizeable options list to buyers. On it will be the usual Sport Chrono pack which brings active engine mounts and a dash-top clock, PCCB brakes, the further choice of Porsche Surface Coated Brakes, a 10mm dropped Sports Chassis, Sports Exhaust, Rear-Wheel Steering and plenty more besides. You might want that Sports Exhaust as, jumping between the US cars and EU models, the slight muffling effect of the exhaust filter on the European cars is apparent. The American cars sound a bit crisper, with more flare on the overrun, and lose about 7.5kg of kit hanging over the rear, too.
Weight's always an issue, but more so when future-proofing the car for its eventual hybrid future. More aluminium is used in the bodywork to counter that, Achleitner saying the new car should weigh in at around the same as its equivalent predecessor.
It'll be a bit bigger, by 5mm in height, around 20mm in length, though, obviously, it'll not be a huge departure stylistically - the rear lights, disguised here, being the biggest change outwardly. Inside, there's a marked improvement in quality and layout, though we'll get a real handle on that in a few weeks time in LA. Then shortly afterwards from the right seat.
From our early ride, the 911 looks to improve on the enduring formula, yet safeguard it for an uncertain future. After its introduction expect the usual rush of new models, with the Turbo and Turbo S likely in about a year, such is the power-race these days it expected to have over 650hp. Then, of course, come the GT3 and GT3 RS models, the engines for which are still unconfirmed. Like the hybrid Carreras, we're all hoping the GT department delays the inevitable switch to turbo power. We'll do some digging next time we see them, but as a basis for all variants the 992 is clearly a very solid foundation. Predictably so.
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