The world's most iconic sports car, the Porsche 911, is redefined about every seven years. This is no easy feat, as each new model must not only conform to ever tightening emissions, fuel economy and safety regulations, but must be faster and more competitive in motorsports. The 911 remains one of the most successful racing cars ever built, and for many, it's not just a sports car from Porsche – it is Porsche.
Now, an all-new seventh-generation Porsche 911 Carrera has been unveiled. While the rear-engine replacement lacks serious controversy (the move from an air-cooled flat-six to water-cooled powerplant more than a decade ago was dreadfully traumatic), the new Type 991 presents altered proportions to improve passenger comfort, handling and stability. But don't think for a moment that the 2012 model has gone soft. It is much more dynamic and capable than its predecessor. To substantiate the fact, Porsche divulges that its all-new Carrera S is capable of lapping the Nürburgring's Nordschleife circuit in just 7:40 minutes. Not only is that 14 seconds faster than last year's 997, but it matches the time of the race-ready Type 997 GT3. And that's just the start.
Stuttgart has calculated that 272,811 Porsche 911 models have been delivered to customers in the United States since 1970. While that is one boatload of smiling Americans, the statisticians didn't stop there. The Germans also declared that in excess of 700,000 copies of the iconic sports car have been delivered worldwide since its launch in September 1964, and more than 80 percent of those Type 901, G-Model, 964, 993, 996, and 997s are still street legal. While the Porsche 911 is 48 years old, the all-new seventh-generation, known internally as Type 991, carries the legacy significantly forward. Like most late-model 911s, the 991 will eventually be offered in Turbo, Cabriolet, Targa, GT3 and GT2 variants, and most all should be in place within the next two years. But first, Porsche is launching the 911 Carrera Coupé and the 911 Carrera S Coupé.
Compared to last year's 911 model, the new 2012 911 is .98 inches longer, .20 inches shorter in overall height and it has a wider track. Those dimensional changes are rather insignificant when compared to the wheelbase, which has grown by a whopping 3.90 inches. Putting more space between the wheels has shortened the front and rear overhangs and put more of the engine's mass in front of the rear wheels. As a result, the 991 benefits from a lower center of gravity, improved stability at speed and more room carved out for passengers.
From 100 yards, only a Porsche purist will be able to distinguish a 991 from the 997 – that's a compliment to the design team that worked exhaustively to maintain the 911's traditionally characteristic appearance. Step a bit closer, maybe 30 feet away, and the changes are much more evident. The characteristic round headlights remain, but they have been pushed wide. The radiator intakes are larger with wrap-around LED directional indicators and the side mirrors have been moved from the mirror triangle at the base of the A-pillar to the top of the door (a location shared with the automaker's Panamera sedan). The front windshield is flatter while the rear quarter windows are more tapered. The rear spoiler is now integrated cleanly with the decklid when stowed, but it presents a larger surface area when deployed. Overall, the appearance is more aggressive than that of the outgoing model while bearing more than a slight resemblance to the Carrera GT from the rear.
The new interior also takes many of its cues from its siblings, with the most notable change being the arrival of a tall center console, again mixing the design characteristics of the sporty Carrera GT with the luxurious interior of the Panamera. Directly in front of the driver, Porsche's familiar five-ring cluster houses six analog gauges (tachometer, speedometer, oil pressure, oil temperature, water temperature and fuel level) and a new color TFT multifunction display to the right of the centrally-located and oversized tach. The navigation screen sits at the top of the center console, just below two of the four dash vents. Directly below are the NAV and audio controls. The console flattens out at that point, and the climate controls are in the crease with a monochromatic display of temperature settings for both driver and passenger. Just aft is the transmission shifter, whether manual or automatic, at a near-perfect height and distance from a relaxed arm. Lastly, a slew of buttons are located beneath the driver's right elbow, controlling suspension, traction control, exhaust, rear spoiler, sunroof and other optional equipment.
