The current-generation model, designated 997, is the best ever. It was launched for the 2005 model year. The Carrera engines were revised for 2009, and the dual-clutch automated manual transmission called the PDK, or Porsche Doppel Kupplungsgetreibe, was introduced. The 911 Turbo was upgraded with a new engine for 2010 and a racy 911 GT3 and an even racier GT3 RS were introduced.
For 2011, a 911 GT2 RS joins the lineup, but all 500 units have been sold.
Also, 2011 Porsche 911 Carrera models come with more standard equipment than before. Bluetooth and a universal audio interface for MP3 players come standard on all 2011 911 models, and options have been bundled into new packages.
The 2011 Porsche 911 lineup includes Coupes, Cabriolets, and a Targa. The least-expensive 911 Carrera is a fast car; S models are even faster. The Turbo is a supercar. The GT3 models are dual-purpose car for track and street. An ultra high-performance, rear-wheel-drive GT2 joins the lineup for 2011. Most models offer endless options. Just about every possible combination is available between coupe and Cabriolet, 3.6-liter and 3.8-liter engines, rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive.
The Carrera coupe (sometimes called Carrera 2) is a fantastic sports car, exceedingly enjoyable to drive, and quite comfortable. It is the classic 911. The Carrera 4 adds the traction and handling benefits of all-wheel drive and is loaded with active safety features; it's the best choice for rain and winter weather, an unbeatable foul weather car. Cabriolet versions put the wind in your hair and sun in your face. The Targa features a clever clear roof that slides back to provide a top-down feeling.
The Porsche 911 Turbo is one of the easiest supercars to live with in daily use. It's more user friendly than its competitors, from the Corvette ZR1 to the Ferrari F430 to the Lamborghini Gallardo. Getting in and out of it is relatively easy. It rides smoothly and comfortably by sports car standards. It's happy to putt around town all day at a Buick pace, particularly with the PDK transmission. It's easy to drive, whether poking along in rush-hour traffic, streaking down a highway, charging up a mountain road, or working the tires and brakes on a racing circuit. It's neither fragile nor unreliable. Plus, it has a 500-horsepower, turbocharged engine in back. The all-wheel drive and the world's best, most sophisticated brakes make it easy to charge into corners. It really is a terrific car.
The GT3 is the choice for true performance enthusiasts as it sheds weight and is the liveliest 911. The GT3 RS is like this only a little more.
The new 911 GT2 RS boasts 620 horsepower from its twin-turbocharged 3.6-liter engine. Porsche calls it the most powerful street-legal Porsche ever.
The front end features the classic low, rounded look that lacks an upper grille but features three lower air intakes. The headlights, which are bi-xenons, retain the classic round shape. They sit upright in the front fenders, and they help to distinguish the 911 from the Boxster and Cayman. A row of LED auxiliary lights is lined up beneath the headlights in place of fog lights. In part because there is no engine up front, the hood sits lower than the rounded fenders.
From the rear, curvy fenders and wheel arches extend from the side of the car like the haunches of a predatory animal, housing extra-wide rear wheels. Carrera 4 models get even wider rear rubber, and their fenders are correspondingly 1.75 inches wider than their rear-drive siblings. This staggered setup helps the 911's rear tires turn its horsepower into quicker acceleration and balances tire grip front and rear for high g-force turning. All 911s have wheels at least 18 inches in diameter, and all are equipped with Z-rated tires, the highest speed rating available for street use.
The current styling sacrifices some of the beauty of the 1999-2004 models in favor of more visual belligerence. Yet very little at Porsche is done strictly for the sake of appearance. The current 911 is slightly longer and taller than the previous-generation, pre-2005 version. The track (the distance between the outside edges of the tires on each axle) and overall width have increased, and this wider stance improves the 911's lateral stability during quick, sharp directional changes. Today's 911 makes liberal use of aluminum body parts to offset the weight of active suspension, curtain airbags and other upgrades, and the chassis is more rigid than that of pre-2005 models.
The 911 Turbo features a prominent rear wing that generates lots of downforce to help keep the rear tires glued to the pavement in high-speed sweeping turns, especially important in the rain. A minimum of drag helps the Turbo achieve its top speed of 194 mph, though we have not personally verified this claim.
