Porsche is one of those brands that hasn’t changed much, despite their appearances. The company may have a lot of great fans, but there are a lot of traditionalists too. This mix of fans is pretty eclectic, ranging from autocross nuts (who love their 944s), Sunday drivers (who could be driving anything from a 914 to a fire-breathing Turbo S), executives (to some, a 911 Carrera is a real symbol of success), to wealthy soccer moms (Cayennes). The traditionalists fume when you bring up the Cayenne or the Panamera and I know what they are all about–Porsche should be about sports cars, not everyday “boring” vehicles. Well, it doesn’t matter what Porsche makes, because they are a company that wants all of their product to have the same message. That message hasn’t changed since the birth of the company, which is that Porsches aren’t ever supposed to feel like a normal car. They should touch the soul, and reward the owner with dynamics and driving feel that excite the senses. I took out this 911 Carrera S around Amelia Island to find out how the flavor tastes in Porsche’s most familiar formula: RWD, a flat-six engine, and a rear axle with that engine hanging out behind it. I wasn’t disappointed.
The 991 has been with us for about 2 years in the USA and in that time I’ve gotten pretty used to seeing them on the street, so I’ve been able to ponder its styling. It’s unmistakably a Porsche, with the big lights out front and egg-like profile. The body was completely redone for the new model and it does look very classy, with the LED turn signals up front and chrome-finished headlight cleaners. The shaping is gorgeous on the front lines and that translates out back to a set of very slick taillights. The smoothness is what really got my attention, though–this is a shape that Porsche has honed for 50 years and it doesn’t at all feel that way. I’m praying now that I look this good when I turn 50.
The inside is like a glove. Leather in the right places, aluminum in the others, and some plastics are well-hidden. The steering wheel, a SportDesign affair in this particular car, stands out against the black finish. There’s not a lot of beauty to the 911’s interior–it’s designed specifically for function over form. I’m fine with that, as the 911 has always been this way. That said, the lines are strong and everything looks like it’s in the right place. It won’t set the world on fire but it’s high-quality and looks the part for the money.
By the Numbers
Porsche’s build quality is a proven tenet of their reputation and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. The paint is buffed out to a high mirror shine on this Carrera S test car and the headlights are set in like jewels. Porsche has the 911 down to a science in terms of how to make them right, which isn’t just an effect of “practice makes perfect”–they are one of the best in terms of overall quality from front to rear. The doors shut with a satisfying “thunk” on even this Carrera. Under the hood, everything looks organized despite being hidden under a plastic cover.
The interior quality is quite good. The steering wheel is wrapped in thick black leather and the spokes are milled aluminum. The dashboard is fitted tightly against the rest of the interior and the controls are all grained towards the driver. The center stack is a bit complex but actually not at all that hard to figure out. The suspension controls are all grouped together by the gear selector, the infotainment is a quick reach away, and the paddle shifters are placed along the steering wheel instead of the steering column, which means that they turn with the wheel. Life is good in this car–and the sports seats are comfortable enough without being sofas. The rear seats are of course not really “seats” so much as torture devices for midgets. Everything is of a high quality and there are plenty of other options available to spruce up the look on the non-Turbo cars.
At The Helm
The 911 Carrera S test car I had was equipped with a 395hp 3.8L flat-six, the seven-speed PDK dual-clutch gearbox (which has seen a few technological updates since its launch), and a set of Pirelli P-Zero shoes. 0-100kph is rated by the company at 4.1 seconds for the S with the Sport Chrono Pack, which was installed on this car–and I’m not about to fight that. I took off out of the hotel driveway and gave the gas pedal a dose of my size ten shoe, so the car responded with a massive push forwards and a sound that I used to hear coming from my gut. I couldn’t help but stab the throttle whenever I hit a straight road on the quick drive, and got a good idea of how wide this car’s torque curve is. It didn’t matter whether I was in 2nd, 3rd, or 4th gear–the engine always had plenty to give, both into my ears and through the seat of my pants. The power comes on smoothly as well–I never felt like I’d lose it. This is the 3rd PDK car I’ve had the pleasure of testing and this transmission keeps making me feel like a king. It shifts fast, shifts smoothly, and never clunks along. The shifter feels solid and the paddle shifters are a blast to operate.
Cornering is what makes the 991 different from the 997 in a few ways. The new models have electrically-assisted power steering, replacing the old hydraulic setup in the 997. Porschephiles complained by the hundreds when this car’s new steering system was announced because they feared that the 911 would lose the classic steering feel that they had become used to. I took a few roundabouts, including one of them to turn around and return on the route–and I wasn’t disappointed. Porsche didn’t put an electric system in because they can–they put it in because they felt it would provide a better experience. I’m not about to fight this reasoning, as the 911 Carrera S steers very well and has plenty of feel when loaded up in turns. The steering doesn’t feel numb on-center, either. This car happens to have the standard 911 brakes installed (the ceramic brakes are available at extra cost) and they feel very strong, with a quick engagement and smooth pedal operation. The rear-engine personality of the car is such that one should not stab the gas pedal suddenly under heavy cornering but the speeds at which I was driving did not necessitate that. Overall, I was impressed with this car’s poise above all else–the 991 takes everything thrown at it with remarkable ability.
The Bottom Line:
The 911 Carrera S is a great car, yes, but that doesn’t mean I’m sold. Rear 3/4 visibility isn’t all that good and the car’s wide hips made me squirm bit when in tight traffic. Rear visibility is sufficient at best and at worst, undesirable. The rear seats are of course rather pointless. However, that’s not the point of this car. The 911 is supposed to be a timeless sports car that rewards the best drivers, and now, as somewhat of a first, is approachable by drivers who haven’t had the experience of a rear-engined car. It’s not nearly as hairy as it used to be and that means that those of us who want a 911 but aren’t keen in their rear-engine skills can now step into one and can learn without trying to injure themselves. In that regard, Porsche has advanced the 911 quite well. The Carrera S has 395 great reasons to be purchased, along with a few more.
Unfortunately, the price tag is a bit of an issue. The 911 isn’t cheap, with a base Carrera coupe starting at $84,300 and my test S model starting at $99,800. Add some options like the ones on my car, including PDK, the sports chrono package, and extra-cost paint, as well as leather seats, and be prepared to fork over $120,000. That’s more than the Jaguar F-Type coupe at this time, and it’s evident of Porsche’s strategy. While all those options look nice and are rather pricey, they don’t hold their value on the secondary market. Porsche is one of the few companies that has the ire to charge at least $300 for a rear wiper–don’t even get me started on why, if I’m living in a rainy area, why can’t I have one for free? Well, I don’t know.
In the end, when it comes to Porsche products, fans will want nothing else. The 991 is a car of plenty of firsts, and I’m happy to say I enjoyed the experience. The engine note delights the ears, the interior is soft to the touch and feels tough enough to handle the job, and the styling, while not very much different over the past fifty years, still looks young and is unmistakable. While some people will scoff at the fact that Porsche keeps moving the engine closer to the center of the car, the fact that it’s water-cooled, and the fact that it no longer has a hydraulic power steering assist, Porsche has used those three changes to merely improve the breed. There’s a wide range of models available and the options list is mind-boggling (despite being a high priced affair). This is a sports car that has outlived most of its competition with a formula that isn’t much-changed from the 1960s. Having the keys to this 911 was a grand experience.
Final Score: 3.0+4.0+4.0+3.0 = 14.0/16
-Albert S. Davis