Sure, the 2012 Porsche 911 Carrera S has sacrificed its traditional hydraulic steering, it's longer than the car it replaces and it rides on 20-inch wheels. But this is still a 911 and it's still capable of being both a blindingly fast track car and an everyday driver. Perhaps more so than ever before.
When it comes to track use, look no further than the new 911's 7-minute, 40-second lap of the Nurburgring, which is on par with the times posted by the 997 GT3 and Turbo models and 14 seconds quicker than the car it's replacing. It turns, sticks and responds better than that car, too, but manages to also have more stability — traits which are — on the surface anyway — at odds with one another. That the new 911 is a massively capable driver's car is not in question.
And when it comes to real-world usability, well, there's still ample ride comfort, more interior space, wildly adjustable seats and enhanced convenience technologies. It's a better place to spend time than ever before.
So How's It Drive?
Porsche gathered journalists in Santa Barbara, California, to offer its latest 911 — the seventh generation of the physics-ignoring sports car — on roads that best suit the car. And by roads that best suit the car, we mean real driving roads. Perhaps you know the kind: There's actual elevation change, blind corners, off-camber corners, on-camber corners, bumps, holes and straights as long and flat as a Euclidian plane. This is the kind of place to drive a 911. And that's just what we did.
Several points stand out.
This is the first 911 to optionally offer Porsche's Dynamic Chassis Control technology which both limits body roll while cornering and allows truly independent movement of the car's wheels when traveling straight to enhance ride comfort. It's the first time we've driven such a technology in a dedicated sports car, and its effect is dramatic. There is — almost literally — no body roll, which can at first be a bit unsettling. It produces in the 911 a yaw response matched by few cars. In other words, this thing changes direction pronto.
Still, it manages to remain composed when you throw it around. Take it from Porsche factory driver Patrick Long. "It's got the turn-in response of the previous GT3, but doesn't produce that car's tail-out attitude afterwards." Coming from a guy with fast-enough hands to dismiss a tail-out 911, we'd guess that's a compliment.
He's right. August Achleitner, director of the 911 product line, says the system is responsible for 4 seconds off the new 911's Nurburgring lap time. Turns out, maintaining the tires' optimal position for both braking and cornering actually matters.
She Feelin' All Right?
But once you've adjusted to the utterly horizontal cornering attitude, you'll find yourself wondering what Porsche did to the 911's once-sublime steering. Don't get us wrong: There's enough steering feel and weight to prudently guide the 911 at insane velocities. But this isn't the same feeling we're used to. Nor is it one we'd prefer.
That's because the 2012 Porsche 911's steering is fully electromechanical. It utilizes two sensors — one to measure inputs from the driver and one to measure inputs from the road — and metes out electrically motivated assist according to a Porsche-specific software calibration. We hesitate to call it numb, but it's far from the granular, feelsome feedback we've experienced elsewhere — even in other 911s. Effort, too, is on the light side.
How much this matters to you will depend on how great an importance you place strictly on steering feel. Because, remember, the response is there. And it is stunning.
Porsche provided only Carrera S models on this drive, as the less powerful Carrera won't be available for several months. But the changes to its more powerful trim level are impressive.
The 3.8-liter flat-6 is direct-injected and produces 394 horsepower at 7,400 rpm and 325 pound-feet of torque at 5,600 rpm. That's 15 more hp than the outgoing Carrera S. Redline is 7,800 rpm and the overall fuel consumption is down by 16 percent thanks to the use of a start/stop feature and a system that decouples the drive wheels while coasting to allow the engine to idle (PDK-equipped cars only).
A new 3.4-liter base engine replaces the previous 3.6-liter mill and offers a similar increase in efficiency plus 5 more hp. Output is 345 hp and 288 lb-ft of torque.
That Porsche could increase its seven-gear dual-clutch PDK transmission's shift speed seemed unlikely, but that's just what it did for application in the new 911. And paired with the 394-hp engine, it's a potent recipe for haste. Shifts in Sport Plus mode are so insanely quick that there's actually no reduction in power to the wheels. If ultimate speed is your goal, get the PDK. But know that it will also putter mindlessly around in Drive like a traditional automatic if that's your preferred mode of travel.
The big discovery with the new 2012 Porsche 911 is the addition of an updated manual transmission — one with seven gears. Far from too many choices, this number of gears feels natural — it is the transmission the 911 needed. It's blessed with the same direct gearchanges of the 997's six-speed, and strategically locks out 7th gear to avoid an unwanted 4-7 upshift. Cleverly, 7th is only available from 5th or 6th gears. Engine speed at 70 mph is reduced to 2,100 rpm — enough to bring the flat-6 into a resonance that's barely noticeable.
