Review: 2012 Porsche 911 Carrera

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The Porsche 911. My life-long dream car.

If I suddenly came into more money than I knew what to do with, I have always said the 911 is what I would buy. There are faster cars. There are more expensive cars. But there is no more iconic car. Not for me, anyway. The mere mention of the Zuffenhausen native brings a sense of joy to any conversation for me.

And so, with a highly subjective point of view, I embarked on my most recent vehicle review. How do you retain any level of objectivity when you’re driving the car you’ve dreamt about? The car you’ve discussed for hundreds of hours with your car buddies? The car that’s adorned your walls with posters, and your desks with models? It’s not easy, let me tell you. But let’s be honest here – it’s a first-world problem, and one that I’m just fine with.

The 911 I took delivery of is what one would consider the entry level 911, if there is such a thing. It’s all relative, much like saying a starter Mark Levinson audio system, or a beginner’s Rolex watch. This is the new 991-generation Porsche 911 Carrera. It starts at CDN $93,700. With a couple of option boxes checked off, this one quickly balloons to CDN $107,545. Though 14 grand in options seems steep, there are plenty of boxes left to check off too, if you want to dress this handsome fella up some more.

 

Exterior

There’s no denying that the 911 continues to evolve. Helen Keller could tell you this is a 911. The shape continues to stretch out and mature. Porsche tells us this model is lower. It’s longer. It’s wider. Its wheelbase has stretched by 4 inches and the overhangs have been reduced slightly.

I was at the LA Auto Show for the unveiling of this model, and have felt since that moment that this is the best looking 911 to date.

Headlights are adaptable, self-leveling automatic HIDs and there are LED driving lights on the front that you can see a mile away. The wheels, optional in this case, are beautiful 20″ triple 5-spoke rims, allowing you to see the brake hardware, and at the rear, some of the lovely suspension bits.

The front fenders are less pronounced than ever, and the sloping hood comes ever closer to sharing the same plane, yet they remain miles apart visually and the familiar face greets you coming down the street.

The rear is clean, with new lettering, and handsome red LED light arrowheads.

As the 911 continues to evolve, its lines continue to take on tauter, more menacing and more muscular shapes, while somehow becoming smoother, slipperier and cleaner. No small feat, this.

 

Under the Hood

A proper Porsche needs to be motivated by a boxer engine sitting mostly behind the rear axle, or so goes the rhetoric. Of course, that argument has been disproven time and again, as we witness Porsches coming down the line that use V-6s and V-8s, and Porsches that have mid- or front-engine designs. All of which, in my opinion, qualify as proper Porsches. But I digress.

This one will pass muster, even in front of a jury of die-hards. It is a new direct-injection 3.4-Liter flat-6. It is a new engine, and is more efficient than before. It puts out 350 HP at a soaring 7400 RPM, and a somewhat paltry-seeming 288 lb.ft of torque at 5600 RPM. In this configuration, the power is sent to the rear wheels through a 7-speed manual transmission.

Fuel efficiency is remarkable, considering this car could live on a race track 24 hours a day. It is rated at 11 L/100 km (21.4 mpg) in the city and a very good 7.2 L/100 km (33 mpg) on the highway. I only calculated my own fuel economy for a period of a couple of days where I drove the 911 pretty hard and exclusively in the city, and I averaged 14.8 L/100 km (16 mpg) which isn’t bad at all. I could easily tell my fuel economy was noticeably higher when I was taking it easy. The fuel tank holds 64 Liters of premium fuel. Don’t you dare put anything else in there.

 

The Drive

Many facets of the Carrera’s drive struck me as a multiple personality experience.

I noted that the torque figure seems a bit low. That’s significant, as it’s the one that matters most to us here in North America, since we don’t have long, wide open spaces where we can really see what this thing can do – at least not without expecting red and blue lights to come our way. Thankfully, the torque that motivates this car only has to shove 3042 pounds around. The 911 has remained relatively light, and that’s a good thing.

