The Porsche 911 combines driving excitement with everyday comfort. It's our top choice for enthusiasts who want a sports car for daily driving. The latest-generation model, designated 997, is the best ever. It was launched for the 2005 model year.
For 2009, the 911 lineup gets a significant overhaul. The Carrera and Carrera S come with new engines. Even bigger news is a new dual-clutch automated manual transmission called the PDK, or Porsche Doppel Kupplungsgetreibe. The 2009 Porsche 911 models also get larger brakes. The exterior is slightly modified with new bi-xenon headlights and LED taillights. Inside, the center console is reworked, the Porsche Communication Management screen is larger and features touchscreen capability, the navigation system comes with a 40 gigabyte hard drive, Bluetooth connectivity is offered, and ventilated seats are now available.
The 2009 Porsche 911 lineup presents a wide range of models, from the Porsche Carrera to the 911 Turbo. Coupes and cabriolets are available, along with a Targa. Most offer endless options. Just about every possible combination is available between coupe and cabriolet, 3.6-liter and 3.8-liter engines, rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive. You name it, they've got it. Let's start at the top.
The Porsche 911 Turbo is 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. Getting in and out of it is relatively easy. It rides smoothly and comfortably by sports car standards. It's happy to putt around all day at a Buick pace, particularly with the new automated manual transmission. It's easy to drive, whether streaking down a highway like a bullet train, charging up a mountain road, poking along in rush-hour traffic, or working the tires and brakes on a racing circuit. It's neither fragile nor unreliable. It really is a terrific car.
The base model is the Carrera coupe, but owning one is hardly settling for second rate. It's a fantastic sports car, exceedingly enjoyable to drive, and quite comfortable. The Carrera 4 adds the traction and handling benefits of all-wheel drive and is loaded with active safety features; it's the best choice for rain and winter weather, an unbeatable foul weather car. Cabriolets put the wind in your hair and sun in your face. The Targa features a clever clear roof that slides back to provide a top-down feeling. High-performance GT3 and GT2 models are not available, at least not yet.
The Porsche 911 lineup starts with the Carrera coupe ($76,300) and Cabriolet ($87,000), which are powered by a new 3.6-liter flat six-cylinder engine generating 345 horsepower and 288 pound-feet of torque. Standard equipment includes a six-speed manual transmission, leather-trimmed height-adjustable seats with power recliners, automatic climate control, interior air filter, tilt/telescoping leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated power mirrors, power windows, power locks with keyless remote, bi-xenon headlights, 235-watt AM/FM/CD stereo, cruise control, universal garage door opener, on-board computer, split-folding rear seat, rain-sensing wipers, theft deterrent system, front and rear fog lights, a speed-dependent retractable rear spoiler, and staggered, Z-rated 18-inch tires on alloy wheels. Coupes also get a sunroof, while cabriolets add a wind blocker and a power convertible top.
The Carrera S ($87,000) and Carrera S Cabriolet ($97,700) are powered by a new 3.8-liter six-cylinder, delivering 385 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque. Besides the bigger engine, the Carrera S gets the Porsche Active Suspension Management system (PASM) with adjustable dampers and a 10 mm lower ride height, 19-inch wheels and the wider fenders needed to accommodate them.
The Carrera 4 ($82,500) is equipped similarly to the rear-drive Carrera, but features all-wheel drive. The same idea holds for the Carrera 4S ($93,200), Carrera 4 Cabriolet ($93,200), and Carrera 4S Cabriolet ($103,900).
The Carrera Targa 4 ($90,400) and Carrera Targa 4S ($101,100) are equipped similarly to the Carrera 4 and Carrera 4S, respectively, but they feature Porsche's unique roof system that provides occupants with a panoramic view even when the top is closed. The Targa's roof is made from two glass panels and extends across the full width and length of the passenger compartment. In other words, the entire roof is glass, and in combination with the windshield and side windows provides a panoramic vantage and protection from the elements.
