First Drive Review: 2009 Porsche 911 Carrera
By Joe Rusz of Road & Track
Ludwigsburg, Germany — "Dance 10, looks 3," goes the lyric from one of the songs in A Chorus Line. The same can be said for the latest 911. As appearances go, the 2009 version of this 46-year-old design won't exactly make heads whip around as it passes by. Sure, it's still a great-looking car, especially now that its styling has been freshened.
But unless you speak fluent Porsche, you may not realize that the new Carrera is the hottest normally aspirated, mass-produced 911 ever to zoom out of Zuffenhausen. With a top speed of 188 mph, the top-of-the-line Carrera S is said to take as little as 4.1 seconds to squirt from 0 to 60 mph. Talk about dance 10!
The secret to the new 911's fancy footwork is an all-new flat-6 developing 345 horsepower in the normal Carrera and 385 in the S. That's 20 and 30 bhp more, respectively, than the previous two Carrera engines. Sporting direct injection (DFI), new (and fewer) internal components, one-piece cylinder heads and a new induction system, the latest 3.6 and 3.8-liter 4-cam engines are smaller, lighter, have a lower center of gravity than their predecessors and are about 13 percent more fuel efficient.
Dance partner to this new 4-cam is Porsche's long-awaited PDK (Porsche Doppelkupplung) transmission, a $4080 option on both normal and S models. Based on the factory's racing automatic introduced in 1983, this slick-shifting 7-speed dishes out upshifts and downshifts with lightning speed and changes gears 60 percent faster (0.42 versus 1.05 sec.) than the torque-converter-equipped Tiptronic S it replaces. Dual clutches encased in an oil bath enable it to operate in full automatic or manual mode as determined by the position of the console-mounted shifter.
When not in Drive, a push or pull of the stubby stalk lets you up- or downshift by hand. Or you can let your fingers do the shifting by pushing down or pulling up on the left and right shift tabs, which are integrated into the new steering wheel. For those who prefer to change gears the old-fashioned way, the 6-speed manual gearbox is standard on both 911 models.
Nestled behind the shifter in the center console control panel are switches that control the standard-equipment Porsche Stability Management (PSM) system and optional Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) system (standard on the S, $1990 on the normal) and the Sports Chrono Plus package ($1320 with PDK, $960 without). A large touch screen is the focal point of the standard Porsche Communication Management System (PCM), which includes a hard-drive navigation system, XM radio and Bluetooth.
Evolutionary rather than revolutionary, the new Carrera's styling looks much cleaner than before. The new front end features massive cooling ducts with integrated LED daytime running lights, bi-xenon headlights and optional Dynamic Cornering Lights. Because the new PDK transmission runs at lower temps than the Tiptronic S gearbox, there's no need for a cooler mounted behind the center grille, which is squattier and now serves to channel additional air to the in-fender radiators. Reshaped taillights bearing red and white LEDs impart a cleaner look to the rear end, which has a reshaped lower surround.
A 33-mile blast down the Autobahn and a day-long romp along those terrific twisty bits north of Stuttgart reminded me of what a great GT the 911 Carrera is — especially when equipped with the 385-bhp engine, PDK, Sports Chrono Plus and new 19-in. Carrera S II alloys, options that tack almost $7000 onto the S model's $86,200 Monroney (normal 911s start at $75,600). The instantaneous response of the new direct-injection engine is scintillating, while the super-quick shifts of the PDK gearbox take your breath away — especially on an automatically delivered 6th to 2nd downshift invoked by hard braking from, say, 130 to 60 mph.
A bit better than a "3" when it comes to looks, the new 911 Carrera behaves like the most docile road car in normal driving. But when it's time to dance, like Val in A Chorus Line, this high-stepper scores a solid 10.