Matt Robinson profile picture Matt Robinson 6 months ago 20
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An Idiot's Guide To Understanding The Complicated Porsche 911 Range

The history and current line-up of the 911 are stupidly complicated, so we're here to guide you through the madness

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Porsche - An Idiot's Guide To Understanding The Complicated Porsche 911 Range - Features

One of the greatest mysteries in the world of motoring is the Porsche 911 range. Throughout the years there have been so many variants and special editions, that the history and line-up of this legendary sports car can seem baffling at a glance. Fear not, though - we’ve put together an idiot’s guide to make sense of the Porsche madness.

Porsche - An Idiot's Guide To Understanding The Complicated Porsche 911 Range - Features

First, we’re going to look at designations. The words/letters/numbers that come after ‘911’ could determine whether you’re looking at a relatively easy-going all-wheel drive model that develops 385bhp versus a 720bhp, rear-drive monster.

Carrera

Porsche - An Idiot's Guide To Understanding The Complicated Porsche 911 Range - Features

The Carrera name - taken from the famous Carrera Panamericana road race - has been used throughout the 911’s history, but more recently it’s come to refer to the ‘standard’ 911s. The current 911 Carrera is the base-spec 911, powered by a 385bhp 3.0-litre twin-turbo flat-six. At the time of writing, it’s only available with an eight-speed ‘PDK’ dual-clutch automatic gearbox.

Carrera S

Porsche - An Idiot's Guide To Understanding The Complicated Porsche 911 Range - Features

As with other cars from Porsche (like the Boxster and Cayman), strapping an ‘S’ to the name denotes a more powerful version. Once upon a time, the extra poke was provided via an increase in displacement, but since the arrival of the 991.2, it’s all about cranking up the turbocharger boost pressure.

For the 992, the S enjoys a huge power advantage relative to the Carrera - it produces 444bhp. The Carrera S also has the no-cost option of a seven-speed manual gearbox.

Carrera 4

Porsche - An Idiot's Guide To Understanding The Complicated Porsche 911 Range - Features

Put a 4 on the name after Carrera and you get four-wheel drive. Currently, it’s also available on S models as the Carrera 4S. Turbo models are also four-wheel drive but don’t get a ‘4’ in the name. All-wheel drive Carrera models used to be wider than their rear-driven siblings, but since the arrival of the 992, all models share the same shell.

Cabriolet

Porsche - An Idiot's Guide To Understanding The Complicated Porsche 911 Range - Features

A refreshingly easy one, this: it’s a 911 with a folding fabric roof. Currently, the 911 Cabriolet is available as a Carrera, Carrera S, Carrera 4, Carrera 4S, Turbo and Turbo S.

Targa

Porsche - An Idiot's Guide To Understanding The Complicated Porsche 911 Range - Features

For those who like alfresco motoring but don’t want a full-on convertible, there’s the Targa. Historically available with a removable roof panel, modern versions have a clever folding mechanism. The Targa was the last core member of the 992 to be revealed, and as with the last one, it’s only available with all-wheel drive.

Carrera GTS

Porsche - An Idiot's Guide To Understanding The Complicated Porsche 911 Range - Features

The GTS (Gran Turismo Sport) badge can be traced all the way back to the 904 of the 1960s, which ended up being referred to as the Carrera GTS to avoid irking Peugeot. These days, Porsche uses it across multiple models.

The strategy almost always involved taking an S-badged car and giving it some styling tweaks, a power-boost and standard-fit equipment like PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management). Porsche has deviated from this strategy with the likes of the 718 Cayman, 718 Boxster and Panamera GTS models, which enjoy a greater degree of differentiation from their S siblings thanks to the fitting of new engines. The 718s, for instance, have ditched the 2.5-litre flat-four turbo for the Cayman GT4/Boxster Spyder N/A six.

We’re not expecting an engine swap for the eventual 992 GTS, however. It’ll almost certainly use a slightly more powerful version of the 444bhp Carrera S turbo six, with the usual GTS enhancements. As with the 991 GTS, the model will be available as a coupe, Cabriolet or Targa, in rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, and with either a seven-speed manual or eight-speed automatic PDK gearbox. Choice is king!

Carrera T

Porsche - An Idiot's Guide To Understanding The Complicated Porsche 911 Range - Features

A name first used in 1968, the Carrera T (Touring) was reintroduced for the 991.2. It was based on a standard Carrera but included various pieces of equipment normally reserved for the Carrera S. It was available only with a manual gearbox and included various light-weighting measures including thinner rear and side glass, less sound-proofing and an infotainment system delete. It’s unclear if Porsche will bring this designation back for the 992 generation, but if it does, we’d expect it to happen much later in the car’s life.

