Earlier this year I was afforded access to Porsche’s hallowed proving grounds, their private test track at Weissach, through my involvement with a Porsche Motorsport photo-shoot. Entry to this sacred space requires more than just a vow of secrecy (although they really do ask you to sign a confidentiality agreement). Your passport must be forfeited at the door and unauthorized electronic devices capable of recording images or sound are verboten in most areas. This way, in the unlikely event you see something you’re not supposed to you can’t prove it and you’ll have trouble getting home to tell anyone about it.
Having signed away my life and leaving my identity behind, I’m finally granted admittance. Within 100 feet of the security gate something glimmers and growls across the pavement ahead of me. What do I do? Should I avert my eyes? If I see it, and I'm not meant to, will Porsche let me leave (they do have my passport after all)? The hell with it, I’m looking. You see, even under heavy camouflage, Porsche’s effort to mask the new 911 does little to hide its curvaceous new coke-bottle body, longer wheelbase and intoxicating exhaust note. So much so that this one quick look will haunt my imagination for months to come.
As an air-cooled loyalist, this interest in the new 911 disturbs me. I’m not supposed to like new Porsches. I mean come on, they're water-cooled and soulless right? Then why such a strong desire to drive this car from just a quick glimpse? I’m plagued by emotions from that short sighting for the duration of our project and beyond. I wonder if Porsche will let me drive it?
It’s nine months later and I see the final and refined version of the 2012 911 at Rennsport (that's it above) and now I'm getting my shot at being one of the first in the country to drive it.
Just four short weeks ago I receive an email with a subject line that reads: “Media Invitation: 2012 Porsche 911 First Drive”. It’s an invitation to California for PorschePurist to attend the “first opportunity to drive the new 911”. I guess news of my visual trespasses at Weissach didn’t filter back to the states.
A Second First Impression
Arriving at the hotel, I find a line of 911s using the Pacific Ocean as mere background scenery. The fluid lines of the new Carreras don't quite triumph over the majesty of California’s coastline, but they put up one hell of a fight.
This new Porsche is longer, lower, lighter and wider than its predecessor. The magicians back in Stuttgart cram nearly 4 extra inches of wheelbase into just 2.2 inches of overall increased car length (all in the name of extra stability). At the same time, both the base Carrera and Carrera S have a slightly wider front track (46mm and 52mm respectively) while each sit 7mm closer to the ground. Thanks to a generous amount of aluminum in the chassis, Porsche shaves nearly 100 pounds from curbside weight depending on configuration choices. The most frequent example given at the event compares two identically equipped 911s with PDK; the 991 comes in a whopping 88 pounds lighter than the identically optioned 997.
This 911 Flys
I walk the line of 911s barely able to contain my anticipation. Today’s schedule is a mix of both street and track driving. Unlike other Porsche events, we’re not on an actual “race-track”. Instead, Porsche has rented a section of a large regional airport. A space replete with plush private hanger (used as a media lounge and sound stage) and a custom designed road course (Porsche graded and paved as needed). All this for me - and many, much more mainstream journalists (Car and Driver, MotorTrend, AutoBlog, Jalopnik, etc.) - to put the 911 through its paces.
I start off driving along the neighborhood streets and highways in a PDK equipped Carrera S with a 3.8 liter power plant. Engine displacement in the S trim remains unchanged from the 997, yet yields 15 more horsepower (the base Carrera’s displacement is reduced to 3.4 liters, yet still yields 350 hp. A gain of 5 horses from last year). This extra power and lighter weight are major factors in Porsche’s ability to shave 14 seconds from the 997's lap time at the Nürburgring.
Don’t care about lap times you say. Well consider this. The last of the air-cooled Turbos (not including the venerable Turbo S) produced 400 hp using a twin turbo configuration. That’s identical to the new, normally aspirated 911 Carrera S. Need more comparisons? Porsche claims a 0 to 60 time of 3.9 seconds in the Carrera S using launch control. 3.9 seconds!! That’s the same as the legendary 600+ hp Carrera GT and we know from experience that Porsche is consistently conservative with their performance numbers. If it's possible, my test rig feels even faster.
A Symposium of Sound
Turn the key in the new 911 and the reward is instant. At idle the exhaust rumbles with a deep baritone. As I accelerate the tone changes immediately. Keeping my foot on the gas I rocket up to 7800 RPMs where the low growl gives way and my ears are delightfully assaulted by a howl not unlike that of the GT3 RS. This acoustical treat is one of Porsche’s best in years. Sound like this is the reason 993 drivers will routinely push their revs above 5200 RPMs where the Varioram engages. Amazingly, the sound of the new 911 is even more intoxicating once the sport exhaust is engaged (which of course is the first thing I did once the car was turned on).
Porsche conducts this engine chorus using a “sound symposer” that directs exhaust noise through an acoustic channel where it picks up intake vibrations between the throttle valve and air filter. These sounds then move through a membrane that transmits the vibrations into the interior in the area of the rear window shelf. If you prefer to listen to your own symphony on the optional Burmester stereo system, a simple button push creates an ear friendly daily driver.
