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Porsche manages to instill the spirit of a racing car into its 911 models. Get behind the wheel, and suddenly you feel like Richard Attwood heading toward the finish of the 1970 Le Mans 24-hour race. And the 2011 Porsche 911 Carrera GTS embodies that racing car element very well, its rigid suspension making the lightweight car corner like a dancer.
A car for purists, the new 911 GTS model lacks a turbocharger, but still makes 408 horsepower from its 3.8-liter flat six-cylinder engine. Less of an amateur racer than the GT3 RS, the 911 GTS includes some civilized elements, such as luxury interior appointments and cabin electronics. At the same time, the 911 GTS boasts 23 more horsepower than the Carrera S. Along its 911 range, Porsche fills every niche.
The cabin of the 911 GTS shows the same luxury elements the company builds into its current cars, with soft plastics lining the dashboard and liberal use of Alcantara and metal components. If you want the cabin covered in cow, a leather option is available.
The GTS is the most powerful naturally aspirated 911 model.
But body-colored metal over the transmission tunnel, combined with seats that require manual operation to move them up and down, fore and aft, give the initial impression that the 911 GTS is stripped down, a bare-knuckle lightweight racer. That impression lasts until you notice the buttons for adjusting the suspension, putting the car in Sport mode, raising the rear spoiler, and making the exhaust roar a little louder.
Technically expert handling
Although the 911 GTS exhibits excellent native handling, Porsche does not shy away from technology to make it even better. Its short wheelbase, light body, and rigid suspension reveal easy turn-in capability from the moment you start driving the car. Over a mountain road with many tight corners, the 911 GTS was absolutely in its element, delivering an exhilarating experience as it gripped the road at impressive speed.
This row of buttons controls the 911 GTS' road-holding technology.
As typical with the Porsche 911, the weight is biased toward the rear because of the engine placement. That means you can and should trail brake the 911 GTS into the corners, throwing load toward the front of the car, keeping the tires down and gripping the pavement. The brakes on this car modulate easily, providing plenty of stopping power but able to be applied gently to shave off speed.
CNET's car came equipped with the optional Porsche Active Suspension Management, a system that constantly adjusts the damping to accommodate the road and driving conditions. In normal mode, the ride is fairly rigid, and leans far more toward sport than luxury. There is absolutely nothing soft in the ride quality. Put the suspension in Sport mode, and the car lowers by 10 millimeters, with the ride getting even harder. Porsche didn't program in a Comfort mode. But this hard suspension means the car stays nicely grounded, keeping its tires in contact with pavement even over small rises.
A nice aspect of the 911 GTS is that, when you push the engine's Sport mode button, it automatically turns on the suspension's Sport mode. Sport for the engine means a more aggressively tuned throttle response.
One apparent miracle of Porsche engineering with the 911 GTS is that, with just 3.8 liters, the engine produces 408 horsepower. Technologies such as direct injection and variable valve timing help Porsche achieve this number. Torque, however, is down at 310 pound-feet. Under hard acceleration, the 911 GTS doesn't deliver the kind of mule kick felt in cars such as the Nissan GT-R. Rather, it piles on the power more gently, as if an expert valet were laying on each successive mile per hour in sure and steady fashion.
This six-speed manual shifts with European precision.
With the six-speed manual, as CNET's car came equipped, the 911 GTS proved very drivable in a variety of conditions, from the exciting mountains roads to stop-and-go traffic. This transmission shifts with easy precision, a European style that never feels too mechanical. The 911 GTS can optionally be had with Porsche's seven-speed Doppelkupplungsgetriebe, its version of a double-clutch gearbox.
Despite its high horsepower, the efficient engine gets EPA fuel economy of 18 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. CNET's average came in under that range, at 17.5 mpg, but a significant amount of drive time was spent in Sport mode.
As one of the more ridiculous optional features of the 911 GTS, the Sports Exhaust System adds a button to the center stack with an icon that looks like a pair of sunglasses. Press it, and the exhaust note becomes more aggressive. Although from the confines of the somewhat insulated cabin, the song of the engine didn't seem to change appreciably.
Fast touch screen
Taking the 911 GTS a little farther from its core sporting roots is the Porsche Communications Management (PCM) option, which combines a whole suite of cabin tech. The system centers on a hard-drive-based navigation system, which shows its high-resolution maps in 2D or perspective views. The system's touch screen is responsive, making it easy to pan the map or enter destinations with the onscreen keyboard.
Porsche calls its cabin electronics suite the PCM, or Porsche Communications Management.
Under route guidance, the system will use traffic data to dynamically avoid jams. Voice prompts use text to speech, reading out street name to help with upcoming turns.
Surprisingly, voice command is a separate option from the PCM. Although not as important for navigation, it is nice to have for the Bluetooth phone system. Without it, you have to go through the touch screen, either accessing the downloaded contacts list or dialing a number directly, to place a call.
For audio sources, Porsche puts a connector for iPods and USB drives in the console. There is also an auxiliary input in that position, useful for Android phones, as the 911 GTS does not have Bluetooth streaming audio. The touch-screen menus for selecting music are very responsive and easy to understand. But after selecting music from a digital source, you then have to touch a Start Playback button. It would be simpler, and better for an automotive interface, to have playback start as soon as you select the music.
: iPod and USB ports are mounted in the center console.
Bose did a masterful job with the 911 GTS audio system. Using 13 speakers in the small cabin, the sound quality is superb. The system reproduces music with exceptional crispness, letting you hear each instrument very clearly. Although well-balanced across the frequencies, you can get strong bass out of it, which, however, does not rattle the door panels.
Porsche offers the 911 Carrera GTS in four different forms: all-wheel drive mixed with cabriolet versions. But CNET's test car, a hard top rear-wheel-drive 911 GTS, felt the most true to form. Raw elements such as a glassless sunroof and metal transmission tunnel leant to the car's purist feel, even if there was a lot of technology lurking in suspension and engine. That technology lends significantly to the car's performance, making for incredibly nimble cornering.
The cabin electronics are solid enough, a necessary element in a car that pushes well over $100,000. The Bose audio system stands out as a high point, with better sound than we've ever heard from this company. The lack of Bluetooth streaming as an audio source is a miss on the part of Porsche, and it is just weird having voice command as its own option.
The Speed Yellow of CNET's car caused polarized reactions, but Porsche has established a unique place in automotive history with its 911 body style. The car is instantly recognizable as a Porsche.
|Model||2011 Porsche 911|
|Power train||Direct-injection 3.8-liter flat six-cylinder engine, six-speed manual transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||18 mpg city/25 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||17.5 mpg|
|Navigation||Hard-drive-based with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Optional|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single-CD|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||USB drive, auxiliary input, satellite radio|
|Audio system||Bose 13-speaker 385-watt surround-sound system|
|Driver aids||Rear park sensors, lap time chronometer, upshift indicator|
|Price as tested||$112,625|