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Porsche 911 Carrera (991.1) | PH Used Buying Guide

Pre-2016 Carreras were the last to use natural aspiration - which makes them all the more appealing today

By Tony Middlehurst / Sunday, February 16, 2020

Few cars have aroused a wider range of emotions, both positive and negative, than the Porsche 911. In its early years, love for the zingy flat-six was tempered by fear of the car’s unforgiving wet-weather manners. Today, however, the 911 has evolved into an outstandingly capable and practical sports car that just about anyone can drive quickly and safely - at the same time now rather than as an either-or choice.

That’s quite remarkable when you realise how few major chassis changes it’s had in its 57-year life. Although the 991 model that came along in late 2011 to replace the 997 was the seventh-generation 911, it was only the third new 911 platform in 48 years ­– but the changes over the 997 were massive. It was 56mm longer than the 997, with 100mm further between the wheels and an extra 46mm across the front axle. 90 per cent of the mechanicals were either enhanced or completely new. The entry-level engine size went down from 3.6 litres to 3.4. The 991’s seven-speed manual gearbox was a world first for series-production passenger cars. Electromechanical power steering was brought in, as were dynamic engine mounts and adaptive damping sports suspension. Almost all of the exterior body panels were aluminium to help deliver an overall weight loss of around 45kg, allied to a 20 per cent increase in torsional resistance. The result of all the changes was a car that went as well as it looked – and it looked great. 

In 2012, new 991 prices technically started from £67,000, but that gives you a false picture of the £40,000 starting value of an early used 991 today. That £67,000 was for a bog-standard car that, given the routine upselling which is part and parcel of British Porsche purchasing, may very well not exist. What we’re saying is, UK-spec 991s represent even better value than you might already think.

The 991 came in two phases: phase one from 2012, and phase two 991.2 facelift cars from 2016, which were powered by Porsche’s new twin-turbocharged 3.0 engines. By autumn 2012 the phase one Carrera coupes had been joined by convertible versions and the all-wheel drive (and wider-bodied) Carrera 4 and 4S. In early 2014, glass-topped Targa variants of the 4 and 4S were announced. In 2019 the 991 was replaced by the current 992.

The 991s we’re going to concentrate on in this buyer’s guide will be the ‘basic’ phase one naturally-aspirated Carrera and Carrera S cars. No Turbo, GT or R models, in other words. There’s no shame in steering clear of the high-performance 991s; even the weediest 3.4-engined model will get you up the road at a thrilling rate. The generic 991 was crowned World Performance Car in its first year, remember.

Bodywork & Interior
The 991’s extra width was thought to have reduced some of the 911’s sense of interior cosiness, but in reality the head- and legroom stats were pretty much identical to those of the 997. The swoopy centre console packed with beautifully engineered controls left proud owners in no doubt about the wisdom of their purchase, even if some who ordered the voice-activated command system were less enamoured.

The Porsche Sport Chrono Package is a big conversation topic. Designed to enhance vehicle performance by simultaneously changing chassis, engine, and transmission features, it came with a performance display, digital and analogue stopwatches, and a steering wheel indicator to show the status of the Sport button or Launch Control. There was also a Track Precision app for measuring data and lap times. You could pay £1,000 or so for a Sport Plus button to add extra engine response, faster gearchanges, stiffer damping, and more sensitive steering. That’s actually just a skim over some of the bigger features. The full range is quite boggling. Many of them might never be discovered by some owners, given the high base level of 991 performance even when everything is left in Normal mode.

Porsche’s 18-way adaptive sports seats were (and are) highly regarded and are generally thought to be a worthwhile choice over the regular seats, but personal comfort is a very subjective thing and some owners might not like the ‘clamping’ feeling.

You’d think there couldn't be any dampness issues with such recent cars, but some phase one 991s have had a problem in this area as a result of leaking aircon units. The draining pipework can become disconnected, sometimes simply because a cheap circlip hasn’t been fitted. 986 Boxsters had similar problems. The usual giveaway, apart from the pong, is wet front carpets. Maybe there’ll be a yellow warning light telling you that the auto stop-start function is disabled. You need to catch that one early or it will fry a lot of very expensive electronic control boxes that live under the seats, up to and including the Bose amp under the driver’s seat if it has one. That’s a £750 item on its own.

Some say that the Burmester sound system is an absolute must and that it knocks the Bose system for six, but others who have sampled both say it’s hard to discern any difference and that both are excellent. Software issues have been known to stymie Bluetooth connectivity to iPhones but they generally work okay via the USB connector in the glovebox.

Sunroofs can squeak, especially in warmer climates, and slathering it in grease isn’t guaranteed to cure it. Paint microblistering has been reported in the roof area. Heater blower resistors can go AWOL, as can aircon and reversing sensors. Windows have been known to drop slightly, creating a very annoying whistle. Door mirror glasses can drop too.

