Hollis JohnsonWe don’t lack for sports cars in this world. If you want some affordable thrills behind the wheel, you can buy a Mazda Miata for less than $30,000 (and you can buy a well-loved one for less than $5,000).
From there, the sky’s the limit: the Ferrari 488 GTB, for example, will set you back $360,000. And it will be worth every precious penny.
What I’m saying is you don’t lack for choice. But what if you don’t feel like shopping? What if you just want perhaps the greatest sports car ever produced by human hands on planet Earth?
Well, then you should just spend $111,070 — the price of our test car — and get yourself a 2017 Porsche 911 Carrera (base price is only $89,400).
For some, the 911 has always been an odd-looking car, what with its bulbous rear end and bug-like headlights. But over the decades — the first 911 arrived way back in 1963 — the idiosyncratic rear-engine design has been continuously refined. The eighth generation of the sports car is perhaps the best-looking iteration, although all true 911 lovers have their favorite version.
The 911’s rear is now … well, elongated seems like the right word.
But of course, it’s still distinctively Porsche. The real challenge with this car has always been that the rear end is an unusual place to put the motor, at least by modern standards. For over 50 years, Porsche has designed around this issue.
The tail lights are sleek.
And just is case you were wondering, it is a Porsche, and there is no substitute.
The rear spoiler can be extended and retracted manually, and it will also automatically extend at higher speeds. The idea is to improve downforce and handling, but you probably won’t notice a difference at the legal speed limit.
Up close and personal with the mechanism.
The dual exhaust is finished off with chrome. From these pipes emanates the unmistakable song of the legendary flat-six engine, a 3.0-liter powerplant that makes 370 horsepower with 331 pound-feet or torque.
The 911 has a bit more road presence that its ancestors, but it still isn’t very big, tipping the scales at just over 3,000 lbs.
The headlights have evolved and become more aerodynamic, but they’re still the 911’s visual signature.
There is a back seat. Versatility!
The front aero effects help the 911 stay glued to the road.
The badge is quite modest, tasteful even.
Here it is again, at the hub of a 20-inch Carrera S “Platinum Satin” wheel, If you looks closely, you can also see the ventilated discs and stout brake calipers.
The key of ignition, shaped rather like a 911.
What the driver sees. The tachometer is front and center on the instrument cluster, and there’s a moderate amount of controls on the steering wheels, including a drive-mode selector at the lower right that mimics the famous Ferrari manettino. You can select Normal, Sport, and Sport Plus, or devise a custom setting.
There’s also a neat feature of the drive selector which allows an extra boost of racetrack-level power if you want to pass and pass like you mean it! Vroom!
This is actually just about the biggest Porsche badge on the entire car.
The Porsche infotainment system has been recently upgraded, with a full rollout on the New Panamera sedan. All the expected features are present and accounted for: satellite radio, Bluetooth integration, a touchscreen, and USB and AUX ports for devices.
To fire this sucker up you still have to insert the fob into the LEFT-HAND ignition and give it a turn.
The car is nominally a 2+2, really a near-GT car, so you can carry two passengers in the back. But they won’t travel with anything that even vaguely resembles legroom or headroom. If you look hard, you can see the back seats: think of them as a place to stow a jacket or a backpack.
Time. A critical thing in a high-performance automobile. The 911 Carrera makes the 0-60 mph run in a swift four seconds and tops out at 182 mph (under track conditions), according to Porsche.
By the way, if you’re wondering where the “Carrera” moniker comes from, it originated with a race in Mexico called the Carrera Panamericana that had a reputation for death and danger and was only officially run for a few years in the 1950s.
Now let’s get to the PDK transmission. It stands for “Porsche Doppelkupplung,” and it’s Porsche’s version of a racing-style double clutch. It can run in automatic mode, with seven-speeds, or it can be operated manually using the shifter or via paddles behind the steering wheel. It’s absolutely brilliant.
It isn’t easy to get a look at the 3.0-liter, twin-turbo flat six, tucked away in the back. Regardless, this a potent base powerplant. But the turbos are the New New Thing — the base 911’s flat-six was always a natural air-breather in the past.
The frunk, or front trunk. I could get my overnight bag in there, but not much else.
And what’s the final verdict?
I sampled the 911 Carrera and the Targa 4S within about a week of each other, after not having piloted a 911 in a few years.
The Targa was a car I really want to get my hands on, and it was magnificent. But it’s also a 911 that, besides having a targa-style roof, also sports a 420-horsepower motor, a notable bump up from the base Carrera. The Targa 4S also had all-wheel-drive, versus the Carrera’s old-school rear-wheel-drive (yes, there is a lot of variation among 911s, and you can check them all out here.)
Frankly, I’ll always take less horsepower and RWD on my sports cars, any day of the week. The Carrera’s 370 is already plenty of beef — the additional 50 horses for the 4S were for me needless. Sure, you can feel the oomph when accelerating and passing, but you’re just not going to get into all 420 horses, not in the same way as the Carrera’s 370.
And although the 4S gives the impression that it’s fail-safe, it’s almost too mannered. The Carrera isn’t wild, but the balance of the driving dynamics is what I favor in the 911: rear-engine ripping out that pure Porsche growl, power going down to the rear wheels, idealized steering pretty much telling you where to put the nose. If you want, you can force matters and get the back end to slip. Under the right conditions, the 911 is the most festively oversteering machine imaginable.
That’s risky and even with all sort of modern traction management systems, you can still feel the 911’s rear wheels wants to do their thing. But that’s really a safety feature. Overdriving this car in civilization is a bad idea. It forces you to assess your skills honestly and behave accordingly, lest you put $100,000 in peril.
In any event, as I wrote in my review of the Targa 4s, for me the 911 has always been the most self-contained of fast and fun cars. The Ferrari 458, for example, contains a screaming V8 located amidships. Press toward the red line and your eardrums could bleed. A Lamborghini with a V10 creates a wild symphony of exotic burps from its yowling V10. A Corvette Z06 has its 650-horsepower V8 parked up front, and the roar coming out of the exhaust pipes in the back is borderline unholy.
Against this rude cluster of supercars, the 911’s behavior, sonic or otherwise, is subdued. Powerfully subdued, but subdued nonetheless. I’m not saying it’s quiet. But it offers just a subtle indication of power by comparison.
What really makes the 911 so great, and invariably leads me to conclude that it’s the finest car on earth and always will be, all happens when you slip behind the wheel. Obviously, this could be me, but the car just feels right.
The 911 isn’t the perfect sports car — it is, in fact, a bundle of adaptations and workarounds, gradually executed over many decades. What it is, is the sports car perfected.
If you want to have fun behind the wheel, get one. You won’t look back.
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