The all-wheel-drive 911 Turbo ($130,000) and 911 Turbo Cabriolet ($140,700) get Porsche's race-bred, twin-turbocharged version of the 3.6-liter engine, producing 480 horsepower. The Turbos come with larger brakes, a full leather interior, memory for the front seats, aluminum interior trim, a navigation system with hard drive, a Bose-tuned stereo, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. The Turbos come with the five-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission. The optional Sport Chrono Package ($1,920) increases maximum turbo boost and includes an analog and digital chronometer, a sport button for engine and suspension controls, and control over various personal preference settings. Ceramic brakes are optional ($8,840).
Options start with the PDK transmission ($4,080) for all models except the Turbo. The available Sport Chrono Package ($960) includes an analog and digital chronometer, a sport button for engine and suspension controls, and control over various personal preference settings. The PASM suspension is available for non S models ($1,990); a Sport version ($950) lowers the ride height 20 mm, includes stiffer springs and front and rear anti-roll bars, and comes with a mechanical limited-slip differential. Also offered are ceramic composite brakes ($8,150), a navigation system with a hard drive ($2,110), voice recognition ($595), heated front seats ($500), ventilated front seats ($800), Sport seats ($440), heated steering wheel ($190), XM satellite radio ($750), a Universal Audio Interface for iPods and memory sticks ($440), Bluetooth wireless cell phone link ($695), six-disc CD changer ($650), steering-linked adaptive headlights ($690), and a removable hardtop for the convertible ($3,490). Porsche maintains its long tradition of factory customization, with options that cover colors and materials for virtually every part or surface inside the car. And if there's not an existing option, Porsche will likely go off the card, for a price.
Safety features on all models include Porsche Stability Management (PSM), an electronic stability control and traction control system that helps a driver maintain control in the event of a skid. Dual front airbags, front side airbags, and antilock brakes come standard, along with a tire-pressure monitoring system. Coupes also get curtain side airbags, while Cabriolets add pop-up automatic roll bars.
Even with its 2009 revisions, the latest generation of the Porsche 911 looks conspicuously similar to the original 1964 model, maintaining the classis profile that has landed it in art museums and design school lecture halls. For Porsche, the 911's heritage can be a double-edged sword. Leave the car alone, and it might be perceived as dated. Change the car too drastically, and it might alienate hard-core loyalists, many of whom form the core group of 911 buyers. Porsche has been able to strike that balance and all of the variants are terrific-looking sports cars.
For 2009, the front end gets enlarged air intakes and new LED auxiliary lights. Headlights on all models become bi-xenons. These round, single-pod sit upright in the front fenders, and they help to distinguish the 911 from the Boxster and Cayman. More important, they harken back to the rugged look of 911s built during the 1980s. The side mirrors are also reshaped to provide more rear visibility, and at the back, there are new LED taillights that also feature a different shape.
From the rear, curvy fenders and wheel arches extend from the side of the car, housing extra-wide rear wheels. Carrera 4 models get even wider rear rubber, and their fenders are correspondingly 1.75 inches wider than their rear-drive siblings. This staggered setup helps the 911's rear tires turn its horsepower into quicker acceleration and balances tire grip front and rear for high g-force turning. All 911s have wheels at least 18 inches in diameter, and all are equipped with Z-rated tires, the highest speed rating available for street use.
The current styling sacrifices some of the beauty of the 1999-2004 models in favor of more visual belligerence. Yet very little at Porsche is done strictly for the sake of appearance. The current 911 is slightly longer and taller than the previous-generation, pre-2005 version. The track (the distance between the outside edge of the tires) and overall width have increased, and this wider stance improves the 911's lateral stability during quick, sharp directional changes. Today's 911 makes liberal use of aluminum body parts to offset the weight of active suspension, curtain airbags and other upgrades, and the chassis is more rigid than that of pre-2005 models.
The 997-generation Turbo has a wider rear track and a wider body than the old 996-generation. It features a prominent rear wing that generates lots of downforce to help keep the rear tires glued to the pavement in high-speed sweeping turns, important in the rain. A minimum of drag helps the Turbo achieve its top speed of 193 mph, though we didn't test this claim directly.
