2012 Porsche 911 Carrera Review
Surprising absolutely nobody, the Porsche 911 — one of the best sports cars ever — just got even better.
- Brilliant engine, driving dynamics
- Industry-leading cabin quality
- Electronic wizardry works well
- Slightly higher base price
- Confusing, excessive options list
- Exterior update not very substantial
Few vehicles are as legendary as the Porsche 911, an iconic rear-engine sports car with roots stretching back to the first half of the last century. To date, roughly 700,000 have been produced, with 80 percent of those still on the road. Needless to say, when the time comes to update a model like this, all eyes are watching nervously; one wrong step and everyone loses their jobs.
The goal is to improve the icon while retaining its essential character — a Herculean undertaking, for sure. Porsche has almost always been able to achieve improvement, and this, the seventh-generation 911, is being called the best 911 ever. The question here isn't whether the 2012 911 is better than its predecessor — it is — but whether Porsche has gone too far and removed too much of its "911" character. It hasn't.
The new 911 is exactly as you'd expect — a 2-door, 4-seater sports car powered by a 6-cylinder engine mounted in the trunk — and like before, it's being introduced with the classic Carrera and Carrera S versions. The German automaker has done well to keep improving its hallmark sports car, rather than reinventing it with each generation and losing its identity.
The design of the new generation was created with a "consequent and careful" mentality, according to the 911's chief designer, Michael Mauer. As such, the latest 911 isn't drastically different at first glance, but the devil is in the details. Compared to the previous 997 generation, the new car is more aerodynamic, longer (particularly the wheelbase) and a hair shorter in height, while the front track is wider and curb weight is down overall.
Wheels have also grown slightly, with 19-inch rollers standard for the Carrera and a 20-inch set for the Carrera S. These are wrapped in 235/40 tires up front and 285/35 out back, with even wider, lower-profile 245/35 and 295/30 rubber for the S.
Under the Hood
Unsurprisingly, the new 911 is powered with an all-aluminum, water-cooled flat-6 engine mounted in the rear, featuring direct fuel-injection and all the requisite valve-timing goodies. At 3.4 liters the latest base unit is smaller in displacement, yet produces 350 horsepower at 7400 rpm and 287 lb-ft of torque at 5600 rpm. Aside from a 5-horsepower bump, these peak figures are the same as the previous 3.6-liter mill, although redline has been raised to 7800 rpm. The Carrera S engine shares this redline, although its 3.8 liters boast 400 horsepower at 7400 rpm and 325 lb-ft of torque at 5600 rpm — both figures up 15 from before.
One of the first things anyone heard about this model was the shocking news that it would sport a 7-speed manual gearbox — yes, manual. While not identical, this new unit is basically a row-your-own version of the optional 7-speed, dual-clutch PDK transmission, with its seventh ratio geared purely for fuel economy; meaning, top speed is actually reached in sixth gear.
The new engines are good for a 4.6-second romp to 60 mph in the Carrera and 4.3 seconds for the Carrera S. Opting for the PDK transmission slashes 0.2 seconds from these numbers, which, when combined with the launch control found in the Sport Chrono Package, cuts yet another 0.2 seconds from the sprint; meaning, yes, a Carrera S can now hit 60 mph in less than four seconds.
Other tech goodies include standard automatic start-stop engine functionality and optional engine disabling during highway coasting. Porsche's PDCC stability system remains available, as are dynamic engine mounts and sway bars, a torque-vectoring differential, and countless other features. Like always, the rear wheels power both the Carrera and Carrera S.
The cockpit of the new 911 is a master class in design, ergonomics and luxury. Obviously inspired by the exquisite cabin of the Panamera, the 911's interior raises the bar even further, making for one of the most perfect environments ever created, and we're not just referring to sports cars. Materials look and feel extremely high-quality, and it is evident how much time was spent placing all controls in just the right place for both usability and aesthetics.
The sport seats, now standard with electric adjustability, fit like a glove and place the driver in the perfect position for car control. Speaking of driver controls, the pedals are just as perfectly placed, ideal for spirited driving techniques like heel-toe shifting. Sitting in the middle of a classic 5-pod instrument cluster is an extremely visible, center-mounted tachometer, another obvious tip of the hat to the enthusiast.
The base audio system, a 12-speaker, 445-watt Bose setup, provides excellent aural entertainment, although not when compared with the optional 821-watt Burmester setup, a system sure to excite audiophiles. Also standard for 2012 is Porsche's PMC 7-inch touch-screen navigation module, which also functions as controls for audio, Bluetooth and the like.
On the Road
Pardon the cliché, but something special happens behind the wheel of a 911. Sorry to disappoint anyone hoping for juicy news that Stuttgart dropped the ball with its most iconic automobile, because that's exactly what didn't happen. The new 911 is one of the best cars we've ever driven, period. Around a track, it is startlingly quick. Its 7:40 lap around the Nurburgring actually matches that of the previous generation's Turbo and hardcore GT3 models. We can't even imagine how those variants will perform when they arrive for this generation.
Regardless, let's start with the powertrain. While unmistakably a classic Porsche boxer 6-cylinder, the new engines are fantastic. They're immediate and explosive, yet controllable enough for anyone, and wail relentlessly all the way to their thrilling redlines. No one could mash the throttle in the new 911 and not immediately want to just do it again.
Handling is likewise remarkable, smooth and controlled. The 911 simply rotates into corners without fuss; it's incredibly confidence-inspiring. This is not only thanks to excellent chassis and suspension design, but also to the advanced stability systems in place — even the sway bars are actively defeating body roll as you drive. While the steering itself is indeed electric, it's also one of the most communicative we've ever felt. Always a strong point of the 911, the large brakes grip hard and modulate progressively as well.
Thanks to an army of computerized assistance systems, driving the new 911 spiritedly will make anyone feel like a professional, despite the potentially terrifying location of the engine. While this trait is nothing new (the Nissan GT-R is a prime example), it is impressively nonartificial in how it feels; you're still left with the impression that you're in full control of the 911. It's an excellent blend of involvement and point-and-shoot.
Right for You?
While its base pricing has been raised slightly over the previous model, its list of new and/or standard features should ease that blow. The 911 Carrera now begins at $82,100, while the Carrera S gets a starting price of $96,400. One of the greatest nuisances in buying a Porsche remains as true as ever in the new 911, and that's the nearly comical list of options and packages. Unless you intend to buy straight off the lot, you'd do well to plan for hours of hair-pulling decision making, and be aware that the price can rise fast.
Like always, we'll be seeing a whole bevy of additional 911 brethren arrive over the coming years. All said and done, don't be surprised to see a dozen different 991-generation variants eventually available. Point being, buyers with particular needs — such as those who want all-wheel drive or higher performance — may want to sit tight for now.
It's hard to fathom anyone being less than ecstatic with one of these in the driveway, and frankly, it's equally difficult to recommend anything else for someone looking for a sports car in the high-five-digit price range. While alternatives from Audi, Aston Martin and even Chevrolet and Nissan are certainly not without merit, it's a matter of Porsche simply mastering the art of the luxury sports car. The seventh-generation 911 has greater mass appeal than before, yet without losing any of its thoroughbred character. We'd hesitate to use the word "flawless" in any review, so suffice it to say we're massively impressed.
(As part of an automaker-sponsored press event, Porsche provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitate this report.)
James Tate cut his teeth in the business as a race team crew member before moving to the editorial side as Senior Editor of Sport Compact Car, and his work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Automobile, Motor Trend and European Car. When not writing, Tate is usually fantasizing about a vintage Porsche 911.