On The Move, Stuttgart's Icon Recalibrates The Scales

2013 Porsche 911 Carrera S - front three-quarter view, red

Like any sensible person, I hate moving with the burning intensity of a thousand white-hot suns. Odd, then, that I've become so proficient at it. A serial renter now in my mid-30s, I've moved every couple of years like clockwork. I've long since outgrown the whole "impose on friends in exchange for pizza and beer" thing, yet despite the temptation, I've not gotten so lazy that I simply flip open my checkbook to hire professionals to box up my belongings. Even though I despise packing, with its irritatingly expensive supplies and the discovery of long-dormant dust from hidden corners, I've always taken the time to carefully inspect and wrap my possessions, pruning unnecessaries as I go.

So it was with moving to my first newly purchased house earlier this year. Clearing out the garage spaces in my Detroit loft was particularly tough work this time around, as was prepping my modest car collection for the move. While it probably would've made more sense to clean the cars once I reached my new home, I decided to take the time to unsoil dusty interiors and rub fingerprints from tired sheetmetal, if only to inspect them before the transporter arrived. It's been said you can learn the most about a car's design just by cleaning it, and it's true. I got the chance to appreciate the compact form of my red Porsche 930 Speedster all over again, and cleaning my silver 993 reminded me of just how much I preferred its curves to the departing 996 generation. Parked side-by-side, it's also plainly evident just how much the 911 has grown in size over the years.

It was all so instructive, as I had just had a weeklong rendezvous in the new 991 generation seen here – a stint made all the more enjoyable by the fact that the red 2012 911 Carrera S was real, full-scale and large as life, unlike the decidedly less dynamic 1/18th scale diecast model collection I packed away for the move.

2013 Porsche 911 Carrera S side view2013 Porsche 911 Carrera S front view2013 Porsche 911 Carrera S rear view

Redesigning an icon is tough work, and Porsche's team has done a top job.

The seventh-generation 991 follows the progression of my diecast forebearers by getting longer, wider and lower, but the most noticeable packaging change is the car's significantly longer wheelbase – 3.9 inches longer for a total of 96.5 inches. While a larger wheelbase generally is great for interior dimensions and ride comfort, it isn't necessarily a recipe for improved handling, so the faithful had reason to be concerned with this new generation. But being the sole rear-engined car on the market, the 911 has made a career of outwitting physics, and it does so here as well. The longer wheelbase has located more mass ahead of the rear wheels and between the axles. Since the overall length of the car is only slightly larger, the overhangs are shorter this time, so the car's weight is better centered in the chassis.

To this driver, the new 911 looks more dynamic, too. From its more ovoid headlamps to its slightly wider front axle, the new 911 appears lower and meaner. In profile, the windshield is raked more steeply, yet it's modestly more convex like the more upright windscreens of 911s of old, and the mirrors have been relocated to the doors, highlighting the body's span. The 911's wide-hipped posterior is iconic, and this new generation looks sensational. I've missed the long, narrow strip of lights popularized on the 930 and mastered on the 993, never bonding with the far more ordinary and too-chunky lights of the 997, which looked odd even on my diecast model. And while the new 911's taillamps aren't full width, they're far narrower, with a new ridge that runs from well to well across the tops of the taillamps, emphasizing the rump's impressively wide stance the way the old full-band taillamps did. The engine cover and active aero is better integrated here as well, making for a cleaner overall look. It's been said a million times, but it still bears repeating: Redesigning an icon is tough work, and Porsche's team has done a top job.

2013 Porsche 911 Carrera S headlight2013 Porsche 911 Carrera S fog light2013 Porsche 911 Carrera S side mirror2013 Porsche 911 Carrera S rear spoiler

You'll still have to be a victim of television's Dexter to find adequate room in the token rear seats.

