Given this story is intended to discuss only what
a 911 R
is like to drive let's deal with the
elephant in the room
first. Yes, there remain accusations of collusion between owners and dealers. And no, a 911 R certainly isn't £400,000 worth of sports car. And yes, perhaps the whole process of creating another 911 R was rather cynical. There are nearly 50 times too many, for a start.
So please bear with if you are one of those people throwing knives at a Porsche badge on the wall (or sticker, to be truly accurate); perhaps go and read something else. Because, wouldn't you know, a Motorsport 911 with a manual gearbox is a really rather brilliant car.
Given the controversy, statements like that almost feel like they should be qualified with an apology. Ignoring the politics (possibly a sound mantra for any review of 2016) if enthusiasts can't be excited about a rear-wheel drive, manual sports car with a kerbweight of 1,370kg and a 500hp flat-six that revs to 8,500rpm, then what can we be keen on? Oh yes, the ability to buy one...
But to driving the 911 R. Weird though it may sound as an opening gambit, the seats are the place to begin. Because they quite neatly represent what the whole car is about. There's the traditional (and quite stylish) 'Pepita' houndstooth look, but that upholstery is on fixed-back carbon fibre seats. There's a host of exciting Motorsport features in this car, cloaked by a far more stylish 991 than we've ever seen before.
There's talent and ability aplenty, yet in a car that doesn't advertise the fact quite as loudly as the 'normal' GT cars. The same 500hp flat-six resides in the back, but there's no great spoiler there like the GT3 RS. There's debate on which stripes look best, but don't forget that the roof they run over is magnesium. And while the dials are illuminated in a nostalgic green, the taco reads to 10 and the speedo to over 200mph. While it's clearly not as focused as the GT3s, neither is the 911 R some relaxed GT either.
The success and - dare the word be mentioned - joy of this car is in its amalgamation of traditional and modern 911 elements. It's not a perfect fusion, but it is very good. It isn't suddenly a modern 911 to enjoy at modest speeds along a B-road, working the weight balances and exploiting those unique traits in the way you might with an old one. But it is a whole lot more involving and communicative than we thought a 991 could be, and exciting at realistic commitment levels too. And isn't that what all great driver's cars are about?
The engine and gearbox are unqualified triumphs. This car was equipped with the optional single-mass flywheel too, making its responses razor sharp. It's alert to every tiny prod of the throttle in a way even the best turbo engines can't match. The lack of sound deadening means all sorts of fascinating noises make their way through. And it revs! Good grief, does it rev. Any concerns that may still linger over this 4.0-litre's ability to replace the Mezger disappear once you've experienced the way this thing tears around to 8,500rpm. So addictive in fact is the energy, the glorious sound and the speed that occasionally you meet the rev limiter, convinced there's more to give (that and the fact the red paint doesn't begin until 8,600rpm - good nerd fact for you).
Moreover, the new six-speed gearbox means the performance can be exploited too. Of course this car can go very fast, but using first to fourth from the seven-speed PDK means that 60mph in third gear equates to 5,000rpm. Hardly an MX-5, granted. Compare this to a manual Porsche that will do 116mph in that gear, though, and you can understand how much more is going on at this speed.
And with that single-mass flywheel, you probably will stall this car a fair bit. I'll bet too that the first time you attempt to rev match a downshift you'll get a humiliating flare of revs. That's the joy of it though; it needs learning more than any automatic ever will. And when you get a downshift right, or when you change up without the revs hopelessly dying away, it's a fantastic feeling. Again, it's that effort and reward correlation that the best cars do so well. The manual is a superb gearbox also, weighty yet precise and super short in throw. Cliche though it may be, the combination of those new ratios and such a lovely gearbox means you are changing gear just because it's so much damn fun.
Less is more
Our day with the 911 R was also spent with a four-cylinder Boxster. It was a fascinating (if unorthodox) comparison too, obviously not in terms of outright ability but instead of how they feel as sports cars. Over the same stretches of road it was the 911 R that you would drive more slowly; not because it was more intimidating, simply because it was so much more communicative, involving and exciting. As such enjoying the car comes more from feel than it does chasing numbers, be they big mph here or tenths of a second there. A lack of driver interaction has been a gripe of the 991 since its launch, so to see it so comprehensively addressed here is very satisfying. It can be driven fast or slow and properly enjoyed, which isn't always the case with a lot of performance cars. From one owner we featured this year doesn't look too shabby on track either.
OK, so the electric steering isn't quite as detailed in its feedback as the hydraulic system in a
. 911 geeks like Dan have muttered into their beards about the four-wheel steering ironing out yet another character 'flaw' that made the car stand out. That can be countered by saying that with faith in the front end comes the confidence to push a little harder, plus you still get that 911 traction firing you of the corner. Whatever, the steering in a 911 R is still way more engaging and enjoyable to use than those systems found in rivals like an AMG GT or Audi R8.
As we've come to expect from GT Porsches wheel and body control are excellent, again boosting confidence. The brakes have great feel and huge performance. Despite running on standard Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s and the drizzle being fairly constant, the messages to your hands, bottom and ears about what the car is doing mean nothing comes as a surprise. Once more, it's the R's communicative nature that makes it so much fun, rather than some transformative approach in making a fast car - it's quite simple really. The 911 R doesn't have a PSM Sport mode like facelifted 991s do, but let's just say the calibration of the stability control leaves plenty in the hands of the driver even with everything on.
More of the good stuff
Bring together all those elements - a magnificent powertrain, a hugely engaging chassis and assertive good looks - and hopefully it can be understood why those who have driven a 911 R have got all in a tizz about it. The fact it has arrived just after the facelifted (and turbocharged) Carrera has given it an immediately more classic feel too. And it's refined enough just to sit on the motorway for hours as well. Oh dear...
See, for all the notoriety, the fact remains that it's an excellent car. You may not like the way Porsche has gone about the business of selling them, but there's little to moan about in the product. The 911 R is great not because it revolutionises what we've come to expect from the fast car, but because it reminds it us what we liked about them in the first place: the excitement, the engagement, the effort and the reward. The R is not the purest driving experience around; there's a brand based in Norfolk with cars you can actually buy who'll cater to that need. As a modern interpretation of the traditional sports car and the (mostly) traditional 911 though, it's absolutely marvellous. To those 991 very lucky people out there, please get out and drive your fantastic Porsche. Immediately.
Want to hear more? There's a little
clip of engine noise here...
and Dan's geek-out videoblog here!
PORSCHE 911 R Specifications
Engine: 3,996cc, flat-six
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 500@8,250rpm
Torque (lb ft): 339@6,250rpm
Top speed: 200mph
Weight: 1,370kg (gross)
Price: £136,901 (Once upon a time)
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