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What Makes the Porsche 911 So Continually Great?

It drives fabulously, sure, but there’s also glory to be found in the minor details

What exactly is it that makes the Porsche 911 so great, generation after generation? The decades since its 1960s debut have been filled with countless positive reviews, yet even so, certain quirks have remained. The engine sits in the wrong place, road noise is an issue, and there are myriad ways to get more power for less—and in some cases much less—money. But the 911 remains an unimpeachable icon, an object of automotive passion and desire.

One key is that it offers such a vast array of options that play many roles and serve many budgets. (Okay, many different well-heeled budgets.) Case in point: the current, 991.2-generation Carrera base model starts at $92,150, while the top-spec 911 GT2 RS commands $294,250, more than triple that amount. But I’ve never been struck by the thought that this massive divide harms the prospects of either end of the 911 spectrum. Sure, some buyers want the exotic, mid-engined look of a Lamborghini or Ferrari when they’re spending $300K but smart buyers know that the 911 GT2 RS—and to similar level, the cheaper naturally aspirated 911 GT3 and 911 GT3 RS—is actually better to drive than many more flamboyant options from competitors.

I recently spent significant time driving a vast array of current 911 models that included both the 700-hp GT2 RS and the 370-hp Carrera. The end caps of the model range were both extremely rewarding to drive. Outward visibility is amazing, and the seating position is pleasantly upright. The depth of the engineering shines through at all speeds, a sense that deepened when, while in a 911 Carrera 4S, the skies opened up and poured down rain. The Porsche’s HVAC system automatically kept the windows clear of fog without the need for fiddling with the controls, and the wipers—including the optional $370 rear one—left the windows as clear as possible with every sweep. The Porsche N-spec original-equipment tires remained confidence-inspiring on the drenched tarmac—clearly, these conditions had been planned for—and the steering is communicative enough that I was immediately aware of diminished front-end grip when I pushed the car too far.

In certain climates, rain eventually makes way for snow, but, like the honey badger, the 911 don’t care. Heated and ventilated seats are available on many variants of the 911, as is a heated steering wheel. Your local Porsche dealership offers winter wheel-and-tire packages, as well as rubber winter mats. You may not think that’s a big deal but try securing a cold-weather setup for many other sports cars and you’ll see how simple Porsche makes it for owners. Whether you go with rear- or all-wheel drive, the drivelines are all tested and developed in snow and ice. Other than a potential ground clearance issue when snow gets particularly deep, there’s little a 911 gives up to other, more workaday cars when it comes to winter performance.

Porsche also offers a wide variety of open-top 911 options to take advantage of less-extreme weather. There are Cabriolet versions of the Carrera, Carrera S, and GTS, plus the Turbo and Turbo S. And there’s also the unique Targa. Yes, Targa and Cabriolet models are heavier than the coupe versions and give up some rear-seat and cargo space, but impressive structural rigidity means they don’t give up too much dynamically except at the pointiest end of the spear. And even the stiffer coupes can deliver an open-air experience should you order a metal or glass sunroof that can vent or open fully.

Owning an automobile—any automobile—isn’t always fun. Things go wrong. Plus, regular servicing is important. As regards these issues and the 911, Porsche has a dealer network that shames those of more exotic brands. There are currently 190 Porsche dealerships in the U.S. Over at McLaren, the number is 21. Ferrari has 36 dealers. So, if (when?) something goes wrong with your British or Italian exotic or it needs to be serviced, you’re more than likely forced to travel farther afield. It can certainly be a royal pain to deal with smaller, more exclusive models.

And then there’s the transmission lineup. Ferrari, Lamborghini, Audi, and McLaren only offer paddle-shift transmissions in their supercars. Porsche makes a manual gearbox available on nearly every 911 model bar the capital-T Turbos, GT2 RS, and GT3 RS. They also offer my current favorite automobile, the GT3 Touring. The wingless, 500-hp 911 is only available with a six-speed manual that is one of the sweetest-shifting setups around.

Luckily, you don’t need to spend 911 GT3 money (base price: $144,650) to obtain the 911 experience. The base 911 Carrera oozes Porsche character, and it has back seat for younger children. The flat-six engine can even return impressive fuel economy as long as you exercise some control over your right foot.

But now Porsche has an all-new 911 (seen above), which is also known by its “992” internal designation. Things look good on paper, with more power, a wider track, and fresh technology. I’,m also happy you can finally get the carbon-ceramic brakes without the disco yellow calipers. Yes, the overall weight of the two-wheel-drive Carrera S is up by 121 pounds (the 4S is up by 55), but it’s now a widebody, as will be all the new 911 models. Thankfully, a manual gearbox is still offered, albeit not right at launch. Importantly, the new Porsche still looks like a 911, which means it possesses a level of visual polish and understated class lacking in many rivals.

My hope is that this eighth-generation 911 keeps the basic DNA intact while still moving the needle in terms of relevance. I’m perhaps most eager for confirmation that the GT3 version of the 992 will still come with a sonorous, high-revving engine (read: no turbochargers) hitched to that stick shift. My fingers are crossed.

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2019 Porsche 911

MSRP $187,500 GT3 RS Coupe