First of all, you should know that the changes to the 2009 Porsche 911 aren't just skin deep. In addition to the obvious changes (revised front and rear fascias and lighting), Porsche is debuting a brand-new family of engines, a first-ever dual-clutch transmission, updated brakes and suspension, and a new touch-screen infotainment system.
The face-lift consists of new wheels (eighteen-inch wheels are now standard for the base 911 Carrera, while the Carrera S gets nineteens), side mirrors, and fascias. The revised front bumper houses six-LED daytime running lights, and the headlights (now standard HID, or high-intensity discharge) swivel in corners. Each of the new, pointier taillights illuminates brightly thanks to the help of 60 LEDs and one standard filament bulb (for the reverse light). New, larger side-view mirrors conform to forthcoming regulations.
Inside the 2009 Porsche is the third generation of Porsche Communication Management, which combines audio and navigation functions. The enlarged screen now is touch-sensitive, and a revised menu structure vastly reduces the complexity of use. The system also features an auxiliary input jack, a USB input jack, and an iPod jack. The iPod integration works better than most, allowing quick searches through the familiar Artist, Album, or Track parameters.
Also available for the first time are seat coolers, which blow cool air through perforations in the leather seat covers. The system works almost immediately and cools far better than any other system we've tried - but it also makes more noise than any other. And in addition to the requisite heated seats (the 911 seems very concerned with the temperature of your butt), a heated steering wheel is also available.
But enough about the toys - the most important changes to the 911 are in the driveline. Base 911s receive, as before, a 3.6-liter flat-six. The all-new boxer is part of a new family of engines that is lighter and smaller than the old engines, with a lower center of gravity and featuring a host of changes to improve power and efficiency, chiefly direct injection. The 3.6-liter produces 20 hp more than last year's 3.6, for a total of 345 hp and 287 lb-ft of torque.
Carrera S models come with a 3.8-liter flat-six, also from the new engine family. It produces 30 more horsepower than last year's 3.8: 385 in total, with 310 lb-ft of torque. The 3.8-liter now surpasses the magic 100hp/liter mark, making it one of the highest specific-output normally aspirated engines on sale today.
Both engines now rev to 7500 (instead of their predecessors' 7300-rpm redline), and they weigh 12 pounds less. The compression ratio has been raised to 12.5:1.
Both engines are available with either a six-speed manual transmission or the all-new, seven-speed PDK. PDK stands for Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe, or Porsche Double Clutch Transmission. Developed jointly with the German supplier ZF, the transmission replaces the ancient five-speed Tiptronic transmission, and boy does it ever. Combined with the additional power from the new engines, PDK-equipped cars will accelerate to 62 mph a full second faster than last year's Tiptronic-equipped models. And when you're talking about a drop from 5.3 seconds to 4.3 seconds (Carrera S with Sports Chrono Plus package), that's a huge difference.
The PDK is the best double-clutch transmission in the business. Someone has finally eclipsed Volkswagen's DSG in terms of off-the-line clutch takeup, shift smoothness, and versatility. The PDK does a commendable job of mimicking a torque converter automatic's gentle creeping off the line and yet engages smoothly and positively on aggressive launches-with minimal clutch slip. And cars equipped with the Sports Chrono Plus package have a launch-control program that dumps the clutch automatically from 6500 rpm, ensuring that even your grandmother can perform the perfect hole shot.
The PDK can be used either in automatic or manual mode. In either case, the driver can request a gear change using paddles on the steering wheel (push forward for upshift or pull back for downshift) or the center console shifter. In either mode, shifts are so smooth they're barely perceptible. On cars equipped with the Sports Chrono Plus package, the PDK offers two additional modes, Sport and Sport Plus. The Sport mode firms up shifts (and raises shift points in automatic mode), and the handoff from one clutch to the other is much more quick, but is also much less smooth. Shifts are never jarring, however, and occur lightning fast in response to a manual request. In Sport Plus mode, which locks out seventh gear, shifts are similar to the Sport mode at moderate revs and throttle openings, but much harder at full load. They're not as quite as brutal as the BMW M3's M-DCT in its most aggressive mode, which helps keep the 911's tail planted should the driver need to change gears in a corner.
In all manual modes, the PDK will hold revs until the redline and won't downshift unnecessarily (unless the engine speed is too low). However, this logic is overridden by a discreet Kick-Down switch at the bottom of the accelerator pedal travel. Activate the switch, and the PDK will not only downshift immediately to the lowest possible gear, it will upshift at redline as long as you hold it down. This is an important safety feature, as it allows for instantaneous maximum acceleration whenever the driver needs it.
Not only is PDK quicker than the old Tiptronic torque-converter automatic, it's quicker even than the new car equipped with the six-speed manual transmission: 0.2 second quicker to 62 mph for non-Sports Chrono cars and 0.4 second faster with the Sports Chrono option.
If you're reading this thinking that the new 911's performance sounds great, but gasoline is suddenly too expensive to enjoy it, take solace in the fact that the new engine is almost eight percent more efficient than the old one, and the PDK itself provides a thirteen percent fuel economy benefit over the old Tiptronic. That means that while the 911's 0-to-60-mph times have dropped by twenty percent, its fuel economy has increased almost twenty percent as well.
That's having your cake, taking a big bite of it, and smearing the leftovers on the windshield of a Toyota Prius you're flying past. Highway cruising is especially efficient, as the PDK is geared to deliver top speed in sixth gear and to use seventh as a long overdrive. A big drop in gear ratio between sixth and seventh gives the 911 long interstate legs: At 80 mph, the PDK-equipped 911's engine is turning only 2250 rpm - compared with 3150 in the Tiptronic's top gear. Revised brakes feature rotors that now measure fifteen inches (380 mm) all around, and Porsche revised the dampers, springs, and anti-roll bars for all of the new 911s.
Porsche increased the prices: the base 2009 911 Carrera coupe now retails for $75,600; the Carrera S for $86,200. PDK is a $4080 option, and convertible models add $7000 to the Carrera's price and $10,600 to the Carrera S's sticker. Those are substantial price increases over the 2008 models, but what looks like a mild face-lift hides a host of improvements that makes the 2009 Porsche 911 the best 911 ever. And Porsche has a habit of doing that - it's the continual incremental improvements to its rear-engined 911 that has made it one of the best sports cars in the world.