Is it slow? Of course not. It’s not even kind of slow. With the 7-speed manual, which is the slower and less fuel efficient of the two available transmissions by the way, the Carrera will reach 100 km/h from a standing start in 4.6 seconds. Opt for the PDK automatic, and you’re looking at a 4.2 second sprint, and better fuel economy. Need to “mach schnell”? No problem – you can keep pinning it all the way up to 289 km/h (179 mph) if you want.

I was a bit surprised at how weak the 3.4 felt below about 3500 RPM. It’s just fine for pulling around town. But if you’re in second gear, and cruising around under 2000 RPM, and you step on it, it won’t push you back. It won’t give you that kick you might be expecting. It will steadily build up RPMs and momentum, and you’ll quickly be going faster than you should be, but it’s not quite as visceral an experience as you may think it might be. But should you step on it from a stop and keep it spinning around 4000 RPM or higher, this whole car changes. It’s got a new personality, and it goes from pussycat complacently purring around town to a snarling beast that is just waiting for any microscopic level of input. Tap the gas, and it will surge ahead. Touch the steering wheel, and turn-in feels as sharp and competent as any mid-engine car.

The car, while pleasant to putter around town, is clearly happier at higher RPMs and speeds.

There are two suspension settings – comfort mode and sport mode. When I got the Carrera and drove it for the first time, I was certain it was in sport mode, because the ride was quite firm over some of our crappier roads here in Edmonton. I was taken aback to look down half-way through my trip to see that it was in comfort mode. The ride is definitely firm. It’s not uncomfortable, but put it in sport mode, and you’ve made it to Uncomfortable Land, baby. Now, certainly I’ve driven cars that ride harsher and after having said all that, I still find the new Carrera rides better than any previous 911 I’ve driven. There’s a multiple personality factor here too. Get on the freeway or the highway, and as you gobble up the miles, you’ll forget about that stiff ride. Higher speeds smooth things out wonderfully, and this car is simply perfect on the highway. I did read a review of the new Carrera S, which IS a different model, but I’m sure it’s not THAT different. The writer indicated the ride is better than on some luxury cars. Come ON, man.

The handling is so incredible around town, that there is little argument for putting the Carrera in sport mode, unless you’re on a buttery smooth track. In everyday driving it makes the car pointlessly harsh over road irregularities, and adds little in terms of capability. I would say the handling too seems to be the best I’ve experienced in a 911. Somehow the 911 is able to remain ridiculously flat around corners, regardless of speed. Turn-in, even if you change your mind in the last second and choose a horrible line, is immediate and things stay completely stable. Get on a long sweeping curve, like a cloverleaf onto or off of a freeway, and you’ll feel the weight shifting in the back. It’s a cool sensation to feel so much at work to control the mass back there, and it remains one hundred percent predictable and completely stable. The longer wheelbase and the massive rear rubber makes for astounding levels of traction.

Yo, Wildsau, what about the 7-speed manual? Well, there’s nothing different here. Pretend it’s a 6-speed. It works just like a 6-speed, and happens to have a 7th cog (which a solenoid locks out so you can’t accidentally get to it from, say, 3rd gear) that you can access from 5th or 6th gear. It’s a very tall highway gear, there to save you a few bucks at the fuel pump when you hit the highway. I loved this transmission. The clutch is heavy, but not too heavy and not clunky. The throws are just stiff and significant enough to make you feel as though you have to work a little. But everything is easy to operate and to drive smoothly. It’s a wonderful manual box and it feels solid enough that somehow, if you had to, you could pass 1000 horsepower through it.

There’s hill-start assist, so if you’re stopped up an incline, the car will apply the brakes until you’re moving forward so you don’t roll back. Oh yeah, and there’s another treat. The Carrera will restart itself if you stall it when you’re driving. So you’ll look like slightly less of a tool. How do I know? I stalled it once. Thank you, Porsche, for making me look pretty slick in that moment.

The steering is electronic, and there are those who say they prefer the last generation steering better. I have to disagree. I loved it. It’s stiff, but not unforgiving. There’s precision, feedback and road feel, enough for me anyway, and much like the transmission, you feel as though you’ve got to do some work to get where you’re going. It’s not an annoyance, but rather a small price of admission.

