These days, everybody wants their cars to be superheroes. We want them to be sporty, but not so sporty that we can't be comfortable. We want power, but we're not willing to give up fuel economy. We want our cake and, dad gum it, we want to eat it too. Cost keeps most cars from achieving this goal, but most cars aren't the Porsche 911.
While it may have started its life as a lithe rally machine, the 911 has grown considerably, spawning many different variants along the route, nearly all of which sport turbochargers as of 2017.
It's an efficiency move, no doubt, but the 911 has soldiered on through worse, and I'm happy to report that the car you see here, the 2017 911 Carrera 4S, hands out the cake on a fork and begs drivers to take a bite. Whether it's cruising down the expressway in proper grand-touring form or whipping about the back roads of Insert State Here, it's a delight.
If you've seen a Porsche 911 since 1966 or so, it's not hard to pick one out on the road. Its rear-engine layout gives it a familiar, demi-ovate silhouette that hasn't changed much, save for generational expansions along all three axes. Mild revisions for the 2017 model year include a revised front end, new taillights and a new engine cover. This specific color, Graphite Blue, is worth the $710 cost of admission.
Inside, 911 traditions remain, like the five-gauge binnacle and the left-side ignition, but they're given a 21st-century update -- the key now stays in your pocket, and the center-right gauge houses a 4.6-inch color display.
Even though the infotainment screen dominates the center stack, there are still loads of dials and buttons. I found the menagerie of controls below the shifter, which adjust all manner of chassis and powertrain bits, confusing at first. By the end of my week with the car, though, opening the exhaust or lifting the front end (a $2,590 option) was muscle memory.
My tester came with a blue-and-white leather interior, and it was hard to find a surface that didn't feel nice and expensive. The seats, despite carrying a Sport moniker, are comfortable and supportive on long trips. Except for the rear seats. No matter how big the 911 gets, the rear seats are, have been, and always will be, a cruel joke.
Thankfully, I could fold down the rear seats and use the parcel shelf as additional grocery storage. If you need to grocery shop for more than two people, the 911's frunk will need some help, as it's just big enough for several backpacks or a smaller weekender bag.
Whether tucked away inside the suspension or right up front on the gauge cluster, technology makes the 2017 Carrera 4S decidedly digital. Drop $3,970 for the Premium Package Plus, and the 911 picks up LED headlights that provide ample illumination, auto-dimming mirrors and heated and cooled seats.
As for infotainment, I was blown away by the latest iteration of Porsche's infotainment system, which is new for this year. It now supports Apple CarPlay, but not Android Auto. The screen features a proximity sensor, hiding extraneous bits until a hand draws near.
I found this new infotainment system easy to use, but slightly difficult to fully figure out. For example, it gave me three different ways to change settings -- use of the Opt button on a specific screen, through the touchscreen's Settings menu or forcing attention up to the gauge cluster's information display, which has its own control stalk.
If you need to remain connected on the road, the 911 car can be equipped with a 4G LTE antenna supporting a Wi-Fi hotspot. Optional onboard apps deliver fuel prices, weather, online destination search, news and even Google Earth maps to the screen. Porsche also has the Porsche Car Connect app, which lets the driver control vehicle functions using either a phone or wearable device.
While it may not come loaded with every new safety system on the planet, Porsche will add adaptive cruise control and autonomous emergency braking for $2,490. Another $850 tacks on blind spot monitoring. Parking sensors and a backup camera come standard, which helps keep the shiny parts shiny.
P-car purists will moan and groan about the 2017 C4S. "It has turbochargers and all-wheel drive," they'll say. "It's not a real 911!" To those people I say, drive one. You'll have a hard time getting out of the front seat.
I'll address the snails in the room first. Yes, there are turbochargers on base 911 engines now, but they don't ruin the car's character. The exhaust note still sounds flat-six sharp, and with the optional sports exhaust open, it'll make noise with the best of 'em. There's a bit of acoustic trickery, but it's only extra ducting that brings induction noise into the cabin, hardly a heinous offense compared to BMW's synthetic engine-noise system.
Get on the throttle, and this puppy hustles. My tester came with the Sport Chrono Pack, which drops 0-60 down to 3.6 seconds in conjunction with the rapid-fire Porsche Doppelkupplung dual-clutch transmission, but it feels quicker than that. Response from the 420-horsepower, 368-pound-foot, 3.0-liter engine is practically immediate at all speeds above 2,500 rpm.
Even if I bit off more than I could chew, the drivetrain and chassis sorted it out. The all-wheel-drive system made me feel like Superman, pulling the car through questionable turns without losing composure. Rear-wheel steering made tight corners even more of a breeze. At low speeds, the rear wheels turn opposite the fronts to reduce the turning radius. At high speeds, it turns with the fronts to improve handling. If I didn't know it was there, I'd think the electromechanical rack was engineered with the help of Lucifer himself.
A brilliant sports car will usually be terrible on longer trips, but the 911 tackles 'em with aplomb. The optional $890 adaptive sports suspension soaked up pockmarked roadways with ease, and with the car's myriad settings set to their most comfortable, I reckon I could spend a day crossing the country without aches, pains or mental fatigue. However, wind noise above 55 mph was annoying, making the cabin noisier than I've experienced in the competition.
The 911 doesn't have a 95-gallon fuel tank, though, so some stopping will be required. The EPA rates the Carrera 4S at 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. With everything set to be as green as possible, I was eclipsing 30 mpg on the highway, but I kept coming up short in the city, seeing no more than 20 mpg in around-town action.
If one exercises willpower and walks out of the dealership with a non-optioned Carrera 4S, the price tag will hover around $110,300. Our tester, loaded with myriad doo-dads, came in at a spit-take-friendly $138,560, and some fiddling on Porsche's online configurator pushed the price north of $150,000.
That gives it a wide field of competitors. Some are closer to the MSRP, like the Jaguar F-Type R Coupe or the Nissan GT-R. The as-tested price is more in line with the Mercedes-AMG GT S. With pricing that's all over the map, and subject to the well-heeled buyer's whims, it's hard to compare on price alone.
If you want a manual transmission, the 911 is one of a very small number of six-figure sports cars that still offers one. Its fuel economy is also superior to the competition, thanks to the turbochargers and other underhood tricks. The 911 actually falls short in acceleration and pure power output, outrunning the Jag but losing to the GT-R and AMG GT S.
When you're shopping at this price, though, pragmatism isn't the sole driving factor. A 911 is something to aspire to, something that's been in the back of America's mind since before the Bicentennial. With the exception of perhaps the GT-R, no other car has history on its side like the 911.
Pushing the nostalgia aside still leaves plenty to love. It's balanced properly between Jekyll and Hyde, providing GT-like comfort and sports-car capability. Its technical loadout makes the Mercedes S-Class blush a bit. It may not have the highest numbers slapped on the engine, but the whole-kit-and-caboodle experience is one of the finest at this price.