WORDS: ALEX GOY | PHOTOS: PORSCHE
Porsche people are everywhere. The ones with posters of 911s in their offices, the ones who leap for joy when they see a 944, the ones who moon over anything Stuttgart creates, and the people who, y’know, actually own… the cars.
They all have a rallying cry should you mention you’re not really into the 911: “There’s a 911 for everyone.” In a bid to prove this notion, a jaunt from Monaco up the Col de Turini in the French Alps, in four of the 26 variants (excluding the manual/auto options) listed on Porsche’s UK website, is in order. If there was ever an excuse to tart around in 911s…
There’s a decent slug of truth to the notion. The four models on offer to Magneto today kicks off with the Carrera T, a more focused, manual take on the 380bhp entry-level Carrera. It comes with a six-speed manual, the option of rear-wheel steering and a smidge less weight than the non-T version. The idea here being it’s the kind of car you can drive daily without needing a new spine, but can also enjoy to its fullest should the mood take you. It doesn’t come with big wings, vents or buttons to make it extra angry. It’s a basic 911 with comfy seats, Apple CarPlay, and a few choice tweaks to make your life a bit more exciting.
Flipping it into Sport mode, it wakes up like a toddler on Christmas morning
The lack of razzle-dazzle may cause some ire – after all, the Carrera T has got the ‘smallest’ engine and costs more than £100,000 – but it’s easy to forget this is based on a 911, one of the most accomplished, well refined sports cars on the market. Jumping in and getting settled is easy, its seats cosseting, the view fantastic – and while its 3.0-litre turbocharged motor might not sound as raucous as the pre-turbo-era models, it’s hardly characterless.
On the way to the Automobile Club de Monaco, I have plenty of time stuck in some quite incredible traffic to get to grips with it. Its many screens are clear, the touchscreen easy to use, and if it thinks you’re about to park it, various cameras will show you what’s going on. OK, it’s on the larger side these days, but try turning 60 and not being a little bigger than you were in your youth. The manual gearbox is easy to use, and once you’re moving at motorway speeds you can slot it into seventh and trundle along wonderfully.
Find some more exciting roads, and it becomes a rather special experience. It’s not challenging to drive quickly, but it’s bloody fun. There’s enough play in the suspension to feel some movement in the body, which raises a smile, and the noise (after you flick it into Sport mode)… well, you just want more of it. In town it’s easy. A light clutch, decent sight lines and sensible packaging make it a dream. Even in Monaco, the land of hypercars, excess, playboys and rolling Citroen Amis, it looks good.
Its power may be comparatively modest, but it’s plenty to push and explore without worrying you’re going to run out of road. For me, at least. Exploitable, handsome and entertaining. It doesn’t get better than that. Or does it?
As a starting point, the Carrera T is a strong one – but what happens if you throw 641bhp out of a bigger, 3.8-litre motor and drive the front wheels, too? That’s when you end up with a 911 Turbo S, a car that looks elegant, muscular and aggressive, and feels like you’re driving the most civilised intercontinental ballistic missile ever devised. Stepping from the T to the Turbo S, you’ll not feel too out of sorts; the interior is largely the same, although there’s a gear selector in place of the seven-speed stick, and the drive-select knob on the steering wheel now has a button on it.
Pointing the Turbo S up a mountain, towards the Col de Turini, it feels less urgent, more relaxed, a cruiser in comparison with the T. It’s a car you can relax in… to a point. Power delivery is effortless thanks to a slick eight-speed PDK gearbox and 590lb ft of torque – more than anyone really requires, but very nice to have. Should you need to hit the horizon, you can do so without much bother.
When the road becomes more involving, though, things change. Flipping the Porsche into Sport mode, it wakes up like a toddler on Christmas morning. It’s excited to go, desperate to be anywhere other than where it currently is. I point it at a corner and find myself arriving at that horizon almost instantly, the turbos firing torque to each wheel at a pace that might make Butzi Porsche himself a little uncomfortable. The grunt flowing, its tyres find grip, hurling the car – and a very surprised me – up, down and around the mountains with ease.
