Today's Porsche 911 looks conspicuously similar to the original 1964 model, maintaining the classis profile that has landed it in art museums and design school lecture halls. For Porsche, the 911's heritage can be a double-edged sword. Leave the car alone, and it might be perceived as dated. Change the car too drastically, and it might alienate hard-core loyalists, many of whom form the core group of 911 buyers. Porsche has been able to strike that balance and all of the variants are terrific-looking sports cars.
The front end features the classic low, rounded look that lacks an upper grille but features three lower air intakes. The headlights, which are bi-xenons, retain the classic round shape. They sit upright in the front fenders, and they help to distinguish the 911 from the Boxster and Cayman. A row of LED auxiliary lights is lined up beneath the headlights in place of fog lights. In part because there is no engine up front, the hood sits lower than the rounded fenders.
From the rear, curvy fenders and wheel arches extend from the side of the car like the haunches of a predatory animal, housing extra-wide rear wheels. Carrera 4 models get even wider rear rubber, and their fenders are correspondingly 1.75 inches wider than their rear-drive siblings. This staggered setup helps the 911's rear tires turn its horsepower into quicker acceleration and balances tire grip front and rear for high g-force turning. All 911s have wheels at least 18 inches in diameter, and all are equipped with Z-rated tires, the highest speed rating available for street use.
The current styling sacrifices some of the beauty of the 1999-2004 models in favor of more visual belligerence. Yet very little at Porsche is done strictly for the sake of appearance. The current 911 is slightly longer and taller than the previous-generation, pre-2005 version. The track (the distance between the outside edges of the tires on each axle) and overall width have increased, and this wider stance improves the 911's lateral stability during quick, sharp directional changes. Today's 911 makes liberal use of aluminum body parts to offset the weight of active suspension, curtain airbags and other upgrades, and the chassis is more rigid than that of pre-2005 models.
The 911 Turbo features a prominent rear wing that generates lots of downforce to help keep the rear tires glued to the pavement in high-speed sweeping turns, especially important in the rain. A minimum of drag helps the Turbo achieve its top speed of 194 mph, though we have not personally verified this claim.
Cabriolet models feature power soft tops that open in just 20 seconds. They can be operated at up to 30 mph, a feature we love. Safety is enhanced by strong steel tubes in the A-pillars, and supplemental safety bars behind the rear seats that automatically deploy in the event of a rollover. The Cabriolets present a unique appearance. Top up, they exhibit a profile similar to the coupes. Top down, the rear end looks heavy, but you'll forgive that as soon as you get in, stomp on the gas and hear that powerful six-cylinder wailing to redline.
Aerodynamics were an important consideration in the design of all 911 models. The side mirrors are designed to direct air along the sides of the car toward the automatically deploying rear spoiler, sweeping the side windows clean in the process. Air is largely kept from going underneath the car and carefully managed over the top and at the rear. Lift is minimized to keep the 911 glued to the road. The wheel arches are flared in a fashion that guides air around the tires (one of the biggest sources of drag on an automobile). Brake spoilers guide more air toward the rotors and brake assemblies, reducing temperatures by nearly 10 percent, according to Porsche, which means more effective braking under extreme conditions. The drag coefficient for the Carrera is 0.29 Cd. Less air resistance means improved fuel economy and less wind noise.
The GT3 is lowered by 1.2 inches. The lower ride height could lead to some scrapping problems, so Porsche offers an on-board air compressor that lifts the front end 30 mm to clear obstacles, very handy around town. The GT3 fascia is unique and subtly distinctive, with larger air intakes, and a thin strip with a mesh grille that sits above the front bumper. The rear bumper features a three-piece mesh-filled horizontal strip that reflects the front, as well as two vertical vents, also with mesh, located outboard. The rear end also features a tall fixed spoiler and two ram-air scoops on the decklid. In true race car fashion, the GT3 uses center lock wheels with just one nut.
The GT3 RS is even crazier, with a wider front and rear track and wider fenders to match. The front features nine-inch wide wheels and the rear has 12-inch wheels with massive 325/30ZR19 rubber. Underneath, the GT3 RS has a titanium exhaust system, and at the rear it features a race-inspired carbon fiber wing. Unique paint also sets the GT3 RS apart. It comes in Carrera White, Aqua Blue Metallic or Grey Black, each with either Guards Red or White Gold Metallic accent colors and graphics.
