By Jim MacPherson
In a sad twist of fate, one of the first of the 2012 Porsche 911s arrived for review just a few days after the death of Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, the designer who conceived the original 911. He was 76.
Porsche has updated the 911 six times, making revolutionary changes to what has always been one of the world’s best sports cars. Yet, while nothing from the original car would fit on the new model, the shape and basic design have remained much the same. It’s as current, relevant and beautiful now as it was nearly 50 years ago.
While the styling is only mildly updated, the changes in this new 911 are significant. The car is larger, with a 3.9-inch increase in wheelbase and a 2.2-inch increase in overall length. The result is a larger passenger cabin and the opportunity to bring the rear engine forward a bit for better handling.
While earlier Porsche 911s had a tendency to get a little tail-happy during vigorous cornering, the later versions have handily overcome their rearward weight bias. This newest 911 is the best of the lot in the handling department.
“We’re ecstatic over the new 991 [the internal designation for the new 911], says Josh Dworman, the Porsche sales manager at Hoffman Porsche in East Hartford. The coupe version was joined by a convertible in late April.
Carrera and Carrera S models are offered. Our review Carrera S carried the more powerful 400-horsepower, 3.8-liter, direct injected, variable valve timing, horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine.
Optional on our review Porsche was the seven-speed automated manual PDK transmission. Think of it as a fully automatic transmission that just happens to be the fastest shifting manual transmission known to man. There is no clutch pedal and no need for the driver to row a shift lever through an “H” pattern to select the proper gear. Instead, this transmission automatically starts engaging the next gear before the previously selected gear is disengaged. The result are lightning-fast shifts every time, executed without the harsh engagement some of these gearboxes showed in the past.
Combined with the powerful engine, this transmission delivers extremely rapid acceleration. Porsche claims 3.9 seconds to 60 miles per hour with the Sport Chrono package, which was on our review car. An informal run produced a low-four-second result, suggesting that with more tries and a little more practice, the 3.9 second claim was entirely credible.
Hard acceleration produces hearty engine and exhaust sounds that are entirely fitting in a sports car. Outside, the engine has a lusty mechanical sonic signature at idle. At highway speeds, engine sounds are subdued, as they should be.
The ride is a little stiff, but quite comfortable.
The payoff for the ride is found in the handling. This Porsche responds beautifully to the driver’s commands. The steering feel remains excellent; a point of some concern after Porsche announced that it was adopting electric power steering with this seventh generation 911.
Braking is also superb. The brakes are extremely powerful and the car responds to hard stops with nearly no nosedive. Pedal feel is excellent.
The passenger cabin is beautifully crafted. The front seats are comfortable, but low, which can complicate entry for some people. There are two back seats; family members complained of a severe lack of leg and head room and back cushions that were angled like a Puritan church’s pews.
This newest 911 continues two traditions. Styling remains faithful to the nearly 50-year-old original, while technology is thoroughly up to date. In other words, it performs as beautifully as its looks suggest it should. While there are probably higher performance versions in the works, the Carrera S or base Carrera should be all most enthusiasts will ever need.
Porsche 911 Carrera:
Starts at: $82,100
Engines: 3.4-liter (Carrera) 3.8-liter (Carrera S)
HP 350 400
Torque 287 325
EPA Automatic: 19/27 19/26
EPA Manual: 18/25 18/25
Next Week: Mini Cooper Coupe