2012 Porsche 911 Carrera First Drive: Brand spanking familiar

By Editors on December 5, 2011 8:51 AM

Imagine for a moment it's your job to update the Porsche 911, an utterly distinct sports car icon with lineage stretching back to the middle of the last century. Porsche devotees, cynical journalists and hair-triggered internet commenters are all circling, watchful that the classic 911 formula not be defiled. At the same time, the auto biz is seriously competitive with an ever-improving sports car field. Introduce a Porsche 911 too similar to the last and you run the risk of irrelevancy. In short, your imaginary task is to change the 911 without changing the 911. Good luck with that.

In the real world, the job of updating the 911 fell to a crack team of German engineers, designers and product planners. Perhaps their clearest success in changing the 911 without changing it is the new exterior. Alone, casual observers might mistake the 2012 Porsche 911 for the previous version. But place old and new side by side and distinctions emerge. The headlights bulge slightly, while the tail lights have thinned. The whole car looks wider and sleeker. Porsche could have pushed the aesthetic boundaries further but overall the designers did their job, keeping the 911 looking fresh yet classic. The interior feels similarly familiar, with round gauges, supportive yet comfortable seats, lush materials throughout, an ignition mounted to the left of the steering wheel and of course, rear seats sized for whisking Frodo to the Shire.

From a mechanical perspective, the 911 pulls a neat trick, offering both more power and more efficiency. Horsepower figures have inched upward to 350 in the 911 Carrera and 400 in the Carrera S, enabling quicker 0-60 acceleration times in the mid-4-second range for the Carrera and the low 4's for the Carrera S. Make that 3.9 if you buy a Carrera S with the PDK transmission, sport chrono package and you use its totally rad launch control feature. At the same time reduced curb weights and numerous efficiency-focused tweaks help improve fuel economy versus the previous generation.

2012 Porsche 911 Carrera

Transmission choices include Porsche's quick-shifting PDK twin-clutch automatic and a new seven-speed manual. Before using it I wondered how a 7-speed H-pattern shifter could possibly work with four gears placed north of neutral. Thanks to a smart lock out system it works great: seventh gear can only be selected if fifth or sixth has been selected first. It is possible to accidentally select seventh when moving from sixth to fifth gear, but with increased usage we learned to avoid doing so.

And now to interject some controversy. You see, Porsches and the 911 in particular are known for stellar steering feel, transmitting information about every pebble from the tarmac, through the tires, wheels, suspension and steering components, right to the driver's hands and head. Mess with that and the Porsche elite might revolt. Well, grab your pitchforks, because the 2012 911's steering is indeed less communicative than the 2011's. Where the previous car's steering wheel twitched back and forth like Mark McGrath on speed, the new car's wheel is much calmer. Add to that the increased stability afforded by the revised 911's longer wheelbase and hardcore Porsche devotees might never unbunch their lederhosen.

Twitchy, death-taunting sports cars will always have their fans but Porsche knows their customers and consequently chose to dial back the road feel and dial up the efficiency and stability. We can see why. Steadier steering and improved stability make the 2012 Porsche 911 less stressful to drive, especially at higher speed, which should play well with the vast majority of buyers who just want a fast, thrilling car that won't kill them.

2012 Porsche 911 Carrera

All that aside, the 2012 911 is an amazing performer on the road and on the track. The chassis is incredibly well sorted, gracefully handling quick transitions. Come off throttle near the limit and the rear will step out but without the widow-making drama of older 911's. Driven with gusto the newest 911 feels fast, fun and capable - like it's working on your behalf, not waiting for you to screw up. It's also worth mentioning that the 911 makes a surprisingly comfy long distance tourer.

The latest 911 benefits from numerous technological updates, not the least of which is PDCC or Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control, a system that uses active anti-sway bars to virtually eliminate body roll when cornering. A German engineer pointed out that the addition of PDCC alone cut 14 seconds off the car's Nurburgring lap time. That's a number we'd like to verify ourselves...just to be sure.

2012 Porsche 911 Carrera

The 2012 Porsche 911 starts at around $83,000 for the Carrera and a little more than $97,000 for the Carrera S. But make liberal use of Porsche's renowned 911 option sheet and a loaded Carrera S can easily top $140,000. Time to sell that Apple stock.

Redesigning the 911 seems like a no-win situation. Regardless of the result someone will always say Porsche did too much or too little. It's impossible to please all people but you can please most of them. With improved performance, enhanced efficiency, modern technology and timeless looks we think the latest Porsche 911 will do just that.

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