Porsche’s 911 has long stood as an icon among sports cars. While other models may enter and leave the market and undergo major makeovers that dramatically change their styles and personalities, the 911 has stuck steadfastly to its basic formula since its introduction in 1963. This means a rounded exterior shape and a rear-mounted engine (the latter remained air cooled until as late as 1999). Few would mistake a 911 for any other car on the street. In many ways the 911 is the automotive equivalent of a Harley Davidson motorcycle, evoking an emotional bond with owners and enthusiasts that few other vehicles enjoy.
The 911 is comprised of an extensive product range of more than a dozen varieties, in coupe, Cabrolet convertible and removable roof Targa models, each of which is largely determined by the size and power of its rear-mounted engine. At least to a casual onlooker, there’s little in the way of visual differentiation between the least and most expensive 911 models, save for differences in details like air scoops and spoilers. A slew of new variations heading to the U.S. for the 2011 model year include the 911 Speedster, 911 Carrera GTS, 911 Turbo S, GT3 RS and the limited production 911 GT2 RS, which is said to be the quickest street-production Porsche ever built.
A redesigned 911 is expected to be unveiled at the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show and go on sale during calendar year 2012. While details were not forthcoming as of this writing, we don’t anticipate Porsche will veer far from the current 911’s path, with the new model likely flaunting a mildly freshened exterior, quicker (of course) engines and some added performance, safety and connectivity technology.
In the meantime, let’s run down the myriad current model and engine varieties as best we can, from the slowest (a relative term, to be sure) to the fastest.
All 911 versions come powered by flat-six-cylinder “boxer” engine in which the cylinders are horizontally opposed instead of in a straight-line or “V” configuration to help improve the car’s handling by affording a lower center of gravity. The base model packs a 3.6-liter six that generates 345 horsepower and 288 pound-feet of torque. This version can reach 60 mph in around 4.5-seconds. The 3.8-liter version in the S models gets a bump up to 385 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque, which translates into a 4.3-second leap to 60 mph.
GTS models and the new Speedster get a 3.8-liter flat six that goes a step faster with 408 horsepower and 310 pound-feet. The 3.8-liter six in the GT3 produces 435 horsepower and 317 pound-feet of torque for a 4.2-second 0-60 mph run. The GT3 RS ups the ante even further with an amped up version of this engine that puts out 450 horses and 317-pound feet, with a 4.1 second 0-60 mph experience.
Meanwhile, The 911 Turbo packs a 3.6-liter turbocharged boxer engine that produces 500 horsepower and 480 pound-feet, with a 3.7-second launch to 60 mph that makes the car feel like it’s being shot out of cannon. The Turbo also comes with chassis, braking and suspension upgrades, including a electronically controlled multi-disk clutch for its standard all-wheel-drive system (see below). The Turbo S gets a slight power boost to 530 horsepower and 516 pound feet, with a 3.5-second 0-60 mph time.
At the top of the range, the limited production (to 500 units, globally) GT2 RS is about as close to a street legal racecar as they come, with its twin-turbocharged 3.6-liter six virtually promising legal trouble with 620 horsepower, a mind-numbing 205 mph top speed and a scenery blurring 3.4-second 0-60 time.
As before, a six-speed manual transmission remains the standard gearbox and delivers endless miles of entertainment, at least for motorists who prefer to use a clutch. Fortunately for the rest of the motoring public an available seven-speed “Porsche-Doppelkupplung” double-clutch automated manual transmission affords similar performance with lightning-quick shifts in either automatic or paddle-shift-operated modes. The GT3 varieties include a modified version of the six-speed manual that features a shorter-throw shifter and lower gear ratios for enhanced performance. A “change up display” on the instrument panel alerts the driver when is the optimal time to shift gears for maximum acceleration.
