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Porsche's 911 has always been something of a race car for public roads. The company stuck with lightweight construction and a powerful but low-displacement engine, rather than engage in horsepower wars with other automakers.
And while the 2012 911 Carrera S preserves these traditional Porsche virtues, it is the most everyday-drivable 911 yet. With the chassis left in its comfort setting and the two Sport modes off, the car almost delivers a luxury ride. With the Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe (PDK) grabbing gears automatically, this 911 Carrera S is accessible to drivers who might have previously preferred a BMW.
Sports car fans tend to scoff at dual-clutch automated manual transmissions. There is certainly more skill required, and fun to be had, working the clutch on a good old manual. But the seven-speed PDK is extraordinarily smart.
Using its computer-controlled clutches to anticipate the next gear change, it never failed to grab the right gear in automatic mode, and did not hesitate when I chose to shift manually. It may not be as fun as the seven-speed manual Porsche also offers in the 911 Carrera S, but it is very satisfying in its performance.
This seemingly decorative piece above the steering-wheel hub shows when the car is put in Sport or Sport Plus modes.
When I hit the brakes on the approach to a turn, it downshifted quickly, and even seemed to grab lower gears the harder I pressed the brake pedal. Swooping down twisty back roads, it knew when I was driving hard, picking the right gear to get power when it was time to hit the gas on a turn exit.
Porsche has made great refinements to the 911 Carrera S' engine, too. Preserving the flat six, this naturally aspirated direct-injection 3.8-liter produces 400 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. Rear-mounted, it hangs out less over the rear axle than in the previous generation, as Porsche extended the wheelbase of the 911 by 4 inches, but only added 2.2 inches to the overall length.
The low weight of the car (3,120 pounds), the power of the engine, and the quick-shifting PDK all lead to a 60-mph time of 3.9 seconds. And, just as important, the 911 Carrera S drops speed as fast as it gains it. The car comes standard with six piston brakes up front and four piston brakes on the rear wheels. The stopping power is truly excellent, as modulating the brakes let me precisely slow the car depending on the upcoming turn. If this is what the simple Carrera S can do, I cannot wait to drive a GTS.
CNET's car came with the optional Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC), complementing the standard Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), which pushes back against body roll to keep all four tires in maximum contact with the pavement. Adding to the fun are active engine mounts to dynamically counter the engine's inertia in turns.
The 911 Carrera S comes with 6 piston brakes on the front discs and 4 piston brakes on the rears for excellent stopping power.
A new standard feature, adding to the overwhelming list of acronyms on the 911 Carrera S, is Porsche Torque Vectoring (PTV). With the PDK present, PTV uses an electronically controlled differential lock. This system applies light braking to the inside wheel during quick cornering.
Although Porsche's handling technology sounds dangerously complex, it does not intrude on the driving experience. Apparently there was a lot going on in its brain, but to me the 911 Carrera S just seemed like an incredibly easy-to-handle sports car. It happened to be raining most of the time I was driving the car, but even on wet roads it always felt controllable. Bumpy back roads did not upset it, as it absorbed the shocks while staying pointed in the right direction.
One of the more controversial changes to the 911 comes with Porsche's adoption of an electric power-steering system. The steering feel is changed significantly, the new system giving point-and-shoot response. Most of the wheel resistance comes with the system's desire for a wheels-straight position. Some might feel Porsche numbed the steering feel, but, like the PDK, this bit of technology offered easier control of the car in challenging moments.
In a push for greater fuel economy, Porsche added an idle-stop system to the 911, shutting down the engine at stop lights. This system can be turned off at the push of a button, but I did not find it particularly intrusive, and it helps the car turn in an EPA-rated fuel economy of 20 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. In CNET's hands, the 911 Carrera S only averaged 18 mpg, but chalk that up to a lot of drive time spent in Sport and Sport Plus modes.
