2012 Porsche 911 Carrera S first drive: Redialing 9-1-1

2012 Porsche 911 Carrera S

2012 Porsche 911 Carrera S (click to enlarge)

If you’re a student of the sixties a few images and/or memories should spring immediately to mind. If it’s music, think Beach Boys, Beatles and Stones. Movies prove less immediate, but early sixties fare included Westside Story, How the West Was Won, Cleopatra and Dr. Strangelove. And we won’t forget automotive intros, with Jaguar’s XK-E, Shelby’s AC Cobra and Porsche’s 911 all rolling into showrooms before LBJ’s ’64 election. The Beach Boys are celebrating 50 years this summer, both Natalie Wood and the Cobra are (regrettably) gone, and Liz Taylor – we’re guessing here – is sleeping with Elvis. Should Ms.Taylor and Mr. Presley require wheels Porsche’s 911 lives – after a fashion – in the guise of a 2012 911 Carrera S.

With any new iteration of the ‘venerable’ (it’s almost always ‘venerable’) 911 the automotive media falls all over itself in regurgitating the new 911’s rear-engined, air-cooled lineage, despite the advent of a water-cooled 911 mill sometime in the last century. Much is made of the 911’s evolutionary proportions, latest engineering attempts to reign in the car’s rearward weight bias and bang-for-your-performance-bucks. Regrettably, few (if any) of the assembled journos take a moment to step back, eyeball the 911 with a critical eye and confess to what for us is oh-so-obvious: Today’s 911 is no closer to the original ’63 than today’s Brian Wilson is to his original ’63. But wouldn’t it be nice?

With that caveat pushed aside, we’ll admit the latest iteration of Porsche’s ‘venerable’ 911 is quite the suit of armor. To a platform that, over the last twenty years, has grown well beyond its original footprint, Porsche’s design team has once again stretched both wheelbase and overall length, resulting in slightly more interior room and notably less connection to your old ’89. Inside, our Carrera S was swathed in a dark brown – Porsche will dub it espresso – leather, which contrasted beautifully with the exterior’s GT Silver Metallic ($3,140).  The 911’s stance, on 20-inch rims, remains notably athletic, but today’s bodywork doesn’t resemble Mark Phelps this summer in London; it’s closer to Mark Spitz, now doing color commentary some forty years after the ’72 Olympiad in Munich. To its credit, the redesigned body is lighter – by some 100 pounds – than its predecessor, and remains the most compact in the premium sports car category.

One twist of the key, however, and you’re immediately immersed in the sweet sounds of Porsche. The flat six, now displacing either 3.4 (Carrera) or 3.8 (Carrera S) liters, still delivers the anticipated cacophony at idle and symphony at redline. And in Carrera S guise, the 400 horsepower (up from last year’s 385) will find sixty in just 3.9 seconds when managed by Porsche’s Sport Chrono package and connecting to the road via the PDK trans. Opt for the 7-speed manual and you’ll add two-tenths of a second to that time, but enjoy total and absolute control while ‘slowly’ getting to that 60.

Our Carrera S enjoyed a long list of go-fast options, including the aforementioned PDK transmission ($4,080), sport exhaust ($2,950), Porsche’s Dynamic Chassis control ($3,160) and Sport Chrono package ($2,370). With the ability to adjust chassis and throttle, the 911 can be as benign as you’d care to dial it, or as fierce as your traffic attorney will allow. Arriving at the airport sometime after ten, and having not driven a 911 for almost a year, we were fully be-9. And since the $130K window sticker represents my (hoped for) income in a parallel universe, we never did achieve ‘fierce’.

We did, however, attempt to get a feel for what today’s 911 constitutes as a daily driver. And in that regard, this may be the best 911 ever. In normal mode the throttle tip-in is gradual, the ride composed and the engine simply back there. Light the wick, however, and it’s Katerina-bar-the-door, faster acting than your daily dose of Cialis. From driveway to downtown this is everything you want in a daily driver; dial it up, however, and its Green Bay’s Donald Driver. Our only disconnect was with the Auto Start/Stop. It may be fine on a Prius, but doesn’t – in our view – belong on a Porsche.

Finally, there’s the window sticker. And whereas you can find a seemingly endless supply of Porsche’s pre-owned Boxster for around $30K, our Carrera S, with a base Monroney of $96,400 plus destination, enjoyed almost $30K of upgrades, bringing the window sticker to just over $128K. Ach – as we might say over a bottle of Beck’s – du lieber!

We, of course, aren’t the target demographic for today’s 911, and couldn’t afford the parts costs to maintain yesterday’s variant. Were our circumstances improved, however, the new 911 is, in its way, every bit as compelling as the original. If only we could say that for the Beach Boys…

2012 Porsche 911 Carrera S, price and key specifications as tested
Body style/layout: 2-door Sports/GT, rear engine/rear-wheel drive
Base price: $96,400
Price as tested: $128,940

* Type: 3.8-liter 24-valve DOHC horizontally-opposed six
* Displacement: 3.8 liters
* Block/head material: aluminum/aluminum
* Compression ratio: 12.5:1
* Horsepower: 400 @ 7400 rpm
* Torque: 325 lb-ft @ 5600 rpm
* Recommended fuel: premium unleaded
* Fuel economy, EPA est.: 20/27
* Fuel economy, observed: N/A

Transmission:7-speed, double-clutch (PDK)

* Suspension, front/rear: MacPherson strut / MacPherson strut with wishbones and trailing links
* Wheels: 20 x 8.5 / 20 x 11.0-inch alloy
* Tires: 245/35ZR20 / 295/30R20
* Brakes: 4-wheel disc; 13.39-inch dia. front/12.99-inch dia. rear
* Steering: Electro-mechanical power steering
* Turning circle: 36.4 ft.

* Wheelbase: 96.46 in.
* Length: 176.8 in.
* Height: 50.98 in.
* Width: 71.2 in. (excluding mirrors)
* Curb weight: 3,120 lbs

* Active: YES
* Passive: YES

Warranty: Limited 4-year/50,000 mile warranty U.S.; 12-year corrosion perforation limited warranty; Porsche Roadside Assistance