2007 Porsche 911 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
It's true: There is no substitute.
The Porsche 911 is an automotive icon and it's one of our top choices for enthusiasts who want a sports car for daily driving. The 911 combines driving excitement with everyday comfort. The latest-generation model, designated 997 internally and referred to as such by Porschephiles, is the best ever. Porsche has sold 100,000 examples of the 997 series since it was launched in April 2004, making the 997 the fastest-selling 911 in Porsche history.
The 911 lineup presents a wide range of models, from the Porsche Carrera to the 911 Turbo. Coupes and cabriolets are available, along with a Targa. Most offer endless options. Just about every possible combination is available between coupe and cabriolet, 3.6-liter and 3.8-liter engines, rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive. You name it, they've got it.
The Porsche 911 Turbo is one of the easiest supercars to live with in daily use. It's more user friendly than competitors, from the Corvette to the Ferrari F430. Getting in and out of it is relatively easy. It rides smoothly and comfortably by sports car standards. It's happy to putt around all day at a Buick pace, particularly with the Tiptronic automatic transmission. It's easy to drive, whether streaking down a highway like a bullet train, charging up a mountain road, poking along in rush-hour traffic, or working the tires and brakes on a racing circuit. It's neither fragile nor unreliable. It's really a terrific car.
The base model is the Carrera coupe, but owning one is hardly settling for second rate. It's a fantastic sports car, enjoyable to drive and comfortable. The Carrera 4 adds the traction and handling benefits of all-wheel drive and is loaded with active safety features; it's the best choice for rain and winter weather. Cabriolets put the wind in your hair and sun in your face. The Targa features a clever clear roof that slides back to provide a top-down feeling. The GT3 is an absolute hoot for drivers who want a track car, a lot of fun, sounding and feeling like a real race car, which essentially is what it is.
After a major overhaul for 2006, the 2007 lineup carries over with just a few additions. For 2007, a new tire-pressure monitoring system is standard on all 911 models, and new 19-inch wheels in the Turbo design are available.
The Porsche 911 lineup starts with the Carrera ($72,400), powered by a 3.6-liter version of Porsche's classic flat six-cylinder engine generating 325 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. Standard equipment includes leather-trimmed height-adjustable seats with power recliners, a digital AM/FM/CD stereo, trip computer, leather telescoping steering wheel, power windows, power locks with keyless remote, cruise control, 18-inch wheels and a speed-dependent retractable rear spoiler. The Carrera Cabriolet ($82,600) is similarly equipped.
The Carrera S ($82,600) and Carrera S Cabriolet ($92,800) are powered by a 3.8-liter six-cylinder, delivering 355 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. Besides the bigger engine, the Carrera S gets the Porsche Active Suspension Management system (PASM), 19-inch wheels, bigger brakes with painted red calipers, Bi-Xenon headlights, a sport steering wheel and aluminum-look interior trim. The Carrera S Cabriolet is similarly equipped.
The Carrera 4 ($78,200) is equipped similarly to the rear-drive Carrera, but features all-wheel drive, larger wheels and tires, and the wider fenders needed to accommodate them. The same idea holds for the Carrera 4S ($88,400), Carrera 4 Cabriolet ($88,400), and Carrera 4S Cabriolet ($92,800).
The Carrera Targa 4 ($85,700) is equipped similarly to the Carrera 4, but features Porsche's unique roof system that provides occupants with a panoramic view even when the top is closed. The Targa's roof is made from two glass panels and extends across the full width and length of the passenger compartment. In other words, the entire roof is glass, and in combination with the windshield and side windows provides a panoramic vantage and protection from the elements. The Carrera Targa 4S ($95,900) features the same unique roof system along with the other standard components of a Carrera 4S.
The all-wheel-drive 911 Turbo ($122,900) gets Porsche's race-bred, twin-turbocharged version of the 3.6-liter engine, producing 480 horsepower. The Turbo comes with Porsche's Ceramic Composite Brakes, which use exotic nonmetallic discs. It also comes with a full leather interior and a high-power, Bose-tuned stereo with a six-disc CD changer.
The GT3 ($106,000) has a 415-hp, normally aspirated 3.6-liter engine. For 2008, the GT2 ($191,700) is joining the line, boasting 530 horsepower using an engine based on the Turbo.
