First drive: new Porsche 911 Carrera T

The 911 T is back but is the badging valid or mere marketing hype? AutoClassics drives Porsche’s revival of the classic 911 variant

Porsche treads a perilously fine line with the 911. Nostalgia has kept a rear-engined sports car at the spiritual heart of the range for over 50 years and Porsche wouldn’t be Porsche without it. But with every new technical innovation that emotional link is stretched further. Leaving what? A 911-shaped car trading on past glories to keep the dream alive?

The truth is that Porsche’s customers seem less precious. They lap up PDK gearboxes, turbocharged engines, contrived retro-look Targa roofs and increasing toy counts and refinement – try finding a manual 911 in a modern Porsche showroom if you need proof.

Occasionally the purists wail and gnash their teeth and occasionally Stuttgart throws them a bone, recent examples including manual-only 911 R and new wingless Touring version of the GT3.

Hype and limited availability ensures these cars will always sell out. But there remains a vocal enthusiast core who feel priced out of the GT3 range but left cold by the ever more refined and accomplished Carreras. This new Carrera T is Porsche’s challenge to them. You say you wanted a basic 911, stripped of gimmickry and focused on back to basics thrills? Here it is. Now buy it or forever hold your peace.

Digging the substance out of a freshly steaming pile of marketing is a challenge. The revival of the T badge sees the return of a model introduced in 1967 as a less powerful, more affordable entry to the 911 range.

The press pack is quicker to speak of the 1968 Monte Carlo Rally victory by Vic Elford and David Stone, heaping praise on the ability of their 180bhp 911 T while conveniently glossing over the fact it had best part of 70bhp more power than the street version of the same name.

The new T’s 20kg weight saving and promises of snappier performance through a shorter final drive also sound like a response to those enthusiast complaints that ‘regular’ Porsches are overgeared and blunted by GT ambitions.

But you only get the weight saving if you stand by your convictions and live without a stereo and rear seats. And the final drive is actually identical to the Carrera S and GTS. And totally unchanged if you have the PDK auto. Leaving what? A near-£8000 premium over a regular Carrera, no meaningful performance gains, a tenuous link to a long-discontinued base-spec car and a set of stickers. Is this really how Porsche wants to celebrate 50 years since that first Monte Carlo win?

You need to be a true geek to really pick apart Carrera T’s spec and find something hopeful. The fact the lower final drive is only available on the manual is a subtle hint by Porsche this is the one for the purists, all Ts getting thinner rear glass and reduced sound deadening in an effort to save weight and contrive a bit of R-style rawness.

You also get PASM suspension as standard, this running 20mm lower and with a switchable Sport mode. This and the mechanical limited-slip differential (augmented by brake-nibbling Porsche Torque Vectoring) aren’t even available as options on the regular Carrera. Cynics would argue a Carrera S gives you most of this and a power bump for a fraction more money, leaving the T trading on little more than a wheels’n’stickers makeover.

But the perhaps unintended consequence of the T’s mechanical spec is revealing how unnecessary the bulk of the active anti-roll, four-wheel steering, self-stiffening engine mounts and other technology Porsche profitably encourages Carrera customers to buy into really is. Because a mechanically basic (all things relative) and lightly sharpened 991, even with a new-school turbocharged engine, is a truly lovely thing.

Those of a geekier persuasion will appreciate how a few seemingly minor tweaks can turn a satisfactory 911 into an inspirational one. A smaller steering wheel and shorter gearlever might sound like marketing tosh but paired with that slightly lowered gearing, increased poise of the stiffer suspension and traction of the limited-slip diff you do get a hint of that rawness prevalent in older 911s.

You also get a bit more tyre and mechanical noise, the flat-six thrum now underscored by the hiss of turbos but a convincing impression of the classic 911 soundtrack. If you stick by your principles and keep the hole in the dash where the infotainment usually sits that’s all you’ve got to listen to too.

You can’t escape the dulled responses of the turbo engine compared with the wonderful sharpness of what went before but that all-important character is as authentic as anything in a modern 911 this side of the R or GT3 Touring. And dancing about on the pedals as you flick to and fro through the gears is a delight, the throttle response above-average for a turbocharged engine.

True, for all its purity the car remains too big to carry off that sense of agility older 911s always traded on, the option of four-wheel steering there for the first time on a ‘base’ Carrera if you want that contrived through modern chassis technology. Engineers didn’t with the R but eventually accepted it was necessary because of the 991’s longer wheelbase. Our test car didn’t have it and didn’t feel too cumbersome on a twisty Welsh B-road. But as your one concession to modernity it would be forgivable.

As a riposte to complaints at the 911’s direction the T is an interesting one. As a challenge to supposed enthusiasts to put their money where their mouths are it’s likewise compelling. As an all-new 911 looms the response to this niche variant could well be highly influential on its future direction.

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