Turbo

Porsche - An Idiot's Guide To Understanding The Complicated Porsche 911 Range - Features

This is where the waters muddy a little. The meaning of the ‘Turbo’ badge used to be obvious - it referred to, erm, the one with the turbo. Or turbos. However, the whole Carrera range is now turbocharged, and confusing matters further, the fully electric Taycan has Turbo and Turbo S derivatives.

However, the 911 Turbo is still easily identifiable - it’s the widebody, all-wheel drive one that’s significantly faster than the rest of the range. Plus, unlike the turbocharged Carrera models, which try their best to behave like they’re still powered by N/A engines, the boosty Turbo has no interest in pretending it isn’t packing a pair of snails.

The 992 Turbo S (a standard Turbo will be joining the range soon) develops 641bhp and will do 0-62mph in 2.7 seconds according to Porsche’s (usually conservative) figures.

GT2 RS

Porsche - An Idiot's Guide To Understanding The Complicated Porsche 911 Range - Features

The GT2 recipe is simple. Take the engine from a 911 Turbo, leave behind the all-wheel drive system, and up the track focus. GT2s were made from the 993 generation through to the 997, with the 997 also having the option of an even more focused, even more powerful GT2 RS.

For the 991, there was no base GT2 model - high-power, rear-drive turbo heroics were available only via the hardcore GT2 RS (pictured). We’re expecting the same thing to happen for the 992 generation, via a model which will comfortably trump the 710bhp output of its predecessor.

GT3

Unlike the GT2 RS and GT3 RS, the 991.2 GT3 was available with a manual gearbox
Unlike the GT2 RS and GT3 RS, the 991.2 GT3 was available with a manual gearbox

The GT3 badge first appeared on the 996 generation 911. Sharing little with the ‘lesser’ Carrera models, GT3s are heavily track-focused, with lower, stiffer suspension, beefier brakes, and things like sound deadening and rear seats binned to reduce weight. The GT3 has been made more distinct from the Carrera range than ever, due to the retention of a naturally-aspirated engine.

For the 991.2, the GT3 received a lightly fettled version of Porsche’s 4.0-litre motorsport engine, which is also found in the 911 Cup. Porsche recently updated the engine with gasoline particulate filters (GPFs) for the Speedster (more on that later) to comply with emissions regulations for the next few years, meaning it’ll be possible for the 992 GT3 to retain an N/A six. Praise be!

GT3 RS

Porsche - An Idiot's Guide To Understanding The Complicated Porsche 911 Range - Features

Short for RennSport (which translates as ‘racing sport’), the RS badge first appeared in 1973 on the 911 Classic as the Carrera RS. This lightweight car had revised suspension and bigger brakes, and has become one of the most collectable 911s ever.

The RS badge appeared again on the 996 generation 911 to make the 911 GT3 RS: an even more track-focused version of the GT3. For the 996 version, weight was further reduced through the use of polycarbonate windows (among other things) and the suspension and engine uprated. Carbon-ceramic brakes were also dropped in at each corner.

And so it went with the following 997 and 991 GT3 RS models. The tactic changed slightly for the 991.2 GT3 RS, however, which shares its 4.0-litre 911 Cup-derived engine with the standard GT3, albeit with a slight increase in power. We’d expect this setup to be retained when the 992 GT3 and GT3 RS arrive.

Speedster

Porsche - An Idiot's Guide To Understanding The Complicated Porsche 911 Range - Features

With roots that go back to the 356, ‘Speedster’ is perhaps the ultimate historical name that Porsche has dug out of its back-catalogue. Various 911s have carried it, but for the 991.2 version, Stuttgart went all out. It built a bespoke shell by joining the front end of a GT3 with the rear of a Carrera 4 and then transplanted a manual GT3’s engine and chassis parts. The finishing touch was a lightweight, mechanical-folding roof.

It was certainly an improvement on the 997 Speedster, which was merely a buttressed GTS with a fancy roof made by Porsche exclusive. The production numbers were also dramatically increased - while the 997 was limited to 356 units (see what they did there?), Porsche sold 1948 (again, see what they did there?) 991.2 Speedsters. Will there be a 992 version? We’ll have to wait and see, but if Porsche goes down that retro-inspired road, it’ll probably be - like the 991.2 - a late, run-out special.