Options include ceramic composite brakes, Porsche Communication Management, which incorporates audio, navigation system, and trip computer into a single control interface ($2,680); heated seats ($480); metallic paint ($690); and a CD changer ($650). Porsche maintains its long tradition of factory customization, with options that cover colors and materials for virtually every part or surface inside the car. And if there's not an existing option, Porsche will likely go off the card, for a price.
Safety features on all models include Porsche Stability Management (PSM), an electronic stability control system that helps a driver maintain control in the event of a skid. New for 2007 is a tire-pressure monitoring system as standard equipment. Frontal airbags, side-impact airbags, and door-mounted head-protection airbags come standard.
Updated as recently as 2006, this latest generation of the Porsche 911 looks conspicuously similar to the original 1964 model, maintaining the classis profile that has landed it in art museums and design school lecture halls. For Porsche, the 911's heritage can be a double-edged sword. Leave the car alone, and it might be perceived as dated. Change the car too drastically, and it might alienate hard-core loyalists, many of whom form the core group of 911 buyers. Porsche has been able to strike that balance and all of the variants are terrific-looking sports cars.
The styling of the current car has devolved slightly, just like the basic character of the car. And this is a good thing. The headlights and front fascia were redesigned for 2005, with rounder, single-pod lamps replacing the teardrop-shaped multi-light headlight assemblies used on earlier models. The new headlights sit more upright in the front fenders, and the turn signals and fog lights are now laid horizontally in a squarer front bumper. This look more quickly distinguishes the 911 from the Boxster. More important, it harkens back to the rugged look of 911s built during the 1980s.
From the rear, curvy fenders and wheel arches extend from the side of the car, housing extra-wide rear wheels. Carrera 4 models get even wider rear rubber, and their fenders are correspondingly 1.75 inches wider than their rear-drive siblings. This staggered setup helps the 911's rear tires turn its horsepower into quicker acceleration and balances tire grip front and rear for high g-force turning. All 911s have wheels at least 18 inches in diameter, and all are equipped with Z-rated tires, the highest speed rating available for street use.
In essence, the current styling sacrifices some of the beauty of the 1999-2004 models in favor of more visual belligerence. Yet very little at Porsche is done strictly for the sake of appearance. The current 911 is slightly longer and taller than the previous-generation; more significantly, the track (the distance between the outside edge of the tires) and overall width have increased. This wider stance improves the 911's lateral stability during quick, sharp directional changes. The current cars use more aluminum body parts to offset the weight of active suspension, curtain airbags and other upgrades, and the chassis is more rigid than that of pre-2005 models.
The 997-generation Turbo has a wider rear track and a wider body than the old 996-generation. The wing on the current model is lower and generates an additional 60 pounds of downforce without an increase in drag. The downforce helps keep the rear tires glued to the pavement in high-speed sweeping turns, important in the rain. The minimized drag helps it achieve its top speed of 193 mph, though we weren't interested in testing this claim.
Cabriolets feature power soft tops that open in just 20 seconds. They can be operated at up to 30 mph, a feature we love. Safety is enhanced by strong steel tubes in the A-pillars, and supplemental safety bars behind the rear seats that automatically deploy in the event of a rollover. The Cabriolets present a unique appearance. Top up, they exhibit a profile similar to the coupes. Top down, the rear end looks heavy, but you'll forgive that as soon as you get in, stomp on the gas and hear that powerful six-cylinder wailing to redline.
Aerodynamics were an important consideration in the design of all of the 911 models. The side mirrors are designed to direct air along the sides of the car toward the automatically deploying rear spoiler, sweeping the side windows clean in the process. Air is largely kept from going underneath the car and carefully managed over the top and at the rear. Lift is minimized to keep the 911 glued to the road. The wheel arches are flared in a fashion that guides air around the tires (one of the biggest sources of drag on an automobile). Brake spoilers guide more air toward the rotors and brake assembl.
The 911 cockpit is a place designed for serious driving. The seating position is perfect for most enthusiast drivers. Compared with other high-performance sports cars, it offers outstanding visibility in all directions. It's also a truly comfortable car for traveling long distances. The ignition key is located on the dash to the left of the steering wheel, as it was on Porsche's LeMans race cars.