I normally don’t speak to the chassis much, but I have to mention that the 991 generation felt to be the stiffest chassis of any 911 I’ve driven. Rock solid. Almost shockingly so. Just awesome.

The brakes are, as with any current Porsche, excellent. Around town, they’re easy to modulate and use precisely in cornering. Hauling things down from speed is a non-issue. They will do so repeatedly, and free of any fade.

The car is remarkably quiet at lower speeds, with the exception of a few kinds of surfaces allowing some road noise to be generated. Wind and drivetrain noise are negligible, UNTIL you step on the gas. Herein lies another of the multiple personality experiences. The difference between just cruising around in virtual silence and the snarly roar of the flat-6 under load is startling. I loved the throatiness and growl of the engine, and as always, I love that it’s coming from behind you.

 

Interior/Tech/Convenience

The interior is typical Porsche car. Surprising amount of space – headroom is plentiful and the footwell gives you space to rest your paws. Awesome sport seats. They held me in ways that bordered on inappropriate, and were absolutely perfect for me. Anyone else who sat in it said they could adjust them perfectly for their needs. They’re leather, they’re heated. Bolstering can’t be faulted in any way, and you can adjust the seating position so low, that you’ll feel as though you’re riding an inch above the road. Pedal placement was ideal for me. A perfect steering wheel (with no buttons on it to distract you) sits in front of a large central tach, flanked by a speedometer and a multi-function screen, and bookended by smaller gauges.

The materials are lovely. Everything is soft touch, textured, stitched or aluminum. And the headliner is a gorgeous Alcantara from front to back. The BOSE sound system, feeding off AM, FM, CD, auxiliary, USB or Bluetooth streaming sources sounds fantastic. The navigation and the Porsche Communication Management (PCM) systems handled on the 7″ touchscreen work well, as does the dual-zone automatic climate control.

The now-familiar elevated console that marches its way smartly up to the dash houses a few controls and the shift lever.

You get a very reasonable glove compartment – it’s where the aux and USB jacks are and a 12V plug – and a couple of nooks and crannies for little things here and there, including a flat but usable space under the armrest lid – there’s also another 12V plug there.

The rear seats are simply not meant for adults – there isn’t nearly enough leg or headroom. But you get a couple sets of LATCH anchors for kids’ seats, and my kids were very happy and comfortable back there. Fold the rear seatbacks down, and you have a nice rear shelf that’ll accommodate quite a bit of your stuff. There’s also the front trunk, with 135 Liters of capacity. It’s more useful than I thought it would be. No problem for a road trip for two.

 

Nitpicks

I know people will tell me to shut my piehole about this already, but it does irk me somewhat. It chaps my butt a bit that this $110,000 car doesn’t have satellite radio. Want to move your seat forward or backward? Go ahead. Grab the loop handle under the front seat cushion, pull up and slide away. That’s right, no power fore or aft adjustment at this price. The heated seats? They were an $800 option. Truth be told, these aren’t issues to most Porsche buyers. They’ll check off the option boxes that make them happy, they’ll pay the price of admission, and they won’t put another thought into it.

One thing that drove me batty the entire week, and was noticed by others sitting in the car, was a buzzing from the passenger’s seatbelt outlet. There was something wrong with something plastic there, and over certain kinds of bumps and at certain engine RPMs, the reverberation caused that buzzing to occur. It happened very often, but it’s also something that I’m certain could be adjusted at the dealership within minutes.

 

The Verdict

How do I rate my dream car? Can I even give it less than a perfect rating, after all the years I’ve drooled over it?

Do you give a company extra points for not bending to rules or convention? For staying true to their heritage, and continuing to build the iconic 911 with its engine in the rear? For continuing to stick to the shape that most of the planet could recognize?

You can’t spend time with a 911 and not appreciate that Porsche has never shied away from individuality here.