You’d think it would be something of a handful, but in reality it isn’t. It just gets on with the job: turn in, foot down, brake hard, turn in, foot down, etc, etc. Despite my best leaden-footed efforts, it refuses to come unstuck, instead deciding the only thing that matters is making progress above all else. Inside, I am listening to a cheesy playlist and enjoying the ride, while occasionally hoping a committed local in a Twingo isn’t about to appear from around a corner on my side of the road. At least a 911’s front might make a decent ramp.
Where a Turbo S is fuss-free fun, the GT3 RS is very much the opposite. The 911’s interior treats are there, sure, but they’re augmented. The steering wheel has more dials and buttons, there’s a roll cage in the rear and the comfortable seats to cruise in are gone. Outside there’s a very-hard-to-miss wing with a DRS function built in, huge vents to cool the 4.0-litre naturally aspirated 518bhp 343lb ft motor, giant, wild aero everywhere and stickers in place of badges.
Before firing it up, I am reminded of the one and only time I went to a techno club in Berlin. “You are not going to enjoy this,” said the statuesque lady at the door, all sharp fringe and nails that looked like they could tear strips off an alligator. She was mercifully wrong, but the place left a mark or two. Equally, on narrow, twisty, often blind public roads, the GT3 RS is an experience not everyone will enjoy, but they’ll sure as hell remember it…
Being real for a moment, the GT3 RS might look like a 911, have the same infotainment as a 911 and even sound like a 911, but it’s not like your cooking Carrera T. It is a racing car. It has a passionate disdain for inaction. If you’re not steering, braking or accelerating as hard as you can, you get the overwhelming impression that it hates every fibre of your being. You feel it vibrate as you slow, its lack of soundproofing revealing the beast that lurks behind its composite panels.
With its dampers at their softest, I still bounce around in my seat, but I’ll never fall out of it because these are chunky buckets with no give whatsoever. As I hammer my way up the mountain, I wonder what the GT3 RS’s inner monologue could possibly be: “You have put power down too soon, you have displeased me.” “You DARE not get back on the power now? You SHAME yourself.” “Why are you braking so soon? I’m no shopping car…”
Finding its groove takes a while (and that’s before you start mangling buttons), but when you get it, there are few cars like it. The steering is so pure you could weep with joy, the rev-hungry engine wants more and more and more, and the PDK is perfect for the car – each paddle pull is met with a satisfying ‘click’. On the public highway, though, it is exhausting. I am busily trying to match its ability with modest talent, and the car, I fear, judges me wanting. I get out of it elated, tired and knowing that few will ever truly ‘get’ how to use it properly. I am also glad it exists, because it’s an awesome feat of engineering.
To descend the Col, after a restorative coffee and a small lie down, there is one 911 left to play with. The range goes from the sublime to the ridiculous, but the GT3 RS isn’t the craziest 911 of the range: the Dakar is. Based on a 911 Carrera 4 GTS, lifted by 50mm (with 30mm more in reserve if you’re feeling adventurous) and packing 475bhp, it’s an official take on the various Safari-spec 911s people have been creating for years.
Of course, Porsche has sent lifted 911s around the world in competition, but this is the kind of car you or I could buy and take to the shops… at the top of a mountain. While there is little by way of mud to play in today, the Dakar impresses me immensely on the road. Extra suspension height helps it merrily bounce along, and while its tyres are knobbly off-road jobs, they don’t muck up the ride. It feels like a 911 should – but I know that if I misjudge a corner I’ll probably be able to drive safely up the ravine I’ve driven off. With a stack of spare tyres on the roof, music blasting and surprised looks coming my way, I feel we’ve reached peak silly, and I’m 100 percent OK with that.
I bet you’re expecting some sort of ‘which is best’ verdict. Which of the 911 line-up is the ultimate winner of all time? Where does the wise money go?
Well, it’s not that simple. Each one of these 911s is perfect for a different application. If you spend your life caring about apexes and times, the GT3 RS will be ideal, but less so if you live in Mayfair. Neither of those appeal? The T is a Goldilocks mix of performance, handling and ease, while the Turbo S will do all you ask of it without any trouble at all. The Dakar? Well… that’s for the oddballs.
There truly is a 911 for everyone – and, given enough time, there may well be a 911 for every human to have walked this earth. Good.