Roll out of the throttle, the exhaust barks on overrun. A half-dollar-sized patch of gummy Chuck Taylor sole squidges onto the brake pedal and bears down. My left Chuck stabs the clutch, simultaneously the blade of my right foot smears into the throttle. Growl-pop! Release clutch, after my right arm knocks the shifter through neutral. Clutch in, right hand over and back. Clutch out, ease out of the brake, turn in. I'm supposed to save conclusions until the end, but this is the best new car I've driven in years. It's no surprise the 2017 Porsche 911 is good, but this good?
I'm not talking about a GT3 or even the GTS. I'm rowing the gears and bending the rudder of Stuttgart's newest base Carrera, the 991.2 as myself and the other nerds will refer to it. The car I'm in, to be more specific, is a Carrera in Guards Red and an absolute stripped model by Porsche standards. The $97,010 total price includes $2,950 for the sport exhaust, $420 for dimming mirrors, $690 for seat heating, $840 for seat ventilation, $320 for GT steering wheel, $800 for sport seats plus, and lastly $540 for red seat belts. Yes folks, in reality the base 911 is now a $100,000 car. The crazy thing—it's worth every penny.
The 991.2 is considered a mid-cycle refresh, but this might be the biggest paradigm shift for the 911 since the 996 added water cooling to the flat-six. The engine has shrunk to 3.0 liters but gained two turbochargers, and that's a shocker. In the past, only the appropriately named 911 Turbo was actually turbocharged. Now the Carrera models are all turbocharged 911s but not 911 Turbos. The addition of 13.1 psi of boost, 16 psi for the Carrera S, from the two turbos has also added an additional 20 hp over the 991.1 naturally aspirated engines. As you might guess, those turbos have also added considerable torque—44 lb-ft for a total of 331 on the Carrera and 368 lb-ft on the S—and it's delivered from 1,700-5,000 rpm. But don't get hung up on the torque, at least not yet. The sudden and massive delivery of torque has arguably been the downfall of cars like the latest generation of turbocharged M3.
What Porsche has been able to do correctly, where others have failed in the adoption of forced induction, is deliver all that power and torque in a way that still mimics a bigger naturally aspirated engine. This is the part where I should admit that I actually like the base Carrera far more than the Carrera S. I don't think I have ever really thought about this before, but driving both cars back to back has made me realize that there may be an optimum turbo flow rate to engine displacement ratio, and I'm not convinced it has anything to do with a compressor map. My theory revolves around the ratio of naturally aspirated to forced induction power.
The 911 Turbo, capital T, has always been my least favorite 911 variant, although a least favorite 911 is similar to your least favorite ice cream. I've never liked the power delivery of the Turbo when compared to a naturally aspirated flat-six. Even the latest version still has a wallop of torque that doesn't seem to be avoidable. I'm not talking about turbo lag, but rather some form of turbo over-achieving. With the massive power and torque available, it has difficulty doling it out in whatever amount you may want. You either get 150 or 500 lb-ft, there isn't much in between. Imagine a world where only small and XX-large T-shirts exist; most of us would be unhappy. That's how I've always felt in the Turbo, no matter what my right ankle asks for; I'm either getting not enough or more torque than I bargained for.
The 3.0L in the Carrera uses small little turbos that aren't adding a ton of additional power and torque. I would guess the engine sans turbos would probably still produce in the neighborhood of 290-300 hp. So the Carrera S is using the turbos to supplement less than a 25 percent increase. The 420hp Carrera S engines are increasing power by 40 percent. The Turbo is using boost to get, by my estimation at least, a good 45 percent or more of its power from forced induction, so it is no wonder that it hits like a ton of bricks when the turbos spool up. Now you're probably thinking, "Turbos aren't an all or nothing thing. We can control boost with things like wastegates—which control how fast the turbo spins by allowing some of the exhaust gas to bypass the turbo—and a diverter valve—which vents boost pressure before it enters the intake manifold." You would be correct, however, the control the ECU has isn't instantaneous and everything in the system, including you, is reactive.
