Brilliant communication between man and machine, "who needs anything more" performance, decently practical for a quasi-exotic, excellent visibility, comfy and supportive seats, understated and classy styling.
Firm clutch and ride gets tiresome in excessive city driving, options are ridiculously expensive.
"I was all ready to go and then [Vehicle Testing Assistant] Mike Magrath calls and tells me the Porsche is brown." For Edmunds photographer Kurt Niebuhr, our 2008 Porsche 911 Carrera and its Macadamia Metallic paint was bad news. Brown cars don't photograph well against natural, earth-tone backgrounds, he explains — backgrounds like the mountain road we were about to embark upon. Scrub that plan, then.
Yet this 911's color speaks volumes to a particular type of Porsche buyer — one we respect greatly. With a few exceptions ("Brown? What is this, 1977?"), our staff — including Niebuhr — came to view Macadamia Metallic as a brilliantly understated and classy way to festoon this brilliant car. This is the type of color someone would pick if they couldn't care less about what other people thought about their high-priced automotive purchase. This buyer bought this 911 because it's excellent, not to show it off at Pure or Mood or any other one-word nightspot.
At the same time, this entire 911 speaks to a similar understated character. Our test car was a "base" 2008 Porsche 911 Carrera. No 4S, no Targa, no Turbo, no GT this or GT that. Automotive publications usually want to test the fastest and fanciest version available. In this case, we wanted to see what a plain old Carrera gave you. The answer is quite a lot, to the point of making us ponder why you'd need any more power or handling capability on a regular basis.
Like all 911s, a base Carrera is powered by a 3.6-liter horizontally opposed six-cylinder (a.k.a. "flat-6," a.k.a. "boxer-6") that in this case produces 325 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque (upgraded to 345 hp and 288 lb-ft for 2009). At low rpm, this engine emits a distinct mechanical rattle that'll leave folks looking for a V8-like rumbling gurgle a little underwhelmed. At full whack, though, the boxer sings a glorious wail from its perch beyond the back wheels, pushing the 911 to an impressive 0-60-mph run of 4.8 seconds. By comparison, the Carrera S with 30 more hp does the same sprint in 4.6 seconds. We could probably live without those two-tenths of a second and blow the $10,000 price difference on a Vegas weekend and some Star Wars memorabilia.
True to its pure form, our 911 came equipped with a six-speed manual transmission. The shift lever slides through its gates with such fluidity and precision that it seems to be doing things by itself. Clutch travel and engagement are just right as well, with a reassuringly firm pedal feel that's ideal for aggressive driving. In the city and especially in traffic, however, that firm pedal becomes a literal pain. If you were to commute in the 911 every day, you'd have to adopt a right-leg weight-lifting regimen just to keep things balanced out. So, for a weekend plaything, we highly recommend the six-speed manual — for a daily driver, the pricey Tiptronic automatic is probably the way to go. (For 2009, a seven-speed automated manual known as PDK was introduced, providing more of a best of both worlds transmission choice).
On the 911's track testing comment sheet, our hot-shoe road test editor had nothing but glowing superlatives to share about his time slicing through cones in the 3,200-pound Carrera. "Brilliant, perfect body control. Excellent steering weight and feedback. Predictable, intuitive." With a firm, trustworthy pedal, the brakes produced an impressive stop from 60 mph in 104 feet, which makes us wonder how much more stopping power the optional $8,150 ceramic composite brakes would bring to the party.
In the real world, the 2008 Porsche 911 proved to be just as compliment-inducing. For a car with an exaggerated rear weight bias, it's always impressive how beautifully composed this classic Porsche remains in corners. Porsche 911s of yore earned a reputation for tricky at-the-limit handling, but those demons have long been exorcised, especially in the latest "997" generation. The 911 is all about composure and man-machine communication, and it has a lightweight finesse to it that no bruising Nissan GT-R can match.
Those thin, narrow Porsche seats may not look like much, but the Carrera's buckets hold and hug in all the right places without making the driver feel confined. They're on the firm side, but they were endlessly comfortable over hundreds of highway and city miles. With a good range of travel for the power driver seat and tilt-telescoping steering column, our disparately heighted editors were all able to find a suitable driving position.
Ride comfort was a slightly mixed story. Like that of most sports cars, the 911's ride is on the firm side and certainly typical of a Porsche. If you live in a land of half-decent asphalt or plan on using the Carrera as a weekend cruiser, skip ahead. However, the 911 was clearly not designed with Southern California's patchwork of rippled concrete pavement in mind, as the 911 takes to it like a vegetarian at a Hawaiian hog roast. The heavy rear end tended to bob and crash over the frequent road imperfections (suspension revisions for 2009 improved this somewhat), and like the firm clutch, it got tiresome in congested daily driving. Some of our editors cared; others couldn't have cared less given the Carrera's performance potential.
As a daily driver or a weekend getaway car, the 2008 Porsche 911 Carrera provides an impressive amount of practicality. The front trunk (or "frunk") is large enough to swallow a decent-size suitcase, while the fold-down rear seats create a flat cargo storage area wide enough to store a set of golf clubs with the driver removed, plus a few additional items. Access to this space is a bit tricky, though, as things need to be finagled behind the front seats.
Speaking of the rear seats, they proved to be uninhabitable for even a 5-foot-zip, 90-pound traveler. Our attempts to mount a rear-facing child seat back there were also quickly thwarted by a front seat that wouldn't go far enough, while mounting the seat front-facing was iffy given the short seat bottom.
In terms of ergonomics, the 911's stereo and climate controls are generally simple and straightforward. However, the navigation system is controlled via a small knob, which makes programming and on-the-fly use of the nav a hair-pulling affair. We'd gladly trade this $2,110 option for an auxiliary audio jack or satellite radio — two features Porsche doesn't offer. (This was all corrected for 2009 with a new touchscreen that controls both the navigation and audio systems, while both satellite radio and a dedicated iPod interface were added to the extensive options list).
Design/Fit and Finish
With our test car's Sand Beige Full Leather package, the 911's cabin was a stunning example of interior craftsmanship. Even those surfaces not swathed in soft hide are constructed of a material that's actually pretty consistent with the organically sourced stuff. Other material highlights include a standard Alcantara headliner and deep carpet that extends up onto the doors, eliminating the possibility of scuffing any sort of lower door plastic. All of this is pieced together beautifully, although given the car's firm ride, we wouldn't be surprised if a few rattles crept in over time.
Who should consider this vehicle
Someone who appreciates that this base car is all you realistically need within the 911 range. A Porsche 911 buyer will also be someone willing to trade in some hard-core performance for brilliant driving involvement and superb craftsmanship.