The Porsche 911 lineup has been overhauled. For 2006, new Carrera 4 and Carrera 4S models join the Carrera and Carrera S models that were introduced for 2005. Cabriolet versions also join the 2006 Porsche 911 lineup. Essentially, every possible combination is available between coupe and cabriolet, 3.6-liter and 3.8-liter engines, rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive.
Using Porsche's internal codename, all are new 997 models, replacing the 996 series produced since 1998. Only the Turbo continues to ride on the 996 platform.
These newest Porsches are thoroughly modern driving machines, packed with the latest in material advances, engine technology and electronic management. Yet one of the most striking things about them is that in some subtle but obvious ways, the 911 has devolved.
Over the past 10 or 15 years, as Porsche engineers ironed out some of the 911's handling quirks, they'd moved developed it in a more civilized direction. The 911 has adapted the accoutrements of a grand-touring coupe, with multiple-adjustment heated memory seats, automatic climate control, more sound insulating material and one-button convertible tops. To some hard-core 911 old-timers, it's become downright cushy.
These 997 models have changed that picture somewhat. Don't get us wrong. It hasn't become a spartan buckboard of a high-performance car. Comfort, convenience and high-tech features are still here, including Porsche's fully active suspension. Yet in certain, deliberate respects, the latest 911 is more primal than its predecessor. Perhaps it's the aggressive rasp from the exhaust or the way the engines deliver power to the drive wheels or the way the shift lever snicks between gears. Maybe it's an extra tingle of vibration through the frame channels. Whatever the reason, in standard trim the current 911 is edgier than the previous generation, and we're sure driving enthusiasts will appreciate the difference.
The Porsche 911 remains one of the easiest supercars to live with in daily use. It's more user friendly than competitors, from the Corvette to the Ferrari F430. It's relatively easy to get in and out of. It rides smoothly and comfortably, by sports car standards, and it's happy to putt around all day at a Buick pace, particularly with the Tiptronic automatic transmission. The 911 has earned a reputation for being nearly bullet-proof, and there's very little about it that's finicky.
This we say with certainty: Nearly 60 years after the company was founded, Porsche continues to make some of the world's great sports cars. The Porsche 911 remains the standard by which other sports cars are judged and this latest-generation 911 is the best one so far.
In a word, the Porsche 911 is thrilling. Its overall performance is extraordinary. All variants accelerate with the verve of a motorbike and turn or stop on a dime, all the while behaving in smooth, civilized fashion for the more mundane demands of daily motoring.
These latest-generation Porsche 997s feed information back to the driver just a little more clearly and react to commands a nanosecond sooner than the previous generation. They also retain the wash-and-wear quality that has made the 911 a relatively easy car to live with everyday.
The standard Carrera and Carrera 4 are powered by a revised version of Porsche's familiar 3.6-liter, horizontally opposed six cylinder, otherwise known as the boxer engine for the way its pistons punch outward. It employs the latest materials technology, a race-car style dry sump lubrication system and a refined version of Porsche's VarioCam variable valve timing. Horsepower peaks at 325, while peak torque remains 273 pound-feet. Yet the updated engine is lighter, with lower fuel consumption at a given rpm and fewer exhaust emissions.
Our test car was a Carrera S with a new (for 2005), slightly larger version of the boxer engine. The extra displacement from the 3.8-liter engine pays off in a substantial increase to 355 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. The 3.8-liter shaves about 0.2 seconds off the standard Carrera's 0-60 times.
Even before the improvements, the 911's engine was one of the most tractable found in a sports car. The improved engines in the newest Carreras take this outstanding balance to new heights.
Most drivers care less about specific technologies or how they work and more about what those technologies do. Anyone with a bit of experience in a wide array of cars will grasp the benefit of VarioCam. Ten years ago, high performance engines required more significant trade offs. Build them with good low-end power so they made the car jump with authority from a start and they would likely run out of steam at higher rpm, coughing and wheezing as they approached the redline on the tachometer. Build them to spin like a turbine at higher revs, breathing like a sprinter and building velocity through the higher range, and they were likely anemic off the line. Variable valve timing allows engineers to better achieve the best of both worlds: good low end punch, free breathing at high revs. These Porsche engines deliver this combination better than just about any on the market.
Acceleration? We easily managed 0-60 mph runs under 4.5 seconds, measured with a portable, over-the-counter accelerometer. That's easily half a second quicker than a car like Audi's S4, which happens to be one of most capable, potent high-performance luxury sedans you can buy. In automotive terms you can do a lot in half a second.
However, these figures only hint at the satisfaction a driver can find in the 911's engine. The real draw lies in its tractability. Slam the 911's gas pedal at any road or engine speed, and the response is immediate, not to mention enormous. There's more speed available in just about any situation, rumbling up through the driver's backside and into the belly. We wanted to floor it every time we tracked through a turn and let the engine wind to its 7300-rpm redline, just to feel the acceleration and listen to the unmistakable rasp of a Porsche boxer engine (the best one yet). Anyone with a pulse should appreciate the visceral exhilaration built into the 911.
Acceleration is only one component of the 911's impressive performance. Porsche's engineers devoted significant energy to trimming the Carrera's weight in an effort to compensate for new, weight-increasing equipment like head-protection airbags. The steering system, suspension and attachment points have been redesigned with sturdier, lighter components, reducing unsprung weight. The Carrera's track has been widened for more lateral stability. In tota
You might find high-performance cars with more sex appeal. You can certainly find one that's more brutish, if you prefer brute strength at the expense of finesse. You will not find a sports car with better overall balance than the Porsche 911, however, and you will not find a true high-performance machine that is easier to live with as daily transportation. The newest batch of Porsche 911 Carreras take everything that's good about the 911 and make it a little better.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent J.P. Vettraino is based in the Detroit area.