While most 911 models reward a capable driver with a conventional rear-drive setup, albeit one that’s supported by myriad chassis control systems, Carrera 4, Carrera 4S and Turbo models come standard with a sophisticated all-wheel-drive system for added adhesion on both wet and dry roads (though we still wouldn’t consider this much of a “winter friendly” ride if you live in the land of the frozen tundra). The AWD system has a multi-disk viscous coupling and transfers between five and 40 percent of the engine’s power permanently to the front wheels, affording both cornering abilities that just about violate the laws of physics, and improved traction on slippery roads. Slightly wider at the rear than rear-drive 911s, the AWD versions are able to accommodate wider tires at the back for even more grip.
Four-wheel disc antilock brakes with Active Brake Differential help rein in the 911’s corral of horses, while Porsche’s Stability Management System helps even the most-casual motorist retain control of the car’s lively handling even during the most extreme cornering maneuvers.
Standard on all but base 911 models, Porsche’s Active Suspension Management system uses sensors to monitor body movement and automatically adjust the suspension according to driving style and road conditions. A “sport” mode stiffens the suspension for sharper handling. With the GT3, this mode engages even stiffer damper settings for ultimate grip on a racetrack, though these might be too inhospitable for operation over all but the smoothest road surfaces.
Suffice it to say the car’s acceleration and handling characteristics range from excellent to astounding, depending on the version. Ride comfort is rougher than with most cars, but it’s a necessary trade-off made for the sake of the 911’s handling prowess, given the car’s stiffer suspension components and high-performance tires.
While the car’s interior is in no way flashy, all controls are within easy reach, and the 911’s sport seats are both supportive and reasonably comfortable; there’s a back seat, but it doesn’t seem intended for anyone with legs.
A touch-screen control array is actually one of the easier-to-operate multimedia control systems among higher-end cars; it can be equipped with hard disk storage for digital music files, XM satellite radio and a GPS navigation system with XM NavTraffic capability. Bluetooth hands-free cell-phone connectivity and connections for iPods and other portable audio devices are newly standard across the model line for 2011.
For aspiring amateur racers, the available Sport Chrono Package Plus features a digital/analog stopwatch on the center dash, with data automatically logged in the onboard computer for future review. Parameters can be set to measure and record driving times for any stretch of road or track. Dynamic Cornering Lights that automatically pivot to light the way through curves are among its available high-tech goodies.
What really sets the 911 apart from most other rides on the road is its options list, which affords almost total customization with a wide range of performance upgrades, trim and leather packages, and cosmetic tweaks. Buyers can even order a 911 painted and upholstered to match virtually any color or fabric swatch.
The Porsche 911 remains the gold standard among purposeful sports cars for enthusiastic drivers who share a passion for performance. Unfortunately, it’s a costly indulgence, particularly at the top end where it’s price approaches that of some truly exotic sports cars. But for those whose bank account and driving abilities are up to the challenge, the 911 can be worth its weight in gold.
Porsche 911 Quick Facts
Engine: 3.6 Liter Flat Six, 3.8 Liter Flat Six 3.6 Liter Turbo Flat Six
Horsepower: 345 @ 6,500 rpm, 385 @ 6,500 rpm 408 @ 7,300 rpm, 435 @ 7,600 rpm 450 @ 7,900 rpm, 500 @ 6,000 rpm, 530 @ 6,500 rpm
Torque: 288 @ 4,400 rpm, 310 @ 4,400 rpm 310 @ 4,200 rpm, 317 @ 5,250 rpm 317 @ 6,750 rpm, 480 @ 1,950 rpm, 505 @ 2,200 rpm
City/Highway: MPG 14/21-19/27
Transmission: 6-Spd Manual, 7-Spd Auto Manual
Wheelbase: 92.5 in
Overall Length: 175.6 in
Width: 71.2 in
Height: 51.6 in
Curb Weight: 3075 lbs
MSRP: $77,800 – $245,000
Did You Know?
Porsche’s European delivery program allows owners to pick up their newly built vehicles at the factory in Zuffenhausen, Germany, tour the facility, visit the Porsche museum and even have lunch at the Executive Office Building. They can then drive cross-country at their leisure to a port for shipment back to the U.S. The program covers a range of services including transportation and hotel reservations.