By on December 6, 2004

 Sports car drivers are fetishists. Where a normal person looks at the new Porsche 911 Carrera's front end and sees a pair of headlights, an enthusiast instantly discovers that The Sultans of Stuttgart have ditched the "fried egg" shape of the previous 911's illumination, and returned to the old air-cooled car's circular headlamps. Porsche-philes will also clock the subtly reshaped nose, and the new, tidier headlight spritzers. It's sad, but the 911 does that to people. The Carrera is one of those rare machines that can turn a disinterested driver into a raving car nerd.

It's not about looks. The appeal of the 911's gently evolving design is more or less lost on the non-cognoscenti. There's no question that this, the latest 911 iteration, is more attractive than the one it replaces, even if it's difficult to identify the exact cause (the smart money is on the wasp-waisted flanks and purposeful rump). Still, as beautiful as it is, the revised shape is no radical departure, no newfound siren song to lure converts into the 911 fold. No; the essence of the Carrera's transformative powers lies behind the wheel.

 Don't take me literally. Much ink has been spilled on the interior of the latest Carrera (codenamed 997), especially in comparison to the previous car (codenamed 996). While the 997's cabin certainly boasts a more upmarket, more horizontal leather dash; some clever cupholders, a bit more Bose boom and vastly improved buttonology, the $70k Carrera still can't quite shrug off its utilitarian roots. In fact, for any driver with their adrenal glands intact, the only improvement worth savoring is the new shift knob. Like the mechanicals to which it connects, it's the sexiest non-human entity on the planet.

For those of you who "get it" (i.e. have already driven a Porsche Carrera), it's important to note straight away that the 997's engine and road-going dynamics do not represent a significant departure from those of the 996. The 997 simply offers more of the same, only better: faster, sharper, stronger and louder. As the Porsche PR dudes say, the diamond's been polished. For you, my Carrera-loving compatriots, that says it all. For others, a little explanation is in order…

 The Porsche 911 is known as the "everyday supercar"– which is a bit like saying "my wife the supermodel". The 997 Porsche Carrera remains the fastest car a reasonably competent amateur driver can pilot at extra-legal velocities, on any road, in any weather, day or night, without significant risk of breaking down, hitting a solid object and/or killing him or herself– excepting the Carrera S. Even better, unlike the fantasy spouse, the Porker will also serve you breakfast, take care of the kids and pick-up the dry cleaning. In other words, it will potter about town or crawl through traffic jams without complaint.

Actually, I lie. As my Porsche service advisor pointed out, the 997 marks a return to the Carrera's hooligan roots. Maybe it's the additional low-down grunt, or the [always] welcome increase in the car's stupendous braking power, or the extra extra-prodigious grip, or the way shifting gears feels like pulling a hot wire through cold cheddar, or the raspier induction snort and more aggressive engine note. No matter how you look at it, the 997 wants to party. Hard. And because it's safe to do so, to not do so seems, well, churlish.

 Let me put it this way. In the 996, you occasionally give it some to catch up with traffic ahead. There's a bit of a lag, and away you go. In the 997, you always give it some, wherever and whenever you can, there's no lag whatsoever (just ever-increasing levels of shove) and away you go. When you drop the hammer, jink around slower cars or simply change lanes, driving the 997 is like dicing with bi-planes in a military jet.

Bottom line: the 997 is a superb driver's car for people who don't want to die. It's better than the 996, but not so much better it would make a 996 driver want to sell their soul to make the swap. Rent, maybe. The new 997 Carrera is also a good old fashioned license loser. (Notice I'm already in denial; blaming the car, not the driver.) Right. Now that that's established, go and test drive one, come back, and join me in a fetishistic examination of the car's minute flaws. Ready?

The Carrera should have a memory seat with electric forwards and backwards seat adjustment as standard. The sat nav should admit that Lincoln, Rhode Island exists, and be ready, willing and able plot a course to my choice of destination in that municipality. The horn needs some serious steroids; it shouldn't sound like a clown's boutounniere. Other than that, the Porsche 997 Carrera is perfect.

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