The alarm system might malfunction, shutting the car down. Some cars have had rattles from the trim, from behind a door card, or as a result of misaligned fuel tank pads. If a rattle sounds like it’s coming from under the instrument panel, lift the bonnet and have a look at the big plastic cover that runs from the base of the screen to the start of the luggage compartment. Chances are that the leading edge of that cover needs some sticky foam putting on it. A rattle from the rear can sometimes be traced by banging the inside of the B-pillar behind your head. Shoving a bit of sponge behind that trim piece may well cure it.

Engine & Transmission
The first 911 of 1963 had a 2.0-litre flat-six generating 128hp. The post-2012 991’s entry-level 3.4 used the same engine format (albeit water cooled) to produce 345hp, which was 5hp up on the preceding 997’s 3.6. There was no difference between the old and new cars on torque, which peaked at 288lb ft.

If you’re coming straight from a 3.6 997 to the 3.4 991, you’ll probably notice the extra revviness of the newer car’s shorter-stroke engine. Those liking lazier power might see that as a negative, but if you’re happy to operate in the 4,500-7,400rpm rev band – the 3.4’s red line was at 7,800rpm – you’ll love its whizzy power stream and flesh-crinkling exhaust note.

The S model effectively used the 997’s 3.8 engine, boosted by 40hp. Peak power and torque arrived at the same 7,400rpm/5,600rpm points as the 991 3.4, but although there was only a 13lb ft difference between them in maximum torque (324lb ft versus 311) the power difference was much more significant, the S’s 395hp being a full 50hp up on the 3.4.

The thing with modern 911s is that they have such good traction they don’t need massive power to tramp on up the road. The 345hp, 1,455kg Carrera’s power disadvantage relative to the 395hp, 1,490kg S means it takes 0.6sec longer to do the 0-62mph (4.9sec vs 4.3sec), but any four-second car is quick. Porsche’s sports exhaust (PSE) was a £1,700+ option and is nice to have.

Problems? Rubbish coil packs can even infect Porsches, so always check those if your 991 is misfiring. Cutting out at low revs can be a failing crank sensor, especially when the engine is hot. Faulty or dirty changeover valves (there are eight of them controlling things like the air cleaner box flap, sound symposer and various heat exchangers) are a known problem that was fixed under warranty. Dynamic engine mounts were a great idea designed to make the 911 drive well in a range of conditions, but they can fail. Stop-start systems can stop working, which can be puzzling, but that can often turn out to be nothing more than a fuse.

The default transmission was the aforementioned ‘world’s first’ seven-speed manual. It was decent enough, if a little vague when pressing on. Top gear was basically a cruising cog that you could only get into via fifth or sixth. Either of the two Carreras we’re covering here could be had with the PDK dual-clutch automatic, originally used in Porsche’s 956 in 1983 and then in the 962 Group C racers from the mid-1980s. Fans of ultimate engagement may prefer the manual, especially in the 991.2 which saw some improvement in the action, but the PDK works brilliantly in everyday driving. 

These transmissions don’t have a perfect reliability record, however. Actuator control units can blow, leaving the gearbox stuck in Drive. Misreading sensors can spark off a yellow error message that’s given more than one owner a bowel-loosening moment: ‘Transm. Fault Poss. No R gear Drive on poss’. If you’re lucky, resetting that sensor will get your drive back. Random disengagement and re-engagement of drive and/or a refusal to get out of a gear, be it 1st, 3rd, or 7th, may trigger a red ‘emergency Transmission run’ error message – and that might mean a new PDK gearbox. It is possible for owners to reset the trans, but that reset might only work for a short time. Some cars suffered from an odd clicking noise on the 5th to 6th change which in at least one documented case was rectified by a full gearbox replacement.

Oversensitive oil sump temperature sensors used to be a thing on 997 PDKs but we’re not aware of that being a particular problem on 991s. Oil can leak from the PDK’s cooler flange though, so keep your eye on the drive for any suspicious spotting. What we’re saying here is make sure you’ve got a good warranty in place as PDK boxes are not cheap to replace. Both PDK and manual transmissions can be a little reluctant to shift from 1st to 2nd when cold.

One owner in the States experienced a lot of problems with his 991, including full battery discharge after a drive and smoke coming from the passenger-side door as a result of frayed/rubbing wires. His eventual list of parts needing to be replaced included the coolant control solenoid, door latch, window motor and regulator, door wiring harness and control unit, tank vent valve, crank sensor, door speaker, wiring harness and Burmester amp. Even after Porsche did all the work he still had faults like rain coming into the car. So ‘lemon’ 991s definitely exist, as they do with every car.

On the question of servicing, there’s a feeling that owners have been somewhat conditioned into keeping their cars exclusively within the OPC network, on the grounds that going to an independent Porsche dealer might cause problems with warranty claims, or massively depress the trade-in (to OPC) values. Others say that OPCs will routinely go through any car they buy and bring it up to date with recalls etc, and that they don’t especially care about servicing provenance as long as the work has been done by a recognised specialist and kept up. 