The new chassis utilizes McPherson struts up front, with a lightweight aluminum support bearing, tuned to enhance anti-dive performance under heavy braking. The rear axle is a completely new multi-link design, with more spring travel to improve performance and new elastic rubber-metal bearings to reduce rolling noise. Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), a damping system for active and continuous control of both axles, is standard on the 2012 Carrera S Coupé and optional on the base Carrera Coupé.
New is Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC), an optional variable stabilizer system that replaces the traditional anti-roll bar drop-link with four active adjustable strut-mounted hydraulic cylinders. During straight-line driving, the PDCC is essentially disconnected to prevent wheel impacts from being transmitted across the chassis. However, PDCC immediately engages to prevent chassis lean when sensors detect any lateral forces.
Porsche has taken a risk with the steering by ditching its traditional hydraulic steering system and replacing it with an electro-mechanical system that is engineered to only use energy during steering maneuvers. Aside from the obvious benefits (less parasitic drag on the engine, simplified machinery and improved fuel efficiency), the system features active self-alignment and a stabilizing system to improve control while braking on surfaces with uneven grip.
Capable cast iron brakes are standard on both models. The Carrera is fitted with 13.0 x 1.1-inch perforated and ventilated discs up front, with four-piston aluminum monobloc calipers painted black. The Carrera S receives slightly larger 13.4 x 1.3-inch perforated and ventilated discs up front, with new six-piston aluminum monobloc calipers in red. Both the Carrera and Carrera S share the same 13.0 x 1.1-inch perforated and ventilated discs in the rear, with four-piston aluminum monobloc calipers (color-keyed to the front calipers). The Porsche Ceramic Composite Brake (PCCB) system is optional, shaving nearly half the mass off the standard braking system and nearly eliminating brake fade. The PCCB calipers are painted yellow, of course.
Standard wheels on the Carrera are 19-inch alloys, wearing 235/40ZR19 tires in the front and 285/35ZR19 in the rear. The Carrera S is fitted with 20-inch wheels as standard equipment, with slightly larger 245/35ZR20 tires up front and 295/30ZR20 rubber out back. Pirelli P Zero tires, specially designed for the 911, are standard on the new 911.
Mounted behind the rear wheels on the 2012 Carrera Coupé is a 3.4-liter, flat-six, rated at 350 horsepower at 7,400 rpm and redlines at 7,800 rpm, while the all-aluminum direct-injected engine generates 287 pound-feet of torque at 5,600 rpm. Although downsized from last year's 3.6-liter flat-six, the smaller-displacement direct-injected engine generates slightly more power and identical torque while delivering improved fuel economy.
The 2012 Carrera S Coupé boasts the familiar 3.8-liter flat-six. While the displacement is identical to last year's engine, Porsche reworked the intake and exhaust on the new model to capture an additional 15 horsepower and provide a slight bump in torque. Rated an even 400 horsepower at 7,400 rpm, the all-aluminum direct-injected powerplant generates 325 pound-feet of torque at 5,600 rpm. Sharing the same redline and fuel cut-off at 7,800 rpm with its smaller sibling, the naturally-aspirated 3.8-liter engine delivers an impressive 105.3 horsepower/liter. We expected two transmission choices: manual or automatic. But this is where Porsche threw us a curve.
The automaker's seven-speed Doppelkupplungsgetriebe (PDK) was a no-brainer, as the electronically-controlled double-clutch automatic transmission delivers blazingly clean shifts whether in standard or sport modes (Porsche says 70 percent of its customers will choose the PDK). Improved for 2012, the PDK gearbox now delivers even faster and smoother shifts and it completely disengages itself to reduce drag and improve fuel efficiency during coasting.
