"I felt like a kid at Christmas the week I got to drive this 2012 Porsche 911 Carrera S"
As it were, this test mule came to me directly via another journalist who drove it from London, Ontario to Oakville where I took over and gave him a ride into the big city – Toronto – so he could pick up another car to drive home in. Each of us was doing the other a big favour. Despite the good karma, it wasn’t long before some rain started to fall on my drive home to put a damper on things. I hadn’t taken one photograph and already the car was wet, dirty and dripping bugs. So, when the day turned beautiful in the late afternoon, a power rinse, full hand wash, towel dry and polish job were in order to turn those lemons into lemonade.
There have been many different versions of the 911 over six generations dating back to the 1963 original. Every generation has seen improvements over the last – the switch from air-cooled to water-cooled engines in 1998 perhaps representing the most important – yet each new 911 is as instantly recognizable as the last and, presumably, the next. The current iteration (called the 991 by Porsche aficionados) is no different; though it’s certainly the most refined version to date... and, there are at least a dozen different 991 coupes and cabriolets currently available in Canada today.
Introduced in late 2011, the 991 is the third generation of Porsche’s venerable sports car to come out of Stuttgart built on an entirely new platform. Now largely made up of aluminum and sporting a wheelbase almost four inches greater, the 991 is slightly longer and nearly 50 kilograms lighter than the outgoing 997 platform (2005-11). Shorter overhangs and rear axles pushed back three inches toward the engine have resulted in a more balanced chassis and increased interior space compared to its predecessor. And, for $93,700, the base 911 Carrera features a solid 3.4-litre horizontallyopposed six-cylinder engine that transmits 350 hp and 288 lb-ft of torque through a seven-speed manual transmission to the 19-inch wheels. Despite being the entry point to the 911 range, it’s capable of accelerating from in 4.8 seconds, goes from 80-to-120 km/h in 6.4 seconds (in fifth gear) and boasts a top speed of 289 km/h while still achieving pretty good overall fuel ratings – 9.3 L/100 km combined.
Starting at $110,000, the Carrera S comes with 20-inch wheels and a larger, more powerful 3.8-litre boxer engine that’s paired with a seven-speed manual transmission and dual mass flywheel. With 400 hp and 325 lb-ft of torque, the S version also benefits from a slightly wider front track and more favourable power-to-weight ratio (compared to the 997). The optional seven-speed twin-clutch PDK automatic delivers impressive performance, including 4.3-second zero-to-100 and nine-second zero-to-160 times, whilst shifting more precisely and faster than any human I know. And, despite the improved performance, it too has exceptional fuel economy figures of 9.1 L/100 km combined.
More so than ever before, Porsche 911 designers and engineers have successfully negotiated the delicate tightrope walk between fuel economy and dynamic performance by incorporating technologies like an automatic engine start/stop system and a coasting function on models equipped with the optional PDK transmission. The auto start/stop function kills the engine when the vehicle is stationary to save fuel and reduce emissions (so long as several “pre-conditions” are met first) and restarts the engine on driver demand.
In conjunction with other new standard features, including an electrical recuperation system, intelligent thermal management as well as an electromechanical steering system, the 911 Carrera S enjoys a 15% improvement in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions compared to the previous model (the Carrera is 16%).
After a mix of driving 437 kilometres on mixed suburban roads and highways, the Porsche computer displays an average consumption of 10.8 L/100 km on one of its many vehicle info screens – pretty darn good for a car that’s supposed to try and rip your face off every time the gas pedal is stamped on. Or, toss your cookies whenever the massive Brembos bite down hard on the Carrera S’s 340 mm cross-drilled and vented rotors with six-piston front calipers (Carrera has four-piston calipers and 330 mm rotors in the front).
As scary as that may sound, this car is actually quite easy to get along with on a day-to-day basis. The interior is kitted out like an upscale airport lounge with no shortage of technology, high-quality materials or convenience features. In fact, it’s fully-loaded with add-ons like leather seating, premium pack with 18-way electric seats, lighting upgrades, folding mirrors, ninespeaker Bose surround system, SiriusXM and HD radio tuners, front and rear park assist, power steering plus, sport design steering wheel and a sunroof. The Alcantara headliner comes standard, but all this other stuff adds more than $16,000 to the price and we’re not done yet.