Suspension & Steering
In terms of ride quality and general unflappability, the 991 represented a clear advance over the 997. Gone was the old 911 front-end bob, and with it most of the rough-road steering inconsistencies.

The electromechanical steering brought furrows to the brows of some fans who feared that it might corrupt the purity of the 911 drive, and some of those people never warmed to it, but in the real world there were no major worries as long as buyers resisted the temptation to tick too many other chassis option boxes. Bigger wheels didn’t enhance the dynamics, for example.

Porsche Stability Management (PSM) was standard on 991s. It automatically stabilised the car on the limit through a system of sensors monitoring driving direction, speed, yaw velocity and lateral acceleration. The Sport Chrono package allowed a bit more ‘slip’ to the PSM settings, a feature enjoyed by slide-favouring owners.

Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) is an electronic damping control system that actively adjusts damper rates to suit the road. Standard on the S (where it also lowered the chassis by 10mm) and an option on the Carrera, it provided two modes, Normal and Sport, chosen by a button on the centre console. To quote Porsche, Normal offered “equal measure of sportiness and comfort”, while Sport was meant to be “entirely dedicated to sportiness and the race circuit”. Whether all owners fully understood those definitions or not, the upshot is that PASM has always divided opinions. If you select Sport you get a pretty hard ride on regular roads, despite the five software modules that were meant to provide an overlap between Normal and Sport modes, depending on certain circumstances – lane-changing, vertical control, lateral acceleration, braking and front-back load changes (pitching).  

Those with experience of PASM on the 997 thought that the way Porsche had set up the 991 made the Sport setting more road-useable. Some felt that Sport mode made the car too unpredictable on the limit, prompting others to suggest that perhaps they were already over the limit if that was happening.

Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control was an option for S owners. Computer-controlled active anti-roll bars were meant to firm up the suspension to keep the car flatter and the steering more precise in hard cornering, softening things off for a more compliant ride on straight roads. However, away from the race track, road testers struggled to tell the difference between a PDCC car and one without it, and even on the track some felt that PDCC interfered with the overall flow of the car, so don’t feel too hard done by if the 991 Carrera S you’re looking at doesn’t have it. PDCC was a £2,185 option, taking the price of a PDK’d S beyond the £85k mark.

Power Steering Plus was a £179 option which made the steering very light for parking but was supposed to step out of the picture above 35mph or so. One PH owner reported that it killed off all front-end feel at high track speeds, until he found that his PSP was switched on all the time. That must have been scary until it was switched off by the Official Porsche Centre.

Rear-axle steering was a £1,500 option on S cars, helping with turn-in and low-speed manoeuvring. Whereas the driving experience of older 911s suffered from the addition of all-wheel drive, this is certainly not the case with the 4 and 4S versions of the 991. 

Noisy 991 front suspension will not always be fixed by replacing the top strut mounts. Sometimes it’s the shock unit that will be leaking. A low speed knocking from the front on full lock has been widely reported as a fault but is actually a function of the geometry setup and ‘perfectly normal’.

Wheels, Tyres & Brakes
Both the Carrera and the Carrera S run differently-sized front and rear wheels. The base car has 8.5x19 fronts with 235/40 tyres and 11x19 rears with 285/35 tyres. The S goes with the same width wheels but in 20-inch format, with 245/30 front tyres and 295/30 rears.

Favoured tyre brands are Pirelli, Goodyear (NCT F1s), and Michelin (Pilot Super Sports, especially if you do a lot of wet-weather driving. 

Stones can lodge in between the ventilated brake discs, and the brakes can seize on if the car is parked in the sun for a prolonged period. Brake squeal is extremely common but Porsche dealers will tell you it’s normal.

Conclusion
Aside from the belter of an engine, the chassis technology on 991s is incredibly impressive. It can also be a source of concern if you’re the sort who worries about the ability of complex systems to break down expensively.

Don’t feel that you have to have all or even any of the car-sharpening options in your prospective specification. Underneath all the acronyms is a fabulously rewarding and generally well built driver’s car that will deliver dreamlike performance on a daily basis. You may actually find that an example with more comfort/luxury options is a better bet, as standard 991 kit was seen as being a bit mean for the class.

The 3.4 likes to rev. Some would say it needs to rev, but unless you plan on visiting tracks on a regular basis you’re very unlikely to feel short changed on speed or cross-country pace. Even the base 991 was a 180mph car that would accelerate from 0-100 in ten seconds. First-phase 991s are probably better with the PDK box than the manual, but again you’re in the realm of hair-splitting there. Either will be brilliant, and surprisingly cheap to fuel. The official combined figure for the 3.4 is 31mpg. Whatever level of spec you end up with, though, we would always strongly recommend investing in good warranty cover for angst-free enjoyment.


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