The Porsche 911 cockpit is a place designed for serious driving. The seating position is perfect for most enthusiast drivers. It offers outstanding visibility in all directions, particularly when compared with other high-performance sports cars. The Carrera is a truly comfortable car for traveling long distances. The ignition key is located on the dash to the left of the steering wheel, as it was on Porsche's LeMans race cars.
The three-spoke steering wheel is wrapped in leather and is thicker and grippier than ever. It adjusts up and down and fore and aft manually. The steering wheel's core structure is an expensive magnesium alloy, which saves weight. Controls on the steering wheel hub operate elements of the Porsche Communication Management system, which incorporates the audio and navigation systems and the optional telephone. Steering wheel shift paddles are available instead of buttons. They cost extra but most owners will prefer them over the odd buttons that Porsche has used for too long.
The front seat of the Carrera is fairly roomy, making it comfortable for larger drivers. The seats may be a bit stiff for some tastes, but they have just the right amount of bolstering: enough to keep you in place but not so much that wider drivers are pinched. The seats are mounted low to the floor, creating good headroom and a sporty driving position.
Most of the gauges are large and easy to read, but reading the offset and sparsely marked speedometer can be tough, especially when going fast. The dash vents are large, and the air conditioning worked well during some hot lapping at Miller Motorsports Park near Salt Lake City, Utah. The climate controls are located in the center stack.
The Porsche Communications Management (PCM) system, which incorporates all audio, navigation and communications functions, comes with a 6.5-inch touchscreen. To ease communications, Porsche includes SIM card slot and offers Bluetooth connectivity. A Universal Audio Interface has three audio ports in the center console to operate iPods, MP3 players or memory sticks. iPods and memory sticks can be controlled through PCM. We found the position of the USB port to be hard to reach, but the iPod and USB interface was very easy to use.
The Turbo is the most luxurious of the 911s. It comes with full leather upholstery that covers the seats completely in leather, and adds it to the dashboard, center console and just about everywhere else you can look or touch. With standard features like a navigation system with a 40-gigabyte hard drive, memory for the seats and mirrors, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, additional front seat power adjustments, and Bose audio, buyers will be perfectly comfortable while piloting their full-on sports cars.
The Sport Chrono Package Plus features a jewel-like chronograph sprouting from the center of the dash that gets input from many sources. Start or stop the chronograph with a one of the steering wheel stalks, and it will display acceleration or lap times. A history of recorded times can be displayed on the navigation system screen for comparison. The Sport Chrono Package Plus also comes with a Sport button that adjusts electronic controls for the throttle and anti-skid system. Throttle mapping switches to a more aggressive mode (meaning more gas for a given amount of pedal application), and the anti-skid electronics give a driver more room to break traction. The Sport Plus button activates even more aggressive throttle and transmission settings, and a race-ready mode for the anti-skid system. Is Sport Chrono a gimmick? Maybe, but it would be handy for lapping at a Porsche club event, and the Sport modes make the cars much more suited to track driving. Do you need it? Probably not. Will it add to the fun? Probably. It's hard to make these decisions when you're standing in the candy store.
The Bose audio package is above average, though most high-end cars offer more modern and more powerful optional systems. Still, we thought it sounded good with the top down at highway speeds.
The glove box includes storage slots for pens and couple of CDs, while the shallow center console has a change holder and a 12-volt power point. A pair of cupholders sprout from the dash.
The Targa offers a clear roof that slides back inside the rear of the car with the press of a button, giving the driver a superb top-down experience. With the roof closed, the driver has a choice of tinted glass or a mesh lining to deflect the sunlight. We'd prefer a solid cover, however, because the mesh wasn't heavy enough to block out the sun on bright days. The Targa's neat, but we prefer the coupe.
The 911 isn't practical for more than two passengers. The back seats are not really habitable. While we were able to stick one 5-foot, 7-inch adult male back there with a shorter female up front, the complaining would grow weary if this were a regular thing. With the rear seats folded, there's room for a load of groceries and you can lay the dry cleaning back there, so the 911 beats many sports cars in its ability to run daily errands.
There's not much luggage space for two people going on a long trip, however, so you have to pack light. Nor will you want to use your 911 to pick someone up at the airport unless they are traveling very light. The storage area under the hood will hold a couple of duffel bags, but the Corvette coupe hatchback will hold more. Porsche offers a truly useful roof transport system that allows 911 coupes to carry bulkier items, but luggage on the roof of a 911 screaming past ruins the picture. Besides, who wants to take time to strap suitcases on top of a car? It's preferable to have a bigger car to perform these duties.