Good news: The Porsche 911 hasn’t lost its soul.
To those of us who love cars, that’s neither an academic nor a hippy-dippy consideration. Around for almost a half century, the 911 Carrera is the uber sports car, a distillation of all a Germanic screamer should be.
An all-new generation of the 911 comes around very infrequently, so it is with little wonder that fans hold their breath. It’s like hearing that Scotland’s Old Course at St. Andrews is being redesigned. You don’t want a classic to get ruined.
Early this November, I was among the first to actually drive the new generation Carrera S and -- collective exhale -- it is still a great car.
Good thing, as this is the longest, largest 911 ever produced, so there was some question of the purity of its soul.
Big does not equal sporty. And it gained all kinds of fancy technology, which can be like the difference between a vinyl album and an MP3 file. The latter is easy to use, but it lacks the warbling warmth of the former.
Digital cars don’t grab me. I want interesting, over cold and flawless. And the original 1960s-era 911 design was a deeply flawed car -- part of the reason it is so revered.
The engine has always been in the rear, which makes little engineering sense. The balance is all wrong. Yet in Porsche’s lovable, profoundly obstinate way, they didn’t shuck the whole thing decades ago. They just kept on improving it.
The company internally refers to this generation as the 991. Previous iterations included the 993, 996 and 997, which began production in 2005. The reason for the number reversal? There isn’t one, executives admit. Remember -- profound obstinacy.
Money Per Hour
With every new generation, you can count on two things: The car will be faster and it will be more expensive.
The new Carrera S will bullet to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds. The privilege will set you back $97,350. Even the base 911 will cost $83,050, and expect many cars on the lot to carry $15,000 in options.
After a day rubbing raw a set of 20-inch tires (the new, rather awesome standard on the S model), I was left with one solid impression: I want one. Insane price be darned. Penny pinching begins today.
Wider and longer, it feels more stable on the freeway at high speeds, and this new generation actually weighs less. On narrow dirt roads it proved no less nimble.
The exterior is re-sculpted, but gently. The interior is far better. The new design language (and excellence) began with the Panamera sedan, and the blend of materials and technology lags behind only Audi.
The new Porsche also makes a better noise. The sound slaps you in the face when you’re driving hard. At idle, it’s only a whisper. That’ll make the neighbors happy.
The S model has a 3.8-liter six-cylinder engine with a nice round 400 horsepower. The base model’s 3.4-liter has 350hp. The sport exhaust, activated by a button, is one of those expensive, must-have options that Porsche excels at.
The engine and car, overall, are more efficient. Official U.S. numbers aren’t out yet, but expect to see almost 30 miles per gallon on the highway if you’re not revving the car unnecessarily to make that fantastic sound.
The majority of buyers will opt for the automated seven-speed double-clutch transmission. It changes gears crazily fast and has a launch control. Slower, less efficient and far more fun is the new seven-speed manual, less perplexing than it sounds. That seventh gear is an overdrive, saving gas on the highway, and is easy enough to click into.
The traditional hydraulic steering is changed to electric power steering -- a scary change that Porsche has made almost a non-issue. Only finicky drivers will notice and complain, vociferously most likely, as Porsche purists are notoriously averse to change.
The final difference is the speed. The 911 is starting to get supercar fast. In many ways, the experience reminded me of the latest mid-engine Ferrari, the 458 Italia. When in motion you might glance down and find yourself perilously close to triple-digit speeds.
That’s a downside. Really. On most roads, it becomes difficult to get a sense of thrilling speed without going ludicrously, license-yanking fast. Porsche’s engineers have not only defeated the issue of balance, they’ve obliterated it.
On the day of our test drive, the company had an older, 1985 model available for comparison, a European-spec “Club Sport” model with an oversized wing and five-speed manual.
At 75 mph on a windy road, the steering wheel was doing a jig in my hands and my endocrine system was responding in as lively a fashion.
No question, there was a connection between the two models: They looked hazily the same and the driving position is similar. But you’d have to go three times as fast in the new model to get a similar kick-in-the-pants reaction.
So, I want one. Both, actually. Porsche wins again.
The 2012 Porsche 911 Carrera S at a Glance
Engine: 3.8-liter six-cylinder with 400 horsepower and 325
pound-feet of torque.
Transmission: Seven-speed manual or seven-speed automated
Speed: 0 to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds (manual); 4.1
Gas mileage per gallon: 20 city, 28 highway (estimated).
Price as tested: $120,000 (estimated).
Best feature: The ease with which it does everything.
Worst feature: Difficult to get sensation of speed.
Target buyer: The driver who had the last generation 911
(and the one before that).
(Jason H. Harper writes about autos for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)