Perhaps more than any other area, the 911's interior needed considerable freshening in terms of aesthetics, options and materials. It got the works. The new interior relies heavily on the design vocabulary popularized in the Panamera. That means a waterfall center stack that bisects the passenger compartment with the gearshift lever, drive and suspension buttonry and so on. The doors have received a new design with a prominent grab handle, but Porsche touchstones remain – left-hand ignition, five-gauge cluster, Sport Chrono sitting top dead center on the dashboard and, of course, the use-at-your-own-risk deployable cupholders above the glovebox. While noticeably larger inside, the new 911 is still best described as "intimate," and that's just fine by us. The front seats are a bit narrow by American standards yet still comfortable, infinitely adjustable and very supportive. Of course, you'll still have to be a victim of television's Dexter to find adequate room in the token rear seats. Cargo space means that the 911 is still a decent grand tourer for shorter trips, however.

The standard 911 Carrera finds a direct-injected 3.4-liter flat six-cylinder engine with 350 horsepower and 287 pound-feet of torque between the sheetmetal's birthing hips. That's not a ton of power these days, but Porsche squeezes the most out of each and every pferdestärke, delivering a 0-62 mph time of 4.8 seconds with the manual transmission and 4.6 with the PDK dual-clutch gearbox. A further 0.2 seconds can be shaved off with the optional Sport Chrono package, and top speed sits at 179 mph.

2013 Porsche 911 Carrera S interior2013 Porsche 911 Carrera S front seats2013 Porsche 911 Carrera S rear seats2013 Porsche 911 Carrera S front cargo area

The 911 Carrera S shown here ups the displacement to 3.8 liters to yield a nice, round 400 horsepower at 7,400 rpm and 325 lb-ft at 5,600 rpm. Acceleration times drop to 4.5 seconds (manual), 4.3 seconds (PDK) or 4.1 seconds with PDK and Sport Chrono as shown here, and top whack swells to 188 mph.

Handling is genuinely friendly – even dimwitted drivers can poke the bear without fear of retribution.

More important than sheer numbers is the way the 911 drives. Once again, suspension is via front Macpherson strut and a rear multilink setup, with the latter revised for increased travel. With our car's Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC) active roll stabilization system, handling was superbly neutral, hard cornering and acceleration feeling completely – almost surreally – level. We've experienced PDCC in other Stuttgart sweethearts, but this is its most convincing iteration yet. It almost works too well.

We were concerned that turn-in might be a bit soggier in light of the 911's new electric power steering system and longer wheelbase, but it's been so expertly calibrated that, if anything, it's crisper and more immediate, likely thanks to the wider front track. It bears noting that the S also comes standard with Porsche Torque Vectoring technology, which brakes the inside rear wheel in corners to enhance the 911's tether-car handling. Steady-state cornering limits are staggeringly high on this car, but quick weight transitions aren't unnerving, either. Despite its pronounced rearward weight bias, handling is genuinely friendly – even dimwitted drivers can poke the bear without fear of retribution.

2013 Porsche 911 Carrera S engine

The ride quality is surprisingly pliant, even here in Motown, the land that road crews forgot.

Steering effort is generally quite light, but not off-puttingly so, and weight builds appropriately. Feedback through the 20-inch Pirelli P-Zero tires (245/35ZR20 front, 295/30ZR20 rear), however, is simply not as transparent as it was in the hydraulically assisted 997. In all fairness, though, the outgoing car's steering felt like the driver's fingers had sprouted a second set of nerve endings. Despite the regression in communicability, this is still probably the best EPAS system I've encountered (I'll have to find someone willing to loan me a Mazda RX-8 to make sure). And despite the watchband rubber, the ride quality is surprisingly pliant, even here in Motown, the land that road crews forgot.

Part of the credit for the 911's performance and fidelity is attributable to its lower weight – extensive use of aluminum paneling in the front fenders, hood, doors, roof, floor pan, etc. means that even with the increase in footprint and content, this new 911 has lost about 90 pounds over its predecessor.

