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2018 13 February

Weight Watchers

By George Woodward 13/02/2018

Billed as an entry-level 911 for driving purists, does the Carrera T live up to the hype?

Words: Sean Libbey
Photos: William Turner
 
In recent years we’ve been lavished with a slew of driver-focused cars from Porsche’s GT department. Think Cayman GT4, 911 R and second-generation 991 GT3, all hardcore, limited production cars designed to deliver uncompromising involvement, and all available with a manual gearbox.
 
Porsche’s recent launch of the 911 Carrera T marks the latest development in this spirited crusade to appeal to customers who demand a pure driving experience. And significantly, this is the first such car delivered outside of the company’s fabled GT department, meaning its build numbers aren’t strictly limited and the cost to buy one won’t rise considerably over MSRP.
 
There’s much about the Carrera T’s specification that stirs excitement. Porsche says that some 20kg have been shed, thanks to a combination of lightweight glass used in the rear (an idea taken from production of the GT2 RS), removal of some sound deadening from within the cabin, door handles swapped out in favour of pull straps from a GT3 RS, plus deletion of rear seats and PCM – though putting the latter back in is a no-cost option.
 


The car’s standard specification manual shifter is shorter and stubbier, in line with the shifter found in the 911 R, and is paired up with a mechanical limited slip differential. Most interestingly though, the Carrera T gets a shorter final drive, taken from the Carrera S, which is said to offer better responsiveness despite a lower top speed.
 
A Sport PASM chassis, not otherwise available for the entry-level Carrera, is utilised here, with sports exhaust and Sport Chrono also supplied as standard (the latter comes without the dash-mounted clock for monitoring lap times, though). The driver, meanwhile, sits in four-way electrically adjustable Sports seats with cloth Sport-Tex centres – though full bucket seats are optional – and holds a smaller diameter GT sports steering wheel. Incidentally, PDK and rear axle steering are optional extras too, though surely these are at odds with a car built solely with driver involvement in mind, and all for just over £7k more than Porsche’s entry-level 911 in the Carrera.
 
The result is claimed by Porsche to be a 911 with increased driving dynamics, “designed to deliver lightweight construction and at the same time optimise driving enjoyment.” This driver enjoyment is to be found on mountain passes rather than motorsports venues, by the way, Porsche reviving its ‘T’ moniker – for ‘Touring’ – for this specially redrafted Carrera.
 
But is the reality as good as the hype? A special invitation from Porsche AG to test the Carrera T on some of southern France’s best driving roads provides us with the perfect opportunity to find out.

There are several visual cues that differentiate our Miami Blue Carrera T from other models within the 991-generation stable. Most notable are the Agate Grey colouring in the form of door decals and Sport Design mirrors, plus the 20-inch Carrera S wheels. There has been a delicate restyling of the car’s front lip, too, and the T hunkers down on its wheels more thanks to the Sport chassis’ 10mm reduction in ride height.
 


Climbing in altitude over the magnificent Col de Turini, it doesn’t take long for the T’s turbocharged 9A2 engine to remind us of its brilliance. Though it remains untouched from that found in its entry-level Carrera cousin, delivering a maximum power output of 370hp, this is a firecracker of a flat-six, providing plenty of low-down torque and rewarding top-end pull.
 
In many ways the engine is a metaphor for the Carrera at large, which is already a fantastic Porsche and all the 911 you’ll arguably ever need. The T’s tactic for improving on this recipe was always going to be more quiet evolution than full-on revolution, illustrated by its performance figures, shaving just a tenth of a second from the entry-level Carrera’s 0-62mph time.
 
Inside, however, engine noise penetrates more resolutely into the cabin, meaning the car’s deep, flat-six growl is slightly more pronounced. It’s not overbearing by any means though, the car sticking to its credentials as an able grand tourer in this respect.
 
