UNITED STATES—In much the same way Porsche enthusiasts bemoaned the demise of the air-cooled 972 chassis, these same aficionados are now mourning once again. Porsche’s move to electric power steering in the new 991 chassis has brand purists beside themselves. Sure, most realistic car lovers knew this day would come eventually. After all, most performance brands have been there, done that, as they say. The vaunted 3-series sports sedan from BMW now sports an electric steering rack. It was only a matter of time that Porsche would embrace the modern age.
Indeed, there is little evidence to suggest the new 911 Carrera is a descendant of the original sports car dreamed up by Ferdinand Porsche back in the early 1960s. The basic layout remains: A horizontally opposed engine at the rear. However, just about everything else is very un-911-like. The once near-vertical front windshield now slopes gently down to where it meats the cowl creating an almost indiscernible angle with the sloping front hood. All four wheels have been stretched to the corners leaving no distinct overhangs up front. These changes would generally equate to an all around performance improvement. However, many Porsche fans will tell you that any performance enhancements have come at the cost of a loss in character.
This knee jerk reaction is not a new phenomenon in the automotive industry. The inevitable evolution of any iconic sports car has met with backlash in some form or another at some point. And while most of the criticisms brought to the doorsteps of the manufacturers are generally unsubstantiated by performance specs, track test data, or even science, occasionally, the gripes are legitimate. Take the gas crisis of the late 1970s, for example. Legendary American muscle car names like Corvette, Mustang, Camero, and Trans Am were embarrassingly placed on pathetically performing vehicles that could look nice in a parking lot but could not vanquish a soccer mom behind the wheel of a modern minivan in a stoplight-to-stoplight drag race.
Today, though, each successive generation of a sports car model benefits from the subsequent horsepower war that has been waged between the automakers ever since the oil crisis subsided. Generally, each succeeding model outperforms its predecessor. But it wasn’t just a horsepower war that began back then. Innovative engineering backed the raw performance numbers. Terms like “variable valve timing” were now being whispered cautiously at sports car clubs across the nation. It wasn’t simply a matter of displacement anymore. If there was one lesson to be learned from the oil crisis, it was that efficiency was the new mantra. And technology, not engine size was going to be the means by which efficiency would be achieved.
So, are there any legitimate reasons for Porsche loyalists to complain about the new 911? With today’s upward trending performance standards, made possible by this new efficiency through technology mantra, the new 911 will likely outperform its predecessor without breaking a sweat. Sure, the new Porsche is a bit less quirky when compared to its competitors than earlier 911s were. Is that necessarily a bad thing? Its interior has become more of a luxury box than a courtside seat. But is that really a bad thing? We will refrain from answering these questions until we’ve spent some time behind the wheel of the new 911, but feel free to post questions and comments below.