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Driving a Porsche 911 for the first time more than lived up to the hype

Despite its pivot towards grand touring, the 992-generation 911 is a damn good sports car.

The Porsche 911 lives up to the hype.
Daniel Golson/Roadshow

The Porsche 911 is a legendary sports car. Since its inception in 1964 it's stayed true to form both in terms of design and performance, with a unique and recognizable look, a rear-mounted flat-six engine, an available manual transmission and a more analog driving experience than what you get in other high-end sports cars. So many enthusiasts say you can't be a "real" car person until you've driven a 911. And until now, I never had.

Rather than go back and drive a vintage model first, or a more modern but still venerated 996 or 997, I wanted my first 911 to be the current 992 generation. Compared to the previous 991 (and every 911 before it), the 992 is larger, softer and more luxurious. It leans more towards the grand touring side of the sports car spectrum, and because of that, many purists say the 992 is worse off.

But because I've never driven one, the only preconceived notions I have of what a 911 "should" be are based on reviews I've read, episodes of Top Gear and conversations I've had with friends and colleagues. So I'm starting my week with a 992 with an open mind and a lot of excitement.

This Carrera S has basically every performance option.

Daniel Golson/Roadshow

This particular 911 is a nearly perfect spec for my first encounter. It's a Carrera S coupe with rear-wheel drive and the eight-speed PDK automatic transmission, with nearly every performance option and only a couple interior essentials. The $5,460 Sport package bundles together the sport exhaust system, the lowered PASM adaptive sport suspension and the Sport Chrono package (launch control, a dash-mounted lap timer, more drive modes, etc.). This 911 also has the $3,170 Dynamic Chassis Control active anti-roll bar system and its required $2,090 rear-axle steering setup, both of which are fabulous. The only option I'd skip are the $8,970 carbon-ceramic brakes, which are great but unnecessary on the street.

I know that this won't come as a surprise to anyone -- it isn't exactly surprising to me, either -- but holy shit the 911 is fantastic to drive. The steering is absolutely perfect; it's super direct and light without being too twitchy, and there's tons of feedback. This is also my first time driving a rear-engine car, and I love the way the back end squats and twitches under acceleration as the front gets lighter. It takes me a bit to actually get used to the 911's handling characteristics, but there's an absolutely absurd amount of grip and it's never, ever scary.

The engine is a marvel, too. Porsche gets heavily criticized going turbo-only with the new 911 (except the GT3), and maybe I'd feel differently if I had experience with previous generations, but having only driven this 992, I don't care. The Carrera S' twin-turbo 3.0-liter flat-6 makes 443 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque -- 64 hp and 59 lb-ft more than a regular Carrera. It satisfyingly revs to a 7,500-rpm redline and sounds great doing it, especially with the sport exhaust in its louder mode, and there's gobs of torque in every gear. It's absurdly quick, with Porsche quoting a 3.5-second 0-to-60-mph time, and there's almost no turbo lag.

The 911's automatic is so good I wouldn't even consider the manual.

Daniel Golson/Roadshow

A big point of contention when talking about this 911 to my friends is the transmission. "Damn, you should have tried to get a manual one for your first time," they say. To be honest, though, I wanted my first 911 experience to be with an automatic, to see if it would still be fantastic. But after spending a week with the PDK 'box, I don't think I'd even consider the manual on a regular Carrera like this. The quick-shifting dual-clutch automatic is just so well suited to the car without taking away from the fun of driving,  it's more livable in the city and results in  better performance numbers. Even on spirited drives in the canyons there isn't a moment where I wish I was rowing my own gears.

Even more astonishing is just how good the 911 is at being a regular car. Despite the 992 generation being the longest and widest yet, it's still easy to place and see out of. It's also super comfortable, especially with my test car's 18-way adaptive sports seats, and despite the staggered wheels it doesn't get unsettled over large bumps or rough surfaces. While I see slightly worse fuel economy than the 911's 18-mpg EPA city rating overall, it's easy to get close to 30 mpg on the highway and I'm sure a better average would be possible if I didn't punch it from every stoplight. But where's the fun in that?

I also love the 992's interior. The design is subtly retro, every switch and button is well laid out and has satisfying action, and all of the materials and touchpoints feel great. The PCM infotainment system is fantastic, and it's getting even better with a major overhaul for the 2022 model year. I would prefer a more extroverted color than this basic black, especially because this one's leather interior is a $3,830 option, but I do like the $540 matching Racing Yellow seatbelts.

It's easy to make friends when you've got a 911.

Daniel Golson/Roadshow

It's pretty practical, too. The 911's frunk is spacious enough for a grocery run or a carry-on suitcase with room to spare, and while the back seats are only suitable for adults if it's a very short trip, they work great as extra luggage space. This 911's $2,770 front-axle lift makes it easy to get in and out of steep driveways, but I do wish it had more of the available driver-assist features like a 360-degree camera and blind-spot monitoring.

I've got the 911 bug now. I get it. The entire time I had this 992 I made up reasons to go for a drive -- picking up a friend for a midday coffee, "forgetting" to buy cat food when I ran errands so I'd have to go back to the store later. And I always took the longest way home. It really is the perfect everyday sports car. And with a starting price of $114,650 (including a $1,350 destination charge) for the Carrera S, it's honestly a good value compared to competitors like the Mercedes-AMG GT and Aston Martin Vantage.

Now for the most important question: How would I spec my dream 911? Well I'd obviously go for the Targa, as it's the best looking version of the 992. While the new Carrera GTS was just unveiled and is a real performance bargain, it restricts me from being able to choose cosmetic items that I care about more than a bump in power. I'm sure that even the base Carrera is more than enough car, but jumping to the S unlocks some options that I'd want like rear-wheel steering. So give me a Targa 4S in Aventurine Green with a matching Agave Green interior, gold wheels and stripes, lots of leather slathered over every interior surface, and basically all of the performance and convenience features. In case a rich man wants to spend $218,355 on me, the Porsche configurator code for my ideal 911 is PNYQ7MY2.