The idle-stop system turned out to be pretty smart. Stopped in traffic on a San Francisco hill, windshield offering a beautiful sky view, the car did not let the engine shut down, and even activated a hill hold feature to prevent rollback. It also deactivated idle-stop on down slopes.
Porsche puts a lot of technology into the 911 Carrera S' engine and handling, but does not quite match that level of innovation in the cabin. The cabin tech suite, going under the acronym-producing name Porsche Communication Management (PCM), is overall very good, and what you would expect in a car of this lofty price. But Porsche is not pushing any boundaries here.
The mass of buildings in the navigation system's perspective view can be a little much.
The navigation system shows multiple map views: top-down, perspective, and even satellite imagery when zoomed too far out to be useful. In perspective view, it renders buildings in 3D in certain city centers. Driving around San Francisco, the clusters of buildings shown on the screen were so thick it was difficult to see the roads.
In the plus column, the graphics indicating upcoming maneuvers were rich with information, showing a good representation of the lanes. Under route guidance, the system read out the names of streets and used traffic data to avoid jams. It was also very responsive, never taking long to populate a screen or update the car's location.
Likewise, the onscreen keyboard for address entry was responsive, and used predictive text to deactivate letters that could not follow the previous one entered. As with other Porsches CNET has reviewed, a voice command system was available but not optioned in.
The 911 Carrera S includes as standard a Bluetooth phone system. After pairing my iPhone, a painless process that let me set a custom PIN, it automatically downloaded the numbers in my contact list, making them available on the PCM screen.
But unlike its German luxury competition, Porsche has made no attempt at app integration. Beyond the traffic data integrated with the navigation system, there is nothing connected about the new 911.
Porsche put a G meter in the auxiliary display in the instrument cluster.
Although lacking online music services such as Pandora, the car's stereo includes a full complement of other modern audio sources, including HD Radio. Bluetooth audio streaming is there but requires digging through an options menu to check a box to enable it.
Invoking one of my pet peeves, Porsche puts the USB port, which works with a white iPod cable or USB drive, in the glove compartment. That placement is fine when keeping a music library on a USB drive plugged into the car, but very inconvenient for an iPhone.
Porsche offers three audio systems in the 911 Carrera S: the base system, a premium system from Bose, and an audiophile system from Burmester. CNET's car came with the Bose system, a $1,590 option. It produced very clean, enjoyable sound, but did not have the richness of an audiophile system. When I played Yello's "Flag" album, the initial stereo beats of "Tied Up" were well-separated and distinct.
Although I did not get a chance to listen to the Burmester system tuned for the 911 Carrera S, I previously heard the version in the Panamera. There it produced stunningly good sound, so I can guess that it would be very good in the smaller car, too.
The 2012 Porsche 911 Carrera S earns very high marks for its suspension and drive-train technologies. The electronics add to the handling without being intrusive, while the transmission shows it can deal with both performance and daily driving. And fuel economy, at least in the EPA tests, is better than you see from any other car with this level of performance.
The 911 Carrera S is less spectacular when it comes to cabin electronics. The car includes quality systems in the big three areas, navigation, audio, and phone, but does not push into the sorts of new territories that other automakers are exploring. The lack of connected features and driver assistance systems was particularly notable.
The design of the new 911 is both practical and aesthetically pleasing. Although it's a low-slung sports car, I was impressed that, looking over my shoulder, I had a wide view of the road and could see any cars in what would have been the blind spot. The cabin tech interface was usable, but was neither pretty nor particularly practical.
|Model||2012 Porsche 911|
|Power train||Direct-injection 3.8-liter flat 6-cylinder engine, 7-speed dual-clutch transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||20 mpg city/27 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||18 mpg|
|Navigation||Standard hard-drive-based with traffic data|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard with phone book integration|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single-CD|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||Bluetooth streaming audio, USB drive, auxiliary input, satellite radio, HD Radio|
|Audio system||Bose 445-watt 12-speaker system|
|Driver aids||Park distance sensors|
|Price as tested||$125,780|