Cabriolets feature power soft tops that open in just 20 seconds. They can be operated at up to 30 mph, a feature we love. Safety is enhanced by strong steel tubes in the A-pillars, and supplemental safety bars behind the rear seats that automatically deploy in the event of a rollover. The Cabriolets present a unique appearance. Top up, they exhibit a profile similar to the coupes. Top down, the rear end looks heavy, but you'll forgive that as soon as you get in, stomp on the gas and hear that powerful six-cylinder wailing to redline.
Aerodynamics were an important consideration in the design of all of the 911 models. The side mirrors are designed to direct air along the sides of the car toward the automatically deploying rear spoiler, sweeping the side windows clean in the process. Air is largely kept from going underneath the car and carefully managed over the top and at the rear. Lift is minimized to keep the 911 glued to the road. The wheel arches are flared in a fashion that guides air around the tires (one of the biggest sources of drag on an automobile). Brake spoilers guide more air toward the rotors and brake assemblies, reducing temperatures by nearly 10 percent, according to Porsche, which means more effective braking under extreme conditions. The base Carrera's drag coefficient is 0.29. Less air resistance means improved fuel economy and less wind noise.
The Porsche 911 cockpit is a place designed for serious driving. The seating position is perfect for most enthusiast drivers. It offers outstanding visibility in all directions, particularly when compared with other high-performance sports cars. The Carrera is a truly comfortable car for traveling long distances. The ignition key is located on the dash to the left of the steering wheel, as it was on Porsche's LeMans race cars.
The three-spoke steering wheel is wrapped in leather and is thicker and grippier than ever. It adjusts up and down and fore and aft manually. The steering wheel's core structure is an expensive magnesium alloy, which saves weight. Controls on the steering wheel hub operate elements of the Porsche Communication Management system, which incorporates the audio and navigation systems and the optional telephone.
The front seat of the Carrera is fairly roomy, making it comfortable for larger drivers. The seats may be a bit stiff for some tastes, but they have just the right amount of bolstering: enough to keep you in place but not so much that wider drivers are pinched. The seats are mounted low to the floor, creating good headroom and a sporty driving position.
Most of the gauges are large and easy to read, but reading the offset and sparsely marked speedometer can be tough, especially when going fast. The dash vents are large, and the air conditioning worked well during some hot lapping at Miller Motorsports Park near Salt Lake City, Utah. The climate controls are located in the center stack.
For 2009, the Porsche Communications Management (PCM) system, which incorporates all audio, navigation and communications functions, is reworked. It now has a larger (6.5-inch) touchscreen and the phone pad number buttons are gone. That's probably because Porsche now offers Bluetooth connectivity, along with a SIM card slot. Also new is a Universal Audio Interface, with three audio ports in the center console to operate iPods, MP3 players or memory sticks. iPods and memory sticks can be controlled through PCM. We found the position of the USB port to be hard to reach, but the iPod and USB interface was very easy to use.
The 911's slickest option could be the Sport Chrono Package. It's most obvious component is a jewel-like chronograph sprouting from the center of the dash. Start or stop the chronograph with a one of the steering wheel stalks, and it will display acceleration or lap times. A history of recorded times can be displayed on the navigation system screen for comparison. The Sport Chrono Package also comes with a Sport button that adjusts electronic controls for the throttle and anti-skid system. Throttle mapping switches to a more aggressive mode (meaning more gas for a given amount of pedal application), and the anti-skid electronics give a driver more room to break traction. Cars equipped with the Sport Chrono Package Plus get even more aggressive throttle and transmission settings, and a race-ready mode for the anti-skid system. Is Sport Chrono a gimmick? Maybe, but it would be handy for lapping at a Porsche club event, and the Sport modes make the cars much more suited to track driving. Do you need it? Probably not. Will it add to the fun? Maybe.
Porsche's optional high-power Bose audio package is above average, though most high-end cars offer more modern and more powerful optional systems. Still, we thought it sounded good with the top down at highway speeds.
The 911 provides at least some space to put stuff. The glove box includes storage slots for pens and couple of CDs, while the shallow center console has a change holder and a 12-volt power point. A pair of cupholders sprout from the dash.
