Porsche Eases the 911 Carrera into the Future
If good things come in twos, there aren’t many more impressive pairs of twins than Porsche 911 Carreras. Even better, in this Summer of 2012, those weren’t identical twins that came for a week’s visit each. One was a sleek, dark green Carrera S Coupe, and the other was a sleek, dark blue Cabrio, convertible.
Both test cars had Porsche’s superb 3.8-liter 6-cylinder engine, rear mounted and attached to a rear-drive arrangement, but available in a variety of forms. That means both can elicit more than just the constant rubber-necking to gaze at the cars when you pop the trunk, because the trunk is in the front, and passers-by always seem puzzled that there is no engine up there.
Visually, the newest generation of 911 doesn’t look completely different from the original, and 30 years hasn’t required major alteration. But if the visual impact of a Porsche 911 has remained true, the audible sensation is just as importantly the same. Turn the key in the 911 Carrera S and you don’t get a rumble or a roar — you get an unmistakable snarl. Tap the gas pedal, and the snarl sounds more dangerous, more serious. It’s the same when you drive the car.If you’re a casual driver wanting to just go from Point A to Point B, then drive something else. If you’re paying attention, the Porsche will make you a better driver, and it will immediately convince you of the advantages and requirements of devoting full attention to driving the car from Stuttgart. There are no cupholders. There is a new and impressive audio system in the car, but if you start driving, you might forget to turn it on.
Both the Coupe and Cabriolet ride on the new 991 series for 2013, with an elongated wheelbase, so both earn similar reports and responses to their performance. The biggest difference is obvious, because you can hit one switch on the console, either at rest or while rolling slowly, and the Cabriolet’s top unlatches and retreats under a rear cowl, up to down in about eight seconds. Same with going back up. I never really timed it, although there is a timing device in the car as well, but if you’re two-thirds of the way through a red light, you can still hit it and close the top, tightly, without being threatened for holding up traffic. Besides, it puts on a mini-show that other drivers seem to marvel at, or at least enjoy.
Both cars also have made a smooth transition to the future, which includes electronic gizmos helping to control everything from steering to shock absorbers to spectacular PDK transmission shifts, to exhaust tone — and even to raising or lowering the little spoiler lip on the rear engine cowl. It may seem reassuring to note that if you pay $126,000 for the 911 Carrera S, you can find 911 Carreras for less money, and also more money.
The Carrera S Coupe feels a lot like a LeMans race car that had its numbers and sponsorship logos peeled off, made a wrong turn, and now shows up in your driveway. Is that for real? Or is it a dream? If it’s a dream, I don’t want to wake up.Porsche makes the 911 Carrera in small batches, and it indeed is built with race car precision and over-the-top engineering, then sold and sent out onto our streets and freeways, with full knowledge that no U.S. highway or freeway can offer what German autobahns can, which is unlimited speed limits. The Carrera S shows a manufacturer’s claim of a 188-mph top speed. We won’t question that, but it also might seem that whatever the top speed is, the Porsche Carrera 911 S will probably cruise at that limit all day on an autobahn.
We in the U.S. are somewhat brainwashed into thinking that bigger is better when it comes to engines, and Corvettes with 7-liter V8s have become the standard of U.S. outer limits, although the new Shelby GT500 Mustang now challenges for 200-mph supremacy. However, both would give anything to run in a classic world endurance race and beat a 3.8-liter Porsche running at full song for hour, after hour.
The 911 Carrera S has 400 horsepower at 7,400 RPMs, and 325 footr-pounds of torque at 7,500 RPMs. Consider those peak-power revs and realize that the 7-liter Corvette Z-06 has a redline limit of 7,000 RPMs.
Consider also that you can get a 911 Carrera without the “S” for a base price of $83,050, with a base 3.4-liter 6 that has 350 horsepower and 287 foot-pounds of torque. Or you could move upscale, for bout $175,000, and get the Turbo S with a twin-turbocharged version of the 3.8 that delivers 530 horsepower and 516 foot-pounds of torque. That flat-opposed engine design, with three cylinders going left and the other three pumping toward the right, has powered Porsches forever. The flexibility of potential power is just an example of why it works so well.
A Car & Driver magazine test showed the Porsche 911 Carrera S going 0-60 in 3.6 seconds, with the same PDK automatic that was in both test cars I had. The fact that I averaged from 25.3 to 26.0 with either car in combined city-freeway driving is also testimony to how Porsche is also paying attention to modern concerns about fuel-efficiency.
