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Immediately after driving the outstanding 2021 Porsche 911 Turbo S, I swapped it out for the Racing Yellow coupe you see here. It's the 911 Carrera -- no 4, no S, no Turbo, no nothing -- the most basic version of Porsche's storied sports car. I kind of thought that, after a day of heavy breathing behind the wheel of that 640-horsepower Turbo S, this base 911 might feel a little, I don't know, boring. Thankfully, this is a case where I'm extremely happy to be wrong.
Part of why the 911 Turbo S is so great is because it's built on a super-solid foundation. From stem to stern, the 992-generation Porsche 911 is magnificent. Even from a design standpoint, nothing about the Carrera says "base model" -- it's as sharp as any other 911, with a gorgeous fastback silhouette and a full-width LED light bar that accentuates this coupe's broad hips.
I've always liked that Porsche allows customers to option its entry-level models to look like their raciest counterparts; the 20-/21-inch staggered wheels are the same ones found on the 4S Cabriolet I recently tested, ditto the silver-piped sport exhaust. It isn't until you see the "911 Carrera" script on the back that anyone will know this is the standard version, and even then, Porsche will happily remove that badge for you, free of charge.
The 911's base powertrain is a real doozy. The twin-turbocharged, 3.0-liter, flat-6 engine produces a healthy 379 horsepower and 331 pound-feet of torque, which is enough to get this rear-wheel-drive coupe to 60 mph in as little as 3.8 seconds -- assuming you're using the launch control included in the $2,720 Sport Chrono option.
A lot of folks still bemoan the turbo-fication of the 911 range for some silly reason. Look, I love a naturally aspirated flat-six as much as the next person, but what's great about the Carrera's twin-turbo engine is that it hasn't lost any of that boxer charm. The engine's power delivery is linear and predictable, but with all the torque coming online at 1,950 rpm, you don't have to wind it out all the time. You still can, though, all the way up to the 7,400-rpm redline, and the flat-six song is just as sweet.
If there's a single fault to the base 911 Carrera powertrain, it's that you can't order it with Porsche's seven-speed manual transmission... yet. The company hasn't officially confirmed it'll offer a stick-shift on the Carrera and Carrera 4, but I have to believe it's only a matter of time. For now, 911 Carrera buyers are treated to Porsche's eight-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission, which is a perfectly lovely gearbox, and one that's fun to manu-matically play with via the coupe's steering wheel-mounted paddles.
That said, I find myself leaving the transmission alone most of the time. In the Carrera's Normal, Sport and Sport Plus driving modes, the PDK 'box is always right where I want it, holding gears up toward the redline when I'm deep in the throttle on a steep mountain pass, or preemptively dropping to a lower ratio when I'm on the brakes going into a turn. The Sport Chrono pack adds Porsche's nifty, push-to-pass Sport Response button in the middle of the drive mode selector, which puts the engine and transmission on full attack for 20-second stints of go-like-hell acceleration.
I'm not going to try and tell you that 911 Carrera is as engaging as the Turbo S on wonderful canyon roads. But while the former is half the price of the latter, it doesn't feel like half the car. That's because every 911 is instilled with rewarding steering feel and a nicely balanced chassis. The Carrera doesn't have the Turbo S' awesome aerodynamic tricks or its super-fat tires (or, you know, 640 hp), but there's definitely a sense of familiarity when I'm carrying lots of speed though back-and-forth esses. The weight of the steering, the solid braking performance, the distinct lack of pitch and roll -- it's all quintessential 911 stuff.
That's even true considering you can't option the 911 Carrera with some of the performance hardware available on higher-end models. The base car isn't available with the PASM Sport suspension, Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control or rear-axle steering options that you unlock at the Carrera S level, not to mention the torque-vectoring tech exclusive to the all-wheel-drive cars. Yes, all of these goodies make the higher-end 911s much sharper performers, but a fast Sunday drive on my favorite winding road in the standard car is still a fantastic experience.
The Carrera's softer suspension makes it easier to live with, too. And that's important, because I believe base 911 Carrera buyers are more likely to drive their cars day to day. Even with the largest 20-/21-inch wheel option, this coupe is plenty comfortable for commuting on Los Angeles' lousy freeways. Add the $2,770 front axle lift tech for maximum driveway prowess, too.
As far as things like interior refinement and onboard tech are concerned, the Carrera follows in the footsteps of all other 911 models. The optional 18-way power seats of this tester ($3,470) are great, with plenty of lateral support, and every part of the interior fits together beautifully, though I'd personally opt for a more imaginative color choice than the all-black scheme of this test car. (Checkered fabric seat inserts, anyone?)
The standard Porsche Communication Management tech works as well here as it does in any other 911, its 10.9-inch touchscreen fitted with standard Wi-Fi connectivity and Apple CarPlay (but not Android Auto). Driver-assistance systems like lane-keeping assist with traffic sign recognition, adaptive cruise control, a surround-view camera and lane-change assist can all be part of the 911 experience, too, but as you'd expect from any car wearing a Porsche badge, none of the aforementioned niceties come standard.
A 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera just barely squeaks in under the $100,000 mark: $98,750, including $1,350 for destination. Optioned up with all the aforementioned goodies, plus a few other bells and whistles, my Racing Yellow tester comes in at $116,100, putting it just above the $114,650 starting price of a 911 Carrera S.
Honestly, unless you're going to spec a Carrera S with all its available performance options, I'd probably just stick with the standard car and use the extra money on all those a-la-carte options. That it's so good to drive is truly a testament to the fundamental brilliance baked into every one of Porsche's sports cars. No matter if you buy a back-to-basics Carrera or a supercar-killing Turbo S, you're still getting a 911.
Originally published April 15.