Cabriolet models feature power soft tops that open in just 20 seconds. They can be operated at up to 30 mph, a feature we love. Safety is enhanced by strong steel tubes in the A-pillars, and supplemental safety bars behind the rear seats that automatically deploy in the event of a rollover. The Cabriolets present a unique appearance. Top up, they exhibit a profile similar to the coupes. Top down, the rear end looks heavy, but you'll forgive that as soon as you get in, stomp on the gas and hear that powerful six-cylinder wailing to redline.
Aerodynamics were an important consideration in the design of all 911 models. The side mirrors are designed to direct air along the sides of the car toward the automatically deploying rear spoiler, sweeping the side windows clean in the process. Air is largely kept from going underneath the car and carefully managed over the top and at the rear. Lift is minimized to keep the 911 glued to the road. The wheel arches are flared in a fashion that guides air around the tires (one of the biggest sources of drag on an automobile). Brake spoilers guide more air toward the rotors and brake assemblies, reducing temperatures by nearly 10 percent, according to Porsche, which means more effective braking under extreme conditions. The drag coefficient for the Carrera is 0.29 Cd. Less air resistance means improved fuel economy and less wind noise.
The GT3 is lowered by 1.2 inches. The lower ride height could lead to some scrapping problems, so Porsche offers an on-board air compressor that lifts the front end 30 mm to clear obstacles, very handy around town. The GT3 fascia is unique and subtly distinctive, with larger air intakes, and a thin strip with a mesh grille that sits above the front bumper. The rear bumper features a three-piece mesh-filled horizontal strip that reflects the front, as well as two vertical vents, also with mesh, located outboard. The rear end also features a tall fixed spoiler and two ram-air scoops on the decklid. In true race car fashion, the GT3 uses center lock wheels with just one nut.
The GT3 RS is even crazier, with a wider front and rear track and wider fenders to match. The front features nine-inch wide wheels and the rear has 12-inch wheels with massive 325/30ZR19 rubber. Underneath, the GT3 RS has a titanium exhaust system, and at the rear it features a race-inspired carbon fiber wing. Unique paint also sets the GT3 RS apart. It comes in Carrera White, Aqua Blue Metallic or Grey Black, each with either Guards Red or White Gold Metallic accent colors and graphics.
The three-spoke steering wheel is wrapped in leather and is thicker and grippier than ever. It adjusts up and down and fore and aft manually. The steering wheel's core structure is an expensive magnesium alloy, which saves weight. Controls on the steering wheel hub operate elements of the Porsche Communication Management system, which incorporates the audio and navigation systems and the optional telephone. Steering wheel shift paddles are available instead of buttons. They cost extra but most owners will prefer them over the odd buttons that Porsche has used for too long.
The front seat of the Carrera is fairly roomy, making it comfortable for larger drivers. The seats may be a bit stiff for some tastes, but they have just the right amount of bolstering: enough to keep you in place but not so much that wider drivers are pinched. The seats are mounted low to the floor, creating good headroom and a sporty driving position.
Most of the gauges are large and easy to read, but reading the offset and sparsely marked speedometer can be tough, especially when going fast. The dash vents are large, and the air conditioning worked well during some hot lapping at Miller Motorsports Park near Salt Lake City, Utah. The climate controls are located in the center stack.
The Porsche Communications Management (PCM) system, which incorporates all audio, navigation and communications functions, comes with a 6.5-inch touchscreen. To ease communications, Porsche includes SIM card slot and offers Bluetooth connectivity. A Universal Audio Interface has three audio ports in the center console to operate iPods, MP3 players or memory sticks. iPods and memory sticks can be controlled through PCM. We found the position of the USB port to be hard to reach, but the iPod and USB interface was very easy to use.
The Turbo is the most luxurious of the 911s. It comes with full leather upholstery that covers the seats completely in leather, and adds it to the dashboard, center console and just about everywhere else you can look or touch. With standard features like a navigation system with a 40-gigabyte hard drive, memory for the seats and mirrors, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, additional front seat power adjustments, and Bose audio, buyers will be perfectly comfortable while piloting their full-on sports cars.
The Sport Chrono Package Plus features a jewel-like chronograph sprouting from the center of the dash that gets input from many sources. Start or stop the chronograph with a one of the steering wheel stalks, and it will display acceleration or lap times. A history of recorded times can be displayed on the navigation system screen for comparison. The Sport Chrono Package Plus also comes with a Sport button that adjusts electronic controls for the throttle and anti-skid system. Throttle mapping switches to a more aggressive mode (meaning more gas for a given amount of pedal application), and the anti-skid electronics give a driver more room to break traction. The Sport Plus button activates even more aggressive throttle and transmission settings, and a race-ready mode for the anti-skid system. Is Sport Chrono a gimmick? Maybe, but it would be handy for lapping at a Porsche club event, and the Sport modes make the cars much more suited to track driving. Do you need it? Probably not. Will it add to the fun? Probably. It's hard to make these decisions when you're standing in the candy store.