Earlier this year we learned that Porsche was also offering the world's first seven-speed manual transmission in a passenger car. Consider it a PDK gearbox adapted for human use. Instead of electronically-controlled clutch plates, the 7MT uses a traditional third-pedal clutch. As humans are less precise and more prone to slipping the engagement, the clutch is larger in the manual box than in the PDK. Furthermore, to prevent the operator from inadvertently shifting from fourth into seventh during spirited driving, there is a sequential shift lock that keeps the overdrive gear out of reach until fifth or six gears have been previously selected. The gear ratios of the manual mostly match that of the PDK, but Porsche has outfitted the stick shift variant with a taller third gear and a shorter seventh gear to improve driveability.
Thanks to an extensive use of aluminum (the roof panel, deck lid, door skins and fenders are all made from the lightweight alloy), Porsche has been able to offset the mass of the added safety components and new standard equipment. On the scale, the 2012 Carrera models have shed about 100 pounds when compared to their predecessors. The curb weight of the 2012 Porsche Carrera Coupé with the seven-speed manual is only 3,042 pounds. Add the optional seven-speed PDK and the weight climbs to just 3,086 pounds. The 2012 Porsche Carrera S Coupé tips the scales at 3,075 pounds with a manual gearbox, and weighs 3,119 pounds with the PDK. Regardless of the configuration, the new 911 Carrera is lighter than a Chevrolet Corvette Z06 (3,199 pounds), Ferrari 458 (3,274 pounds), Nissan GT-R (3,829 pounds) and the Jaguar XKR (3,865 pounds).
According to Porsche, typically very conservative with its figures, the standard 911 Carrera with a seven-speed manual transmission is good for a 0-62 mph sprint in 4.8 seconds. Configured with the optional PDK gearbox and the Sport Chrono package, it adds the launch control function, the time drops down to 4.6 seconds. The Carrera S with the manual gearbox is slightly quicker as it hits 62 mph in about 4.5 seconds. The fastest model is the Carrera S with PDK and the Sport Chrono package. Porsche says it will sprint to 62 mph in just 4.3 seconds and we fully expect it to shatter the four second barrier once instrumented testing gets underway. Thanks to a slippery .29 drag coefficient and a complete absence of top speed limiters, the standard Carrera Coupé will comfortably hit 180 mph if allowed the opportunity. The more powerful Carrera S Coupé will run to a top speed of 189 mph.
Porsche invited us to Santa Barbara to put a couple hundred miles on a 2012 Carrera S Coupé. After a quick breakfast, we grabbed the key to a Racing Yellow Carrera S with Yachting Blue leather and a PDK gearbox. Driving a coupe that was arguably brighter than the rising sun, we set the standard navigation system to take us north to Santa Maria.
The cabin was impeccably appointed in our test car, with quality leather, soft Alcantera or smooth aluminum trim covering nearly every exposed inch. We sat very comfortably in the cockpit, with plenty of head and shoulder room, behind a thick sport steering wheel. Distinguished by its aluminum spokes and lack of auxiliary controls, the round wheel was equipped with large alloy paddle shifters in the proper configuration (Porsche still offers the frustrating Tiptronic-era sliders on the standard leather wheel).
After turning over the flat-six with the left-mounted key, we released the new electronic parking brake, which is awkwardly located next to the driver's left knee, and then moved the PDK shifter into D and headed out.
The first half of our trip was up the San Marcos Pass, or State Route 154, just north of Santa Barbara. The two-lane road lazily travels at highway speeds up and over the mountains before dropping into the Santa Ynez Valley. Stuck mid-pack among a row of vehicles without any legal passing opportunities, we focused our attention on the new electric steering – this was admittedly our primary concern. It does feel slightly different, maybe lacking some of the smallest vibrations, but no less accurate or precise. We could feel the bumps, the rocks and the road kill (already flattened, of course). We were fixated on the steering for about 15 minutes, digging hard to find something annoying, but we couldn't. Then we forgot about it; it became a non-issue.
