Counterintuitive. It's a word you'll hear a lot when people are describing the new, long-awaited, dual-clutch 911 after driving it, but more of that later. Another few words you'll no doubt hear are: bloody, lazy, bastard stylists, and, more fortuitously, truly mind-blowing engineering. A mixed bag, if ever there was one, and you're probably looking at the photographs of the new 911 wondering, what's new?
So, a round up: new engines, transmissions, exhausts, suspension, brakes, driver interfaces, headlamps, and, heaven help us, heated steering wheels. It is, despite appearances to the contrary, an extensively new car
These completely new engines (3.6 and 3.8 liters) are less polluting yet more powerful than before. Direct fuel injection, 40 percent fewer components, and reduced friction combine to increase efficiency while lowering the center of gravity, thanks to a reduced installation height and keeping the beardies quiet for five minutes because emissions are down too.
First impressions? Well, that direct fuel injection, while doing the environment a few favors, hasn't done anything for the engine note. In fact, a lot of the time, the new 911 sounds like it's doing a constant wet fart. The cabin architecture needs a shot in the arm and I'm way past being bored with it, but at least it's well-screwed together and the central communications layout is infinitely better than it used to be. And hey, you can now plug your iPod into it, watch TV on it, and there's a new, larger touch screen that's a joy to use, so it's not all bad news.
But this stuff is irrelevant in the big scheme of things and a dozen, balls-out, furious laps of the Weissach test track confirm that this is the best "normal" 911 there has ever been. It's so monumentally quick, so utterly chuckable, so poised and balanced, and has so much grip that you realize Porsche has just taken the fight to Audi. The engineers working on the next R8 have probably chewed off all their fingernails already.
OK, so the cars I got to play with on the track were shod with semi-slick Pilot Sport Cup tires, but otherwise they were totally stock. I kid you not, this is a proper schizo. You can be driving aimlessly at 30 mph and then, when the urge takes you, you can be sideways in a perfectly executed, smoking powerslide, in a heartbeat. It's a proper sports car, this, and its split personality is probably its most endearing feature.
There's trouble in paradise, however, and it's not until I'm out on the surrounding public roads that I get to play with the new PDK (Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe-see how nicely it rolls off the tongue) transmission with any degree of experimentalism. Tiptronic is dead and it's about time, too. In its stead is Porsche's first-ever DSG transmission in a road car and it promises to turn high-performance driving on its head, but I simply can't bear the application of such brain-frying technological prowess when things get counterintuitive.
You can use the PDK as a fully automatic transmission, just as you could with the old Tiptronic system, but that's not what a 911 is really about. Even in this lazy mode, though, kick down is instant and gratifyingly exciting. Knock the gearshifter over to the left and you can manually go through the gears and in Sport mode, the car will hold onto any gear you choose, bouncing off the rev-limiter instead of taking control away from the driver.
There are seven speeds, with the final ratio being more of an overdrive. It tries its damn hardest to shift into Seventh whenever it can, which serves to keep fuel consumption low, but it also gives the impression of being a pretty laid-back, lazy cruiser, which it certainly isn't. Far better to remain in control, but here's where my blood really begins to boil.
Flying in the faces of every other manufacturer on the planet, waving two fingers at conventional wisdom with an arrogance that puts me right off the company, Porsche has eschewed steering wheel paddles in favor of some pretty horrible toggle switches sited on either side. They both do the same thing: push forward for an up change, pull back for a down change. You might be wondering what the problem is but all other cars like this have a paddle on the left of the wheel for downshifts and one on the right for upshifts. Having buttons on either side that do both is just infuriating.
Frequently, I ended up changing from Second into First when I actually wanted Third. This made for far from smooth progress because I had to think about what direction to use the button, which put me off my stroke, and I hate them for it, and it wasn't just me because every single journalist on the launch said exactly the same thing. Porsche has screwed up but will they ever admit it? Not a chance.
You may be thinking, well, just use the stick to shift through the gears but they've ruined this too. In any race car, it's push forward to change down, pull back to change up-it's that way because it fits our natural inclination. But the PDK, of course, does it the other way round and yes, I hate them for it.
So, probably the finest, most usable sports car available today but, for now at least, stick with the manual. The PDK is not available on the Carrera 4 or the Turbo but it's only a matter of time, and if Porsche has even an ounce of humility they'll come equipped with a different, intuitive way of changing gear, and they'll be stunningly good. Don't hold your breath.
2009 Porsche 911 Carrera S
Longitudinal rear engine, rear-wheel drive
3.8-liter flat-six, dohc, 24-valve, direct fuel injection
Seven-speed dual wet clutch sequential PDK
MacPherson struts, coil springs, and dampers (f), multilink, coil springs, and dampers (r)
Four-piston calipers, ventilated and perforated rotors (12.9 inches), ABS, optional PCCB
Length/Width/Height (in.): 174.6/71.2/51.2
Wheelbase: 92.5 in.
Curb Weight: 3,142 lb
Peak Power: 385 hp @ 6500 rpm
Peak Torque: 310 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm
0-62 mph: 4.5 sec.
Top Speed: 186 mph