The Targa offers a clear roof that slides back inside the rear of the car with the press of a button, giving the driver a superb top-down experience. With the roof closed, the driver has a choice of tinted glass or a mesh lining to deflect the sunlight. We'd prefer a solid cover, however, because the mesh wasn't heavy enough to block out the sun on bright days. The Targa's neat, but we prefer the coupe.
The 911 isn't practical for more than two passengers. The back seats are not really habitable. While we were able to stick one 5-foot, 7-inch adult male back there with a shorter female up front, the complaining would grow weary if this were a regular thing. With the rear seats folded, there's room for a load of groceries and you can lay the dry cleaning back there, so the 911 beats many sports cars in its ability to run daily errands. There's not much luggage space for two people going on a long trip, however, so you have to pack light. Nor will you want to use the Carrera to pick someone up at the airport unless they are traveling very light. The storage area under the hood will hold a couple of duffel bags, but the Corvette coupe hatchback will hold more. Porsche offers a truly useful roof transport system that allows 911 coupes to carry lumber and other bulky items, but luggage on the roof of a 911 screaming past ruins the picture. Besides, who wants to take time to strap suitcases on top of a car? It's preferable to have another car or truck available to perform these duties.
Driving a Porsche 911 is a thrill. That goes for every model, Carrera to Turbo. Balance and 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. The 911 is easy to drive. The Turbo is docile on the street, though heavy acceleration turns it into a beast.
These latest-generation Porsches feed information back to the driver just a little more clearly and react to commands a nanosecond sooner than the previous-generation (pre-2005) cars. They also retain the wash-and-wear quality that has made the 911 a relatively easy car to live with everyday.
The Carrera and Carrera 4 are powered by a new 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. For 2009, Porsche has simplified the engine design with 40-percent fewer moving parts, which should translate to better reliability. The new engine employs the latest materials technology, a race-car style dry sump lubrication system, direct injection, and a refined version of Porsche's VarioCam variable valve timing. Horsepower peaks at 345 hp at 6500 rpm (up from 325 hp for pre-2009 cars), while peak torque is 288 pound-feet at 4400 rpm (versus the previous 273). Porsche claims 0-60 mph acceleration performance of 4.5 seconds with the new PDK transmission, and 4.7 seconds with the manual gearbox. Needless to say, your average, everyday Carrera is a very quick car.
Which transmission? The new optional seven-speed PDK automated manual transmission is the choice for those who want ultimate performance and improved fuel economy. It is the latest thing and it is cutting edge. The PDK uses two clutches, one to hold the current gear and one to ready the next gear. Shifts are immediate with no loss of tractive power. They can be performed manually through a pair of steering wheel paddles (pull up to downshift and push down to shift up) or the PDK can be used like an automatic. With the new engine, EPA fuel economy numbers are up 7 percent when paired with the manual transmission at 18/25 mpg City/Highway, while the 3.6 with the PDK is up 15 percent compared to last year's Tiptronic five-speed automatic at 19/27 mpg.
The PDK's automatic setting makes the car easier to manage in stop-and-go traffic. Hit the back roads, put it in Sport mode and it holds gears longer for aggressive driving. Hit the Sport Plus button and the PDK becomes a full-on race transmission, holding the lowest gear possible. It performs abruptly in this mode, slamming into each gear like Patrick Long at Sebring. We drove a few 911s with PDKs on three different racetracks and found it was never in the wrong gear. The main caveat with PDK is price. It costs more than $4,000.
Purists might still prefer the interaction and feel of shifting a manual, and the Porsche six-speed is a good one. It's easy to shift, with fairly short throws. Blipping the throttle and downshifting in a 911 is an absolute joy. However, price and feel are really the only reasons to choose the manual, because the PDK outperforms it in just about every way.
