Photos copyright ©2010 Michael Harley / AOL
My wife and I started our week in Munich after being deposited at the airport by a high-flying Airbus wearing Lufthansa's familiar blue and yellow livery. The colorful hues should have tipped us off as a spotlessly-clean 2010 Porsche Carrera S in metallic blue with bright yellow brake calipers waits for us on the curb.
While a Cayenne
or a Panamera
would have been a more accommodating choice, this 911 was our primary method of transportation for the next week – my only requirement was that all of our accoutrements must fit snug and still allow a clear view out the rear windscreen.
It's not like the Porsche 911 doesn't have a trunk. The 2+2 coupe has a boot, but like the engine, it's been placed on the wrong end. According to those who measure such things, the trunk in the nose fits precisely 4.42 cubic feet of luggage. That doesn't sound capacious, but it swallowed one of our 22-inch expandable wheeled suitcases, a medium-size camera bag, and a medium-size soft carry-on without difficulty. The other 22-inch roller and an overstuffed ballistic nylon computer case were relegated to the small seating area behind the front seats. No worries, as the tiny backrests easily fold flat to create a nice carpeted cargo shelf.
This particular 911 was a seasoned German press fleet unit with about 23,000 km (14,300 miles) on its clock. Being a local native, the Porsche doesn't speak English. Not only were all the gauges confusingly metric, but the navigation system and owner's manual required a formal education in the German dialect. While all of the controls were very familiar, the navigation system is nearly useless when it's in another language (we got by with a Garmin Nüvi for the week).
After a slew of improvements for the 2009 model year, the 2010 Porsche 911 Carrera S is a virtual carryover from last year's model. Nevertheless, we still wanted to see what this example is wearing. Unlike most American press cars, there's no window sticker folded in the glove box. After poring over it looking for clues, it appeared that this blue coupe was fitted with a handful of carefully-selected options designed to make it a track star (a betting man would say this Porsche has seen some time on the famed Nürburgring).
Virtually assembled on Porsche's web site (using the U.S. configurator), the base price of this 2010 Porsche 911 Carrera S is $91,450. Ours was wearing Aqua Blue Metallic paint over Stone Grey full leather and fitted with the optional Sport Seats, Comfort Package and the Infotainment Package. With performance a priority, it's also configured with the lightning-fast PDK automatic gearbox, Sports Exhaust System and the lightweight Porsche Ceramic Composite Brake (PCCB) system with 13.7-inch ceramic rotors clamped by yellow-painted six-piston calipers up front. Added up, there are about $25,565 worth of options that bring the car's U.S. sticker to a bit more than $117,000. That's a wad of dollars in the States, but it's even pricier in German euros.
Loaded with luggage, and with our destination programmed into the Garmin, it was finally time to leave the Munich airport. The sun was shining brightly over the German countryside and our 911 Carrera had full tank of fuel. As any other warm-blooded auto enthusiast would do, I pointed the 385-horsepower coupe towards the nearest autobahn.
The well-known German highway is famed for its unrestricted speed limits, but don't expect to find drivers with a Wild West mentality swerving flat out between lanes. Slower traffic is legally held to the right, and there are serious penalties for imbecilic moves (such as passing on the right or running out of fuel). In all truth, most cars travel between 70 mph and 90 mph very contently in the right lanes.
Mounted in the back of this Carrera S is Porsche's celebrated flat-six powerplant. Completely re-engineered for the 2009 model year, the 3.8-liter all-aluminum mill features direct injection, revised intake and exhaust systems, and Porsche's VarioCam Plus intake-valve timing and lift system. With a redline of 7,250 rpm, and wearing a LEV-II emission certification, the engine is rated at 385 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque.
The standard transmission for this water-cooled six is a good old-fashioned six-speed manual. In as much as that traditional three-pedal gearbox is a short-shifting pleasure to row – the poster child for the "Save the Manuals" movement – it wasn't my first choice for this mission. Instead, and with a bit of reservation, I had asked Porsche for a car fitted with the Doppelkupplungsgetriebe ("PDK"), the automaker's electronically-controlled double-clutch automatic gearbox.
When Autoblog reviewed the Porsche 911 with PDK
just over two years ago, we were smitten with how quickly and accurately the next-generation automatic gearbox reacted on a race track. Optioned properly (with the Sport Chrono Package), and set in the correct transmission mode, the PDK shifts were substantially faster and more accurate than any human operator could emulate. The numbers supported our observations. The 6MT version of the Porsche 911 Carrera S hits 60 mph in 4.5 seconds. The Carrera S with PDK and Sport Chrono will crack the same benchmark in 4.1 seconds (keep in mind that Porsche is widely known to be rather conservative with its numbers). Both transmissions top out at about 186 mph.
With the 911 strapped firmly to our undersides, my wife and I joined the high-powered Audi
models in the left lane – the asphalt reserved for overtaking. Velocities in this lane vary quite a bit. Slow cars will do 90 mph, while others cook by at 150-plus. Thanks to electronic limiters, nearly all of the fastest cars are reigned in at 155 mph. Porsche, however, does not limit its vehicles.
With the flat-six wailing through the must-have sport exhaust system, the Carrera S rockets up to speed and reels-in fast cars like a heat-seeking sidewinder. Nearly every driver in front of us observed the Porsche's LED running lights in their mirror and moved over. A few, like a stubborn Audi B5 S4 (wearing obvious signs of expensive modifications), accelerated with a puff of oily smoke and attempted to speed on further ahead.
