A new version of Porsche's seven-speed PDK dual-clutch automatic is optional; the standard transmission is, well, a standard -- and the world's first seven-speed manual at that. A clever lockout mechanism prevents accidental fourth-to-seventh upshifts, and the extralong cruising gear makes for quieter and more economical highway driving. Porsche chose a slightly shorter top gear than the PDK's, so downshifts aren't required on slight grades. In fact, there's plenty of reserve power to climb even substantial hills at highway speeds in seventh gear.
Shifting, however, is one of the best parts of driving this 911. The pedals are slightly offset to the passenger side and the heavy clutch has a long stroke, but the shifter's gates are well defined and the ratios tightly spaced. The clutch has a positive engagement point that practically forces you to be smooth. Despite its big displacement, the 3.8-liter six wants the needle to be well past the tach's halfway point to deliver full thrust: maximum torque isn't available until 5600 rpm. There's a big ramp-up in thrust as the revs rise, and whether you're dawdling along or dusting Toyota Priuses, the powertrain is nothing short of magnificent.
The PDK works well, trading the manual's pops and backfires during shifts for uninterrupted forward momentum, knocking 0.2 second off the manual's 4.3-second 0-to-60-mph run, according to Porsche. Equipped with the Sport Chrono package, it's 0.2 second quicker yet again, thanks to a clutch-dump launch-control function that, despite an absence of wheel hop, is so brutal we can't imagine actual owners ever using it.
We drove only the 3.8-liter Carrera S with all of the electronic doodads. The base Carrera model is 0.3 second slower in each configuration, making do with a 3.4-liter engine in place of the old 3.6. It, too, revs to 7800 glorious rpm, and it, too, makes more power than the engine it replaces. Numerous changes, including standard start/stop, promise dramatically improved fuel economy numbers for all new 911 models -- even though the outgoing car was already at the top of its class in efficiency.
Although that's an admirable side note, no one buys a Porsche 911 because of its EPA numbers. And while we'd argue that you probably shouldn't buy a 911 because of its Nuerburgring lap time, either, we should mention that Porsche's quoted 7-minute, 40-second figure means that the Carrera S is just as fast as the last GT3 and Turbo.
Clearly, the new 911's handling limits are considerably higher than before, and it demonstrates body control, balance, and stability that all rank among the best we've ever experienced from any car. While assaulting a technical back road at speeds that would have resulted in an extended stay at the local hospital in any previous 911, our only concern was staying out of the local jail. The car will not snap oversteer -- instead, the rear tires break away smoothly and progressively and only if you beg them to do so. Even then, the new 911 settles into a four-wheel drift, something old 911s would do for only a split second before exploding violently into oversteer and attempting to mow down every car in a quarter-mile radius. (Man, we loved that.) The 911 doesn't resist turn-in (its computers can brake a rear wheel to help initiate rotation), it doesn't get squirrely at high speeds, and it won't get angry if you make a mistake.
In fact, the 2012 Porsche 911 has no temper at all. The rear end never feels like it's going to come unstuck. And the steering? Well, it never feels like much at all. As a result, the new 911 doesn't really feel like a 911. For that, we can blame European-market customers and press, who railed that the last car was nervous at top speed. They weren't wrong -- it was -- but that problem is becoming increasingly irrelevant. Even Porsche points out that less than ten percent of autobahns now have no speed limit. The company also admits that the United States is "easily the most important market" for the 911.
We don't have autobahns here. At our slow interstate speeds, modern cars are so incredibly capable and refined and removed that we eat food, apply makeup, and talk on the phone -- because we're bored. That's what makes the 911 great -- you actually have to work to keep the car on the straight and narrow. Or at least you used to.
If the 991 is the only 911 you've ever driven, you'll probably think it's the best Porsche ever -- and in many ways we agree. If, on the other hand, you reveled in the old 911's endless feedback; if you relished the thrill of taming a car that didn't really want to be tamed; if you loved the 911 precisely because it wasn't perfect; and, certainly, if you thought that the Porsche 911 was an icon that couldn't be improved and shouldn't be changed, then the 2012 Porsche 911 might not feel like that much of an icon to you.
2012 Porsche 911 Carrera S
BASE PRICE $97,350
ENGINE 24-valve DOHC flat-6
DISPLACEMENT 3.8 liters (232 cu in)
POWER 400 hp @ 7400 rpm
TORQUE 325 lb-ft @ 5600 rpm
TRANSMISSIONS 7-speed manual, 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
STEERING Electrically assisted
SUSPENSION, FRONT Strut-type, coil springs
SUSPENSION, REAR Multilink, coil springs
BRAKES Vented discs, ABS
TIRES Pirelli PZero
TIRE SIZE F, R 245/35YR-20, 295/30YR-20
L x W x H 176.8 x 71.2 x 51.0 in
WHEELBASE 96.5 in
TRACK F/R 60.6/59.7 in
WEIGHT 3120/3075 lb (PDK/manual)
FUEL MILEAGE 20/29 mpg (est.)
0-60 MPH 3.9/4.3 sec (PDK Sport Chrono/manual)
TOP SPEED 187/188 mph (PDK/manual)