Just a few months ago, we were singing the praises of Porsche's 911 Carrera GTS, one of the finest examples of the 997-series version of this evergreen classic. Late last year the 997 Series gave way to the 991 Series, one of the most comprehensive overhauls of the 911 since the car was launched back in 1963. As you might have guessed, the 911 is an evolutionary design, but Porsche has only started from a completely clean sheet on three occasions, and the 991 Series is one such blank slate car.

Owners of an untrained eye will probably scoff at the company's claim to have started from scratch, for the new 911 is, of course, a dead ringer for its predecessors. If you know too much about cars, you can sense a slight shift in the proportions, with a longer wheelbase and a rather more pronounced, almost cartoonish, relationship between wheels and headlights, both of which seem comically large. An unfair assessment would be to call this a caricature of the 911, a basic form that is just about to start its fifth decade in the public consciousness.

But although Porsche is very much wedded to the 911 look - a family style that is clearly carried over to all its models, from Cayman through to Cayenne - the company's vast legions of engineers are more than content to see how much more efficient, dynamic and swift they can make the car within this formal framework.

In a nutshell, the 911 keeps getting better. Throughout its long history, there have been several controversial developments - the loss of an air-cooled engine, the introduction of four wheel drive on some models - causing some aficionados to bemoan the loss of the 'true' 911 character. We rather think this automotive Luddism is misplaced. The 911 has always been a technological showcase - it has just chosen to swathe its innovation in rather conservative clothes.

In any case, the Porsche driver cares not one jot what anyone else thinks. Although the press car supplied by Porsche UK wasn't exactly discrete with its Racing Yellow bodywork, there really are few contemporary sports cars with such a huge breadth of talent.

Until you get to the very high-end models like the Turbo and GT3 (not yet released as 991 Series versions), the Porsche 911 is a car you can use every day. Even lighter and more efficient than before, with stop-start engine technology and other fuel-saving tricks, the straight six engine doesn't have the bass-y rumble of a V8 or V12, meaning you can drive quietly and unselfconsciously around town without inviting unwanted stares. There are four seats, a fairly helpful chunk of luggage space and a brilliantly put together entertainment system - Porsche are getting ever closer to Audi levels of quality with their recent interiors.

On top of all that, the 911 just feels right, even at low speeds. The steering is perfectly weighted (even though the new car has switched over to a controversial electro-mechanical system for the first time) and controls fall easily to hand. It also feels compact, with excellent visibility. The view out over the front bonnet, past the raised humps of the wheel arches, is distinctly evocative, reminiscent of more curvaceous cars from a bygone era (which is what the 911's fundamental shape effectively is).

Find an empty stretch of road and there are 'Sport' and 'Sport S' buttons at your disposal to speed things up a bit. The latter is almost only suitable for the track, such is the sudden ferocity of the engine and the gearbox's desire to change only at the edge of the redline. The car also featured Porsche's new Dynamic Chassis Control, a pricey extra design that keeps the car flatter when cornering at speed. Such is the 911's balance and controllability that it seems rather superfluous on everyday roads.

All new, but still familiar, the 911 retains its place as the most poised and practical sports car on the market. Purists might opt for the smaller Cayman or far swifter 911 Turbo, when it arrives, but the Carrera S does a fine job as a fast and thrilling all-rounder that's also somewhat understated. Except in Racing Yellow.  
 

TAGS: PORSCHE