It seems incomprehensible, but taking the driver out of the equation allows the PDK to send the Porsche 911 Carrera S around the track in the swiftest possible time. Briefly, the trick is inside the clutchless manual gearbox there are two clutches; one engages first, third, fifth and seventh, while the other grabs second, fourth and sixth.
As you accelerate hard in, say, third, the computer figures you’re going to upshift, so the disengaged clutch grabs fourth. When you force it to upshift with the right paddle, or when you just leave it alone, the transmission instantaneously switches which clutch is engages, and you’re in the next gear. As if to underscore how good the PDK is if left in D, when you’re driving along normally, you hear the tone change when it upshifts, but you feel nothing. No jerk, no hesitation — nothing.
It’s the same when you downshift with the left paddle, and it’s more remarkable when you let it do it automatically. You hear the blip as it revs the engine to match the upcoming gear, then it drops one, or maybe two, gears so that you’re in the perfect ratio for what it somehow knows is required.
That’s not all, however. There is a button right there on the console that says Sport, and if you push that, at any time, the shifts come quicker and hold to higher revs and everything is electronically firmed up. There is another button that says Sport Plus, and if you hit that one the upshifts and downshifts become significantly more abrupt and the firmness goes on toward race-track-only levels. Engaging Sport Plus means that when you step on the gas, even semi-hard, the engine revs build quickly and surely, and just as you think it’s not going to shift, it shifts — but not until it reaches redline.I found that I had to engage Sport whenever I was driving, and sometimes I would hit the little button that also makes the exhaust note louder and clearer. Once in a while, I also hit the button to force the spoiler to lift up off the rear deck. Not that I ever pushed the car hard enough so the spoiler would make a difference in stability, but frequently people in sporty, normal, and even mundane cars, and in bulky SUVs, would see the Porsche near them on the freeway and decide they could prove something about themselves by zooming past you. Sometimes it gets tiresome when someone in an Equinox speeds up to make a dramatic pass, as you think you don’t care how fast they want to go, they then swerve in front of you to exit. That’s rude, and after it occurs a few times, you might want to blip the gas, zip back ahead, then hit the switch for the spoiler to rise. Sort of like letting the Porsche flip them off, so you won’t be tempted to.
Nobody has ever accused a 911 Carrera of anything other than fantastic handling. The car can be bought with all-wheel drive, and that is truly remarkable, because as is, the rear-drive power can push the Porsche to the point where the tail might want to wag the dog. That would be at some excessive speed, of course, beyond the realm of daily driving. But the new car gains a feeling of extra stability from the new platform, which provides a bit more roominess inside without lengthening the car itself.
The rear seat folds down, but, of course, we’re calling it a rear seat in the loosest of definitions. It looks like a seat, is shaped like a seat, but if you have the front seats pushed back, there is precious little legroom back there. Several folks I gave rides to mentioned that no adult could really fit back there, and I developed a standard response: If you move the front seat forward, you could get barely adequate rear seat legroom, and besides, would you rather ride in such cramped conditions or stay on the sidewalk and watch the Porsche 911 Carrera S swiftly spend that snarl and disapper over the horizon? End of discussion.
The convertible 911 Carrera has the same rear seat, with a couple other issues. While cruising at freeway speed, you can get to notice some wind buffeting, common to all convertibles. In the Porsche, another little switch near the exhaust and sport buttons will cause a neat little screen to fold up and stand vertically behind the front buckets to deflect and use up that buffeting energy of the wind outside.The top clicks into place tightly and securely, and if you hold the button, it also will raise the windows afterward. A secondary button just shy of the window switch can be pushed to close or open the little rear vent windows.
The seats themselves comfortably enfold the front occupants, and you can drive for hours without feeling anything resembling fatigue. Of course, the driver has the advantage of scanning the large and clear instruments. As usual, Porsche engineers are aware that engine speed is more important than vehicle speed, and while your friendly local highway patrolman might disagree with that philosophy, the driver looks ahead at a large tachometer with its 7,500 RPM redline, while the 200-mph speedometer is smaller, and off to the left side.
My biggest problem with the convertible is that I had to drive from Duluth to Minneapolis on Interstate-35 where a construction slowdown became gridlock, and we sat, inching ahead in minute amounts, in the 90-degree heat. I knew the sun was bright and turned up to broil, but I had a Porsche cap on, and sunglasses, and besides, I wasn’t going to give in and raise the top. It wasn’t until a couple days later that I realized that my lower lip was sunburned to the point of cracking and stinging every time I smiled, or tried to talk. If I had it to do over again, I still wouldn’t raise the top. I only had the car for a week, after all, and what’s a little sunburn?