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Just as automatic transmissions keep sticking more speeds onto their units (you can get up to eight now), it appears that manual transmissions are also getting more, er, in gear.
And one of the many interesting aspects of Porsche’s redesign of its legendary sports car for 2012 is its move from offering a six speed manual to now unleashing the world’s first seven speed stick.
Heck, it wasn’t that long ago that five gears was the ultimate. And then it became six. When will it end? Why aren’t six gears enough?
Well, though one would have to be a fool to consider buying a Porsche 911 because of its gas mileage, the trend toward getting as much get up and go from a gallon of gas as possible appears to be with us at least for the near future. And Porsche appears to be answering that with the seventh forward speed, which is kind of an “overdrive” gear that lowers your revs when you’re cruising on the highway.
But that’s only one of the many changes Porsche made for this new, seventh generation of the 911 (whose corporate name is the 991). The classic sports car has a new rear axle design that’s claimed to improve dynamic precision and stability, a new electro-mechanical power steering system that had many Porschephiles worried, Porsche Torque Vectoring (PTV, which is designed for better tracking stability and reduced sensitivity to dynamic load changes) and enhanced Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM). They’ve also included the dynamic engine mount technology the company created for the last generation 911 GT3.
The company says the result of all these upgrades “raises the bar in driving dynamics with even more sure-footed tracking and roll stability.”
And though you might not think so from looking at it, Porsche says the new 911 Carrera and Carrera S include nearly 90 percent new or significantly redesigned components. The car’s wheelbase is nearly four inches longer than the outgoing model’s, but the body is only 2.2 inches longer thanks to reduced front and rear overhangs (I could use that treatment!). It’s also lower than the old version, with new head lights and bigger air intakes up front.
The outside rearview mirrors are now mounted on the upper edge of the doors, which supposedly cuts down on wind noise, while a nifty new, wider spoiler and narrower LED tail lamps occupy the car’s bum. The spoiler extends to different heights and at different angles depending upon vehicle and, unlike the previous model’s (in which the engine cover doubled as the spoiler) it’s now a separate component.
I got to review both the new Carrera S with the PDK seven speed auto/manual transmission and the base Carrera with the seven speed stick. The 911 was my favorite car in the world going into this new generation and I hoped dearly that Porsche hadn’t screwed up with this major redesign. After all, how many times have car nuts seen one of their faves changed for the worst? I can think of many, including the Mercury Cougar that became a bloated lummox and then a pale shadow, the original Mustang (remember the Mustang II?), the Thunderbird, the Datsun 240Z, Acura TSX and TL, Jaguar XJ – the list goes on and on.
Naturally, all of these are merely personal opinions, and your mileage may vary, but the concern is valid, especially when it concerns a car that has created its own legend over half a century.
So I was really nervous about the new 911 Carrera. I’d read that the new power steering sucked some of the joy out of Porsche’s traditional “hard wired into your brain” steering feel. I’d seen pictures showing how the best interior on the planet had now been infected by the Panamera (not that the Panamera’s isn’t great, but different from what I was used to), how the car was bigger and how they’d moved the engine forward.
But the angst was for naught. The new 911 is fantastic. I love the new look, which to the casual viewer probably look just like the old, 997 version but which to these eyes make the outgoing model (which I had thought was the prettiest car on earth – well, maybe second only to the Aston Martins) look a tad frumpy and past its prime. And yet it’s obviously a 911 and it looks great! How do they do that?
The Carrera S sports a 3.8 liter horizontally opposed “boxer” engine, with the base Carrera getting a 3.4 liter version. The base engine is smaller than the old model’s, but it still pumps out 350 horses, five more than the old 3.6 liter engine. And I swear you can feel the extra horsepower, or maybe it’s that combined with the lower weight, because this 911 seems quicker than the old one, yet Porsche says it gets better gas mileage.
Ditto for the S and its 400 horses that seem even more eager than the old Carrera S’ 385 horses. Of the two, I like the S better, just ‘cause it’s a bit more Carrera than the Carrera, but even the fairly Spartan Carrera I got to drive would be more than enough to keep me happy for the rest of my life. Or until the next 911 comes along.