2013 Porsche 911 Carrera S wheel detail

When was the last time anyone bothered to innovate with a manual transmission? These guys just made my Christmas list.

While the diehard tripedalist in me would've preferred to try Porsche's new seven-speed manual transmission (when was the last time anyone bothered to innovate with a manual transmission? These guys just made my Christmas list), there's no denying that the PDK is an excellent piece of work that the average club racer will record better lap times in. That a dual-clutch is quicker isn't news, but this latest evolution of PDK is also genuinely entertaining to drive while incorporating low-speed civility that rivals that of traditional torque-converter automatics.

The Sport Chrono package brings with it launch control, and it's a simple system to effect. From a stop, select the Sport Plus button on the center console, then press and hold the traction control button below it. Now, step on the brake and carpet the accelerator. Release the brakes and you're off in rapid, repeatable fashion. And while you probably won't use the launch control feature often, Sport Chrono's Sport Plus setting also firms up the PDK's shift schedule and relaxes the stability control intervention point for more entertaining antics on empty B-roads and track days.

2013 Porsche 911 Carrera S paddle shifter2013 Porsche 911 Carrera S shifter2013 Porsche 911 Carrera S Sport Chrono2013 Porsche 911 Carrera S Sport Chrono display

While not as satisfying a solution as a clutch pedal, PDK's paddles make for quick work – and thank goodness you can now specify these left-for-downshift, right-for-upshift paddles instead of those horrible spoke-mounted +/- dog-eared tab shifters of Porsches past (they effectively operated backwards).

You can now specify left-for-downshift, right-for-upshift paddles instead of those horrible spoke-mounted +/- dog-eared tab shifters of Porsches past.

The new 911 is also noticeably quieter than before – improved aero has cut down on wind noise and a stiffer structure combined with additional acoustic damping has curbed road din. On the sound front, we originally thought the selectable exhaust note was a bit gimmicky for a classic like the 911, but it's actually a welcome development. We enjoyed the flat six's unique engine thrum on its open setting when driving for pleasure, but on freeways and when trying to hold conversations, the quad pipes' drone became wearing, so we were pleased to have the quieter setting. If anything, we might want a third, louder setting for indulgent drive days and tracks with generous pass-by noise level requirements.

Braking performance has been one of the 911's – and indeed, Porsche's – hallmarks for ages. The Carrera S comes good here as well, with 13.4 x 1.3-inch steel discs up front and 13 x 1.1-inch discs out back, hatted by six-piston calipers in front and four-piston clamps in the rear, and they offer great feel and eye-widening deceleration with zero fade, even in aggressive over-the-road use.

2013 Porsche 911 Carrera S rear 3/4 view

This new 911 respects nearly all the historic charms of its predecessors while offering markedly improved performance and build quality.

On the flip side of the coin, the new 911 remains all but peerless in terms of its performance versus fuel economy balance. According to the EPA, the PDK-equipped 911 is good for 19 miles per gallon in the city and 26 mph on the freeway, with a combined 22-mpg cycle (subtract one mpg from each rating for the seven-speed manual). To its credit, Porsche has been one of the very first automakers to include a start-stop system on its North American cars, and while it works well, we're also glad that the system can be defeated and that it doesn't need to be extinguished every time the engine is started anew.

Like packing up and moving from one place to another, redesigning an automotive icon is an inherently traumatic experience, fraught with the potential for all kinds of bad decisions and even worse outcomes. We've witnessed some spectacular failures. Thankfully, Porsche has beat the odds, moving the 911 into swankier new digs that are at once larger and better appointed. Crucially, this new 911 respects nearly all the historic charms of its predecessors while offering markedly improved performance and build quality. And it even occupies the same basic pricing zip code, starting at $82,100 for the standard model and rising to $96,400 for the Carrera S. Apparently moving can be cathartic after all.

Unfortunately, with my new house payments, I guess I'll have to settle for another diecast...