The Bose audio package is above average, though most high-end cars offer more modern and more powerful optional systems. Still, we thought it sounded good with the top down at highway speeds.
The glove box includes storage slots for pens and couple of CDs, while the shallow center console has a change holder and a 12-volt power point. A pair of cupholders sprout from the dash.
The Targa offers a clear roof that slides back inside the rear of the car with the press of a button, giving the driver a superb top-down experience. With the roof closed, the driver has a choice of tinted glass or a mesh lining to deflect the sunlight. We'd prefer a solid cover, however, because the mesh wasn't heavy enough to block out the sun on bright days. The Targa's neat, but we prefer the coupe.
The 911 isn't practical for more than two passengers. The back seats are not really habitable. While we were able to stick one 5-foot, 7-inch adult male back there with a shorter female up front, the complaining would grow weary if this were a regular thing. With the rear seats folded, there's room for a load of groceries and you can lay the dry cleaning back there, so the 911 beats many sports cars in its ability to run daily errands.
There's not much luggage space for two people going on a long trip, however, so you have to pack light. Nor will you want to use your 911 to pick someone up at the airport unless they are traveling very light. The storage area under the hood will hold a couple of duffel bags, but the Corvette coupe hatchback will hold more. Porsche offers a truly useful roof transport system that allows 911 coupes to carry bulkier items, but luggage on the roof of a 911 screaming past ruins the picture. Besides, who wants to take time to strap suitcases on top of a car? It's preferable to have a bigger car to perform these duties.
The Carrera and Carrera 4 are powered by Porsche's 3.6-liter, horizontally opposed six-cylinder, otherwise known as the boxer engine for the way its pistons punch outward. In 2009, Porsche simplified the engine design with 40-percent fewer moving parts, which translates to better reliability. This engine employs the latest materials technology, a race-car style dry sump lubrication system, direct injection, and a refined version of Porsche's VarioCam variable valve timing. Horsepower peaks at 345 hp at 6500 rpm, while peak torque is 288 pound-feet at 4400 rpm. Porsche claims 0-60 mph acceleration performance of 4.5 seconds with the PDK transmission, and 4.7 seconds with the manual gearbox. Needless to say, your average, everyday Carrera is a very quick car.
Which transmission? The optional 7-speed PDK automated manual transmission is the choice for those who want ultimate performance and improved fuel economy. The PDK uses two clutches, one to hold the current gear and one to ready the next gear. Shifts are immediate with no loss of tractive power. The PDK can be used like an automatic, or shifts can be performed manually through a pair of steering wheel buttons (pull up to downshift and push down to shift up), or the paddle shifters (left to downshift, right to upshift). EPA fuel economy numbers are 18/25 mpg City/Highway with the manual transmission, and 19/27 mpg with the PDK.
The PDK's automatic setting makes the car easier to manage in stop-and-go traffic. Hit the back roads, put it in Sport mode and it holds gears longer for aggressive driving. Hit the Sport Plus button and the PDK becomes a full-on race transmission, holding the lowest gear possible. It performs abruptly in this mode, slamming into each gear like Patrick Long at Sebring. We drove a few 911s with PDKs on three different racetracks and found it was never in the wrong gear. The main caveat with PDK is price. It costs more than $4,000.
Purists might still prefer the interaction and feel of shifting a manual, and the Porsche 6-speed is a good one. It's easy to shift, with fairly short throws. Blipping the throttle and downshifting in a 911 is an absolute joy. However, price and feel are really the only reasons to choose the manual, because the PDK outperforms it in just about every way. All that said, we'd choose the manual because it's more enjoyable.
Carrera S models feature a bored-out version of the flat six that makes 385 hp at 6500 rpm and 310 pound-feet of torque at 4400 rpm. Fuel economy numbers are 18/25 mpg with the manual and 19/26 mpg with the PDK. Carrera S models have a bit more power across the rev range, but they're not decisively quicker. The bottom line is the Carrera S offers slightly quicker acceleration performance. For example, a Carrera achieves 0-60 mph in 4.7 seconds with the manual and 4.5 seconds with the PDK, while the Carrera S times are 4.5 seconds with the manual and 4.3 seconds with the PDK. Speed costs money. How fast do you want to go?
