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The Porsche 911 gets even better in seventh generation form. Jonathan Crouch drives it.

This Porsche 911, the seventh generation so-called '991' series, may not look much different from its predecessor. Don't be fooled though. All-new aluminium/steel composite construction, a world-first 7-speed manual gearbox, better packaging, higher quality, a whole raft of efficiency improvements and, yes, more power mean it's still a force to be reckoned with.

For half a century, there have been sportscars. And then there's been Porsche's 911. Today, you simply wouldn't design a high performance model of any kind like this, engine pitched right back, hung over the rear wheels. Which is exactly why, since it first appeared in 1963, there really has been nothing quite like this car. And probably never will be. Porsche doesn't need to fundamentally change the formula, for in its Cayman model, it already offers a more conventional performance coupe. But it does need to finesse it in the face of increasing competition from increasingly desirable high performance alternatives from Audi, Jaguar, Maserati and Aston Martin. It does need this car, the '991' series 911, launched here at the very end of 2011.

So, to the 911 experience. Let me tell you how it is. There is no other car in the world that I get into and feel as ready to confidently drive - and drive hard. It could be down to the ideal driving position, the perfectly supportive seat or the way that the extremities of the car are so easy to place. Or a combination of all that, mixed with the adrenaline that goes with a drive in any legendary sportscar. Adrenaline fired from the moment that you slot the chunky car-shaped key into the ignition slot. The engine fires with a guttural roar unmistakably belonging to a flat six Porsche, then settles down into the usual pulsing beat. You're ready to go. Very quickly as it happens, so it's just as well that the brakes, as ever, are brilliant, even if you don't go for the pricey ceramic ones. Here, we're focusing on the first two rungs of the 911 performance ladder, the Carrera and Carrera S, both more powerful than before, despite Carrera buyers being offered a flat six de-stroked from 3.6 to 3.4-litres. You still get 350bhp though, 5bhp more than before and good enough to get you to sixty in as little as 4.6s. Here though, we're focusing on the 'S' model that most customers choose, still 3.8-litres in size, but pumping out 400bhp (only 35bhp less than the old track-specified GT3) and good enough to smash the sixty barrier in as little as 4.3s on the way to nearly 190mph. What else? Well, there's a choice of a unique 7-speed manual gearbox or the PDK semi-automatic with paddle shifters. Against the odds the electric power steering system is really feelsome. And there are a few options you'll definitely want. PDCC - Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control - cuts bodyroll. The Torque Vectoring system sharpens cornering. PASM - Porsche Active Suspension Management - helps you tailor the ride to the road you're on. And the 'Sport Chrono' package adds extra bite and stiffens everything up for maximum attack when you're driving hard. It's all addictive.

You wouldn't mistake this car for anything other than a Porsche 911. It's still the most compact car in its class with the curvy shape, the trademark wide-arched wings all present and correct. It's a bigger car with a wider track, sitting 56mm longer with less overhang at the front and rear. It's sleeker - with a slippery 0.29cd drag factor. And lighter too, with the use of aluminium-steel composite construction that has made the body up to 25% more torsionally rigid, yet shaved up to 80kg from its total kerb weight. And inside? Well everything's changed - yet nothing is different. So, as ever, you slide behind the wheel to find traditionally upright dash with an instrument cluster dominated by a large central rev counter, flanked by two circular dial spaces either side. But look a little closer and the changes start to become evident. For a start, it feels a slightly bigger car as the windscreen is now a touch further away and you're hemmed in by a high centre tunnel. And then there are all the modern touches. The electronic handbrake. And the read-out to the right of the rev counter that isn't actually a dial at all but instead turns out to be a high resolution multi-function screen that can display anything from a sat nav map to a G-forces meter. Most importantly, everything is of significantly higher quality than before, truly a cabin now worthy of a six-figure sportscar.

Is a 911 good value for money? Well, it depends upon your perspective. There'll always be lesser brands offering sportscars that look similarly quick. But most Porsche buyers pay these models only a cursory glance, secure in the knowledge that 911 excellence can be theirs at a substantial saving over an alternative from Maserati, Aston Martin - and even Audi. Not as much of a saving these days, it must be said, as used to be the case. Prices for this seventh generation model start at just over the £73,000 mark for a 3.4-litre Carrera model and just over £83,000 for a pokier 3.8-litre Carrera S. There's a premium of around £7,500 if you want the extra 30PS that comes with one of the GTS models. Good news though, is that there's very little extra to find if you want the reassurance of all-wheel drive in a Carrera4 model. You will, however, have to find an extra £2,500 on top of the price of your chosen variant if you want the PDK semi-automatic gearbox. And the charms of Cabriolet motoring come at a £8,500 premium over the cost of the equivalent Coupe version. Of course, there are many other pricier derivatives introduced through the typical 911 model life cycle and buyers with deeper pockets can talk to their local Porsche centre about Turbo engines or the Targa bodystyle, maybe even the GT3 or GT2 track-ready models. For many though, the purest example of the breed is the most affordable Carrera version - this car.

Economy and emissions were always a relatively strong suit of the 911 but the latest version takes things into a different realm with fuel and emissions improvements of up to 16%. The basic efficiency of the direct injection engine, the lightweight construction and the car's excellent aerodynamics are the building blocks to which are added efficiency measures such as electro-mechanical power steering, low rolling resistance tyres and a start/stop system to cut the engine when you don't need it, stuck in traffic or waiting at the lights. The PDK gearbox also helps to improve economy and reduce emissions. Specify a Carrera with a PDK 'box and you're getting a 350bhp car that will return 34.4mpg on the combined cycle (6mpg better than before) and emit just 194g/km of CO2, the first time that a 911 has dipped beneath the magic 200g/km of CO2 barrier. In the case of the Carrera S, with its 400bhp 3.8-litre direct injection engine, economy when paired with the optional PDK is increased by 14 per cent, or 5 mpg, to 32.4mpg combined -despite 15bhp more power. That equates to CO2 emissions of just 205 g/km. About the same as some humble hot hatches.

The 911. Whether you've a classic model or this seventh generation state-of-the-art supercar, it's an automotive icon that's globally loved, with around three-quarters of a million cars sold worldwide over five decades, 80% of which are still on the road. This latest version is more efficient, more stylish, better quality and best of all faster. Prices for this seventh generation model start at just over the £70,000 mark for a 3.4-litre Carrera model and just over £80,000 for a pokier 3.8-litre Carrera S. Good news though, is that there's very little extra to find in either case if you want the reassurance of all-wheel drive in a Carrera4 model. You will, however, have to find an extra £2,500 on top of the price of your chosen variant if you want the PDK semi-automatic gearbox. And the charms of Cabriolet motoring come at a £8,500 premium over the cost of the equivalent Coupe version. With this MK7 car, Porsche has taken a bigger step forward than this model line has ever seen before, but even so, the company hasn't messed with the fundamental formula. In other words, if, like me, you've always loved this car, then you'll love this one.

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