Us petrolheads live in a funny little bubble. And in that bubble, the manual gearbox is pretty much fetishised. A sports car simply must have a manual gearbox, some will lead you to believe. But in reality, the majority of people who actually buy these cars new don’t bother when given the option.
That’s why for the 991.2 Porsche 911, take-up for the seven-speed manual in the UK was around 10 per cent for all models bar the GT3. A 911 with stick is more popular in the USA, but on the whole worldwide, PDK is king.
That makes the idea of a manual 911 Carrera S all the more exotic, however. Sliding behind the wheel of a 911 with a gear lever, or any circa £100k car with a manual ‘box, for that matter, feels immediately special.
The starting point for the new no-cost option seven-speed is the 991.2’s PDK automatic, which Porsche has converted for manual control. It’s had something called ‘MECOSA’ (mechanically converted shift actuator), which avoids giving the driver a weird shift pattern, Car and Driver reports.
The electronically-controlled locking rear differential of the PDK car is swapped for a conventional mechanical one, although you do get Porsche‘s torque vectoring by braking system as standard. You get the Sport Chrono pack for free too, meaning the manual is still effectively cheaper as it always used to be, even though a PDK car costs the same.
The clutch pedal action has about the right weight to it, and first gear slots in nicely. We’re off to a good start, and once the speed rises, it’s clear this ‘box is sweeter than the old one. It slots into each position with more ease than before, and yet it still feels pleasingly mechanical. It doesn’t feel like a lifeless gaming controller, as some modern manuals do.
The ratios aren’t quite as silly as the last manual Porsche we drove, the six-speed Porsche 718 Boxster GTS, but you are still doing around 70mph at the top end of second. That’s not to say you’ll need to leave it in that gear on the average country road - at the 1000rpm lower peak power point of 6500rpm, you’ll be doing more like 60.
Plus, there’s so much mid-range torque from the 3.0-litre, twin-turbocharged flat-six, that short-shifting is no big deal at all. This isn’t an engine you need to rev the nuts off, although it is nice to do so for the occasional treat.
The pedals are ideally spaced for heel-and-toe action, but as with the 991.2 manual, there’s an auto-rev matching feature which cannot be switched off. Unless that is, you ditch the stability control, which I’m not going to do on a greasy December day like today. Particularly when that now mechanical LSD-equipped rear end seems to have no trouble kicking sideways even with everything turned very on. That’s the other side of that fat torque helping we spoke about earlier.
The switch from manual to automatic has a more profound effect on the acceleration stats than any other car I can think of. The 0-62mph has increased from 3.5 seconds to 4.2, and the manual is more than a second slower when sprinting to 124mph (200kmh) from rest.
This doesn’t matter, of course. On the move, the manual feels just as potent as the automatic. If anything more so, with those pauses between gearshifts enhancing the perceived clout of the rear-mount turbo six.
Slipping the gearbox into seventh gear and joining the motorway on the final stretch to drop the car back at Porsche’s UK headquarters, the revs drop right down and the car becomes a fantastic cruiser. To have a manual sports car that functions as a top-notch GT car is quite a feat, but Porsche has managed it. It’s not just the refinement - the cabin is a lovely design and is extremely well made. Poking a gear-stick out between the front seats doesn’t change that, although the shift-pattern indicator on the top could look a little nicer.
A triumph though it might be on almost every level, I’m not sure this is the best car in the increasingly complicated 992 Carrera range. A base Carrera with a manual would be fabulous, but Porsche isn’t making one. So, that leaves a true enthusiast the choice between a PDK Carrera or a manual Carrera S. The more road-suitable output of the former and its lower turbo lag levels mean we’d be happy to forgo the manual for the dual-clutch ‘box. And that eight-speed, remember, is about as good as automatics get.
If it has to be a manual, though, you won’t be disappointed with the seven-speed Carrera S. It’s a true, rare gem in 2020.