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For this old-car enthusiast, Porsche’s new 911 Carrera GTS simply does everything right

For this old-car enthusiast, Porsche’s new 911 Carrera GTS simply does everything right
The Porsche 911 Carrera GTS. (Photo: Porsche)

In the world of cars, heritage is a variable thing. I am afflicted with a great love of old cars and have owned several, mainly old Land Rovers that have smeared glutinous engine oil across the southern regions of Africa.

In pre-congestion-charge London, I owned a brilliant Mini 1000, which was the best way to get from my place in Battersea to my girlfriend in Crouch End – nippy, fun, and way faster than anything else on offer as one of Crouch End’s enduring charms is that it has no Tube station.

But both these examples are kind of odd, actually, in old-car terms. They were both astonishing designs when released (1948 and 1959 respectively), and were so brilliant that they soldiered on without significant updates for decades. They continued to be churned out while the British motor industry set about its self-immolation with accelerants as varied as managerial incompetence, radical labour ructions and asthmatic, leaky and unreliable products.

Elsewhere, Germany and Japan were building cars that started when it was raining, and on Tuesdays too, and were well designed and well made. Then, damn their eyes, they started to regularly update their models.

Think of the new Volkswagen Golf GTI (more on which in an upcoming review) –that’s the eighth generation of the Golf, a car launched in 1974 and updated with monotonous reliability, improved in every generation (save the third, famously), made safer, more efficient and cleaner. Until here we are, in 2021 with a shiny new GTi and a car that exists as much as an anchor point in automotive time, a 50-year-old benchmark of unimpeachable quality and certainty.

If you consider the fortunes of British Leyland and Volkswagen, you can see which strategy worked best. Because, as much as car weirdos like me love a rattly old Series Land Rover or a ferrety original Mini, car companies make money selling new cars, and old-shape Defender obsessives tend not to buy new cars. People like me are great for brands but absolutely terrible for income statements.

Unless, of course, you can carry the fans with you, generation after generation. Letting your key products drift into the purlieu of homebrewing, unkempt beard-wearing, pigeon-fancying types – or old-car nuts like me – isn’t a great strategy.

Certainly, old Porsches could have gone that way, but they’ve managed that brand so well. The original Porsche sports cars were little more than the 1930s Beetles with a sportier body on top. The first 911 was considerably more than that, but it kept certain elements that are clearly visible today: the round headlights, the rear-engine layout and the distinctive shape. It has evolved, where other nameplates were left to decompose, suddenly to be resurrected decades later as all-new super-modern amazing machines, upsetting pints of Futtocks Old Roarer in every country pub across the UK.

Porsche people can get a bit obsessive. They know all the model codes and they understand what the badges on the back mean. They know their Carreras from their Turbos and their Targas. They can spot a GT from a GTS at 1,000 paces.

This is why I approach a 911 review with such caution. Porsche 911 people are a tribe.

So, then, the latest 911 to hit our shores is the new Carrera GTS version of the generation the savants will call the 922. It’s the middle child, between the “entry-level” version that is the Carrera and the proper headbanging supercar that is the Turbo and the Turbo S.

This is not to suggest there is anything lacking here. Indeed, some really important stuff is brought over from the top models, most importantly the brakes. It is inevitable that engines and power delivery get the lion’s share of attention when writing about cars – and no doubt I have fallen into this trap myself – but brakes make fast cars faster. Monstrously powerful brakes with physics-busting stopping power make a very fast car simply uncatchable.

And that’s what the GTS is. I’d like to say that they’ve lucked upon a kind of perfect point in feel, application and usability, but Porsche doesn’t do things by accident. The pitch of this car is that you can use it every day, but, with sport mode engaged and using the paddles to shift gear, this is an absolute rocketship in the real world.

On paper, it’s outgunned by a good number of ordinary road cars that have been given their brand’s version of automotive steroids, be it an AMG, M or an RS – so if the three-litre flat six’s 353kW doesn’t impress you, and the 3.5-second sprint to 100km/h reads as somewhat sleepy, all I can say is: think again. In more than 16 years of doing this, there are fewer than 10 road cars I have ever driven that go, turn and stop as this one does.

There is something about this car that is alive. It’s not just the noise – good grief, this is not a quiet car. Porsche has really let that boxer engine rip. They’ve stripped out sound abatement materials to really let you know what’s going on and to shed some weight. At full chat, it really screams.

I apologise for what may seem like whimsy, but there’s almost a resonance, a physical buzz in the fingertips that lives with you long after you’ve turned the car off and gone for a little bit of a calm-down. Driven with endeavour in sports-plus mode, the GTS demands relentless attention. It is stupendously quick, hauling in the horizon on a wave of power-to-weight too big for my appetite – utterly unfussed by fast, sweeping roads, but never what you’d call relaxed. It is a precision tool and it requires that you tell it what to do, which it then executes perfectly.

It can be exhausting, after a time, and so then into “comfort”: everything relaxes and loosens up, and you cruise with no more effort or difficulty than if you were driving a Ford Fiesta.

It’s very rare that I get out of a car and can’t think of anything I didn’t like. I like the drive, the way it looks, the tangible pedigree – the way you can feel that half-century of honing, shaving, incremental improvement; the way you can feel the millions of hours that have made this happen over a great stretch of time.

In this context I can say, without a smidge of shame, that this car represents astonishing value at R2.34-million, where a basic 3-Series is almost a million bucks. That, ultimately, is how you do it – a lesson for anyone trying to build anything. As a result, the new 911 Carrera GTS is simply phenomenal. DM168

Alexander Parker is a journalist, author and consultant.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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