I realize that no car is perfect. The Carrera has shortcomings, as does any automobile. But the stiff ride, and the lack of certain amenities, and any other nitpicks one might be able to come up with if you think about it long enough… they all fade away in a hurry when you step on the gas. When you let the Carrera live where it’s happy, where the revs are higher, when the landscape is blurring by, everything else seems to be secondary. Because this car has come into its own. And it’s tough to think of a better all-around sports car.

I give the Carrera an 8.5 out of 10. Throw me a Carrera S, with a little more jam, and the PDK transmission, and we’re talking about a 9 out of 10 car without a doubt.

I loved how it felt as it built power past 3500 RPM and didn’t stop building until you let it sing at redline. I loved how smoothly I could shift it into the next gear and let it hurtle me through the crescendo of the next set of revs. I loved the ability to simply carve any line through the city. I loved how small it feels, yet how substantial everything about this car is. I loved how nothing was in the car without a purpose. And I loved how virtually every driving situation brought me joy.

I love how the Carrera isn’t afraid to offend people when it fires up. The initial snarl and clattery mechanical music is symphonic to me, and it’s almost disappointing when the revs die down and it quiets to a simple burbling idle. I love how this car can’t help but get looks from most passers-by. Whether they’re appreciative or jealous, they’re drawn in and they need to look closer and comment. I had a gentleman tell me that his 1968 Roadrunner would eat the 911 alive.

I love how crappy the cupholders are. I love that the 911 cares less about your coffee than it does about you driving it. It would rather punch you in the neck than bow down to your Starbucks habit. And since it can’t punch you, it speaks volumes by providing you with a solution. Sure, but it’s the worst possible solution to hold your drink. I firmly believe this is Porsche’s way of saying: “Drive the 911. Don’t pull up in the Starbucks drive-thru. Keep driving. That’s why you bought this car.”

I did wish for a bit more power on the low end. And that’s about it. I think if I was driving this car day in and day out, I’d probably prefer the truly incredible PDK dual-clutch transmission as well. It’s programmed so well, and it’s such a mind-reader, that it should not be overlooked. I get the whole “a sports car needs to be purchased with a manual transmission” argument. It’s fine and dandy, but once you’ve driven a PDK-equipped car, it’s really, really tough to continue making that argument without, at very least, giving the PDK its due.

WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was very, very high. She didn’t drive it, as she can’t drive standard transmissions. But she sure loved being seen in it, and she truly enjoyed the drive when I took her for a couple of dates in it. She never complained about the ride, nor the noise when I stepped on it, which surprised me a bit. Maybe my wife is slowly learning what makes a sports car, and knows when not to complain. She’s a good girl, that one. Oh, and we did manage to accommodate an entire shopping trip of hers in the front trunk. The one complaint she had was in regard to the terrible cupholders.

The Porsche 911 is an unapologetic car. And maybe that’s what I love about it the most. It determines how much power it will make, and at what RPMs it will make it and how it will make you work for it. It doesn’t bow to pressure, to winds of change, or to convention. It doesn’t share its weird layout with any other vehicle out there, where you know the model from another company is mechanically the same underneath. It’s all 911. Nothing else.

The individuality that I mentioned earlier is what sets 911 buyers apart as well. They are looking for a statement that reflects who they are. They know exactly what they are looking for – and part of it is the 911’s stoic, unflinching Teutonic attitude, and a sense of history and pride. They are looking for an engineering marvel. They realize that faster, better-handling cars exist, but none of them possess a soul a fraction as big as the 911 has. And none of them can boast an evolutionary link that is so undeniable and goes back many decades to the origin of the species.

The 911 is an icon.

Not just because of its looks. But because of its ability to transcend much of the comings and goings of automotive trends, whether you talk about styling, engineering, whatever.

It just does its own thing.

It always has. And it always will.

Did I mention I love it? Probably about 50 times. I do. I love it. Always have. Always will.

Disclosure:  Vehicle was provided by Porsche Canada.

If you enjoyed this review, feel free to check out more of them under my vehicle reviews tab at the top of my blog.

 

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