Turbo models offer the manual or the carryover Tiptronic five-speed automatic. The Tiptronic works well and comes with steering wheel paddles, but it isn't as fast on a racetrack or in a 0-60 mph sprint. Having said that, the Tiptronic is an excellent choice and a joyful companion. Hurley Haywood, who has won the 24 Hours of Le Mans three times in Porsches and the 24 Hours of Daytona five times in Porsches, loves the Tiptronic. And he certainly has no difficulty shifting a manual.
For 2009, Carrera S models get a bored-out version of the new engine for 385 hp at 6500 rpm and 310 pound-feet of torque at 4400 rpm. That's up from 355 hp and 295 pound-feet of torque on the 2008 model. Fuel economy numbers are 18/25 mpg with the manual and 19/26 mpg with the PDK. The bottom line is the Carrera S offers slightly quicker acceleration performance. For example, a Carrera achieves 0-60 mph in 4.7 seconds with the manual and 4.5 seconds with the PDK, while the Carrera S times are 4.5 seconds with the manual and 4.3 seconds with the PDK.
Those figures only hint at the satisfaction a driver can find in the 911's engines. The real draw lies in their tractability. Slam the 911's gas pedal at any road or engine speed, and the response is immediate, not to mention enormous. Power is on tap in just about any situation. We wanted to floor it every time we tracked through a turn and let the engine wind to redline just to feel the acceleration and listen to the unmistakable rasp of the boxer engine.
The Turbo offers loads of torque. When accelerating hard, the power comes up so quick that, before you know, it you're hitting the rev limiter. Be careful, though. The rush of power is so strong that the car can get away from you if you're not ready for it.
The Porsche Active Suspension Management system (PASM), standard on S models, controls the flow of hydraulic fluid into the shock absorbers. More fluid, and the shocks stiffen up, keeping the wheels pressed more aggressively to the pavement and limiting the amount of body roll, or lean, in hard turns. Less fluid, and the wheels rebound more easily toward the car, improving ride quality. PASM takes information from various electronic sensors and automatically adjusts the suspension to meet a driver's demands. Motoring casually along a boulevard, the active suspension will keep things relatively soft. If a driver gets more aggressive and starts changing directions quickly, on a slalom course, for example, the system senses the change and instantly firms the suspension. The driver can also manually select one of two modes: Normal, for maximum ride comfort, and Sport, for the best handling response. We could immediately feel the suspension on our 4S Cabriolet stiffen when the Sport button was pressed. There is less roll in the Sport mode.
True enthusiasts will want to opt for a coupe because it is the stiffest and therefore the best handling body style. We did notice some body shake in the Cabriolet, especially over bumps. The Cabriolet was also less stable on a race track, showing a tendency to shimmy under heavy braking. However, we also had the opportunity to drive a 4S Cabriolet on a racetrack on the same day we experienced the BMW M3 sedan and Audi R8, and it was at least as good, if not better than those rivals. The confident braking alone makes the 911 a wonderful track car.
We found it takes some time to get used to just how quickly the car slows; on road racing circuits we often slowed the car down too soon before getting to the turn-in point. Slam on the brakes and the 911 stops in less distance than just about any car on the road with very little nose dive. Do this again and again and again, whether lapping a road course or barreling down a mountain road, and there is no perceptible fade or increase in stopping distance, even in situations that would have the brakes on lesser cars smoking. And if you jerk the wheel in one direction or the other in one of those stops, the 911 will just turn. No fuss, no fluster. The available ceramic brakes work extremely well for track duty due to their resistance to heat. They are expensive, however, likely aren't as good when they're cold, and are unnecessary for all but serious weekend warriors. The ceramic brakes reduce unsprung weight by 40 pounds; if you don't know what that means you don't need them.
With variable ratio steering, the more the driver turns the steering wheel, the faster the car turns. Variable ratio steering is intended to deliver the best of two worlds. On one hand, it's supposed to ease maneuvering in the confines of a tight parking lot or improve response on a winding road with frequent sharp turns. On the other, it should improve stability at ultra-high speeds. A driver who sneezes during a 150-mph blitz down the autobahn doesn't want a little twitch of the hand to send the car into the adjacent lane. Enthusiast drivers tend not to like high-tech steering gizmos like variable-ratio steering. Yet Porsche's variable system works just fine. It's seamless, linear and predictable, and very satisfying.
