The manual gearbox finally arrives for the latest 911 Carrera. Is it worth the wait?
By Matt Bird / Friday, November 27, 2020
Though Porsche is often teased for an apparent lack of development – 'that's the same 911 as the last one', and so on – perhaps nowhere is evidence of its continuous advancement better demonstrated than in the evolution of the PDK transmission. It was little more than a decade ago, with the introduction of the second generation 997, that the multi-clutch gearbox was little short of pilloried. Or its switches were at any rate, along with the manufacturer's decision to charge extra for the paddles. Back then, with the 997 at its direct fuel injection zenith, the option of spending thousands more on an automatic was questionable – especially when the six-speed manual was so good.
Now look where we are. The 992 was launched with an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, and buyers have lapped it up. Now, many months later, the seven-speed manual is finally here – but it's a no-cost option, as though it were a badge delete or a Clubsport box tick or some other conscious deviation from the norm. It's only available on one 911 – the 450hp Carrera S – and it's expected to account for a smaller sliver of sales than ever. The days of the manual 911, at least in its ordinary guises, appear to be numbered.
Which is sad from an enthusiast's perspective, but not perhaps hugely surprising. Porsche has to move with the times like everyone else; as demand for the automatic in 911s over the past decade has shown, two pedals is what buyers want. With the 992 a more mature, more rounded 911 proposition than ever, the PDK and its little switch lever are a natural fit. It helps of course that it's a superb automatic, beyond much reproach in any situation. Some might even look on the move to offer a manual on non-GT 992s as a little odd; there are six-cylinder, six-speed Caymans further down the range after all, and precious little wrong with the Carrera in its established format.
Tell you what else looks odd: a large, chunky gear knob standing proud (stop sniggering) in a 992's stylish, minimalist interior. Familiarity will eventually take care of that, but if you ever needed proof that 992 was designed for PDK and its neatly integrated selector then this is it. That said, the feel is more natural once you're settled in the driver's seat, the relationship between pedals, wheels and stick as good as you'd hope from a Porsche. The manual is incorporated better than it was, say, in cars like the Jaguar F-Type (might not look it from the pics, but there's no danger of punching the dash here).
It's been made abundantly in the 18 months or so since the 992's launch that it's not an unambiguously thrilling 911. A very good one, for sure. Just not quite spine-tingling. And a manual gearbox does not fundamentally change that. However, that added tinge of excitement still exists with this much performance and a stick to control it all in the middle; regular 911 it might be, but this Carrera S is still capable of 190mph. Knowing you manage the gears in something so fast makes it intriguing in a way that even more powerful automatics might not be.
It's a good manual, too. With so few around nowadays it doesn't take long to identify the decent ones from the also-rans. Even at urban speeds there's a weight and precision to clutch and lever that make them satisfying; not heavy enough to be an inconvenience and not easy enough to be forgotten about either. Any hopes of a Porsche manual with slightly more accessible ratios are extinguished by the motorway slip road, though: second takes the 911 to almost 80mph, and third will go comfortably beyond three figures. Longer ratios feel less of an obstacle in the more grown up 911 than they do in a more spritely 718, even if it still feels something of a missed opportunity – surely there could be a more even spread with so many gears?
The obvious benefit, at least, is a serene cruise, meaning 2,000rpm or so pootling down the M4 in seventh. Even left in sixth if you've forgotten about top gear (it was early in the morning), the turbo flat-six isn't spinning at any more than 2,500rpm. There's sufficient performance to ensure overtakes are a cinch in either of those gears; do-it-yourself gearshifts throw up a little lag the PDK cleverly disguised, but it lurks in the hinterlands between idle and 2,000rpm. Honestly, most would never even notice. Those who want to go looking for evidence of forced induction, should they really want to, can find it.