Porsche torque vectoring (PTV) comes standard on the Carrera S for the very first time; but, there are even more options to further unlock the potential of the 991 chassis and improve its dynamic performance. These include the sport chrono package, which features dynamic engine mounts that provide more stable handling under load change conditions and in fast corners, Porsche’s dynamic chassis control (PDCC) system and a sport exhaust system. That’s another 11 grand added to the price. Factoring in the PDK tranny and metallic paint, which is exemplary at hiding dirt and looking clean by the way, A/C tax and destination and all the adds-on on this car ring up to $35,610 as tested. If you have the means it’s worth it. But, it is worth pointing out the average person could get any number of pretty nice sporty or family vehicles for that kind of money. The grass is always greener.
In the 911 cockpit, you’re surrounded by purposeful controls for all kinds of cool functions – my favourite being the button that physically opens a baffle in the exhaust to give it a moredramatic, aggressive and racecar-like soundtrack. There are, of course, others for raising and lowering the rear spoiler, turning traction control on or off (and fully off for experts), suspension firmness, sport and sport plus modes. Even the auto start system has a button to turn it off although it may, at times, automatically turns itself off when one or more of the pre-conditions aren’t met (when engine or ambient temperatures are too high, for example, as I discovered during a summer heat wave). When it is on, the engine shuts itself off after the car comes to a stop with normal braking. The driver can wake it up early by lifting off the brake pedal a touch or wait for it to come on when the stop light goes green. Either way, it gets up and running much faster than you’d expect.
The car is sublimely quiet when driving around town, though the suspension is quite firm, even at its most casual setting. A touch of understeer is detectable when pushing the Carrera S hard and the front suspension is a bit chattery when driving over bumpy or uneven highway surfaces. Tire and road noise are superb though; and, in general, the car handles very well as it bounds through the rat race like a caffeinated mouse running through a maze for the umpteenth time. Body roll is non-existent and the high-back seats are supportive for spirited cornering and yet quite comfy for daily commuting. The new electromechanical steering has good weight, ample feedback and is by no means inferior, though some purists may fuss over Porsche’s move away from a hydraulic rack. The paddle shifters are great too and the car shifts gears like a champ whatever modes the transmission or ECU are in.
I love the backlit spokes at nine and three on the steering wheel that light up when the car is in sport or sport plus mode. Driving enthusiasts will enjoy the ergonomics and feel of the 911’s cabin, which boasts nice attention-to-detail vis a vis raised stitching, tight gaps and high-quality trims and metals. Instrumentation is excellent and well-lit inside separate round housings – second one from the right can display a multitude
of different information screens from fuel economy to navigation – and, the placement and feel of all buttons and
switches seems to be instinctual. A large touchscreen provides a good interface for the driver and technologies like Bluetooth and, thanks to low interior noise levels, the Bose system sounds pretty impressive too.
Interior storage and rear head and leg room are at a premium, however, and there are only two cup holders up high to the right of centre dash. They’re a bit on the small side and both are perched a bit precariously over the passenger’s knees, but they do neatly tuck away into the polished aluminum dash trim when not in use. Including the front trunk, luggage capacity maxes out at 135 litres – more than enough space for a commuting executive and/or weekend couples getaways. There are child seat latch points for those in a pinch, however, the Panamera or Cayenne are much better suited for family duty.
The Porsche 911 is an aspirational vehicle for the majority of people, myself included. So, having one for an entire week to drive around in is as good as any Christmas present in recent memory. Of course, I’m not saying I haven’t gotten really good presents. I have. It’s just that none of them were Porsches. And, if Santa were ever to leave me one under the ‘ol yule tree, I hope it’s a GTS Cabriolet.
Base Price: $110,000
Engine: Horizontally-opposed 3.8L six-cylinder
Horsepower/Torque: 400 hp/325 lb-ft
Transmission: 7-speed PDK automatic
Fuel Economy Ratings: 10.6/7.3 L/100 km; 27/39 mpg (city/highway)