2011 Porsche Carrera GTS First Drive: Das Hoot
We'll start, as most drivers do, with the wheel. Arguably the most significant connection between driver and machine, the steering wheel's importance is often taken for granted, and never fully appreciated as the contact point between car and driver. It parks the car in the lot and, if your car is a 400-plus horsepower Porsche, can position - in combination with your right foot - your car in a corner. It is paramount to not only your enjoyment of the car, but arguably your very survival in the car. In short, it's fully integral to the car's operation, and the engineering team at Porsche would want you to regard it as such.
The steering wheel of Porsche's Carrera GTS is completely unadorned. It has, to be sure, the three obligatory spokes, and is surrounded in leather (or Alcantara) to assure a safe and satisfying grip. Those spokes -- polished in a nostalgic nod to what used to be metal -- frame the smaller speedo, centrally-mounted tach (with digital speedometer conveniently mounted in its face) and temp-and-gas gauges. Notably, the wheel holds no provision for engagement of cruise control, adjustment of radio volume, or reading e-mails from a dash-mounted display. Its sole raison d'etre is to point your 400+ horsepower Porsche in the right direction, between the curbs on any public roadway.
And the only 'raison d'etre' for Porsche's 911 Carrera GTS is to access as many public -- and private -- roadways in your lifetime as is humanly possible. For in the almost fifty years of 911 production, the Carrera GTS would seem to strike the perfect balance between attainable ownership and sustainable performance. To be sure, a price on the wrong side of $100K will - if considered carefully - result in a flushing around the cheeks (both pair). When weighed, however, over the expected life of the car, you can imagine that this will one day be a $40K driver - perhaps your $40K daily driver. And with a projected top speed of around 300 kilos per hour, while achieving a highway EPA of 25, the Carrera GTS makes a credible argument for parking the Prius and, in its stead, parading a Porsche.
We paraded this Porsche for most of a week, and whether doing the daily commute, grabbing caffeine or pretending the local freeway had been commissioned by Adolf rather than Ike, the latest iteration of Ferry Porsche's rear-engined dream didn't disappoint. Finished in Carrara White (and don't ask about the differentiation in spelling - the answer didn't translate), with a Cocoa - 'Special Leather Cocoa' - interior executed by Nestle, the Carrera GTS shares its wide flanks and huge rubber with the Carrera 4's bodyshell, while propelled by the more conventional rear-wheel drive. Enjoying a 23 horsepower advantage when compared to the more pedestrian Carrera S, the GTS occupies that narrow gap between the 'S' to the south and Porsche's 435 horsepower GT3 to the north. And we'd dare you to recognize the horsepower deficiency if you haven't won the pole at LeMans.
The GTS' water-cooled goodness is connected to a well-engineered 6-speed manual or 7-speed PDK transmission. Ours came with the 6-speed, which was flawless in its actuation, with but one caveat: We found 5th and 6th gears of little use in anything approaching legal speeds, which may be why our actual mileage varied from the EPA's highway estimate.
As in most 911s since launch, this current iteration continues to strike a strategic balance between poise and comfort. And should you wish to make a small sacrifice to poise, our example was fitted with the optional Sports suspension, which allows you - for less than a thousand bucks - to tailor your driving to the standard sport exhaust. And this, kids, is why 'hooliganism' was invented.
That same balance might be said for the interior, forgetting its 'ach du chocolate' palette. The front buckets are hold-you-in sculptured, but we found our shoulders - which aren't THAT wide - sitting atop the backrest rather than in it. Comfort was fine, and ingress/egress was perhaps better than it should have been, but we never found ourselves sitting 'in' the seat; rather, we seemed to be 'on' the seat. The remaining elements of the packaging were excellent, with generous room for two adults - along with space for your stuff in what is generously called the +2 rear seating.
Any perceived shortcomings are forgiven with but one turn of the ignition key. Still mounted to the left of the steering column in a seemingly archaic nod to the LeMans start, the 911's raspy emission climbs to an absolute wail as your revs approach redline. The car's anger management, however, needn't be tested with every drive; the daily rigors of the stop-and-go commute leave you satisfied with the 911's balance and visibility. It is, in sum, an exotic packaging of performance, without the negatives associated with an exotic package.
At the end of the day, we were smitten by its personality - but unsure that the performance advantages equal the GTS' pricing disadvantage. A more pedestrian 911 Carrera comes in at under $80K, and in the hands of even a skilled owner will do 98 percent of what the GTS can accomplish - at 80-percent of the price. You pay your money, and you take your choice; we'll take a cooking 911 (or Cayman R) - and spend the balance on track days.