By on October 8, 2008

In theory, a dual clutch gearbox offers drivers the best of both worlds: a corner-carving-compliant paddle shift system (complete with computer-controlled, rev-matching throttle blipping) and a waft-enabling automatic gearbox. As developed by the BorgWarner, the DSG version lifted a well-sorted VW Golf GTI into automotive Valhalla. Porsche fans arched their collective eyebrows, anticipating the day when Stuttgart would perform a similar transformation for the world’s only best everyday supercar: the 911. Porsche Doppelkupplung (PDK) is here, attached to the model’s 900th evolution. Is the system finally ready for hammer time?

For 2009, Porsche has increased the size of the 911′s air intakes, added LED lights and reshaped the side mirrors and rear lights. Sitting in the driver’s seat, the airy greenhouse and the perfectly comfortable seats continue to define the car: a machine that blurs the line between sports car and GT. Properly, judiciously equipped (wheels, tires, drivetrain, suspension) the 911 can satisfy either buyer, or both.

I recall my excitement back in 2002 when I bought one of the first 911’s with cup holders. Tempus fugit. Yes, the big news for the latest Porsche 911 is convenience. One could heat the seats in a 911 in recent years, but now you can heat the steering wheel and cool the seats– if you have the dough. Frustrated technophiles no longer need to invest big bucks at their local stereo store to Bluetooth their phone or Pod their i– at a price.  Important options like Porsche stability management and bi-xenon lights are now standard– while almost everything else isn’t (self-dimming mirrors will still set you back almost $400). Leather here, leather there- spend some time on the Porsche configurator and you will be amazed how many VW shares you can bankroll much money you can blow with the click of a mouse.

Thanks to direct fuel injection, the “base” 911′s engine output rises to a healthy 345 horsepower. With 288 lb. ft. of torque underfoot, the Carrera powers to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds. The new-for-’09 exhaust system adds a not entirely pleasing throaty baritone at low RPMs– that morphs into a mind-bending banshee wail at higher elevations. The 911′s brake feel is more intuitive and less wooden in the 2009 version, although the Porker’s stopping distances are scarcely credible regardless of model year. The suspension settings feel a tad softer the it predecessor, which makes for a less jarring ride but adds some unexpected and unwanted understeer during hard cornering.

PDK stands for Porsche Delight Killer. Sad but true: the German automaker’s engineered most of the fun out of it. Like ye olde Tiptronic, the PDK really likes to upshift. I started out normally from rest at an intersection. Before I reached the other side, PDK had shifted twice. By the time I reached 30 mph, I was in seventh; I felt like I was driving a Trabant with an aromatic leather interior. PDK behaves like a student project designed to extract maximum mpg from what used to be a high performance sports car.

Back when I drove the new BMW M3, I wondered why I needed all those shift modes. Now that I’ve driven PDK, I longed for a few of those shift modes. Porsche gives you one, otherwise, its paddle for yourself. To make matters worse, PDK is not particularly PDQ. Upshifts are not noticeable but downshifts are lurchy and slow, even when performed manually. On top of all this, the ergonomics of the steering wheel controls are awful. Again, upshifting feels OK. But downshifting requires that you almost reach behind the wheel for the change. Not to put too fine a point on it, PDK ruined my 911 experience.

As with all its other basic shortcomings, Porsche offers a fix– for more geld. Check the box for the Porsche Active Suspension Management and the Sport Chrono Pack and Gruss Got you have another shift and suspension mode. Supposedly, the PDK then offers a sportier interface (I did not get to sample it). Am I the only one who finds it peculiar that you need to spend nearly $4k for a sport button in a 911?. This combination is also the key to launch control mode, which sounds deliciously self destructive and similar to how I used to drive my dad’s Chevy Caprice- stand on the brakes and the accelerator simultaneously and pray that your rear axle doesn’t hop off.

The Porsche 911 is one of my all time favorite rides, and the new 911 is improved in so many ways. However, again, the PDK pretty much wiped the smile off my face. It’s only a matter of time before Porsche fixes their gearboxes’ deficiencies. Meanwhile, if you want to drive a 911 like you stole it, and stop thieves from doing the same, the manual gearbox is still your best not to say only option.

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37 Comments on “2009 Porsche Carrera PDK Review...”


  • avatar
    SupaMan

    My advice….stick with the MT option. That comes standard right?

    And aren’t 911s prone to understeer in slow corners anyway?

    I don’t hate the 911. It just is what it is.

  • avatar

    Interesting – so it sounds like there’s no tangible benefit to the PDK over the old Tiptronic, right? And there’s no sport mode to hold onto a gear longer? That would be an odd omission, considering any number of pedestrian cars have a “sport” mode on the automatic.

    Jay, you talked about how the car upshifted so many times in “pedestrian” driving – how about foot-to-the-floor acceleration as an automatic – does it let the engine wring itself out?

  • avatar
    rtr

    Interesting perspective. Porsche has to worry about meeting CAFE of course which probably explains why PDK in auto mode shifts to higher gears so quickly at light throttle settings. Then again, the latest auto trannys will all do the same. I will be test driving one next week. So far the reviews pubished elsewhere have been glowing. Certainly anything would be better than the old tiptronic – totally unsuited to a sports car in my view. Factory claims better acceleration with the PDK than the manual although there is a slight reduction in top speed.
    On paper at least the PDK should be a benefit – super fast shifts without the harshness of the Ferrari F1 or BMW SMC. I’ll pass on my own observations next week.

