What we’re driving: Porsche 911 Carrera 4 GTS

imageIt’s being superseded by an all-new model, but the previous 997-series 911 is still a force to be reckoned with.

The 911 is the Marmite of the car world – you either love it or hate it. From being the occasionally scary darling of enthusiast drivers everywhere, it became a symbol of 1980s excess and subsequently has been considered a bit flash, although there’s always a sneaking admiration for Porsche’s engineering-led approach and constant improvements honed on racetracks around the world.

It has also acquired a reputation as the supercar you can use every day, rugged and reliable rather than highly strung as rival Italian supercars were wont to be until relatively recently.

Now that the suave new 991-series 911 is fully on stream, it’s easy to forget its antecedent, the last of the 997-series breed.

Although Porsche purists will inevitably plump for the rear-wheel-drive Carrera 2 GTS (£78,370-£80,895), the all-wheel-drive Carrera 4 is arguably a better bet for everyday driving. I must admit to being ambivalent towards the 911 legend – engine in the wrong place, and all those years battling the laws of physics so it was no longer a white-knuckle ride – but my attitude softened on seeing the GTS. Low and athletic, with massive drilled discs and huge calipers showing through gorgeous alloy wheels, it looks the part despite the familiar profile linking it with first ever 911 in 1963.

To me it looks more distinctive and less homogenous than the latest version, undoubtedly helped by the wide wheelarch body and wider tracks that are part of the GTS package.

In contrast with the sumptuous interiors of upmarket British cars, the interior looks and feels a tad cheap. But look again and Porsche’s ethos becomes clearer, with a wonderfully tactile suede-clad steering wheel and machined metal gearchange paddles for the seven-speed PDK automatic transmission.

In a word it’s functional, made for precision driving above all else. Perhaps that explains the tiny buttons seemingly randomly scattered across the facia, but all the stuff that matters when you’re travelling quickly is perfectly placed.

The 3.8-litre flat-six emits a guttural thrum on start-up that settles to a rumbling, offbeat idle. It’s not exactly the bag of nails of the revered aircooled models built up to the early 90s, but neither is it the cultured clatter of a Ferrari or Lamborghini. One thing is for sure, there’s nothing else like it.

While there are plenty of incredibly fast cars out there, the way a 911 takes off never fails to impress. With 408bhp at 7,300rpm, the Carrera 4 GTS has a top speed of 186mph and can accelerate from 0-62mph in 4.4sec, but it’s the way it delivers that makes it so special. Speed builds inexorably and it’s remarkably refined until the flat-six takes on a harder note at about 4,000rpm and the mechanical mayhem taking place behind you rises in proportion with pace.

More impressive, however, is the precision of the steering, brimming with feel and feedback to provide the utmost confidence. Likewise the massively powerful brakes. The response is so linear, you instinctively know precisely how much retardation you’ll get from a given amount of pressure on the pedal.

The suspension, too, has been honed to enhance the driving experience. It’s obviously stiffly sprung, but the GTS retains a degree of compliance that simply adds to the car’s unburstable feel, not to mention a level of comfort that many sports cars can’t begin to offer.

Of course, it’s splendidly impractical if you wish to carry luggage or even some shopping. It’s also difficult to get in and out – although supremely comfortable once you’re ensconsed – and the tyre noise can be maddening. Porsche build quality is legendary, although our car had an annoying rattle from behind the instrument panel.

The Carrera 4 GTS with a six-speed manual costs £83,145 but the twin-clutch PDK unit is equally adept at urban pottering or high-speed drives so it’s difficult to imagine anyone preferring a manual shift.

A life-changing experience is overstating the case, but the GTS changed my perception of the venerable 911. Yes, you can live with it every day, but it offers so much more besides.

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