Catch Me If You Can
evo India|June 2019

Now it’s the turn of the new rear-drive 911 Carrera S. Can it fight off challengers from Aston Martin, Audi, Lotus and McLaren and hold on to its title of the king of the coupes?

Richard Meaden

There’s nothing quite like the group test of an all-new Porsche 911 to have the weight of responsibility resting heavily on a road tester’s shoulders. And with good reason, for this rear-engined icon has consistently defined a sector of the high-performance market.

Blessed with a near-impregnable combination of qualities that enable it to perform with inspirational brilliance on a challenging road, fit effortlessly into everyday life and feel uniquely special at 25kmph or 240, the 911 has long been an industry benchmark.

There’s a more existential reason for the professional angst: the eternal and infernal debate which rages with the introduction of every new generation of 911. We perhaps get too hung up on gazing at our navels wondering what makes a 911 a 911, but if you’re a fan of the breed, this stuff matters. So as if it’s not enough that the 992 has to fight such disparate yet talented opposition (more of which in a moment), it also has to stand nerdy and nuanced comparison with its forebears. Same as it ever was, then.

When it comes to putting an all-new 911 through the mill, evo never skimps. Obviously that’s because we have the contents of countless brown envelopes stuffed with cash and franked with a Zuffenhausen postmark to blow on fancy hotels (that’s a joke, by the way), but also because we’re firm believers in the need for time, miles and context to arrive at a considered verdict. It helps if you also have a diverse and experienced team of testers, in this instance evo veterans John Barker, Jethro Bovingdon and Stuart Gallagher, plus Antony Ingram – a man of few words, but with a clear and astute take on what he likes in a car and why he likes it – and finally yours truly on keyboard duty.

Our muster point is Biggar, nestled below and between Glasgow and Edinburgh and within striking distance of the Scottish Borders and roads we know well. The journey north gives us plenty of time to get to know our assigned cars. I’ve had the 992 Carrera S delivered to Meaden Towers, Barker is bringing the 570GT and Gallagher the Vantage, while Ingram’s in the R8 and Bovingdon the Evora GT410 Sport. Quite the gathering, and a formidable welcoming committee for the Porsche.

First impressions of the 992 are mixed. The proportions are true to the 911 stamp, but the scale is quite a shock. Especially when I park my own 964 next to it for comparison. It’s absolutely dwarfed by the new car, which combined with the new full-width rear light treatment makes me think – rather uneasily – that the 992 could almost pass as a Panamera Coupe.

The interior is a bigger shock. It’s beautifully clean, with crisp lines and a heavy reliance on bright display screens, but I feel a bit lost as there’s little to link it to the 911s of the recent past. The new PDK selector sprouting from the transmission tunnel has the stubby appearance of a Jack Russell’s docked tail. It’s apologetic and strangely out of place in a 911, though quite why I’m not sure.

The 992 munches through motorway miles with the loping gait of a big saloon. There’s still some tyre noise on coarse surfaces, which is disappointing as this has long been a 911 bugbear, but the big luggage compartment in the nose and vestigial rear seats make the 992 a practical everyday option and a great weekend companion.

Barker, Gallagher and I form a convoy up the highway, so as well as using the miles to familiarise myself with the 992 I get to see the 570GT and Vantage mixing it amongst the flow of humdrum metal. Both look spectacular, the svelte scarlet McLaren slicing through the traffic, while the steel grey Vantage is all biceps and shoulders, muscling its way along like a scrum-half. The 992 doesn’t have their presence, but it definitely gets attention.

We arrive at our hotel to find the Evora and R8 already parked up. Two more different mid-engined machines you couldn’t wish to see. It’s normally reasonably easy to predict how a test will pan out, but if conversation over dinner and a few beers is a gauge of our collective predictions, all bets are off.

NEXT MORNING DAWNS COLD AND CLEAR. PERFECT conditions for that great group test ritual: the synchronised startup. It’s a helluva noise as all five cars flare with revs before settling into elevated idles as engines slowly warm, clouds of exhaust vapour swirling into the chill air. No matter how many times I witness it this always makes me smile.

I’ve been a fan of the R8 since it was first launched, and was lucky enough to live with a late previous-generation V10 Plus (with manual transmission!) as an evo long-termer, so I suppose it’s inevitable that I’m drawn to the Audi. It looks fabulous outside and in; discreet but still with a touch of concept car about it, together with a quality feel and ergonomics that make everything seem totally intuitive.

You sit a bit high, which is a shame, but the view out is pure supercar thanks to the panoramic forward view and the rising wheelarches that sit like high cheekbones in your peripheral vision. The flat-bottomed steering wheel sits nicely in your hands, but the small plastic shift paddles (actually more like flat buttons) seem a bit VW parts bin. The same can’t be said for the V10 motor, which manages to be mellow and menacing at the same time and really creates a sense of occasion.

The steering (standard rather than Dynamic) is light but calm. In fact it’s surprisingly out of step with the current vogue for hyper responsive steering and can initially feel a bit slow-witted as a result, but personally I prefer this to racks with more aggressive ratios. This particular car also has passive dampers (Magnetic Ride is an option), which lends a satisfyingly rounded feel to the way it tackles any given road. You can wind some aggression into the powertrain with dynamic modes, but otherwise this is a fuss-free car that just encourages you to settle in and get on with it.

There’s a depth of quality to the R8 that goes beyond chassis setup and powertrain. It always feels special – a model crafted to sit apart from every other car Audi builds – but it’s also measured in everything it does. Some people might think of it as the Clarke Kent to the Huracán’s Superman, but the R8 is no watered-down Lambo.

Proof of that comes when you extend the V10, which has a silken character but searing performance, and a nicely serrated edge at the top end. It’s a real force of nature through the gears, and there’s real big-capacity muscle that lets you hold a tall gear and stretch it as far as you need.

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