Programming the 2012 Porsche 911 Carrera S's navigation system, we failed to choose the "fastest" route ourselves. Instead we left it to the computer's default setting, which spit out the "shortest" route from Inside Line's test facility in Nowhere, California back to Santa Barbara's Biltmore Hotel, where a truck was waiting to haul the supercar to the airport so it could be flown back to Germany.
The "shortest" route avoided all freeways. It put us on two of California's greatest driving roads, state highways CA-166 and CA-33 that cut over and through the Santa Ynez mountain range.
The car self-selected awesomeness. It wanted to go for a ride.
Giddy. Flat-Out Giddy
Porsche claims 394 horsepower for the 911, but that's quantity. It's quality that matters. It's amazing what miracles direct injection, variable timing, a sky-high 12.5:1 compression ratio and a lightweight reciprocating assembly can work. Do the math. With 394 hp from 3.8 liters, the Carrera S engine has a specific output of 103.7 hp per liter. Not bad considering it's not even turbocharged.
Once the Carrera S flat-6 passes 4,000 rpm, the variable valve timing and lift systems kick in and torque production shoots up. The meat of the power band is between 4,500 and 6,500 rpm, where the torque production stays close to its 325 pound-feet peak. The fuel cutoff sits at 7,800 rpm.
At the test track, the best launches were clutch drops around 5,000 rpm. With the new suspension design taming the wheel hop that plagued previous 911s, the 3,277-pound 2012 Carrera S flew to 60 mph in 4.6 seconds with the traction control system turned off (4.4 seconds with a foot of rollout as on a drag strip) and slammed through the quarter-mile in 12.7 seconds at 113.2 mph. Porsche says the PDK-equipped car (which has launch control) is quicker and should hit 60 mph in under 4 seconds.
Under hard acceleration the Carrera S rocks back on its haunches and unloads the front tires. This is, after all, still a rear-engine 911. But it's not as pronounced as before and may be as much a function of an algorithm built into the optional Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC) suspension system as actual physical forces.
All Them Gears
Here's the deal with the world's first production seven-speed manual transmission for cars: It's just like a six-speed, but with one more gear! Shocker.
In the manual transmission, 6th is a 0.88:1 overdrive and 7th gear is a super-deep 0.71:1 overdrive (the final-drive gears run 3.44:1). Because the engine's torque production is so generous, it can, in fact, pull that during cruises without requiring downshifts every time it encounters the slightest incline. And that allows, just as the ultra-deep overdrive in Corvettes and Vipers does, very low engine speeds during those cruises.
In sum, this is a Porsche that turns only about 2,000 rpm when floating over freeway slab at 70 mph. That's impressive in the context of the engine's relatively modest 3.8-liter displacement. It also helps deliver decent mileage, as the car returned an average of 19.3 mpg during mixed driving.
The manual's shift action is slick, precise and intuitive. It doesn't feel particularly light, but it's hard to screw up even when skipping gears as in a 6-to-4 downshift for passing.
When we crested the spine of the Santa Ynez Mountains, the 5,000 feet of altitude and a recent rain left much of CA-33 covered in a sheet of thin ice. As we dove carefully into each corner, the ice cracked beneath the wheels, sending crystals shooting into the inner fenders. The result was a staccato reverberating through the 911's interior.
Earlier in the day, we had put the 911 on our new Rotary Lift to get a better look at its chassis (Check out the photos). The steel and aluminum structure of Porsche's latest is an acoustic marvel with perfect pitch, and its sense of impregnability is otherworldly. It's also bigger than before. This 991-series 911 has grown 3.9 inches in wheelbase and 2.2 inches in overall length compared to the outgoing 997. However, this 911 is still a car of extreme intimacy.
From the driver seat it's still possible to reach out and touch virtually any point in the cockpit. You can't drum your fingernails on the windshield without taking your hands off the steering wheel as you could in the old air-cooled 911s, but it's close-coupled in a way that Corvettes, Aston Martins and Ferraris aren't.
It all results in the driver feeling sewn into the 911's structure unlike in any other sports car. When the 911 turns, it pivots around the driver's coccyx. The polar moment of inertia seems to be located right where the driver's frontal and parietal lobes abut one another.