Indeed, one of the most remarkable things about this car is the way it accurately follows the path the driver sets. With reasonable attention, a driver can put the 911's front tires within a fraction of an inch of the intended target, whether that target is the apex of a curve on a racetrack or a stripe painted on a public road. The 911 will track more accurately in this fashion, more consistently, than just about any car you can buy, and required steering corrections are minimal, even when a bump or pothole wants to send the Carrera off its intended path. Moreover, even with the variable-ratio, the 911's steering communicates every nuance back to the operator. When driving these cars on a race track, we were able to tell how close the front tires were to losing their grip by feedback through the steering column. Even the luxurious Turbo provides the driver with lots of feedback. The driver becomes one with the car and can more easily drive the car to its limits and slide it around turns. Grip is in abundance and the 911 tenaciously sticks to the pavement through high-g turns. This kind of performance is expected in a high-priced sports car, to be sure.
Yet the great thing about the 911 is that it doesn't beat you up in mundane driving situations. We experienced this on the cratered streets of downtown Detroit and on bumpy roads around Los Angeles. It's part of what we call the 911's wash-and-wear quality. As high-performance cars go, the 911's ride is remarkably comfortable, with little suspension crashing and few jolts through the body of the car. The active suspension only enhances this quality. Even during aggressive drives, there's enough compliance in the suspension to keep the Carrera on track when it hits a bump, including a bump that would send other sports cars off line and require steering corrections. Often, in the 911, the driver can simply hold the line around a bumpy turn without making any steering corrections. In a Boxster and many other sports cars, we'd be sawing at the wheel to keep the car pointed.
You may have heard tales of tail-happy handling from the 911, a function of the weight of the engine hanging off the back of the car, but that's ancient history. It now takes work to get the Carrera's rear end to slide out. It prefers to stay on the intended trajectory, even if the driver provokes it with ham-handed inputs to gas pedal or steering wheel.
The all-wheel-drive Carrera 4 models employ a viscous-coupling to send from 5 percent to 40 percent of the driving force to the front wheels as needed. This is an advantage especially in bad weather, where you need all the grip you can get. However, the all-wheel-drive also improves handling on dry pavement, expanding the performance envelope.
The Turbo's all-wheel-drive can adjust the driving force from 0-100 percent at each of the four wheels, though this would only occur in extreme circumstances. It has an electronically controlled clutch at each wheel to control the distribution of power.
In short, these sports cars inspire great confidence. The 911 requires no self-convincing. You're quite sure that with a reasonable dose of common sense, it will get you through the turn. It can make the average driver feel like a pro, and it can make drivers who like to work on their driving skills feel like Hans Stuck.
With the caveat that storage space is limited, the 911 remains one of the easiest high-performance sports cars to get in and out of, and the easiest to live with every day. The maximum oil-change interval for the Carrera is an almost unbelievable 20,000 miles. In 1975, a conscientious 911 owner would have changed the oil six or seven times in that period. (We're not sure we'd drive 20,000 miles between an oil change, but we're superstitious.)
You can find sports cars with more sex appeal and you can certainly find sports cars that are more brutish. 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 2009 upgrades to the engine give it more punch and the new PDK transmission makes it perform better than ever. So, which one? The basic Carrera is a terrific sports car and we'd be delighted to drive one every day. The S adds a little oomph enthusiasts will appreciate. A Carrera 4 with the PDK is safe and comfortable no matter the weather or the ugliness of the traffic; it's a great sports car for the daily commuter. The Targa is interesting, but the mesh doesn't keep the sun out enough. The Cabriolets aren't as pretty to our eyes as the coupes, until we drive them, that is, then they're pretty sweet. The Turbo offers the ultimate in performance yet easy to drive and docile in traffic; it's our choice when money is no object.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent J.P. Vettraino filed this report from Detroit, with Mitch McCullough reporting from Los Angeles, Park City, Utah, and Birmingham, Alabama, and Kirk Bell reporting from Chicago and Salt Lake City.