Choice of 7-Speed or PDK
Most of today’s test cars are equipped with PDK. Of the twenty or so cars present only five have the much anticipated 7-speed manual. We’ll eventually drive one, but not quite yet.
As I pull away from the hotel I’m immediately impressed with this newest PDK iteration. At first I try to keep the car in manual mode in an effort to stretch the gears a little longer, but there is simply no need. In sports mode Porsche’s engine charges straight to the redline all on its own making my attempts at manual shifts seem slower and jerky compared to what the computer can do.
What’s different about this new PDK system is how Porsche mates it to an auto stop/start system complete with a “coasting” function. PDK coasting disengages the engine when your foot lifts from the gas pedal and is used to decrease fuel consumption in certain driving situations. While the auto stop/start is standard on all new 911s, the “coasting function” in only available with PDK (although you could simply push in the clutch on the 7-speed and achieve similar results).
As eager as I am to drive the new 911 I’m even more interested in trying the new 7-speed manual transmission.
Working the gear pattern is extremely easy and more precise than the previous 911. For those of you worried about lugging, don’t. While the ratios in the manual gear box differ from the PDK unit by using a taller 3rd gear (to reduce fuel consumption), 7th gear is designed mostly as an overdrive (although it does have a shorter ratio than you might expect allowing for some pull at lower speeds). In fact, Porsche designed a lock-out system to prevent accidental shifts into this tallest of gears. Getting to 7th gear is only possible from 5th or 6th.
Which Transmission is Right for You?
As a “purist” I prefer the manual transmission but understand and believe in the merits of the PDK system. It’s lightning quick and faster than I’ll ever be. Later in the evening, over dinner, I chat with Hurley Haywood about his thoughts on PDK. Surely a driver of his caliber and experience prefers a manual too. His opinion surprises me, but in retrospect it shouldn’t. PDK is faster and faster is better. He goes on to say that more than 50% of his sports car sales (at his Brumos Porsche dealership in Florida) are PDK equipped and he’ll do his best to steer customers toward it when he can.
The Controversial and the Cool
Throughout the day I hear lots of discussion about Porsche’s new electromechanical power steering. Listening to these discussions one would think that the change to electric power steering is on par with Porsche's change from air-cooled to water-cooled. It’s not. Yes, this is the first 911 with this steering system, but chances are you'll feel comfortable with it quickly. Compare it to any earlier, air-cooled 911 (which has no power assist at all) and of course the steering feels lighter. But to say that it's completely disconnected or numb is simply untrue. To me, the steering feels as precise and responsive under normal driving conditions on the road as previous models and only slightly less so on the track. However, I fear this lack of track confidence is more one of personal experience than an actual deficiency in the system. My experience is so heavily air-cooled I find myself second-guessing my inputs. I need more time with the 911 to give a definitive opinion. One day of mixed driving just isn’t enough.
Perhaps the coolest gadget on the new 911 is the G-Force display that can be seen on the 4.8 inch high resolution screen included in the dash cluster. It’s so much fun to see how many Gs you’re pulling it’s possible to become distracted. Don’t! With this much power and speed things could go from cool to catastrophic quickly.
The Porsche 911 Comes Full Circle with the 2012 Carrera
Driving back to the hotel after a long day on and off the track I try and put everything in perspective. The Porsche 911 is one of the most recognizable and consistent sports cars of the last 50 years. A slow and steady evolution in design and mechanics continues to cement its lead in the market. While it’s true that certain drastic mechanical changes alienated a small portion of core 911 enthusiasts (of which I’m an active member) this new version will convert many. The 2012 911 proves itself worthy to carry on Porsche’s legacy and shows incredible promise for the future of the brand.
Pricing and On Sale Date
The new 911 is scheduled to go on sale February 4, 2012 in the United States. The 2012 991 Carrera starts at $82,100 and the Carrera S begins at $96,400. While this is a definite price increase over the 997 some additional equipment is now standard on the new 911 which was previously optional or not available. Compared to the 997 Carrera, the 991 includes:
- 19-inch wheels on the Carrera (up from 18-inch wheels)
- 20-inch wheels on the Carrera S models (up from 19-inch wheels)
- Porsche Communication Management (PCM) with navigation (previously a $2,110 option)
- Automatic headlamp control
- Sport seats with electric height and backrest inclination adjustment (manual height adjustment was previously standard)
Visit our Facebook Page for even More Pictures and Videos of the 2012 Porsche 911 Press Event
2012 Porsche 911 Album 1 taken during the US Media Launch in California
2012 Porsche 911 Album 2 taken during the US Media Launch in California
2012 Porsche 911 Album 3 taken during the US Media Launch in California
2012 Porsche 911 Album 4 taken during the US Media Launch in California
Video Footage of the 2012 Porsche 911 in action at the US Media Launch in California
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Special thanks to FlatSixes.com photographer Brett Sloan for all the great pictures from the event.