And so it goes for the ride. The PASM Sport chassis is perfectly amicable for day-to-day use, while still able to deliver a greater degree of poise. Don’t think the T is as stiff as a GT car however, because it’s not: pleasingly, the car is still able to move around beneath you and demonstrates a degree of body roll in the corners, exactly what you’ll want when searching for that much sought-after sensation of ‘feel’ from a car.
 
Frustratingly, the Achille’s heel of Porsche’s seven-speed gearbox is something that hasn’t been rectified on the T. The issue lies with how long the 911’s gearing is, exacerbated by that low-down torque offered by the Carrera’s turbocharged engine. This means that if you really wanted to, the entirety of the Col de Turini, one of the world’s very best driving roads, can be executed using just second and third.


 
This, of course, is at odds with what an engaging driver’s car should stand for. But there’s more to it than that. Gunning for the first hairpin, its narrow, steep switchback demanding a slow entry, I experiment by dropping down into first gear, a ratio that otherwise is used primarily for pulling away. This is fine through the turn but on corner exit the car quickly runs out of puff, requiring a change-up that comes embarrassingly soon. Momentum is lost. No matter, for the nature of these roads dictates there’s another switchback coming right up, and a chance for the T to fair better from second gear.

Again though, the car is found wanting, the tightness of the corner meaning engine revs are so low that on corner exit, the car is choking as it scrambles for power. This is a shame: a usable first and shorter third gear, the likes of which have been championed on notable aftermarket builds such as Sharkwerks’ Cayman GT4, would have given the ‘T’ a real dynamic edge over its 991 Carrera counterparts.
 
There are positives to be had, though. The throw of the lever is improved, now a little more direct through each gate, albeit thanks to that stubbier shifterrather than anything mechanical such as a short shift. The car’s shorter final drive ratio too is notable, if not transformational, giving the Carrera T a very slightly quicker turn of pace (a case of splitting hairs at this point, but trust us, it’s there).
 
Caution should also be taken on the subject of the car’s weight. Though Porsche says the T shaves 20kg from a similarly specced Carrera, our Miami Blue example here saves just five. We’d therefore recommend speccing in the no-cost PCM unit as a useful tool on grand touring expeditions, as the T’s punitive weight saving elsewhere means there’s more to be gained from having it than not.
 


So what’s the verdict on Porsche’s Carrera T? Well, there’s no question it’s a more polished car from a driver’s perspective than a Carrera, and arguably better value for money than an S. Its chassis is excellent and very communicative, its 370hp engine ensures the car is plenty fast enough, and even its transmission adjustments are welcomed.
 
This is an incredibly fun car and absolutely worth its £7,000 sticker price over a Carrera. The reality, then, is Porsche’s first bite at a 911 Carrera T is far from fruitless, though it could – and perhaps should – have been even better. Sceptics will rightly point to the car’s weight as an obvious point of contention, particularly when you consider this is a car built by a company whose genuine lightweight specials have cultivated a rich and loyal following for decades now. The car is ultimately hindered by that gearbox too. A shame, considering the current six-speed unit fitted to Porsche’s GT cars is one of the best the company has ever utilised.
 
However, the Carrera T will nevertheless go down as an important model in the 911’s history, more for what it represents than for what it actually is. This is because the it further shows that Porsche, despite its exponential growth as a company over the last decade, remains a concern that listens to its customers.


Tech Spec

Porsche has created its new 911 Carrera T with driving purity in mind, so how does this thoroughbred measure up?
 
Model: 911 Carrera T
Year: 2018
Engine capacity: 2981cc
Compression ratio: 10.0:1
Max power: 370hp @ 6500rpm
Max torque: 450Nm @ 1700-5000rpm
Transmission: 7-speed manual (PDK optional)
Wheels and tyres front: 8.5x20-inch; 245/35/ZR 20
Wheels and tyres rear: 11.5x20-inch; 305/30/ZR 20
Length: 4527mm
Width: 1808mm

 

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