After more than 50 years of continuous development and production, the Porsche 911 needs no introduction as the recognized standard for upscale sports cars. Marque fanatics and advertising agencies may lean on that history, but it's unnecessary; if the 911 had been introduced for 2018 it would still be one of the very best cars in the world. The current 911 doesn't live on its reputation – it continues to assertively move it forward.

Best Value

Going by the count on Porsche's online configurator, the 911 is available in 24 [sic] different varieties. All use the same time-honored architecture: a teardrop-shaped two-door body encloses a pleasantly spacious (for a sports car) cabin with the motor situated behind the rear axle line. From there the variations blossom: rear- or all-wheel drive, coupe or Cabriolet (convertible) or Targa, and an alphabet soup of letters denoting trim levels. All 911s save the hardcore roadracer GT3 and GT3 RS are powered by turbocharged flat-six engines in varying states of tune, from a potent 370 horsepower on the base 911 Carrera to a Le Mans-grade 700 hp on the GT2 RS. The two available transmissions – a traditional manual and the excellent PDK semiautomatic – run that power through seven speeds. The GT3s are powered by fiercely edgy naturally aspirated flat-sixes that make either 500 or 520 hp and spin their huge rear wheels through the PDK gearbox or, by special request on the "regular" GT3, a six-speed manual.

Obviously, buying a 911 isn't about value in the normal sense. Depending on sales tax and other fees, any 911 will require a six-figure check, and that's before a buyer starts contemplating Porsche's mile-long options list. Available extras range from carbon-ceramic brakes to leather-wrapped climate-control vents and consistently tend to be pricey.

Deep potential for personalization aside, even a base 911 Carrera is a wonderfully capable performance car made of top-grade materials assembled to exacting standards – everything a Porsche should be. Add a few quality-of-life upgrades and one can order a 911 that's roundly fulfilling without causing too much financial angst:

  • Model: 2018 Porsche 911 Carrera
  • Engine: 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged six-cylinder
  • Output: 370 hp / 331 lb-ft
  • Transmission: Seven-speed manual
  • Drivetrain: Rear-wheel drive
  • Fuel Economy: 20 City / 29 Hwy
  • Options: Leather seat trim with leather interior ($3,850), Sport Chrono package ($2,090), sunroof ($1,500), Porsche Dynamic Light System ($780, dynamic cornering lights, headlight range control, sport mode, headlight cleaning system), heated front seats ($700), rear window wiper ($370).
  • Base Price: $92,150 (including a $1,050 destination charge)
  • Best Value Price: $101,440

Performance

Porsche 911

Competing manufacturers openly use the 911 as a performance reference both in engineering and marketing, and for good reason. Nothing else on the market provides as complete a package of speed, handling, and refinement. The base Carrera, S, and GTS are supremely resolved all-around driving machines; the all-wheel-drive versions will power through any weather condition short of a flood; the 911 Turbos are road-going business jets; the GT3 RS and GT2 RS are as close as any manufacturer gets to selling a racing car with turn signals and a license-plate frame.

Beyond the world-class acceleration and skidpad numbers, the key to the 911's greatness is its civility and accessibility. These are not high-strung machines that require expert hands and are only happy at the limit; an average driver can use – and enjoy – the great majority of any 911's abilities on a regular basis. (Insider note: the new 911 Carrera T, with its lowered suspension and shorter gearing and lighter weight, may be the best pure driver's car of the family in the real world).

What one can call weaknesses in the 911's performance are entirely subjective and rooted in the car's lengthy history – namely, the constant lament that a new 911 isn't as pure or direct as a vintage 911. The current car is bigger and heavier, the electrically-assisted steering lacks the live-wire feel of the old unassisted setup, and throttle response with the turbo motors is inevitably less immediate and linear than the naturally-aspirated powerplants from a few years ago. Such is the price of regulations and shifting customer tastes.

Style

Nothing else looks like a 911, which is both wonderful and somewhat controversial. Some still jeer its Volkswagen Beetle ancestry; others grow impatient with Porsche's devotion to the basic silhouette; the debate about whether added wings and spoilers are exciting or tacky (or both) will never end. Suffice to say that many people like the shape, quite a few love it, and those who find it unattractive are entitled to their opinions.

By contrast, the 911's cabin is an undisputed aesthetic master class, modern and sophisticated without being cold or excessive. First-time 911 drivers do need to remember that the key goes into the switch on the left side of the steering column, a quirk retained from Porsche's early racing cars. The instruments are dominated by a large tachometer – again, per tradition – and controls are thoughtfully arranged to allow the driver to concentrate on the road and the task at hand.

The Best and Worst Things

The great thing about a 911 isn't that it's fast; it's that it's fast while being completely usable and without being irritating. It'll capably handle daily-driver duty, travel swiftly and securely from coast to coast, and run with – or past – anything else on the most technically demanding paved roads in the world.

Provided you can cover a 911's purchase price and costs, the biggest annoyance about ownership may be the Greek chorus of judgement and second-guessing from others that constantly accompanies the car. If you opt for the base 911 Carrera, are you aiming for the essential experience or buying into the cult as cheaply as possible? Is that GT3 owner a committed trackday addict or a showy poseur? Cabriolet: joie de vivre or exhibitionism? Is opting for the PDK transmission a step toward faster shifts or posh laziness? Our advice is simply to ignore it all and enjoy the drive, which is still one of the great experiences in the world.

Right For? Wrong For?

Porsche 911

Do you understand how life should be a balance between style, power, manners, and comfort? Do you have the maturity to properly use a very fast machine that lives in the everyday world? Do you want a dignified and usable commuter that has the same basic structure as a car that can qualify at the 12 Hours of Sebring? Some version of the 911 is consistently the default choice for an upscale sports car among serious drivers, and it continues to earn every bit of that credibility.

Do you want to cover distances in meditative peace? The 911 is among the best long-range runners in the world, but it's not a tranquil cruiser; there's always a subliminal intensity in the background. Do you need to carry more than one passenger? The rear seats that are standard on most 911s promise more usability than a strict two-seater like a Corvette or Aston Martin Vantage, but are best used as package shelves. Do you place value on arriving instead of getting there? Unless you've opted for the GT2 RS or one of the GT3s with their enormous wings, gaudier (and even more expensive) exotics like the Lamborghini Huracán or maximum luxury tourers like the Bentley Continental draw more attention than the relatively common and subdued 911.

The Bottom Line

If you care about driving and can afford one, a 2018 Porsche 911 is worth every bit of its high price. Its history may grant the 911 greater recognition and cachet than its competitors, but feel free to appreciate its traditions on top of its status as a fully contemporary – and indisputably great – sports car.