Gas mileage is also enhanced by the new Auto Start/Stop and “sailing” features, which shuts down the engine at stoplights or lets it idle when you don’t need power – such as when you’re cruising a long down hill section of highway. And of course there’s the seventh gear, in either transmission.
The old, six speed manual transmission was great, but I found the clutch rather heavy and this got to be a bother in stop and go traffic. That, and the excellence of the PDK dual clutch seven speed automatic (which seems to know exactly what gear you need before you do), made me think seriously of abandoning my love for a stick shift.
This seven speed manual makes me rethink that. It’s quick and smooth, shifting more slickly than a politician’s positions, and the clutch feels a LOT better than it did, nearly as light as the clutch in my Audi A4 Avant. I could live with it easy – and since it’s about four grand cheaper than the PDK, it makes a powerful argument to stick with the stick and maybe put that four grand into something else, like the PASM sport suspension.
The auto stop feature, whether by design or coincidence, also rides to the rescue if you stall the manual transmission. I’m embarrassed to admit that I inflicted such a condition on the mighty Carrera twice during my time with it (it takes a bit to get used to a new car) but the 911 fired itself back up again right away, just like it does when the Auto Stop engages.
Now that’s the kind of auto bailout I can support!
Of course you don’t have to worry about that with the PDK.
The new interior is apparently inspired by the Carrera GT supercar of a few years ago, but as mentioned above it reminds me of the Panamera (perhaps since I’ve never been close enough to a Carrera GT to drool over its interior). And that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Mostly, the instrument panel and major controls aren’t changed much, but the new design means there are buttons all over the sloping center console and I’m not sure yet whether that’s more convenient or less than it used to be. I do know that I tend to nearly elbow passengers in the head when operating the buttons that are back behind the shifter, but it could be argued that’s a small price to pay for the privilege of “passenging” in such a great car. Maybe you should just pack a helmet for front seat passengers.
But all the stuff is straightforward and close at hand, the way it should be and the way it was. If this is progress, I can live with it, and knowing Porsche I’ll probably grow to love it as I get more used to it in subsequent reviews (and bring ‘em on! Please!).
My sample Carrera didn’t come with a sunroof, which is a shame. The Carrera S did, though, and the new sunroof slides over the roof instead of inside it like the old one did. It also opens up larger and that’s never a bad thing. The over-the-roof aspect also creates better headroom, but that’s something I’ve rarely had to worry about.
The base Carrera did have several thousand dollars worth of options that took its entry price of $93,700 Canadian and raised it to $107,545 (including destination charge, etc.). The options on this car that I’d check off if ever the lotto gods smiled upon me included the PASM sport suspension ($3400), PTV ($1510), the upgraded Bose surround sound system ($1820) and maybe the great-looking 20 inch SportDesign wheels ($2230).
I think I might not pick the “Sport Seats Plus,” which added nearly a grand to the total. They’re still adjusted manually front and back and, to be fair, as nice as they are I’ve been quite happy with the base seats in models I’ve driven before. I’d also have to think twice about the seat heating, which is worth (well, costs) an extra $790 and, like the $290 SportDesign steering wheel and $880 dynamic light system, really should be standard. At least they throw in Bluetooth now!
The Carrera S starts at $110,000 Canadian, and you’ll undoubtedly want to add a few more pieces to the equation as well. My test car wasn’t optioned to the hilt, but the add-ons, many of which I’d really want, added about twenty grand more. And it was all stuff I’d want!
So the new 911 Carrera, even in nearly base form such as this one, is still a fantastic car – the stuff that dreams are made of, to rip off “The Maltese Falcon” (or was it “Explorers?”). And the Carrera S is just that much nicer. Sure, they’re both a hundred grand-plus worth of wheels, but if you have that kind of disposable income and you want to dispose of it on a sports car I can’t think of a better place to do it. The car is gorgeous, performs like a thoroughbred, is comfortable, and yet still manages to be a piece of cake to drive.
And you can take it to the track on weekends if you want to. It really is the complete package.
Jim publishes TechnoFile Magazine. Jim is an affiliate with the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada and his careers have included journalist, technology retailer, video store pioneer, and syndicated columnist; he does a biweekly column on CBC Radio One’s The Business Network.