You're exiting a turn, you want power, you put your foot down. The turbos spool, your engine jumps from producing 280 lb-ft of torque to more than 500. You, your tires, and hopefully the traction control all simultaneously determine you want less torque, so you back out of the throttle, boost vents, and the wastegates are used to circumvent the turbos. Porsche has a new innovative solution to keep the turbos spinning so, again, you aren't worried about lag, but you are rolling in and out of the throttle to get the desired effect, instead of being able to actually "throttle the engine." My coworker and all-around automotive guru Kim Reynolds, Motor Trend's testing director, refers to this as "clarity of response." It's when the car reacts in ways you expect it to, rather than the driver having to adapt to how the car behaves. Most modern turbocharged engines are very good at power per liter and efficiency, but not as good with clarity of response.
When Porsche made the decision to decrease displacement and add forced induction, the company referred to the process as "right-sizing" as opposed to downsizing. As much as that sounds like cross-functional-impact-units or whatever your favorite corporate jargon is, in this case it happens to be appropriate. The same power and torque numbers could have been made with a 2.0L four-cylinder, so it would have been the same on paper, but would have provided horrible clarity. To that end, the new 991.2 has picked up 2 mpg in both city and highway fuel economy. You might say that doesn't seem like that big of an advancement, but consider the base Carrera is now matching the outgoing Carrera S in performance numbers.
I hate getting hung up on performance metrics on a car like this, and I wholeheartedly believe that if you're buying a 911 based on 0-60 or quarter-mile times, you're probably looking at the wrong car, but here goes. We recently tested the 991.2 Carrera manual at our test track and it got to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds and did the quarter-mile in 12.3 seconds, trapping at 114.7 mph. We tested a 991.1 with the faster PDK transmission that did 0-60 mph in 3.8 seconds, and the quarter in 12 seconds flat at 117.1 mph. The 991.2 would certainly gain at least a tenth of a second in 0-60 mph and probably even that three-tenths in the quarter if it had the PDK. Maybe not the 3 mph in the trap, but it would be close.
Again, if you're really that concerned with drag racing or beating someone at a traffic light, please put down this european car magazine and go buy yourself a shiny new Corvette or Camaro.
The Carrera is sublime to drive. The 991.2 has managed to shrink to a more manageable size. While the car isn't physically smaller, it certainly feels it on the road. One of my concerns with the 991.1 was that it outgrew some of my favorite roads. I've driven a huge variety of cars throughout the 911's five-decades-long history on canyon roads up and down California. In the early long-hood cars, on most of these canyon roads a single lane feels as wide as a racetrack. You can actually manage a racing line through corners. That same lane has shrunk over the years, with the 991.1 taking as much attention to keep it between the lines as it does to drive it quickly.
I don't want to say the 991.2 feels like an older 911, it doesn't. A newer Porsche will never feel like an air-cooled car, and that isn't a bad thing. It does feel smaller, lighter, and more engaging than the 991.1 ever has to me. On twisting roads, it flows and shoots from corner to corner. It plays in the most serious way. It taunts you to go faster while building your confidence. Everything about the car is for driving enjoyment, from the seating position, to the new steering wheels now available in a smaller size and without redundant controls, and even to the beautifully executed manual shifter mechanism that most customers will never experience.
This is the most rewarding 911 in quite some time, and that is really saying something. With every new generation, the car gets better and better, but the 991.2 is a real return to driver-focused cars. Perhaps building cars like the Cayman GT4 and Boxster Spyder has reignited something inside Porsche. Maybe it took Porsche a few years to really get a handle on electric steering, throttle-by-wire, and the overall requirements of modern car building. Whatever it is, this car is sorted, polished, and honed to near automotive perfection. The 911 being good is one of my few certainties in life, but being this good has renewed this jaded auto journalist's faith in new cars.
THE BIG-FENDERED ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
I began this feature stating that I like the base Carrera more than the S, and that probably deserves a further explanation. With the 991.1, my favorite version was the GTS. I felt it was the ultimate iteration of the car, combining all the best performance features with the sexiest looks. The naturally aspirated engine in the GTS is one of the best Porsche has ever built with gobs of power, great throttle response, and loads of personality. The new Carrera S, with the larger turbos, is now too close to the Turbo in terms of driving experience. The clarity of response we talked about earlier is no longer there. It hasn't "shrunk" like the base car, and it's just "too much" 911. It feels more like a Turbo-lite than a Carrera-plus.