The press materials supplied during our day with the 2012 Porsche 911 Carrera S inform us that the optional Burmester sound system “features twelve individually controllable loudspeakers, including an active so-called subwoofer built into the bodyshell.” The integration of this so-called sub into the structure saves four or five kilograms, depending on whether you choose the Burmester or Bose sound system. But it begs the question — is a good thing or a terrible thing? On the bright side, it illustrates that Porsche’s commitment to both weight reduction and everyday practicality remains intact. On the other hand, have we gotten to the point where sports cars — and more specifically, the ass-out Teutonic Danger Boy 911 — have become so refined that automakers are concerned with subwoofers?
Porsche claims that the new car — known to enthusiasts by its internal Porsche model code 991 — is the best 911 they’ve ever built. Empirical analysis bears this out, and Germans love empirical analysis. The step-above-base Carrera S laps the fearsome Nürburgring Norschleife as fast as the current race-bred GT3. They’ve improved fuel economy by 10 to 15 percent on the S, depending on transmission. Emissions are lower across the board. The manual transmission has seven freaking gears. The car weighs less than the outgoing model, despite growing 2.2 inches in length. It even comes in a fabulous new shade of brown called “Cognac.” And make no mistake, it’ll drink up all the Hennessy you’ve got on your shelf and still proceed to blow your coveted 1973 2.7 RS into the weeds. On top of all that it’s sloth-on-quaaludes docile in workaday traffic. It is, without a doubt, the best new car I’ve driven this year. If you are shopping in the $82,100-and-up range for something with a couple of seats and possibly a set of nominal chairs in the back for short people or a set of gold-anodized Halliburton cases, you’re shorting yourself if you don’t take the 991 for a spin. (Note that the Carrera S Porsche provided at the launch begins at $91,900. Neither price includes a $950 destination charge.)
In short, as a car, it’s an astounding piece of engineering. Even taken as a Porsche, it’s an astounding piece of engineering. As a 911, however, it’s a bit of a digital simulacrum of something brilliant that came before. It’s Green Day compressing the living daylights of American Idiot to sound as loud as possible compared to the frenetic, air-raid nuance of Motörhead’s Ace of Spades. While the decibel level on the Green Day record may be higher, what’s louder than classic Motörhead?
Still, there are numerous rewards in the 991’s bag of tricks. While today’s expensive-product customer seems to demand more and more isolation from the elements and the unpleasant scent of the unwashed hordes, the excessive interior quietude of today’s interiors has a deleterious effect on enjoying the great, whacking thwonk of a killer powerplant. I drove a recent Carrera 4S immediately after stepping out of the 991. The engine seemed as if it were gnawing away somewhere a few car lengths behind the driver. In the new car, with a touch of a button, a tuned acoustic channel between the intake and the passenger compartment opens up. Acceleration becomes an event. Deceleration’s served up with a fattening glaze of spank-crackle-and-explode. Throttle blips inspire lip-splitting grins.
Likely to be the biggest point of contention among aficionados of the marque is that the 991 is the first 911 with an electric power-steering setup. EPS systems range from quite good (Mitsubishi i, for example) to disconnected and video-gamey (Hyundai Veloster, BMW 6 Series). Porsche’s new system falls on the good end of the spectrum. Some loathed the system, suggesting that they’d recommend their friends purchase a current 997 instead of waiting until February 4th for the 991. Those people are simpering ninnies. To tell the truth, while the 997’s steering feel is a smidge better than the 991’s, neither car’s a patch on Porsche’s old manual (or even the early hydraulic) systems in terms of liveliness. If that’s what you’re after, there’s a reason the last of the air-cooled whippersnappers, the ‘90s-era 993, still commands a premium price in the used market.
Despite the yowling and hullaballoo, steering feel is not the be-all, end-all of the 911 experience. There’s that whole matter of the engine positioned behind the wheels, something that seemed perfectly reasonable in the 1930s when Dr. Ferdinand Porsche designed the KdF Wagen, a car that wound up on our shores after WWII as the Volkswagen Beetle. By committing to the 911 as the standard-bearer of the brand in the 1980s, reversing a ‘70s decision that the front-engined 928 would be the company’s new way forward, Porsche’s been wrestling with keeping enough of the car’s character, while minimizing the inherent flaws of the design. With the new car, they’ve moved the rear wheels back toward the car’s bumper, which should theoretically move the car’s center of gravity forward, resulting in more neutral handling. In practice, this does seem to be the case. There is, however, a reassuring waggle of the signature ample booty as the car works to plant itself in certain cornering situations.
The interior of the 991, from a luxury standpoint, is certainly the nicest ever installed in a 911. In fact, until the last generation of cars, 911s didn’t have particularly nice cabins. The current one is au courant and smells of quality. Porsche claims the new center console is cribbed from the Carrera GT, but you’ll likely remember it from the Panamera. In 911 trim, it’s been slimmed down and relieved of the sedan’s panoply of buttons. The seven-speed shifter in the manual car is fantastic, while the pedal placement is optimal for fancy footwork. For cars equipped with Porsche’s Doppelkupplungsgetriebe (auf Englisch, dual-clutch transmission), they’ve replaced the previous steering-wheel buttons with a set of nicely-weighted paddles.
You’ll rarely use those paddles. Sure, you might want to play hero and fiddle with them here and there, but the fact of the matter is, this latest iteration of PDK is the best automatic transmission I’ve ever driven. It borders on the psychic. Hurley Haywood says he doesn’t bother with the paddles; that PDK allows him to get around a track as fast as choosing his own ratios. Hurley Haywood won Le Mans on three occasions. I haven’t even watched the Steve McQueen movie that many times. In my limited experience with the car, I found no reason to doubt the august racing driver. Push-to-shove, I’d take the manual and accept the slight hit in acceleration times, but I’m not going to laugh you out of the pits for choosing the automatic. It’s that satisfying.
So yes, the 991 is a whiz-bang piece of gimcrackery. It is as fine a car as you can buy today. If any car is worth around a hundred thousand dollars, the new Carrera S certainly is worth around a hundred thousand dollars. On the other hand, any time Porsche significantly revises the 911, the result is immediately a hard car to wrap one’s head around. I imagine I’ll have exactly the same problems talking about the next iteration of Zuffenhausen’s sports-motoring icon. According to Porsche’s Wolfgang Hatz, of the 700,000 911s sold over the car’s 48-year run, 80% of them are still road-legal. If the new car doesn’t twiddle your tamale, there are plenty out there to choose from. You may, however, have to build your own subwoofer boxes.
Porsche 911 Carrera S Facts and Figures
|Class|| Sports car|
| Capacity|| Four passengers|
| Engine|| Flat-6 3.4-liter DOHC|
| Transmission|| 7-speed manual, 7-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual shifting mode|
| Power || 400 hp|
| Torque || 325 ft-lbs|
| Top speed|| 187 mph|
| Zero to 60 mph|| 4.1 seconds|
| Mileage|| 17/33 (Euro cycle)|
| Base price (incl. destination charges)|| $92,850|
| Remarkable features|| Psychic automatic transmission|