While acceleration performance is intoxicating, the real draw to the 911 engines lies in their tractability. Slam the 911's gas pedal down at any road or engine speed, and the response is immediate and enormous. Power is on tap in just about any situation. We wanted to floor it every time we tracked through a turn and let the engine wind to redline just to feel the acceleration and listen to the unmistakable rasp of the boxer engine. It is addictive.
The Turbo uses a 3.8-liter engine with direct injection, and 11.6 psi of boost. While perfectly at home in everyday traffic, the Turbo can change character immediately. The Turbo delivers good, usable power at low rpm. Power comes on strongest over 3000 rpm, but it's manageable. Still, if you floor it, the Turbo accelerates like a banshee and the power keeps coming as you keep your foot in it up to and past triple-digit speeds. With the Launch Control feature in the Sport Chrono Package Plus, 0 to 60 mph takes only 3.2 seconds, which is supercar territory to say the least. That time is aided by the overboost feature, which increases torque to 516 pound-feet for up to 10 seconds. The sound is similar. Though muted during normal driving, it roars to life when provoked, emitting a wild yelp that tells anyone in the area to look out. Enthusiasts will know it's a Porsche before turning to look.
Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) controls the flow of hydraulic fluid into the shock absorbers. More fluid, and the shocks stiffen up, keeping the wheels pressed more aggressively to the pavement and limiting the amount of body roll, or lean, in hard turns. Less fluid, and the wheels rebound more easily toward the car, improving ride quality. PASM takes information from various electronic sensors and automatically adjusts the suspension to meet a driver's demands. Motoring casually along a boulevard, the active suspension will keep things relatively soft. If a driver gets more aggressive and starts changing directions quickly, on a slalom course, for example, the system senses the change and instantly firms the suspension. The driver can also manually select one of two modes: Normal, for maximum ride comfort, and Sport, for the best handling response. We could immediately feel the suspension stiffen whenever the Sport button was pressed. There is noticeably less body roll in the Sport mode when going around corners.
Enthusiasts may want to opt for a coupe because it is the stiffest and therefore the best handling body style. We did notice some body shake in the Cabriolet, especially over bumps. The Cabriolet was also less stable on a race track, showing a tendency to shimmy under heavy braking. However, we found the Carrera 4S Cabriolet felt at least as good, if not better, than an Audi R8 and a BMW M3 sedan on a racetrack on the same day. The confident braking alone makes the 911 a wonderful track car.
We found it takes some time to get used to just how quickly the car slows. On racing circuits we often slow the car down too soon before getting to the turn-in point, repeatedly underestimating the available braking performance. Slam on the brakes and the 911 stops in less distance than just about any car on the road with very little nose dive. Do this again and again and again, whether lapping a road course or barreling down a mountain road, and there is no perceptible fade or increase in stopping distance, even in situations that would have the brakes on lesser cars smoking. And if you jerk the wheel in one direction or the other in one of those stops, the 911 will just turn. No fuss, no fluster.
The ceramic brakes work extremely well for track duty due to their resistance to heat. They are expensive, however, likely aren't as good when they're cold, and are unnecessary for all but serious weekend warriors. The ceramic brakes reduce unsprung weight by 40 pounds; if you don't know what that means you don't need them.
With variable ratio steering, the more the driver turns the steering wheel, the faster the car turns. Variable ratio steering is intended to deliver the best of two worlds. On one hand, it's supposed to ease maneuvering in the confines of a tight parking lot or improve response on a winding road with frequent sharp turns. On the other, it should improve stability at ultra-high speeds. A driver who sneezes during a 150-mph blitz down the Autobahn doesn't want a little twitch of the hand to send the car into the adjacent lane. Enthusiast drivers often don't like high-tech steering gizmos like variable-ratio steering. Yet Porsche's variable system works just fine. It's seamless, linear and predictable, and very satisfying.
Indeed, one of the most remarkable things about this car is the way it accurately follows the path the driver sets. With reasonable attention, a driver can put the 911's front tires within a fraction of an inch of the intended target, whether that target is the apex of a curve on a racetrack or a stripe painted on a public road. The 911 will track more accurately in this fashion, more consistently, than just about any car you can buy, and required steering corrections are minimal, even when a bump or pothole lies in the Carrera's path. Moreover, even with the variable-ratio, the 911's steering communicates every nuance back to the operator. When driving these cars on a racetrack, we were able to tell how close the front tires were to losing their grip by feedback through the steering column. Even the luxurious Turbo provides the driver with lots of feedback. The driver becomes one with the car and can more easily drive the 911 to its limits and slide it around turns. Grip is in abundance and the 911 tenaciously sticks to the pavement.