The steering wheel has a contemporary three-spoke design, and its leather-wrapped rim is thicker and grippier than ever. The steering wheel's core structure is an expensive magnesium alloy, which weighs less than the old steel/aluminum structure. More significantly, the wheel adjusts both up and down and fore and aft (albeit manually). Controls on the steering wheel hub operate the audio and navigation systems or the optional telephone.
The latest Carreras feel a bit roomier than their predecessors, and we suspect more comfortable for larger drivers. The difference is a combination of small things, like the adjustable wheel and a slight repositioning of the pedals toward the front of the car. They have higher bolstering on the bottoms and back, but they actually feel roomier. The width of both cushions seems to have increased, especially near the top of the back around the shoulders. The seats are mounted lower to the floor, creating a bit more headroom.
The gauges are large and easy to read. The dash vents are large, and the air conditioning worked well during some hot lapping at Barber Motorsports Park near Birmingham, Alabama. The climate controls are located in the center stack. From an aesthetic point of view, they're the least appealing part of the interior, but functionally they work fine.
The 911's slickest option could be the Sport Chrono Package. It's most obvious component is almost glaring to anyone familiar with this car: a jewel-like chronograph sprouting from the center of the dash. Flick a switch on the dash, then start or stop the chronograph with a switch on one of the steering wheel stalks, and it will display acceleration or lap times. What you don't see are the adjustments in electronic controls that occur when the chrono is switched on. The electronic throttle switches to its most aggressive mode (meaning the most gas for a given amount of pedal application), and the anti-skid electronics give a driver a lot more rope to get into trouble with. A history of recorded times can be displayed on the navigation system screen for comparison. A gimmick? Maybe, but it might be handy for lapping at a Porsche club event.
Porsche's recent improvement to its audio systems, long anemic compared to the best car stereos, continues with the 911. The upgrade high-power Bose package is above average, and more competitive with the best in luxury cars. It still doesn't seem modern, however, and something simpler would be welcome.
The 911 provides space to put stuff. The glove box includes storage slots for pens and couple of CDs, while the console has a change holder and a 12-volt power point.
The Targa offers a clear roof that slides back inside the rear of the car with the press of a button, giving the driver a superb top-down experience. With the roof closed, the driver has a choice of tinted glass or a mesh lining to deflect the sunlight. We'd prefer a solid cover, however, because the mesh wasn't heavy enough to block out the sun on bright days with the sun high overhead.
The 911 is relatively practical for a sports car, but it isn't a minivan. The back seats are not really habitable. With the rear seats folded, there's room for a load of groceries and you can lay the dry cleaning back there, so the 911 beats many sports cars in its ability to run daily errands. There's not much luggage space for two people going on a long trip, however, so you have to pack light. Nor will you want to use the Carrera to pick someone up at the airport unless they are.
Driving a Porsche 911 is a thrill, no matter the model. Its overall performance is extraordinary. All variants accelerate with the verve of a motorbike and turn or stop on a dime, all the while behaving in smooth, civilized fashion for the more mundane demands of daily motoring. They're also easy to drive. The Turbo is very easy to drive, probably the easiest to drive of all supercars, whether putting around the neighborhood or braking late and accelerating hard out of corners on a road racing circuit. The GT3 is a less forgiving of driver errors, but even it is easy to drive by race car standards.
These latest-generation Porsches feed information back to the driver just a little more clearly and react to commands a nanosecond sooner than the previous-generation (pre-2005) cars. They also retain the wash-and-wear quality that has made the 911 a relatively easy car to live with everyday.
The standard Carrera and Carrera 4 are powered by Porsche's familiar 3.6-liter, horizontally opposed six cylinder, otherwise known as the boxer engine for the way its pistons punch outward. It employs the latest materials technology, a race-car style dry sump lubrication system and a refined version of Porsche's VarioCam variable valve timing. Horsepower peaks at 325 at 6800 rpm, while peak torque is 273 pound-feet at 4250 rpm. Porsche claims 0-60 mph acceleration performance of 4.8 seconds with manual gearbox, 5.2 seconds with the Tiptronic. We easily managed 0-60 mph acceleration times under 4.5 seconds, measured with a portable, over-the-counter accelerometer. In any case, the standard Carrera is a very quick car.