Strafing down from the top of the ridge on CA-33 toward the town of Ojai, we also became impressed with the 911's spectacular new turning headlights that are so brilliant we could see mice scurrying across the road in the middle of a corner. And it was here where we marveled at how much better this car sounds when its louder sport exhaust system is engaged.
With the corners at lower altitudes ice-free, the Carrera S's handling ability grew ever more apparent. We were diving in at ever-higher speeds and braking progressively later and later. The new electromechanical power steering isn't perfect, but there's still plenty of magic in how a 911 bites into a corner.
Let's be clear. This is the best electric power steering ever installed in a production car. And as such, it sets a new standard that every other manufacturer will be chasing. That said, it's not as good as previous Porsche steering racks have been. The new 911 reacts to driver inputs quickly, better than the 996 and about the same as the 997.
Riding on big 20-inch wheels and packing 245/35ZR20 front and 295/30ZR20 rear Pirelli P Zero tires, this 911 presents massive contact patches to the pavement. And this isn't some isolating suspension that tunes out all the tire noise and road irregularities. Yes, the new 911 rides better than its ancestors, but its driver is still always aware of what's going on. There are two driver-selectable shock settings, but the difference in feel and ride between the two is small.
The traditional 911 off-throttle oversteer is long gone, as this car now decelerates in an equal four-wheel squat. Most of the credit goes to the optional PDCC hydraulic active suspension system that keeps the car flat to the pavement. But coming out of the corner it's the Porsche Torque Vectoring (PTV) technology that encourages the driver to roll into the throttle more aggressively than ever before.
Combine that with the mechanical locking differential (on manual-transmission cars) and there's never a chirp from the tires, even at full throttle. Put simply, this car knows more about driving than you do, so it helps you along.
In our slalom test, with its traction and stability controls turned on it blew through the cones at 70.3 mph and with those systems off that number rose to a very quick 71.3 mph. And it does all this with what seems like very little effort on the car's part. Honestly it feels as if you could put a kindergartner behind the wheel and she'd still knock off perfect runs.
Orbiting the skid pad, the 911 took an easy, slightly oversteering set and then delivered phenomenal 1.03g adhesion with the stabilization systems turned on and 1.04g with the systems off.
Remember, this isn't a GT3 or GT2 or RS-whatever; this is the comfortable 911 with which senior partners are going to be using to commute to their law firms. This is the base upon which all those more radical iterations will be built.
The shortest stop from 60 mph was a drama-free 102 feet, which is simply world-class.
With its thick center console and seeming endless series of small, indistinct buttons, there's definitely some Panamera in the new 911 cockpit. And that's a good thing. This is definitely still a sports car, but there's more luxury now, which the 911 needs if it's going to fight off its modern competition from Aston, Audi and BMW.
The 14-way adjustable sport seats are narrow but supportive in every way and will accommodate even the most bizarre body types. The rear seats are still useless except for carrying groceries and small dogs (not at the same time). What Porsche hasn't done is dirty up the steering wheel with redundant audio or other controls. However, there are six stalks behind the steering wheel that control everything from windshield wipers to information screens, and it's a bit much.
It's also mystifying why Porsche still has an obvious door for its airbags, when even Kia now packs its passenger airbags invisibly. And, of course, the two cupholders that emerge in front of the passenger are technically complex and inadequate in this country — the greatest on earth by cup size — where every mini-mart, gas station, burger joint and Taco Bell sells half-gallon bladder-busters.
Fortunately, everything in the test car that could be covered in beautifully tailored and stitched brown leather is covered just that way.
Too Much, Too Good
Every available crevice of this new 911 is stuffed with Porsche's latest technology. There are computers controlling how the suspension moves, how much assist the steering gets, precisely how the 3.8-liter flat-6 will deliver power and what the wheels will do with it.
But these computers aren't programmed only to minimize warranty claims, meet CAFE regulations, impress the IIHS and put a smile on the face of the EPA administrator. These computers make driving more vivid, more precise and less of a hassle. This is electrification that makes the mechanical better in the ways that matter to drivers.
There are going to be dozens of reviews that claim this car isn't a "real" 911 by some definition of what a 911 should be. But the only definition of what a 911 is that matters, is Porsche's. And what Porsche has defined is something flat wonderful.
This new 911 may not turn out to be as timeless as previous cars to wear the name. But its time is now.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.