Porsche - An Idiot's Guide To Understanding The Complicated Porsche 911 Range - Features

With eight different generations spanning multiple decades, the history of the 911 is as convoluted as the current line-up. Let us run you through the models…

First generation (1963-1972)

Porsche - An Idiot's Guide To Understanding The Complicated Porsche 911 Range - Features

It all started here. A very small number were made early on as the ‘902,’ before Peugeot kicked up a stink about using a ‘0’ in the middle of the name, forcing Porsche to change the name to ‘911.’ All were powered by flat-sixes, with displacement growing from 2.0 litres to 2.5.

G-series

Porsche - An Idiot's Guide To Understanding The Complicated Porsche 911 Range - Features

Although earlier 911s were continually updated and internally given lettered ‘series’ designations, the car is considered to have entered its second-generation with the arrival of the G-series. This is when impact bumpers were added, and when the displacement of the flat-six was increased to 2.7 litres. The very last ‘K series’ second-gen cars used 3.2-litre flat-sixes. This generation also saw the introduction of the Turbo (type 930).

964 (1990-1993)

Porsche - An Idiot's Guide To Understanding The Complicated Porsche 911 Range - Features

Major revisions to the original 911 led to a new internal designation: 964. The same basic shape was still there, but 85 per cent of the car was new. Its plastic bumpers gave it a very different look, while technology like ABS and power steering were present for the first time in a 911. Another notable 911 first was the electronically-raising spoiler, popping up at 50mph. Engines were still air-cooled, most being 3.6-litre, with a 3.3-litre in the Turbo (switching to a 3.6 for 1993) and 3.75-litre in the RS and RSR.

993 (1993-1998)

Porsche - An Idiot's Guide To Understanding The Complicated Porsche 911 Range - Features

The last of the air-cooled cars, the 993 is the ultimate 911 generation for many. As with the 964, it still had that recognisable 911 shape, but the new styling was the biggest departure yet for the then 30-year-old sports car. The brakes and suspension were dramatically improved over the 964, while at the rear either a 3.6-litre or 3.8-litre engine was available.

996 (1998-2005)

Porsche - An Idiot's Guide To Understanding The Complicated Porsche 911 Range - Features

This was the big one. Arriving in 1998, the 996 was all-new. No major component from the 993 was carried over, and most importantly, the brand-new flat-six engine was (shock horror) water-cooled. The styling was a radical change, too. Again, it has the same basic 911 shape, but it’s a much more curvaceous thing, while the round headlights were dropped in favour of the unpopular ‘fried egg’ designs. Early 996 Carreras had a 3.4-litre engine, while later models had a 3.6.

997 (2004-2012)

Porsche - An Idiot's Guide To Understanding The Complicated Porsche 911 Range - Features

After the big changes brought about by the 996, the 997 marked a return to the ‘evolution not revolution’ way of 911 progress. Other than the unloved 996 headlights being binned in favour of the classic round design, there wasn’t much going on visually to tell it apart from its predecessor. Everything was tweaked and improved, though. Engine displacement ranged from 3.6-litre to 3.8-litres.

991 (2013-2019)

A 991 in front of its 997 predecessor
A 991 in front of its 997 predecessor

Again, Porsche didn’t tamper with the styling all that much for the 991. However, it did get a lot wider. There was also an increase in wheelbase, moving the rear wheels further back in relation to the engine, aiding weight distribution. Despite the increase in size, weight was actually reduced compared to the 997.

It was available with a 3.4-litre or 3.8-litre naturally-aspirated flat-six depending on if you went for a Carrera or Carrera S, but all that changed with the arrival of the 991.2, which ditched the atmospheric engines for a 3.0-litre twin-turbo engine with two different available outputs.

992 (2019 - present)

Porsche - An Idiot's Guide To Understanding The Complicated Porsche 911 Range - Features

The 911 received another growth spurt when the 992 arrived, increasing by 45mm in width across the front axle and gaining staggered 20-inch front/21-inch rear wheels. There’s only one shell available, with the narrow-body 911 now ditched.

Another notable change is the shift from a seven-speed automatic PDK gearbox to a newer eight-speed unit, which readies the 992 for any future hybrid powertrains. The new transmission plus the growth spurt and the addition of GPFs have led to an increase in weight.

The 3.0-litre twin-turbo flat-six is best considered an evolution of the 991.2’s, but it’s even more powerful and slightly more responsive. Sounds better, too.

Porsche - An Idiot's Guide To Understanding The Complicated Porsche 911 Range - Features

So, now we’ve filled your head with 911 knowledge, which version will it be for you?