Porsche 911 Carrera S manual 2020 review – immersion therapy
A manual gearbox brings welcome additional driver involvement to the 992, but it’s not without its drawbacks
For many, the appearance of this 992 variant long after the type generally went on sale will feel like an event barely worthy of mention. A Porsche 911 992 Carrera S with a manual gearbox, instead of the eight-speed PDK twin clutch box: a combination that’s slower to 60mph by nearly a whole second, and that requires the tiresome operation of a clutch pedal. Whatever.
Happily, this is evo, where we are naturally drawn to this car like insects to a Racing Yellow 992 on a July afternoon – even more so because the latest generation of the 911 has failed to get as excited in the manner in which we want Porsche’s enduring legend to really get beneath our skins. Will the addition of a manual gearbox, and the extra involvement in the process of driving that it brings, be the making of the 992 as an evo car?
Engine, transmission and 0-60 time
The gearbox is a revised version of the seven-speed manual transmission first seen with the introduction of the 991 model. Seventh is very much an overdrive for economy and emissions, and all the ratios are ‘long’, with second gear reaching nearly 80mph and third well on the way to 120mph. The Carrera S features the more powerful version of the twin turbo 3-litre flat six, developing 444bhp and 391lb ft of torque. In a car that weighs 1,480kg DIN, that makes for a serious level of performance: 0-60mph takes four seconds, and the top speed is 191mph. By comparison, a PDK in Sport Plus mode can reach 60mph in just 3.3 seconds, while the top speed is an identical 191mph.
Think not of the manual option on the 992 as merely a box ticked, but rather a collection of attributes that creates what Porsche themselves are marketing as something of a driver-focused package. The manual box is combined with the Sport Chrono option, including dynamic engine mounts, a mechanical limited slip differential, steering wheel mode switch and Porsche’s new tyre temperature readout first seen on the 992 Turbo. It can only be selected on an ‘S’ model, and also strips 35kg of weight, dipping the 992’s overall weight under 1,500kg for the first time.
What’s it like to drive?
Fitting a manual gearbox to the 992 gives the impression in the first few yards that the car has gained 20bhp. There’s something about the immediacy of the car’s response to the throttle as the wheels begin to rotate, and the instant operation of the clutch, that make it feel much more lively, as though you’re not waiting for an electronic brain to decide how much power you can have, or how quickly you can move off. We’re not privy to whether there’s a difference in drivetrain losses, or whether it’s a purely subjective thought, but however you spin the argument, the manual car just feels more energetic; it’s a car with more enthusiasm from your first moment with it.
Yes, the manual is much slower than the PDK-equipped car to 62mph, but not only are the gearchanges faster with PDK, the gear ratios are also different, with a very short first gear aiding the PDK’s launch. On the road such measurements are entirely meaningless: quite simply, no one drives in that manner, so in reality there’s nothing to choose between them in terms of pace.
Where the manual absolutely scores is in how you, the driver, have to be that much more aware of what the car is doing at all times. This subtle but constant attentiveness fosters much more of a bond between car and driver, and makes the manual car much more of an event. Sure, if you’ve bought a 992 for the badge and because the infotainment system looks pretty cool such thoughts will be an anathema, but anyone more interested in the journey rather than the destination will be drawn to what the manual offers.
In fact, so flexible is the flat-six, and so broad its rev range, that gearchanges aren’t required that often. You can miss out odd or even gears, and seventh need only be hooked for motorway cruising. The engine pulls from 2,000rpm and doesn’t give up until 7,500rpm – a far cry from something like a 997.1 Turbo. However, the ratios chosen are also very, very long. This may well be due to maddeningly unrealistic emissions tests skewed in the favour of automatic transmission cars, but the net result is that a 992 manual is able to tackle a B road in one gear only – second. So the need to use what is a hugely improved seven-speeder compared with the early days of the 991 is largely – and sadly – removed, and the overall feeling is often one of frustration that Porsche has supplied a great manual box with one hand, and then largely removed the reason for using it with the other.
In other respects it’s business as usual for the 992 Carrera S. It’s an effortless car to live with, and does everything you could ever want from a do-it-all sports car with a supreme level of competence. Nevertheless, it does feel big in the UK, requiring a little more circumspection when threading down a typical B road than 911s used to, and those looking for their new 911 to really excite may wish for a little less gloss and a little more grit from the GT department’s products to be sprinkled over the Carrera.
Price and rivals
Manual sports cars are a rapidly dying breed, particularly as the price point rises. While the 911’s manual transmission is not a no-cost option, the extra chassis tech as mentioned above are offered along with it, which means spec-for-spec the manual is around £1680 less expensive than the PDK, making the manual Carrera S £94,350 basic. Aston Martin do offer a seven-speed manual version of the Vantage as a similarly no-cost option, but prices start at a rather more serious £120,900 before options. And there’s always the Lotus Evora to consider, now available in a more road-focused GT410 form at £82,900.