The first afternoon, on a long stretch of nearly desolate autobahn, I easily spun the speedometer around to 269 km/h (my Garmin recorded it as 164 mph). The Porsche was still pulling, but I let off the accelerator at the next long sweeping curve. Thanks to excellent aerodynamics (its drag coefficient is just .29) and a pop-up rear spoiler, the Carrera cut through the wind without breaking a sweat. My wife, unaccustomed to moving much over 70 mph in the States, was so assuaged by the 911's docile high-speed manners that she dozed-off several times while we were doing 140-plus mph.
Our 1,000-mile route was carefully planned with the Porsche 911 specifically in mind. The course would take us on an oversized figure-eight through northern Austria and southern Germany. We first sped south to Innsbruck, Austria, and then back up to Schwangau, Germany (home of the famed Neuschwanstein Castle). From there, we headed north to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, and then west towards Heidelburg and Frankfurt. We turned south to Stuttgart (for a tour of the Porsche Museum
, of course) before heading back to Munich again to wait for our Lufthansa departure.
Whether stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on a construction-choked autobahn outside of Frankfurt, or dodging cattle on one-lane roads in northern Austria, the bright blue Carrera S turns heads. It was awkward at first, but we soon became accustom to people giving us the thumbs-up as we drove by and making conversation when we parked (interactions made difficult by the obvious language barrier). One gas station attendant, mesmerized by the sports car, insisted on pumping our premium gas and washing its windows. A parking attendant at one of the tourist traps insisted that we position the car right next to his wooden booth, and most of the hotels let us park directly out front (on the sidewalk) throughout the night. Porsche 911s don't get this type of treatment in Southern California.
After spending one week in the Porsche's comfortable perforated leather seats, and becoming very attached to driving such an adept sports car, two things really stand out.
Without question, I became a born-again believer in Porsche's ceramic brakes. While I've flogged countless sports cars (and SUVs) equipped with PCCBs, both on and off the track, the $8,150 option always seemed more frill than substance. Why spend a wad of cash on a ridiculously expensive consumable when Porsche's stock cross-drilled brakes, if properly maintained, are nearly perfect? The answer was found on the autobahn.
It's common knowledge that repeated braking from ultra-high speeds wreaks havoc on tradition iron brake rotors – they simply can't dissipate the heat. The result is dangerous brake fade and pedal vibration due to warped rotors and deposited pad material. Unlike iron rotors, the ceramic discs are very resistant to extremely high temperatures. And with PCCBs, brake effectiveness and pedal effort isn't altered after a dozen hard braking and acceleration cycles – common on the crazy-fast, but traffic-laden autobahn. The heat capacity of the braking system seems unlimited, and there is a complete absence of brake judder or vibration. It's impossible to describe the confidence a set of PCCBs imparts when you are tooling down the autobahn at 150 mph and slower traffic cuts you off.
I've also sold my soul to Porsche's Doppelkupplungsgetriebe. As a devout manual transmission junkie, I cautiously embraced Porsche's dual-clutch PDK automatic transmission when it arrived a couple years ago. The computer-controlled gearbox could slam gears faster and smoother than I could on the track, and it was butter-smooth in traffic, yet I still couldn't simply fold. It pains me slightly, and I may be giving up some of my manhood in the process, but I'm ready to admit that the PDK gearbox has finally won me over.
Gliding through the Alps, with the PDK's gear selector in "Drive" and the electronic shift logic in "Sport," impeding traffic is disposed of with a quick stab of the accelerator pedal. Without any hesitation, the gearbox changes ratio, power is put to the pavement and the slow mustard-brown Vauxhall that was blocking the way becomes two halogen headlights in the rearview mirror. Even more impressive is how it responds at speed. When a train of cars doing 95 mph on an unrestricted section of autobahn suddenly pulls out of the way, the PDK-equipped Carrera S responds to throttle input by selecting the optimal gear and blasting ahead.
While the Carrera S is unbelievably competent, there are still a few blemishes, most only apparent after repeated five-hour stints behind the wheel. First, the short Miata
-like wheelbase, praised in the tight two-lane roads winding through the Alps, draws minor criticism on the open autobahn due to body oscillations (setting the suspension in "Standard" mode helps a bit). Second, the wide contact patches (Bridgestone RE050A tires sized 235/35R19 up front and 295/30R19 in the rear) grip the road like taffy, but are annoyingly noisy. Lastly, the driving position delivers a low center of gravity, and it offers excellent outward visibility, but from the grounded vantage point it's nearly impossible to scan traffic a quarter mile ahead. These are all minor gripes (that come with sports car ownership in general) that would do nothing towards keeping us from Porsche's showroom.
The Porsche 911 is a very effective tool for touring Germany in much the same manner that an F-16F Fighting Falcon is great for a cross-country flight. Both offer unchallenged high-speed capabilities, yet neither is able to utilize the talent for anything more than a short sprint between population centers. Both are lightweight and nimble, at the expense of ride comfort over long periods of time. And each has an intimate cabin, but with very limited storage.
If you think it's preposterous to compare the 2010 Porsche 911 Carrera S to one of the world's greatest jet fighters, you probably also feel there's something blatantly wrong about deliberately choosing a hardened sports car for a one-week tour of Germany with your significant other.
Not the way this enthusiast sees it. In my judgment, there was nothing that could be more appropriate.