MANY years ago a friend of mine wanted to enhance the driving experience of her brand new Mini. I thought at the time it was rather a drastic move. Armed with an electric drill, she crawled under the car and cut out several holes in the silencer. The result was a lovely rasping sound as she accelerated, and it was effective for as long as the silencer stayed together, which as I remember was only a matter of months.
Things have moved on considerably since then, but the guys in the white coats are now well aware that not only should a car drive well, it has to sound good too. It’s a challenge which is currently baffling the electric vehicle pioneers – how do you make something which is silent sound interesting?
At the other end of the spectrum it’s one which the boffins at Porsche have put to the Teutonic test. With characteristic practicality, their latest creation, the 7th generation 911 produces just the sound you want without having to resort to some underbody modifications with a Black and Decker. A small, almost insignificant “sport” button on the central console tweaks the car’s responsiveness, such as altering the speed of the changes on the test car’s seven speed automatic gearbox. It also activates the Sound Symposer which directs the distinctive note of the 3.8 litre six cylinder rear engine into the interior by an acoustic channel picking up the intake vibrations between the throttle valve and air filter.
No, I don’t quite understand it either, but I love the result. In any other car, that would be enough, but if you’re spending the best part of £100K on your latest set of wheels, you want something special. So, for another £1,772, you can have the completely new sports exhaust system. I won’t go into the technical stuff but pushing the curious double tailpipe button improves the already superb performance and, more importantly, takes the distinctive exhaust note of the flat six engine and throws out something which sends a sensation down the spine.
Ironically you probably get more from it if you’re standing on the pavement than sitting behind the wheel. So, straight away I confirmed that the new car sounds sensational, but as the fourth completely new 911, it is also undoubtedly the best ever. Put aside any prejudices that the name Porsche projects… the cars are superbly engineered and aimed at people who are passionate about the whole experience of driving.
The overall look has been retained, although the new 911 is longer, lower, has shorter overhangs, a longer wheelbase and a wider track at the front, all of which come together to make it more stable at high speed.
Almost half of the composite bodyshell is now aluminium, which means the cabrio is 60kgs lighter than before yet stronger and more rigid.
The power steering has gone from a hydraulic system to electro-mechanical, which has drawn some criticism from the traditionalists but I found it responsive, with just the right amount of feedback both on the road and at high speed on the racetrack. All sorts of fancy stuff has been done to the chassis and suspension to make it more stable even in extreme conditions although the ride is decidedly firm.
At a glance, the new car has the same silhouette but it is sleeker with a new rear end, revised door mirrors and huge 20-inch wheels on the S model. Clever things have been done on the design of the fabric hood of the cabrio which folds in a Z formation so that it needs very little stowage space. It opens and closes in 13 seconds and at up to 30 mph. What’s really clever is the integrated electric wind deflector which pops up in just two seconds to blot out draughts, buffeting and wind noise. It’s very effective and a big improvement on the conventional manual installation in other soft tops.
I just loved this car. It’s a delight to drive, it looks better than ever, it’s more practical with larger rear seats, and the front boot storage space is remarkably capacious, with room for at least a couple of big weekend bags or a full week’s shopping. And, oh yes … it sounds great too.
CAR: Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolet
PRICE: £89,740 (£98,683 as tested)
PERFORMANCE: Max speed 186mph; 0-62 mph 4.5 secs
MPG: 32 mpg combined
EMISSIONS: 205 g/km