THERE WERE, until recently, 22 versions of the Porsche 911. Yes, 22. Carreras, Targas, Turbos, GTs: it’s quite giddying just how much Porsche has been able to spin from one basic car. From soft-topped Miami prowlers to double-hard hammers for attacking the nord face of the Nürburgring, the 911 range seems to have got it covered.
Porsche, however, thinks differently — it has just introduced variant No 23. Confusingly, in performance terms the Carrera T sits below the Carrera S, which in turn is below the limited-run 911 R, thereby proving that the alphabet, as well as engine placement, is something Porsche prefers to do backwards.
In fact the T is pretty much at the bottom of the range, being based on the entry-level 911 Carrera. However, it costs £7,685 more because it comes with some items to please the keen driver that aren’t available on the standard Carrera, including lowered sports suspension, a limited slip differential and a sports exhaust as standard.
Aimed at the committed helmsperson, the T has also been on a weight-saving programme that replaces the interior door handles with fabric straps, sees thinner glass in the rear windows and forgoes some of the normal soundproofing. Also, unless you say otherwise, it comes without a stereo or back seats, although there’s no charge if you’d like them included. Normal thickness glass is also a no-cost option, if your desire for saving weight isn’t as strong as your fear of being shot with a pellet gun.
Total weight saving over a basic Carrera is 5kg. Frankly, you could achieve the same effect with a couple of trips to the gym. Porsche notes that if you were able to add some of the T’s tech upgrades to a standard Carrera it would weigh 20kg more, which still isn’t a lot and rather exposes the folly of believing that this car is some kind of lightweight, mountain pass monster for the committed driver.
As a result, Porsche purists will be disappointed by the T, not only for the false promises of its diet but also for the characteristics it shares with all latest-generation Carreras. Its engine, being muffled by turbochargers, does not give off much of the dry metallic whirr that makes old flat-six Porsches so appealing. Nor does it give you the satisfaction of chasing the power band in the upper rev range because, again thanks to the turbos, it pulls immediately and mightily from any engine speed.
And because the T, like other current-generation 911s, has electric rather than hydraulic power steering, its wheel no longer wiggles constantly on the move nor allows the waxing and waning of its weight to give you constant feedback about the state of the surface beneath the front tyres. No, between the half-hearted weight saving and the loss of some rawness and character, the purists will not like this car. Which is a shame because, viewed dispassionately, it’s tremendous.
“Porsche has somewhat mis-sold the T as a sort of hardcore, purists’ missile rather than embracing its true purpose as a cracking all-rounder”
Let’s start with the ride, which is an underrated part of a performance car because one with some give in its suspension will make better progress down an interesting road than one that’s unbearably firm. The 911 Carrera T understands this and the ride is superb, better than many hatchbacks. Of course, that also makes the car nicer to live with, as well as more fun when you’re spearing through the Black Mountains. Don’t assume that grip and handling suffer as a result, because this is a delightful car in which to attack bends.
The lightly loaded front end finds grip that would have eluded older 911s and you get that tremendous rear-engined weight shift coming out of bends so that as the road opens up, you squeeze on the power and the car squats down on its back tyres and fires itself towards the next corner while a front-engined car would still be flapping about for traction. It’s fast and stable, though that diff also means it will wiggle its hips if you’d like it to. Even the steering is better than that of most modern cars, being slack-free.
The 911 Carrera T is wonderful to drive hard. The thing is, thanks to that bubble-wrapped ride, the comfortable seats and a general user-friendliness that has become the mark of regular 911s in recent years, it’s also a delight to drive softly. Fact is, anyone can make a car that’s satisfyingly sporty, but to combine that with ease of use, good visibility and moderate practicality is a real trick.
For this reason you’ll need the stereo so you’ve got something to listen to in traffic, and the back seats, since you’d want to drop the kids at school before taking the B-road route to work. Anyway, where other two-seat 911s have a roll cage back there, the T looks daft with nothing but a carpeted void. This is a car you could and would use every day. I might suggest you’d make it really everyday with the optional, and excellent, PDK paddle-shift gearbox but the seven-speed manual is so delightful I’d stick with that.
Unfortunately, Porsche has somewhat mis-sold the T as a sort of hardcore, purists’ missile rather than embracing its true purpose as a cracking all-rounder in the best tradition of low-level 911s, giving you a few extra tasty treats such as the trick suspension and diff that make it nicer to drive, without any trinkets you don’t need. It’s not sparse, but there’s a pleasing simplicity to it, right down to the seats that are wrapped not with leather but in cloth, striped like a 1980s banker’s suit. It’s all you need, and nothing you don’t.
It’s not the lightweight racer Porsche disciples might have been hoping for but if you’re thinking of breaking your 911 duck and you want the right blend of driving pleasure and everyday usability, this is the car.
Richard Porter is the script editor of The Grand Tour. Jeremy Clarkson is away.
Head to head: Porsche 911 Carrera T vs BMW i8
|Porsche 911 Carrera T||BMW i8|
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