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Vanquishing Mountains in the new 2017 Porsche 911 Carrera 4 GTS

The summit of 911s

LAKE TAHOE, California — Most climbers passing 8,000 feet would feel the first effects of altitude-induced hypoxia, but the new Porsche 911 Carrera 4 GTS I'm driving doesn't even seem to notice. It's accelerating as if it were breathing at sea level — no lag in response, no huffing for air, just a seamless surge of furious speed.

Then again, this 911 sports the automotive equivalent of an oxygen mask: forced-induction turbocharging. There are two turbos, in fact, and on the GTS they're huge, with a 3-millimeter larger turbine and a 4-millimieter larger housing than the ones found in the 911 Carrera S. Also, boost pressure is up from 16 psi in the Carrera S to 18 in the GTS. With all that life-giving, speed-boosting O2 rammed down its throat, it's no wonder that even up here the 3.0-liter flat-six feels as utterly unperturbed as Reinhold Messner loosening-up on an indoor climbing wall.

Snow carpets the nearby landscape — but not the road — as the smooth tarmac wriggles higher and higher, the GTS cutting from corner to corner, g forces rolling from side to side and front to back as I work the steering wheel, brakes, throttle, and the fabulous 7-speed manual gearbox. Man is this rig tight. My test car is an all-wheel-drive Carrera 4 GTS coupe, and it feels as bonded to the asphalt as the paint stripes firing like yellow tracer rounds at my windshield. But of course it does. Compared with the Carrera S, the GTS gets rear haunches widened by 1.73 inches; inside sit massive 305/30R-20 Pirellis on satin-black 20-inch center-lock wheels. This GTS has shoulders like King Kong — and an equally unshakable grip. What's more, it's not requiring any heroics at the wheel to keep my silver bolide hustling at an exhilarating pace. Nope, the GTS is simply far too planted and capable for that. The chassis holds no surprises — except for the ease with which it can warp the skin on your face.

All GTS Cabriolet and Targa models get standard Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), but coupes — both rear-drive and all-wheel-drive — go a step further with PASM Sport, which lowers the ride height by 10 millimeters for even more cat-like moves. Because it was equipped with the manual transmission, my test car also sported Porsche Torque Vectoring (PTV) and a mechanical rear differential lock, both of which improve traction when gunning out of turns (GTS models equipped with the 7-speed PDK dual-clutch gearbox get revised versions of both systems). Also onboard: optional Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control ($3,160), which actively adjusts the suspension to minimize body roll (the PDCC system has been updated to handle the GTS's increased power). My tester also featured optional rear-axle steering ($2,090), which above 50 mph turns the rear wheels in the same direction as the fronts to reduce understeer and improve stability (at lower speeds, the system steers the rears in the opposite direction to shorten the turning circle).

The combined effect of the all-wheel-drive layout, the huge meats at each corner, and the advanced chassis systems imbue the GTS with an otherworldly combination of cornering power and confidence-inspired stability. Let's not forget that, many years ago, when told Porsche was developing a sports car with the mass of its engine slung way out back, Sir Issac Newton loudly proclaimed, "It'll never work." But Porsche once again gets the last laugh. Perhaps more than any other 911 before it, the GTS completely defies the supposed limitations of physics. There is no tendency for the rear end to step out, even when abruptly lifting the throttle mid-corner. There is no sense that the backside is speaking more loudly than the front. There is no drama or finicky behavior, period. Instead, the GTS simply digs in and swallows corners whole. Short of driving like a reckless idiot, it's hard to imagine getting this Porsche out of shape on a public road. If you wanted any more stick you'd have to break out the Gorilla Glue.

