With the exception of a few disparate models scattered over the decades, Porsche has built its fame and fortune on a single rear-engine sports car, the 911. From rather humble beginnings, the Porsche 911 has gone on to be one of the most influential and most recognizable vehicles in the world. Today's version of the car provides stunning levels of performance without sacrificing much in terms of day-to-day usability, and many Porsche purists still consider the 911 the only "real" Porsche.
For the sports car shopper, a wide choice of drivetrains and body styles through the years means there should be a new or used 911 that fits one's desires. And although other sports cars have been able to outperform the 911 in one area or another, nothing has yet to match Porsche's overall blend of performance, practicality and that endearing connection between car and driver.
Current Porsche 911
If there's one thing you can't blame Porsche for, it's not offering enough variety, and this year in particular brings an added level of variety -- some would also say confusion -- to the mix. This is because Porsche will be selling a redesigned 911 for 2012 alongside the "old" 911.
To help clarify the two, we'll refer to them here using Porsche's technical code names for each platform: "991" for the new car and "997" for the old one. Initially, the new-generation 991 will only include the Carrera and Carrera S models. The models of the previous-generation 997 will continue to be sold until their specific 991-type replacements come to market.
This new-generation car is larger and gets an updated suspension, electric power steering, the world's first seven-speed manual transmission and engines that are more powerful and efficient. Exterior styling is evolutionary as always, but the cabin design is significantly different and borrows many cues from the Panamera sedan.
Available in either coupe or convertible (Cabriolet) body styles, the 911 Carrera features a 350-horsepower 3.4-liter flat-6 engine, while the Carrera S gets a 400-hp 3.8-liter flat-6. Both get the seven-speed manual transmission or the optional dual-clutch seven-speed automated manual known as PDK. Rear-wheel drive is standard, but all-wheel drive is optional.
The rest of the 911 lineup remains on the previous-generation "997" platform. This includes the Turbo models (coupe or Cabriolet) and Targa (basically a coupe with a huge sunroof), as well as the high-performance GT3, GT3 RS, GT3 RS 4.0 and GT2 RS.
The all-wheel-drive Turbo gets a twin-turbo 3.8-liter flat-6 good for 500 hp and the Turbo S gets an additional 23 horses. The rear-drive, sport-tuned GT3 has a 435-hp naturally aspirated 3.8-liter flat-6 and the GT3 RS is a track-ready version of the same car with 450 hp. The GT3 RS 4.0 has a 4.0-liter flat-6 good for 500 hp, while the outlandish GT2 RS gets a version of the Turbo S engine turned up to a truly sensational 620 hp. A six-speed manual transmission is standard on all and PDK is optional on all but the GT3 and GT2 trims.
Regardless of whether it belongs to the 991 or 997 vintage, most of the 911 variants are equally comfortable tearing through a twisty road or smoothly dealing with the daily commute. This dual nature is improved with the PDK dual-clutch automated manual gearbox, which provides the best of both transmission worlds. The high-performance 911 editions are less commuter-friendly, but they offer performance and handling on par with exotic supercars.
Yet the new, "base" 911 Carrera should be more than enough for most buyers, as that car will blast to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds and hit a top speed approaching 180 mph. Handling is truly sensational with the new 911 and actually approaches the capabilities of the GT models. If there is a complaint, it's that the new electric power steering just doesn't offer the feedback of the old, purely hydraulic system. But overall the Porsche 911 remains an exceptional car, coming highly recommended.
Used Porsche 911 Models
The current, 10th-generation Porsche 911 (the 997) dates back to a significant refresh for 2005, and went largely unchanged until 2009. This generation returned to the classic 911 face, with the headlights and turn signals as separate units. Compared to past models, this 911 featured a wider track for better handling, larger wheels and tires, an available active suspension system and a much improved interior in terms of materials quality, comfort and ergonomics.
The Turbo, GT2 and GT3 models produced for 2005 actually belonged to the previous generation and went on hiatus thereafter until they re-emerged in future years. The all-wheel-drive Carrera 4 and 4S arrived for '06, while the Targa, GT3, Turbo and limited-edition GT3 RS followed the next year. The GT2 emerged for '08.
The engine lineup for these 2005-'08 models consisted of a 3.6-liter flat-6 in the Carrera good for 325 hp and a 3.8-liter flat-6 in the Carrera S good for 355 hp. An optional Carrera Powerkit for S models introduced for '08 bumped power up to 381 hp. The GT3 and GT3 RS had a 415-hp 3.6-liter flat-6, the Turbo had a 480-hp 3.6-liter twin-turbo flat-6 and the GT2 had a 530-hp version of the same engine. All 911s of this vintage came standard with a six-speed manual transmission, while all trims except the GT3s and GT2 also offered a five-speed Tiptronic automatic as an option.
For 2009, the 911 began another cycle of updates. Porsche upgraded the Carrera and Targa engines to a 345-hp 3.6-liter flat-6 engine and the S models to a 385-hp flat-6. Also introduced were the PDK transmission, a revised electronics interface and a slew of new features, including a hill holder, ventilated seats, Bluetooth and an iPod interface. The suspension was made a bit more compliant as well. The GT3 and GT2 went on hiatus (for one and two years, respectively), while the Turbo went unchanged until 2010. The Turbo S, GT3 RS and GT3 RS 4.0 were introduced for 2011 along with the one-year-only GTS and Speedster models. Both included a 408-hp version of the Carrera S engine, but differed otherwise. The GTS was a middle-ground performance model between Carrera and GT models, while the convertible-only Speedster harked back to the styling of previous 911s of the same name.
The previous (ninth) generation Porsche 911 (1999-2004) marked the first time water cooling was used for the car's flat-6 engine. Styling was an evolutionary step, but the front end, especially the lighting clusters, was identical to the Boxster. The switch to water cooling and the Boxster-like nose left many 911 fans irked. There was, however, no dissatisfaction with the increased performance, thanks to a jump to 300 hp (and later, 320) for the standard 911 and a heady 415 hp in the Turbo.
The eighth generation (1995-'98) marked the last of the air-cooled 911s, which were now producing 270 hp. This era also brought a glass-topped targa model and saw the Turbo put out 400 hp and adopt all-wheel drive. For some 911 buffs, these are considered the last "real" 911s. The seventh-generation car (1990-'94) brought smoothly integrated bumpers along with available all-wheel drive and the Tiptronic automatic gearbox. Standard Carreras at this time were pumping out 247 hp, while the Turbo's output ranged from 315-355 hp.
According to consumer feedback in our forums, any one of these Porsche 911s will provide plenty of thrilling performance and should prove to be fairly reliable, though as expected, maintenance is pricey.
Read the most recent 2015 Porsche 911 review.
If you are looking for older years, visit our used Porsche 911 page.
For more on past Porsche 911 models, view our Porsche 911 history page.