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Uncluttered by a fixed wing to hold down its tail or gaping side vents to force-feed its engine, the naturally aspirated, 355-horsepower 2007 Porsche 911 Carrera S is clean and gorgeous in a way the more powerful 911 GT3 isn't and the turbocharged 911s can't be.
Then, when you finally get to drive the thing, it gets better. And better. And better.
It's too late to have Sinatra sing at your wedding or Ansel Adams shoot your passport photo, but you can still drive a Porsche 911 Carrera S.
"S" Still for Super
Porsche first added the letter "S" to the 911 back in 1967 when it equipped the car with a 180-hp, high-compression version of the original air-cooled, 2.0-liter flat-6 — at that time the most powerful 911 ever sold to the public. Back then Porsche said the "S" stood for "Super." If it doesn't now, it should.
The standard 911 Carrera uses a 325-hp 3.6-liter version of Porsche's DOHC, 24-valve flat-6. In the Carrera S, that engine is bored out to 3.8 liters. Add in an additional half-point of compression ratio (11.8:1 for the S), a few tweaks to the "VarioCam Plus" controlled camshafts, valvetrain and intake manifold and the result is 355 hp and an absolutely obese torque curve.
Buyers can choose between a six-speed manual or five-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission. This Cobalt Blue test car had the six-speed — and so far we're unaware of a convincing argument for the Tiptronic.
Beyond the additional wallop, the S packs 1-inch-larger 19-inch diameter wheels, 30mm-wider rear tires, larger disc brakes at all four corners, round instead of oval exhaust pipes, and a few interior visual tweaks like gauge faces finished to appear like aluminum. It's just enough to set the S apart, and not so much as to strip away its civility.
Porsche builds better track cars, but this is its best and most civilized road machine.
Built Like a Porsche
As with every Porsche, the monocoque body structure of the Carrera S seems as if it were forged as a single dense molecule. Warren Buffett's vault probably doesn't have a door that feels as substantial as those on a 911; look under the 911 and you'll find welds down there thoracic surgeons would be proud to leave behind as a scar. In a barrier crash test, bet against the barrier.
Twist the left-mounted key and the engine whirrs to life with that familiar 911 sound. Because the flat-6 is hanging out beyond the rear wheels, the sound is distant enough to never grow irritating. But because the 911 is such a relatively small car — at 175.6 inches long overall it's less than an inch longer than a Honda Civic coupe — everything is close-coupled enough that the driver feels hard-wired into the mechanics.
Everything in a 911, from the power window switches to the shifter and especially the steering, operates with astonishing immediacy. And that means after about 10 minutes of acclimation, controlling the car becomes instinctive; the driver stops thinking about what he wants the car to do and just trusts the car to do what it should.
That's good because things happen fast in the 911 Carrera S.
Quick Without Wings
Dip into the throttle and the Carrera S wooshes forward with utterly seamless thrust. The shifts are so smooth and quick, it's hard to remember actually executing them, and the Carrera S remains rock steady as the digital speedometer clicks over to three digits.
To most effectively launch the rear-wheel-drive Carrera S, you let the revs build to about 5,000 rpm, then dump the clutch and hold on as your teeth chatter through the inevitable axle hop. It may seem abusive, but once the rear suspension squats down, the car slams forward.
The result is a 0-60-mph time of just 4.6 seconds and the quarter-mile zapping by in 13.0 seconds at 109.3 mph. Exactly the same performance as the last all-wheel-drive 911 Targa 4S we tested and much quicker than the 911 Carrera Cabriolet Tiptronic S we tested last year.
Porsche builds quicker naturally aspirated versions of the 911. The 415-hp GT3 gets to 60 in 3.9 seconds and runs the quarter in 12.2 seconds at 116.1 mph, and the 480-hp Turbo is even quicker than that, but this is the easiest, most forgiving 911 to go quickly in.
Torque Your Head Off
That ease traces back to the torque curve. Thanks in part to Porsche's VarioCam Plus variable intake valve timing and lift, this short-stroke engine's 295 pound-feet of peak torque occurs at a modest 4,600 rpm and produces plenty of grunt, even just off idle. There's always plenty of power to pull through any corner or down any straight.
Because of that torque-rich power band, the Carrera S is very easygoing around town — stick the shifter in 3rd and the Carrera S will putter between 10 and 60 mph as if it's the world's best-looking Cushman scooter. By the way, it also returned more than 19 mpg in mixed-use driving. Wow.
For those who crave just a bit more, Porsche also offers the "X51 Power Kit" for the Carrera S that includes revised cylinder heads, a carbon-fiber air cleaner housing, aluminum air intake, modified exhaust manifolds and revised engine control computer programming. Porsche says that's enough to punt output up to 381 hp and drop the 0-60-mph time by two-tenths of a second.
Adhesion To Match
With the Porsche Stability Management (PSM) system turned on, the Carrera S will understeer slightly in corners and then bolt out with applied throttle. The PSM is nowhere near intrusive during everyday driving, and even when it's on, it's still easy to have fun.
Still, the car is better when PSM is turned off. But getting the absolute most out of any 911 still takes a daring driving style. That means diving into corners hard, braking late, turning hard and accelerating even harder. It's the only way to exploit the car's unusual rear weight bias. Get it right and the 911 will outrun almost anything up a tight, twisting road. Get it wrong and the 911 will leave the road backward at 100 mph. The Carrera S is not a car for beginners.
Stopping from 60 mph in a scant 103 feet, pulling 0.92g on the skid pad and blowing through the slalom at 70.5 mph indicate how well the car sticks. What those numbers don't show is how effectively this car will consume a road when it's in the hands of a driver who knows what he's doing.
The Comfort of Competence
Storage space in the Carrera S is limited to the small forward trunk and whatever can be laid across the useless-for-humans backseat. If you're taking the car on a golf weekend, ship the clubs FedEx.
But despite the tight quarters, any two people can be comfortable in this car. The seats adjust to any body, the driving position is perfect and the supple leather upholstery is beautifully stitched. The Porsche's ergonomics, however, are from the love/hate school of design. Although its instrumentation is easily understood, the 911's radio and navigation system controls are borderline indecipherable. Whatever. The car is entertaining enough, and if you're lost, so much the better.
The Carrera S even rides well — not soft or even gently, but well. It's as if the driver and passenger can feel the car working to plant its Michelins into the pavement; it's not so much a firm ride as it is a reassuring one. It's so reassuring, in fact, that you actually enjoy feeling the car move over the road.
Recently we wrote this about the new midengine Audi R8: "With the 2008 Audi R8, the people at Audi have succeeded in combining performance and sophistication in equal measure. Despite its low-slung look of mobile astrophysics, the midengine R8 is a real car in the vein of Porsche's 911, something that you wouldn't think twice about hopping into and driving across the country."
The all-wheel-drive R8 may be the media darling of the month, but it's the Porsche 911 Carrera S that has combined daily usability with ultimate performance for 40 years. It's the original everyday supercar, and it's still a kick.
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