When this magazine first drove the GTS back in January, our writer mused that it might well be the all-around best-ever 911. Now, having driven the car myself, I'm inclined to agree. As I discovered back in 2015 when I first drove the newly turbocharged 2017 911 Carrera, the addition of blowers has done nothing to dampen or mute the essential "911-ness" of Porsche's flat-six engine. Same goes for the new GTS: the car doesn't even feel turbocharged — despite the larger turbines there's zero turbo lag and no significant change to the 911's iconic exhaust note. If anything, the engine sounds even wilder (aided by a standard sport exhaust with center-mounted tailpipes) — and for sure it's more of a beast than ever. Max torque (405 lb-ft) comes on stream at just 2,150 rpm, at which point the GTS simply explodes, crushing you into the driver's seat as the engine gleefully howls to the redline. Even with the additional weight of the all-wheel-drive system (offset somewhat by the additional traction), the Carrera 4 GTS blasts to 60 mph in just 3.8 seconds with the manual (the PDK is even quicker). Top speed is north of 190 mph.

Yet the numbers don't tell the story. Yes, the 580-hp 911 Turbo S still reigns as the lineup's speed king, but in real-world driving the GTS feels anything but a second-stringer. It's just so artfully balanced and capable. There's more power on tap — 450 hp — than you could ever realistically use, and the engine delivers it with a seamless, buttery crescendo that thrills without ever being the least bit jarring. Steering feel is exceptional, a mixture of road feel and cornering weight that ranks among the very best out there. As I mentioned previously, the 7-speed manual couldn't be smoother or more accurate; it slots right into gear with even a light touch. Oh, and the GTS stops great, too. This test car was equipped with the optional Porsche Carbon Composite Brakes (PCCB), and while they proved a little grabby when driving in town, out in the mountains they clamped down corner after corner with zero fade all day. Frankly, at $8,250, and knowing how good Porsche's standard binders are, the carbon-ceramics border on overkill. But those big yellow calipers sure looked awesome inside the GTS's black rims.

With the all-wheel-drive Turbo S starting at $191,750, the Carrera 4 GTS comes across as something of a bargain. Even loaded up with a pile of options, including the aforementioned chassis systems plus such extras as a leather and Alcantara interior ($3,850), a front-axle lift system ($2,590), adaptive sport seats ($3,025), and the GTS interior package ($4,120), my test car checked-in at $155,845. All GTS models include Porsche's Sport Chrono Package as standard; the system allows the driver to select from Normal, Sport, Sport Plus, or Individual drive modes (each of which alters such parameters as throttle responsiveness). There's also a Sport Response button that, when pressed, delivers up to 20 seconds of maximum acceleration — you can "push to pass" just like your favorite IndyCar racer.

Importantly, the GTS boasts one of the nicest cabins I've ever experienced in a 911. The leather surfaces and Alcantara trim were nothing short of delicious, accented by stylish red stitching and a beauteous Alcantara three-spoke wheel. New is a revised (and standard) navigation system that displays directional info over a moving Google Maps display (which is notable for its smoothly changing scenery). Helpfully, whenever a turn is coming up, the system automatically zooms the central display to highlight the turn while simultaneously and temporarily replacing the middle-right dial on the driver's display (normally displaying engine info) with another close-up map view of the turn. Combined with the system's voice commands, the excellent displays make getting lost about as likely as being bitten by a Great White band-member.

Finished off with an aggressive SportDesign front fascia (including a larger spoiler) and a rear wing that rises at a sharper angle than on the Carrera S, the new GTS comes across as the ultimate expression of every performance virtue and design element that's come to epitomize the 911. Honestly, I can't think of a single system or characteristic that comes up short. The new GTS really is a Porsche polished to perfection, all the Carrera you could ever want and then some, the summit of 911s. I, for one, will be fascinated to see if Porsche can possibly climb even higher.

2017 Porsche 911 Carrera 4 GTS Specifications

PRICE $126,950/$155,845 (base/as tested)
ENGINE 3.0L twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve flat-six/450 hp @ 6,500 rpm, 405 lb-ft @ 2,150 rpm
TRANSMISSION 7-speed manual
LAYOUT 2-door, 4-passenger, rear-engine, AWD coupe
EPA MILEAGE 18/26 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 178.3 x 77.9 x 51 in
WEIGHT 3,200 lb
0-60 MPH 3.8 sec
TOP SPEED 192 mph