Which transmission? The Tiptronic is easier to manage in the kind of stop-and-go traffic found in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta and other large cities. The Tiptronic actually gets slightly better fuel economy in this type of situation: Carrera with Tiptronic rates an EPA-estimated 20/26 mpg compared with 18/26 for the manual. We prefer the manual gearbox, however. It offers quicker acceleration performance, blazing from 0-60 mph in 4.8 seconds compared with the Tiptronic's very quick 5.2 seconds, and this advantage continues, getting to 100 mph a full second quicker, and to 124 mph in 17.5 seconds compared with the Tiptronic's 20.4 seconds. The real reason prefer the manual, though, is that it's so much fun to shift and so easy to shift. Blipping and downshifting in a Targa S we drove was absolutely wonderful; we just didn't want to stop. A manual gearbox is more fun on a track, should you have interest in that, and it's more fun on winding roads. Having said that, the Tiptronic is an excellent choice and a joyful companion. Hurley Haywood, who has won the 24 Hours of Le Mans three times in Porsches and the 24 Hours of Daytona five times in Porsches, loves the Tiptronic. So don't listen to us.
The Carrera S models get a bored out version of the same engine along with a slightly raised compression ratio for 355 hp at 6600 rpm and 295 pound-feet of torque at 4600 rpm. Gearing for Carrera and Carrera S is identical for both the manual and Tiptronic S transmissions. Fuel economy for both engines is identical. Bottom line is the Carrera S offers slightly quicker acceleration performance. For example, a Carrera achieves 0-60 mph in 4.8 seconds, 0-99 mph in 11.0 seconds, 0-124 mph in 17.5 seconds, compared with Carrera S times of 4.6 seconds, 10.7 seconds, 16.5 seconds. We drove a Targa S at Barber Motorsports Park and it sounded great and was a joy to drive.
Those figures only hint at the satisfaction a driver can find in the 911's engine, however. The real draw lies in its tractability. Slam the 911's gas pedal at any road or engine speed, and the response is immediate, not to mention enormous. Power is on tap in just about any situation. We wanted to floor it every time we tracked through a turn and let the engine wind to its 7300-rpm redline just to feel the acceleration.
You can find sports cars with more sex appeal and you can certainly find sports cars that are more brutish. You will not find a sports car with better overall balance than the Porsche 911, however, and you will not find a true high-performance machine that is easier to live with as daily transportation. Which one? The basic Carrera is a terrific sports car and we'd be quite happy driving one every day. The S just adds a little oomph. A Carrera 4 with the Tiptronic is safe and comfortable no matter the weather or the ugliness of the traffic; it's a great sports car for the daily commuter. The Targa is interesting, but the mesh doesn't keep the sun out enough. The Cabriolets aren't as pretty to our eyes as the coupes, until we drive them, that is. The Turbo offers the ultimate in performance yet easy to drive and docile in traffic; it's our choice when money is no object. Surprisingly docile, though less comfortable for daily driving, the GT3 would be our choice for track events. No matter which 911 you buy you can pat yourself on the back and be confident you made a good choice.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent J.P. Vettraino filed this report from Detroit, with Mitch McCullough reporting from Los Angeles and Birmingham, Alabama.
Porsche 911 Carrera ($72,400); Carrera S ($82,600); Carrera 4 ($78,200); Carrera 4S ($88,400); Carrera Cabriolet ($82,600); Carrera S Cabriolet ($92,800); Carrera 4 Cabriolet ($88,400); Carrera 4S Cabriolet ($98,600); Targa 4 ($85,700); Targa 4S ($95,900); GT3 ($106,000); Turbo ($122,900).
Options As Tested
Power Seat Package ($1,550) includes dual power front seats with power height, length and backrest adjust, dual adjust lumbar supports, driver's seat memory; Bose Surround Sound System ($1,390); multifunction steering wheel ($1310); Sport Chrono package ($940); heated front seats ($480); auto-dimming mirrors ($385); floor mats ($115).
Porsche 911 Carrera 4 ($78,200).
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