First Drive Review: 2009 Porsche 911 Carrera / Carrera S
By Jens Meiners of Car and Driver
Look closely and memorize the subtle changes to the exterior. Otherwise, you may overlook the new 2009 Porsche 911 when it appears on American roads this September.
Porsche refers to it as a new generation, even though the internal chassis code 997 remains unchanged. We see it as more of a mid-term facelift with some significant technological changes. Notably, the water-cooled flat-six engines get direct-injection technology, and a seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission replaces the previous five-speed Tiptronic automatic while the shift-it-yourself option remains a six-speed.
Let's describe the changes to the exterior as inoffensive. The front end looks slightly more Boxster-like, with a thin glass strip above the air inlet. It houses LED daytime running lights — which can be switched off — and traditional turn signals. Engineers wanted LED turn signals as well, like those on the 911 Turbo, but there was not enough room for the complete unit above the daytime-running lights. The rear lights have a slightly more complex shape than before and are fully LED, including the turn signals.
Mirrors are bigger to comply with upcoming European regulations. The standard Carrera gets larger disc brakes, which share the 13-inch diameter of the Carrera S, but are thinner. Basically the only visible differentiator between the two versions are the tail pipes. The Carrera has two large exhaust pipes; the more powerful Carrera S gets four smaller, circular units. (Step up to the Turbo, and you're back to two exhaust pipes. Go figure.)
Porsche is initially launching the facelifted 911 with the rear-wheel-drive, narrow-body Carrera and Carrera S models. The four-wheel-drive Carrera 4 will go on sale a few weeks later. Wide-body versions will follow, as will the Targa — the Targa moniker still denoting a big sunroof and not the partly removable roof that was last available on the 964-generation 911.
Interior Little Changed
The infotainment unit, supplied by Harman Becker, receives a major upgrade with a touch-screen display. Unlike many other cars with a touch-screen display, the 911 won't blank out any functions while the car is moving. We will never get used to bringing a car to a full stop to operate the navigation system, and we wish other companies would share Porsche's philosophy of not patronizing the driver.
We also wish that the Porsche philosophy for manual shifting of the dual-clutch gearbox had been reversed from the old Tiptronic unit. The new gearbox still requires you to push the gear lever forward to select a higher gear and pull it back to downshift — a major grievance with racing and performance car enthusiasts. But alas, this golden opportunity to correct it has been missed.
Most of the time, the lever will remain in the "Drive" position, anyway. The ZF-supplied PDK (Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe) delivers rapid and seamless shifts, and it is more efficient than the previous automatic. The seventh gear lowers revs by 30 percent compared with the old transmission's fifth top gear. It does its job to improve fuel economy: if you stroke the gas pedal gently, seventh gear comes up before you can say "save the planet." The 911 launches smoothly and upshifts can be barely perceptible — but they aren't always. A traditional automatic is still smoother, but PDK is a good balance between performance and comfort, as opposed to the lazy behavior of the previous five-speed automatic.
PDK can "learn." But if you are driving at a leisurely pace and suddenly take two corners aggressively, PDK likely won't change its characteristics before you have exited the combination. Sorry, but it takes three to ten seconds to adjust its attitude to yours. Push the Sport button (an expensive option), and gears engage more rapidly and perceptibly (but without the interruption of power that you experience with BMW's SMG or Audi's R tronic automated manual gearboxes). Its characteristics are still flexible depending on your driving style, but Sport generally lets the engine rev higher.
We do like Sport Plus, though, with high revs and gears engaging bang-bang-bang! This setting is tuned for the track, but we find it just fine for the highway as well. It does not "learn," meaning it is predictable.
And finally, there's the inevitable kid stuff: For stoplight races, enter Launch Control. Put one foot on the brake, flat foot the throttle with the other, let the engine automatically rev to 6500 rpm and quickly take your foot off the brake. The 911 will let you reproduce maximum acceleration with minimum effort — anyone can do it — which is why we say the six-speed manual is still the perfect choice for this sports car. It remains unchanged.
Direct-injection technology, along with new air filters, a more free-flowing exhaust system, and reduced engine friction, have made both the 3.6-liter and the 3.8-liter horizontally opposed sixes more efficient and more powerful. The Carrera gets 345 hp, up from 325; the Carrera S is rated at 385, 30 more than before. The rev limiter now responsibly cuts into the fun at 7500 rpm, up from 7300. The oil system is upgraded for track use.
Porsche uses three different exhaust systems for different markets. The U.S. market gets the loudest of the three.
We have no complaints about the performance: The Carrera reaches 0-to-60 mph in a claimed 4.7 seconds and 0-to-100 mph in 10.4 seconds; top speed is 180 mph. Porsche's figures for the Carrera S are 4.5 seconds, 9.6 seconds, and 188 mph, respectively, with improved acceleration with Launch Control. Porsche's performance claims are notoriously conservative, however, as we recorded a 0-to-60-mph run in the previous Carrera in 4.3 seconds and 4.1 in the Carrera S — so expect acceleration times as much as a half-second quicker than Porsche's official figures when we test the car.
Fuel economy as tested on the European combined city/highway loop is a respectable 24 mpg for the Carrera, 23 mpg for the Carrera S. This represents approximately 15 percent less consumption than the outgoing 911, which is pretty impressive considering the improved power.
Factory Tuning Package Expected Next Year
The chassis remains largely unchanged, with slightly modified springs and dampers. The previous model's optional sports suspension — only available with the manual transmission — is replaced with a variable, electronically controlled sports suspension based on the active PASM suspension. Fittingly, it is now available with the PDK double-clutch transmission. You might as well get as many electronic wizards as possible, right? On-road performance is great, but care is still advised when the road is slippery. Once the 911's heavy rear end comes swinging around, the stability control system has to put in overtime.
The 911 has not become lighter, but it did not put on a lot of weight either. The base Carrera gains roughly 50 pounds, from 3100 to 3150 pounds, convincingly explained to us as being the result of wider wheels and tires, larger brakes, and standard bi-xenon lights with a washer system and fluid. Weight of the Carrera S remains unchanged at 3150 pounds.
The 911 faces a more uncomfortable market environment than ever. While the Turbo needs to fend off the glamorous competition from Aston Martin, Bentley, and Lamborghini, the new Carrera and Carrera S models are under attack by the designer-cool Audi R8 and the cultish Nissan GT-R. And there's the low, sleek Lexus LF-A if it ever leaves prototype status.
Sales of the upgraded 911 start in September. Prices will range from $75,600 for the Carrera coupe; to $86,200 for both the Carrera cabriolet and the Carrera S coupe; to $96,800 for the Carrera S cabriolet.
Despite the strong competition, Porsche expects the U.S. market to take 20 to 25 percent of total 911 production, making it the single most-important market for the model. We expect it to do well. It's still a difficult car to top.