What did capture our attention was the responsiveness of the flat-six engine, the quickness of the PDK and the stiffness of the new lightweight chassis. Despite having "just" a six-cylinder with 325 pound-feet of torque, the Carrera S was a rocket when roused. The dual-clutch gearbox jumped gears like it was playing schoolyard hopscotch to provide near-optimal engine revolutions at speed regardless of how poorly we were caught off guard (yeah, it makes us humans look a bit slow). Smooth as a traditional slushbox on the highway and around town, without a single errant rattle at low speeds, the Porsche's Doppelkupplungsgetriebe is a bat-out-of-hell with deadly aim when pressed into service. If the 911's PDK isn't the world's finest automatic transmission, we don't know what is.
After arriving at Santa Maria airport, where Porsche had paved its own test loop in Top Gear fashion, we were encouraged to flog the all-new Type 991 as hard as we dared, as long as we kept it on the pavement (most of us did). We used the opportunity to do multiple launch control starts to about 115 mph followed by highly abusive full-ABS stops. Porsche brakes, even the standard iron units, are among the best in the industry. After we found ourselves consistently stopping too short, we'd brake later and later without any worry of fade. A 911 is at home on a race circuit, so it didn't even pant at the exercise.
We then immediately ran the coupe around a short handling course with curves and wide decreasing radius sweepers. With the PDK in Sport Plus mode, the newest Porsche rewarded mid-corner throttle lift with predictable chassis rotation. Despite the lengthened wheelbase, turn-in seemed quicker and sharper than it was in last year's Type 997. The new coupe was not only bloody quick around the improvised circuit, but it was also very predictable and impressively fun – exactly what we expected from a 911.
Parking the yellow PDK-equipped model on the paddock, we talked our way into yet another Racing Yellow Carrera S. However, this particular model sported the new seven-speed manual transmission. Slower than the PDK, but much more involving, we chose to head back to Santa Barbara using the longer and more enjoyable... um, scenic route.
In less time than it takes to soft boil an egg, we forgot about the near-perfect shifts of the PDK and fell head over heels for the manual gearbox. The clutch pedal felt slightly springy at first, but only took a few engagements to become second nature. Soon, the action was almost faultless as the gears snapped quickly into place. The action was smooth, yet rewardingly mechanical. We ran up the gears sequentially, clumsily slower than the dual-clutch would do the same task, and quickly ran back down the pattern in reverse order. Our favorite gear, without question, was third. That middle gear pulled strongly from 35 mph to nearly 110 mph, meaning it is a perfect fit for nearly every back country road in the Continental United States. Seventh gear, that awkward new arrival, is geared so tall as to be positively boring (we tried it a couple times for grins, and then never went back).
Over the next two hours, we rolled the windows down and darted through the rolling hills using second, third and fourth gear exclusively. Light on its feet, the 911 obeyed all of our commands as we happily collected misguided bugs on our front fascia. Throttle, clutch, shift, throttle, clutch, shift and throttle. The flat-six wailed at redline, blaring through the optional sport exhaust, and the sound ricocheted off the rows of vineyards. The experience of piloting a fine instrument developed exclusively for the driver was purely emotional. By the time we arrived back in Santa Barbara, our smile was so wide that it bruised our cheekbones.
Liquidate your prized belongings and sell the family heirlooms. Porsche has announced pricing. When it rolls into showrooms on February 4, the standard Carrera Coupé will carry a base price of $82,100 (plus $950 destination). The Carrera S Coupé will start at $96,400 (plus destination). Build one like our yellow test model and you are likely touching $120,000. It is top shelf pricing, but we can't think of another new vehicle in that dollar range capable of delivering the equivalent build quality, comfort or performance. The 911 has always been, and continues to remain, a true driver's car for a discerning affluent buyer.
Back in Weissach, the Type 991 design team led by Michael Mauer should be taking a stress-free vacation in the Caribbean for a job well executed. But they won't. More variants are waiting in the wings, and let's hope Porsche waits a few weeks before reminding them that the Type 992 is due in 2018.