Park a late 1980s Porsche 911 Carrera next to a current model, and you’ll be surprised how compact, almost dainty the older car looks.
Yes, the two share the unmistakeable 911 profile, the rear-engined layout and the Porsche sports car DNA. But there’s a purity to the 30-year-old classic that the latest 911s find hard to muster.
That’s not to say that the old 911s were better cars. But they do hark back to a simpler, less technology-obsessed era – a time when the rapport between man and machine was paramount, and the driving experience wasn’t diluted by sophistication.
The 911 Carrera T doffs a hat to that era. Taking the baseline 911 Carrera as a starting point, Porsche’s engineers have trimmed and fettled the coupé to nurture the thrill – and the art – of driving with intent.
The changes aren’t radical, and the Carrera T is by no means a back-to-basics 911. But it exudes a certain clarity of purpose that, one could argue, expresses the 911 ethos more persuasively than the no-holds-barred GT3 or GT2.
There aren’t any wild wings, deep spoilers or outrageous air intakes. The Carrera T keeps the aesthetics clean and largely unadorned, although its performance aspirations are clear to see.
Big, black 20-inch wheels shod with fat performance rubber fill the wheel arches, while the active damping has further reduced the tar-hunkering ride height by 20mm. The slatted rear grille and the centrally located, dark-hued twin exhausts are also Carrera T-specific.
Metallic grey-finished mirrors and Carrera T graphics along the sides are additional distinguishing features, while the rear model designation is presented in black, too.
The result is a stealthy, menacing look that’s all the more effective because it’s so subtle. The rear view, dominated by those 305/30 gumball Michelins and big-bore exhausts, is what most lesser mortals will (briefly) see as the Carrera T blasts past and sets course for the horizon.
The front is more traditional 911 Carrera, complete with hungry air intakes and eyes-wide-open LED headlights. But the cognoscenti will spot the slim, flexible splitter on the lower leading edge as another Carrera T exclusive.
The cabin layout remains familiar 911 territory, but there are some Carrera T-specific touches. The bucket seat inserts are trimmed in a contemporary textured cloth that looks distinctive and feels more comfortable than leather.
Normal door handles are replaced by race car-style fabric loops, and the standard 911’s tiny, effectively useless rear seats are chucked out completely. The Carrera T can even be ordered (at no extra cost) without the infotainment system, but I doubt that many buyers will tick that box!
In fact, this isn’t a stripped-out 911: it offers all the mod cons and luxuries you’d expect of a car costing R1.5-million – from electric seats and windows, to air-con, trip computer and a leather-trimmed, multifunction steering wheel complete with rotary drive mode controller.
You sit low and deep in the Porsche’s cockpit, with loads of legroom and a good view of the tar ahead. The sport seats feel snug and supportive, with electric adjustment for height and backrest rake, while reach remains a manual setting.
The dominant dial in the instrument binnacle is the rev counter (as it should be), flanked by a speedometer on the left and a multifunction display on the right. A broad centre console is home to the stubby gear lever and a sprinkling of switchgear, while the centre stack houses the infotainment system’s touchscreen.
Turn the key (no newfangled start button here) and the boxer six barks into life with boisterous glee that’s much more pronounced than in a vanilla Carrera. Part of the reason is the sport exhaust, but the T also does without much of the normal 911’s cabin insulation.
Together with the thinner side and rear glass, it means that the Carrera T’s sonorous, slightly edgy soundtrack can be savoured in all its glory – including the way it crackles, spits and pops on overrun.
It’s a welcome reminder that there’s nothing quite like the voice of a Porsche flat-six, regardless of vintage or aspiration. At 272kW and 425Nm, power and torque are unchanged from the standard Carrera, but the 3.0-litre mill just sounds so much more zesty here.
Gearbox choices comprise a short-throw seven-speed manual and a seven-speed PDK dual-clutch auto, the latter with shift paddles. And yes, the Carrera T is resolutely rear-wheel drive, assisted by a mechanical limited-slip diff.
Drive modes include Normal, Sport, Sport Plus and Individual, each offering a different combination of of suspension, throttle, exhaust note and stability assistance settings. Sport is arguably the most apt, given the T’s driver-focused aspirations.
It deepens the engine’s growl on idle, but more importantly, it hones throttle response, tautens up the dampers a notch, and ups the PDK ‘box’s shift tempo.