On more minor roads – the kind a buyer would surely seek out if they've persuaded their dealer they really do want the manual – the 911 is a treat. Crucially, it represents a noticeable improvement in the experience over an automatic. The 911 script is a familiar one now, where each new generation supposedly robs the driver of some interaction, communication and engagement – not unpredictably, a lever and a third pedal return some of that missing quota. Where you might drive a PDK Carrera S like a GT3 car, throwing downshifts in at the last minute, the approach is more considered and, it should be said, more rewarding in the manual. You're thinking about the corner, the gear and the exit in way you don't with the auto; the self-blipping technology is great, of course, but the pedals are positioned well enough to match your own downshifts. It's an element of the sports car experience denied to the PDK model, and very welcome here. We like driving because it challenges us, because we get something back from operating a vehicle, and having to slot a lever around a gate is one of the oldest – but still one of the most satisfying – ways to interact with a car.
Otherwise, this Carrera S is as per any other 992, which is to say very impressive. It still feels a bit big sometimes, it's still faster than you're ever going to need and doesn't sound superb, but this remains the most complete sports car on sale. And having the manual – a welcome morsel of imperfection in an almost flawless offering – does convey a useful bit of mechanical personality it lacked. Blipping two or maybe three gears yourself on the approach to a bend, pouring the car in, feeling it squirm for traction on the exit and then coordinating leg and arm for another rush through the revs is a joy that the PDK can't hope to replicate. So it's certainly nice to have the choice.
But it would be remiss to ignore a couple of problems. We had 90 minutes in the countryside driving the manual – of course it's going to be more joyous than an automatic. Most driving isn't in the countryside, though, it's the popping to Tesco and shunting through traffic journeys where a PDK – and the 911 in general – excels. You're going to have to be jolly committed to the cause to plump for a manual over the supreme drivability of the alternative.
Plus, even for the committed there's an issue – it's called the Porsche Cayman. Because for anyone saving their manual sports car for high days and holidays, for the sort of B-road blast this 911 was tested on, why not have a GTS 4.0? It's six-speed is at least the equal of this seven (probably even a touch sweeter) its engine is unencumbered by turbochargers and its dimensions suit the UK better. Both 911 and 718 are great sports car in different ways; anyone buying purely on driving experience would have a tough job turning down the mid-engined car and £30,000, though. Or a smaller deposit and monthlies – you get the point.
Which isn't to say this manual 992 is a bad addition to the range – very far from it. Not only does it feel the best installation of the seven speed yet – being more accurate and less prone to snagging across the gate – it's the most immersive drive this generation has yet offered. But you don't need us to tell you that 911 buyers don't get their Porsche for the purity of the dynamic experience anymore, and the fact remains that the PDK complements the 992 offering more successfully. Put simply, those after the best manual Porsche sports car are better served elsewhere; those dead set on a manual 911, though, should be pleasantly impressed by just how good it is.
SPECIFICATION – PORSCHE 911 CARRERA S (992)
Engine: 2,981cc, twin-turbo flat-six
Transmission: 7-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): [email protected],500rpm
Torque (lb ft): [email protected],300-5,000rpm
0-62mph: 4.2 seconds
Top speed: 191mph
Weight: 1,480kg (DIN)
Price: £94,350 (as standard; price as tested £108,523 comprised of Gentian Blue Metallic for £876, Black/Iceland Green two-tone leather interior for £422, 7-speed manual transmission and Sport Chrono Package for £0, Electric slide/tilt sunroof for £1,238, Electric folding exterior mirrors for £240, PASM sports suspension (10mm lowered) for £665, Sports exhaust system (tailpipes in black) for £1,844, Brake calipers in black (high-gloss) for £581, Front axle lift system for £1,709, LED Matrix main headlights including Porsche Dynamic Light System Plus for £2,054, ParkAssist including Surround View for £1,196, ioniser for £203, 14-way, electric sports seats with memory package for £1,599, Heated GT sports steering wheel in leather for £383, Porsche Crest on headrests for £161 and BOSE Surround System for £1,002.)
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