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First drive: 2012 Porsche 911 Carrera S

November 15, 2011|By David Undercoffler | Los Angeles Times
  • The 2012 Porsche 911 Carrera S features a 400 horsepower, six-cylinder engine and either a seven-speed manual transmission or a seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission.
The 2012 Porsche 911 Carrera S features a 400 horsepower, six-cylinder… (David Undercoffler / Los…)

You’ve seen the spy shots, you’ve read the breathless speculation and if you visit this year’s L.A. Auto Show where the 2012 Porsche 911 makes its North American debut, heck, you can smear your grubby hands all over the new taillights.

But what really matters is how does it drive?

Very well actually. But saying a Porsche 911 drives well is like saying Einstein could do long division. So let’s explore some details about the 991 to give its driving experience some context before we hit the road.

The 2012 911 is known internally at Porsche, and to those bowing at the altar of the iconic German automaker, as the 991. The biggest change from the 991’s predecessor, the 997, is efficiency and growth.

The wheelbase itself is about 3.9 inches longer, with the body growing 2.2 inches. This means the car’s overhangs are shorter as the wheels are essentially pushed closer to the corners of the 991. A key reason for this added length is an increased stability at high speeds, something drivers of the 997 will tell you they would appreciate.

Covering these new dimensions is all-new sheet metal. The front looks nearly identical to the 997’s on paper, but in person the 991 front wears a patina of refinement that the 997 lacks. But it’s still a bit too conservative for my taste. Meanwhile the back of the 991 is seductively graceful with thinner, longer LED taillights. If only Porsche designers had managed to capture the allure of the 991 rear and apply it to the front.

Inside, the 991 takes a quantum leap forward. The center stack is now nearly identical to that of the Cayenne and Panamera, with much of the chrome-trimmed switch gear for the heating and cooling pushed to the center console between the two front passengers.

The 911’s familiar five-gauge cluster still greets the driver with the tachometer in the center, though one of the clusters is now a full-color, multifunction screen that will feed drivers data including a g-force meter, navigation instructions and a trip computer. The 991 interior gives drivers about an inch of additional legroom, with rear passengers getting more than half an inch added on (it’s still very tight for rear passengers).

In addition to being larger, the 991 also grows in terms of power. The car I drove was the 911 Carrera S, which is powered by a 3.8-liter, direct-injected, six-cylinder engine. It puts out 400 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque, each figure a gain of 15 over the outgoing Carrera S.

That maximum horsepower now comes at 7,400 rpm, up from the previous maximum for the S of 6,500 rpm, while the motor now redlines at 7,800 rpm.

The base Carrera actually gets a smaller engine than the previous 911, with a 3.4-liter flat six putting out 350 horsepower and 287 pound-feet of torque. That’s a gain of five horsepower and a loss of one pound-foot of torque from the old 3.6-liter unit.

Routing this power to the rear wheels is one of two noteworthy transmissions.

The one getting the most attention is the 991’s base transmission; the world’s first seven-speed manual transmission for a car. Yes, that’s right; just as you were acclimating yourself to rowing through six forward gears, now Porsche has gone and thrown a seventh at you.

But they’ve engineered it for us noobs who might otherwise be worried about mis-shifting, from say, fourth to fifth and accidentally catching that errant seventh gear. A shift lock is in place such that drivers can get to seventh gear only from fifth or sixth.

This seventh gear is really just an overdrive gear with an eye toward efficiency; the first six are for daily driving and drivers hit top speed in sixth gear. Seventh is for freeway or autobahn cruising and the 991’s performance in the final gear demonstrates this as there isn’t a lot of power available.

Also new, for this driver at least, was a start-stop function on a manual transmission. Come to a stoplight, shift the car into neutral and take your foot off the clutch: The engine turns off. Step back on the clutch and the engine fires back up immediately. Cool, but eerie.

If rowing your own gears doesn’t appeal to you, check out Porsche’s optional and improved dual-clutch automatic transmission, known as Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe (I think I have his hockey jersey), or PDK.

Both quicker shift times and smoother gear changes are noticeable when compared with the 997’s PDK. Porsche says a new 911 Carrera S with this gearbox and the optional Sport Chrono package will accelerate from 0 to 62 mph in the same 4.1 seconds as the previous 911 S could. After numerous attempts at this in the new 991, 4.1 seconds seems conservative; sub-four second times are entirely possible.

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