Ready, steady… go! There’s that typically 911 pre-sprint squat as you stomp on the accelerator, before the Carrera T launches off the line. The engine spins with an eagerness that belies its turbo assistance, and gear changes are staccato-like incisive.
Lag? What lag? The engine’s impatient snarl crescendos into a hungry roar and then a spine-tingling wail as the rev counter needle races towards the red, only momentarily interrupted by successive cog swops.
There’s only one way to pilot a car like this: with intent. And the Porsche rewards that commitment with a distilled driving experience. While there’s an unexpected suppleness to the ride, even on bumpy tar, the feedback from chassis and steering is emphatic and refreshingly lively.
This is not a one-hand-on-the-steering wheel kind of car. The Carrera T accurately translates every bump and every dip it encounters, ensuring the driver always knows exactly what the car is doing, and how it’s reacting to conditions.
That’s important when you’re flat out somewhere between Caledon and Stanford on the Akkedisberg Pass. On Google Maps it doesn’t look like much: a couple of sweeps, curves and corners snaking their way through hills where vines, wheat and fynbos exist in uneasy harmony.
But right here, right now, behind the wheel of a Carrera T stretching its legs, the road is more treacherous than I recall: gentle sweeps become G-force-inducing curves. And top-gear curves become brake-hard, change-down-and-hang-on corners.
That’s not all. In places, the road is pockmarked by sections of tar disintegrating under the sustained attack of poor weather, temperature extremes, and overloaded trucks.
Add a blind, slightly off-camber corner climbing out left at the bottom of a high-speed hill, and a dip pronounced enough to unsettle a tank, and you have a perfect storm of unexpected challenges.
It’s too late to jump on the brakes. Just keep the steering steady as you feel the suspension compress, then point the Porsche’s nose into the corner, and come back on the power, while those wide Michelins scrabble for grip.
The T shakes off the encounter like a happy retriever bounding from a lake. You can feel the car’s every move, reacting instinctively to the camber-induced liveliness of the rear and the bite of the tyres as they finally find full purchase.
Because the car communicates its reactions and intentions so unambiguously, it’s easy for the driver to instinctively react with equal precision and finesse, so that would could have been a white-knuckle moment becomes a long-remembered highlight.
Let’s quickly settle the manual versus PDK gearbox debate. In purist terms, the manual gearbox should be first choice here. It allows even closer engagement, plus the satisfaction of easing downshifts with heel and toe.
But the seven-speed manual, with its dogleg seventh gate, requires circumspection. The shift action is short and sharp, and changes need to be executed with resolute precision. It simply takes longer to swop cogs, and you have to be pre-emptive and committed when choosing a gear.
The PDK changes gears in the blink of an eye. The shift paddles also allow you to keep both hands on the wheel – and to snatch a lower gear at the very last moment if you have to. That moment on the Akkedisberg Pass would have been a lot more challenging in a manual-gearbox version.
So the manual transmission gets the nod for outright driver involvement. But the PDK ‘box is the more versatile choice.
Regardless of gearbox, the Carrera T is quick, of course: it delivers low 4sec sprint times from 0-100 clicks, and a top speed on the faster side of 290km/h. But there are more powerful, angrier Porsche 911s, if sheer speed and acceleration are the priority.
The T, however, is all about the driving experience, about finding that elusive equilibrium between fear and elation, about wanting to pilot this Porsche for the sheer thrill of it. And while it’s at its best going hard on quiet roads, it’s also benign and enjoyable enough to act as an everyday commuter, or a long-distance cruiser.
Sure, it’s noisier – but what a noise! Sure, it’s lively and challenging. But it’s also consistently rewarding. It is exactly what a real sports car should be: pure and undiluted. DM
Perhaps the most engaging expression of the modern-day Porsche 911 formula.
A six-speed manual would make the case for the stick shift a lot stronger.
|Porsche 911 Carrera T PDK|
|Engine||Flat-six cylinder, 2,981cc, twin-turbo|
|Power||272kW @ 6,500rpm|
|Torque||450Nm @ 1,700 – 5,000rpm|
|Power-to-weight ratio||188.236 kW/ton|
|Gearbox||Seven-speed PDK dual-clutch, RWD|
|Wheels/tyres||20-inch alloy, 245/35 (f) 305/30 (r) tyres|
|Fuel tank capacity||64 litres|
|Fuel consumption (claimed)||8.5 litres/100km|
|Operating range (claimed)||753km|
|CO2 emissions||193 g/km|
|Retail price||R 1,536,000.00|
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