Remember what we said about this being a good everyday car? Details like this help.
Bigger but Lighter
Porsche added 3.9 inches to the new 911's wheelbase (96.5 inches) and 2.2 inches to its overall length (176.8 inches). Lest you think that makes it a big car, keep in mind that Nissan's 370Z utilizes a 100.4-inch wheelbase. Still, every variant of the car is lighter than the previous-generation 911. A 911 Carrera S PDK, for example, is 88 pounds lighter than an identically optioned 997 model.
Largely, the weight reduction is due to the use of aluminum in the chassis. About 45 percent of the new 911 — including the doors and roof — is made from the stuff. The remaining portions — the rocker sills and crossmembers — remain steel to accommodate strength needs. And it wouldn't be better unless it were stiffer. Torsional rigidity is increased 20-25 percent depending on how it's measured, and bending strength is up 13 percent.
The new car is also lower (by 7mm) and has a wider front track width — 46mm for Carrera and 52mm for Carrera S — to increase stability.
The Usual Stuff Plus More
Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) has been enhanced with additional sensors at each wheel, and the system remains capable of individually adjusting the dampers inside of a few milliseconds. The system is self-adjusting depending on how the car is being driven, but two baseline settings — Normal and Sport — remain.
The standard Sport button speeds throttle response and makes upshifts quicker in PDK-equipped cars. Optionally available, the Sport Chrono package adds the Sport Plus button, which further enhances PDK aggressiveness for both up- and downshifts, widens the stability control threshold and adds a launch control function. Using launch control, Porsche claims the Carrera S will hit 62 mph in 4.1 seconds.
Porsche Torque Vectoring (PTV) — a system that applies the brakes to the inside rear wheel during corning — is paired with differing types of limited-slip differentials depending on which transmission is used. A fully mechanical limited slip is paired with the manual transmission, while an electronically controlled limited slip comes with the PDK. PTV is standard on Carrera S and optional on base cars.
Despite the fact that 19-inch wheels are standard on Carrera models, odds are good you're going to end up with 20-inch wheels (standard on S models) if you're buying a new 911. Every car we drove was fitted with 245/35ZR20 front and 295/30ZR20 rear Pirelli P Zero Nero rubber.
The 2012 Porsche 911 Carrera S models get stiffer six-piston front brake calipers and 13.4-inch rotors (0.4 inch larger than before). Rear brakes are four-piston calipers with 13-inch rotors on both models. A lightened brake booster shaves 1.8 pounds. Carbon-ceramic rotors remain an $8,520 option on both models.
Inside there's still a sense of 911 coziness, but some of the 997's simple pleasures are gone. Among them is the more vertical windshield, which had its base much closer to the driver and provided a sense of command over the hood. The 991 lacks this proportion, but makes gains in other areas.
You'll struggle to find a more beautifully finished cabin in any car, let alone any sports car. Materials and assembly quality in the 911 are among the best in the business. The tachometer is center-mounted and the ignition key remains where father Porsche preferred — on the left of the steering column.
Navigation, including a high-resolution 7-inch touchscreen, is standard. Porsche Communication Management, which is integrated in the touchscreen interface, allows control of audio and mobile phones as well. Bluetooth phone connectivity and Bluetooth audio are standard. A USB/iPod interface allows control of iPods from the touchscreen, steering-wheel controls (if equipped) or via voice commands.
Fourteen-way adjustable seats are standard. Spring for the optional sport seats and you'll get 18-way adjustment. Seat heating and ventilation are also available.
Perhaps you've noticed that the laundry list of features in the new 2012 Porsche 911 — both performance-related and otherwise — is massive. Still, from a driver's perspective, what matters isn't the feature count but how the car works. Fortunately, function remains a first-order priority in this car.
It is truly one of the world's great sports cars. In the right hands it is as capable as virtually anything else made, yet it retains the ability to be driven in a practical manner every day. This is a rare and unique trait that identifies few other cars.
When the new 911 goes on sale February 4, 2012, Porsche will ask $83,050 for the base Carrera and $97,350 for the Carrera S (both prices include $950 destination fee). In other words, the 911 is a lot of things, but inexpensive is not one of them.
Still, after 13 years in this business, the new 911 ranks among the best cars we've ever driven. It's confident yet benign, seriously quick but utterly manageable and radically capable, yet easy to drive.
After 48 years, Porsche still sweats the 911's details like they matter. Because they do.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
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