Yet the great thing about the 911 is that it doesn't beat you up in mundane driving situations. We tested this on the cratered streets of Detroit and Chicago and on bumpy roads around Los Angeles. It's part of what we call the 911's wash-and-wear quality. As high-performance cars go, the 911's ride is remarkably comfortable, with little suspension crashing and few jolts through the body of the car. The active suspension only enhances this quality. Even during aggressive drives, there's enough compliance in the suspension to keep the Carrera on track when it hits a bump that would send other sports cars off line and require steering corrections. Often, in the 911, the driver can simply hold the line around a bumpy turn without making any steering corrections. In a Boxster and in many other sports cars, we'd be sawing at the wheel to keep the car pointed.
You may recall tales of tail-happy handling from Porsche 911s, a function of the weight of the engine hanging off the back of the car. That's ancient history. It now takes work to get the Carrera's rear end to slide out. It prefers to stay on the intended trajectory, even if the driver provokes it with ham-handed inputs to gas pedal or steering wheel.
Even more stable is the all-wheel-drive Carrera 4 models, which employ a viscous-coupling to send from 5 to 40 percent of the driving force to the front wheels as needed. This is an advantage especially in bad weather, where you need all the grip you can get. However, the all-wheel-drive also improves handling on dry pavement, expanding the performance envelope.
The Turbo's all-wheel-drive can adjust the driving force from 0-100 percent at each of the four wheels, though this would only occur in extreme circumstances. It has an electronically controlled clutch at each wheel to control the distribution of power. The system uses Porsche Torque Vectoring, which applies braking pressure to the inside rear wheel in turns. Between the active all-wheel drive sending more power to the outside rear wheel and the torque vectoring clamping down on the inside wheel, the Turbo is very willing to rotate through turns.
The Turbo and the GT3 use active engine mounts, which use a magnetorheological (metal-impregnated) fluid to stiffen during performance driving to make the structure more solid and loosen during relaxed cruising to reduce vibration.
We had the opportunity to drive the Porsche 911 Turbo on the twisty roads of Portugal and on the road course at Circuito Estoril. In both instances, the Turbo proved to be at home. The car felt hunkered down in fast turns and it's easier to steer the car with the throttle. Likewise, even Europe's cobblestone streets didn't seem to upset the ride, surely a function of the active engine mounts. Put simply, the Turbo is an amazingly flexible car, able to excel during comfortable street duty or full-on racetrack driving.
In short, all 911s inspire great confidence. Behind the wheel, you're quite sure that with a reasonable dose of common sense, it will get you through the turn. It can make the average driver feel like a pro, and it can make drivers who like to work on their driving skills feel like Hans Stuck.
With the caveat that storage space is limited, the 911 remains one of the easiest high-performance sports cars to get in and out of, and the easiest to live with every day. The maximum oil-change interval for the Carrera is an almost unbelievable 20,000 miles. In 1975, a conscientious 911 owner would have changed the oil six or seven times in that period.
You can find sports cars with more sex appeal and you can certainly find sports cars that are more brutish. You will not find a sports car with better overall balance than the Porsche 911, however, and you will not find a true high-performance machine that is easier to live with as daily transportation. So, which one? The Carrera is a terrific sports car and we'd be overjoyed to drive one every day. The Carrera S adds a little more oomph enthusiasts will appreciate. A Carrera 4 with the PDK is safe and comfortable no matter the weather or the ugliness of the traffic; it's a great sports car for the daily commuter, perfect for someone who has always wanted a Porsche. The Targa is an interesting design, but the mesh doesn't keep the sun out enough. The Cabriolets aren't as pretty to our eyes as the coupes, until we drive them, that is, then they're pretty sweet from the driver's seat. The Turbo offers the ultimate in performance yet is easy to drive and docile in traffic; it's our choice when money is no object. The GT3 is for the true enthusiast and our top pick for a dual-purpose weekend warrior.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent J.P. Vettraino filed this report from Detroit, with Mitch McCullough reporting from Los Angeles, Park City, Utah, and Birmingham, Alabama, and Kirk Bell reporting from Chicago and Salt Lake City.