With the introduction of the 2011 Porsche 911 Carrera GTS, there now are no fewer than 20 different variations of the 911 available for your driving pleasure. This is a lot from a company that actually depends instead on the Porsche Panamera sedan and Porsche Cayenne sport-utility to keep its factories humming and its bank account brimming.
The 2011 Porsche Carrera GTS slots into the lineup of 911 models just beneath the GT3 and just above the Carrera S. It mixes a little more horsepower, a little wider body and rear-wheel drive, plus the opportunity to drive the most high-performance 911 you can get with Porsche's dual-clutch automated manual transmission.
In a way, the $104,050 Carrera GTS is one last drive around the block for the current-generation Porsche 911; a fully redesigned model is expected to appear next year. A road test seemed in order to see how this latest GTS performs.
There was a time when 400 horsepower could be found only in the Dodge Viper's 8.0-liter V10, yet now the Porsche 3.8-liter horizontally opposed-6 does the job without making it look hard. A little rubbing on the intake ports, some magic in the timing and lift of the intake valves and a 7,500-rpm redline bring this engine 23 hp more than before, some 408 hp at 7,300 rpm. This is just 27 hp short of the Porsche 911 GT3's racing-style engine.
And as with every Porsche flat-6, the power band of the GTS engine has an equally amazing elasticity. It's been enhanced here with the introduction of variable-resonance intake charging for every cylinder, so the power band extends even beyond the plateau from 4,200 rpm to 5,600 rpm, where peak torque of 310 pound-feet is available. There's 236 lb-ft on call at just 1,500 rpm, and the result is the kind of tractability that lets you putter through parking garages in the Carrera GTS without making a fool of yourself.
If you're the kind of driver who motors down the road as if graphic speed lines should be streaming behind your car, you'll be pleased to know that not only is the Carrera GTS quick, but there's also no need to disengage the safety net of traction and stability control to get with the program, as 60 mph comes up in 4.3 seconds and the quarter-mile goes down in 12.4 seconds at 112.3 mph. That's half a second quicker to 60 mph than the 2010 911 Carrera we tested but a bit slower than a GT3 can achieve.
With 60.9 percent of the Carrera GTS's 3,416 pounds over the wide, wide 305/30ZR19 Bridgestone Potenza RE050A rear tires, there's minimal drama involved in achieving such impressive acceleration. The same goes for braking from 60 mph, which requires only 107 feet. A Porsche 911's weight distribution might be eccentric with its dramatic rearward bias, but it's ideal for acceleration and deceleration, if not for cornering.
While it is customary to brag to your friends about the ability of the Porsche 911 to stretch your neck muscles in the corners until they're as floppy as soggy pasta, the 911's secret appeal has always been its ability to ride the pavement with some resiliency, and the same holds true even for the 2011 Porsche Carrera GTS.
Porsche's multimode active suspension system is part of this model's standard equipment and it makes possible those cross-country dashes for which the 911 was really designed, something that would be painful and exhausting with the hard-as-nails GT3 that this car otherwise resembles. And yet if you want the GT3-style suspension control, it's as close as a flick of a switch to engage a more aggressive suspension mode.
The dual-clutch automated manual transmission featured in this test car also transforms the 911 driving experience. When Porsche first introduced its ZF-engineered Porsche Dopplekupplungsgetriebe (PDK) transmission, it was hard to know if it represented simply an automatic transmission or instead exotic racing technology for the street. But as the 2011 Porsche 911 Carrera GTS proves, the PDK is both.
The combination of PDK and this especially tractable example of Porsche's flat-6 really makes this 189-mph sports car as simple to drive to the grocery store as a Toyota Camry. There's just the hint of a delay when you press the gas pedal to leave a stoplight as the internal clutches engage and the car moves away easily, and then there's hardly a hint as the gearbox presents each new ratio as your speed climbs.
Meanwhile, the PDK preserves crisp powertrain response as you attain serious speed just like in a car with a manual transmission, and you can choose to select your gears with the shift lever on the console or the paddles on the steering wheel. More important, the PDK makes it possible to drive this 408-hp sports car with a fluid grace that even the best 911 drivers are hard-pressed to accomplish. The transitions between acceleration, braking, shifting and steering become supernaturally smooth, and when Sport Plus mode is engaged, the transmission will even downshift through the gears with quick rev-matched shifts as if you had been possessed by the spirit of Walter Rohrl, the ex-rally driver famous for his feats at the wheel of Porsches of all persuasions.
The 2011 Porsche 911 is really a much larger car than you might imagine from the outside. Once inside the cabin, you're surprised by the full-size dimensions of the driving position, and even the restrictive sport seats seem relatively unobtrusive because all the controls fall within easy reach.
It's fair to say that every control within this 911 requires a second look to understand its function, but at least most of the mysteries can be plumbed in short order. Though it must embarrass the Porsche engineers to admit, the video screen of the Porsche Communication Management makes it all possible, as the small screen is a welcome substitute for small buttons and even smaller ideograms.
Porsche's new SportDesign steering wheel debuts in the Carrera GTS and the engineers are particularly proud of the way the spokes don't get in your way as you do your work.
Design/Fit and Finish
As ever, few cars feel as stoutly put together as a Porsche. Only jetliners and underwater submersibles seem to seal you away from the elements with such a sense of finality when you slam the door.
As the interior of this car makes clear, Porsche has at last emerged from an era of fussy buttons and cheap materials, and now it can create an environment that is useful instead of confusing or intimidating.
Who should consider this vehicle
Porsche has been wondering whether 911 buyers would embrace the PDK automated manual transmission. Would it be perceived as a convenience item, a kind of automatic transmission? Or would it be seen as high-performance technology, a speed secret?
True enough, the 2011 Porsche 911 Carrera GTS is expensive. It's priced pretty similar to a 911 GT3, which arguably provides more cachet as well as superior track-day handling. But a GTS proves to us that PDK is about performance, because it makes us a better 911 driver. It not only makes the 911 a friendlier prospect for daily driving but also makes accessible a dimension of speed that only GT3 adepts would dare attempt.
It's customary to compare the Porsche 911 to other sports cars delivering similar performance for similar money, yet this sort of thing rings false to us. For better and for worse, a Porsche 911 is its own thing, as unique as anything else on four wheels. After owning one, you might love it or you might hate it, but you'll at least have had the experience. And with the combination of the Carrera GTS's horsepower and the PDK transmission's user-friendliness, the experience is now open to a wider range of people than before.
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