    Best,

  • avatar
    shoes

    PDK comes out of its shell in aggressive driving, my issues are all the other time. I actually prefer the old tiptronic because at least the manual control was satisfying- thumb up to upshift and thumb down, well, you get the picture.

  • avatar
    phil

    Jay, thanks for another frank assessment. I bought my E63 after reading your review and have been delighted. The last thing i want is to bring up the “best tranny” debate but i think fine tuning of the double clutch system is the lesser concern. We all know it will be perfected and shift with robotic precision, IMO the bigger question is is that what we really want? Clearly an individual preference thing but for me I’ll pass on the robot and do the job myself. At my age i have no concern for track times or red light showdowns; it’s the visceral pleasure of driving a machine and making all the parts come together that spins my gears. And for me the true manual is an essential part of the play.

  • avatar
    sean362880

    However, again, the PDK pretty much wiped the smile off my face. It’s only a matter of time before Porsche fixes their gearboxes’ deficiencies. Meanwhile, if you want to drive a 911 like you stole it, and stop thieves from doing the same, the manual gearbox is still your best not to say only option.

    How is this a 4-star review? The PDK sounds like a huge letdown, and on the basis of how well a car does what it set out to do, that’s a 2-star summary at best.

    Is this the Porche for greenies? How does all that upshifting help the MPG?

  • avatar
    kurtamaxxguy

    Sounds like PDK’s a clone of the DCT in Audi3 3.2 I drove two years back, which shifted smoothly while acceleration, but was el-lurcho during de-accelerating. Manual shifting in the Audi wasn’t much smoother.

  • avatar

    Sounds like five for the car, with a star lost to the tranny.

    Amazing that they couldn’t outdo Bord Warner and VW. Thanks for the straight scoop.

  • avatar
    Mrb00st

    i almost read this review, then I realized that I just didn’t care any more. really, all 911′s are the same.

  • avatar
    doctorv8

    Jay,

    Did the DI engine feel noticeably stronger than its port injected predecessor?

    Looking forward to your (re)assessment with a Sport Chrono equipped PDK car…hopefully an “S” model at that. And yes, it is ridiculous to have to pay another $4k for that option!

  • avatar
    JJ

    When I first noticed that the PDK box still had those awkward Tiptronic like pushbuttons on the steering wheel instead of “F1-flippers” behind the wheel, that was enough information for me.

    Even if it shifted gears perfectly IMHO there’s no way you get any driving pleasure from fiddling with some buttons on the steering wheel that might as well be the radio volume controls to shift gears.

    On a different note, I think you didn’t drive the best 911, because first of all it’s a ’4′ and second, it’s not the S model. The ’4′ probably has a lot to do with the understeer, too, while the S has just that little more grunt to make it feel that little bit faster, as well as tougher suspension settings (unless your regular Carrera had PASM as an option). The Carrera 4 is more GT, while the Carrera S is more sportscar.
    Also, as much as I like the red reflector and the bigger “hips” of the ’4′ from the front and back angle, it kind of looks out of proportion and weird from the side.

  • avatar

    I know someone who put in an order for a C4S cabrio with tiptronic. Not that he wants an auto, he just has trouble with a clutch now that he is getting older (at least he is still trying and not surrendering to a Cadillac). When I heard the DSG-style box was coming, as well as a power hike, I passed on the word that he should hold out his deposit for the 09 model. I guess that was a mistake…

  • avatar
    JJ

    When I heard the DSG-style box was coming, as well as a power hike, I passed on the word that he should hold out his deposit for the 09 model. I guess that was a mistake…

    No, because I bet the PDK, as bad as it is, is still way better than the old Tiptronic. The old Tiptronic was something you’d expect from GM. Plus, the 09 C4/C4S model has that cool reflector on the back.

  • avatar
    mdngn

    I work for a Porsche dealership and have experience driving the base 911 without the Sport Chrono package as well as the 911S with the Sport Chrono, both cars with PDK. I have to tell you that I have always been a manual transmission enthusiast and would never drive an automatic car, especially a Porsche but when I drove the PDK, I acually believe that I would consider owning a car with this transmission. It is shear genius and I’m dissapointed that you didn’t notice the benefits. When driven in a relaxed manner, you will find yourself in 7th gear before you know it but when you drive it hard, the transmission will turn the car into a beast from hell. It is the most responsive and intelligent autobox I have ever driven.
    The Sport Chrono eqiopped car is even better. The package comes with two sport settings besides the suspension: When in “sport” mode, the transmission will shift agressively, it will hold gears much longer and downshift as you slow down. When in “sport plus” the transmission will ONLY shift at the redline. You have to redline the car to get it to shift. I have never driven an automatic that will not shift before redline.

    I beg you to drive the car again, drive it like it’s meant to be driven and you will fall in love with it like I did and all my associates and clients.

    I also strongly recommend you drive the car with the Sport Chrono Package and you will give it the 5 star rating it deserves.

  • avatar
    shoes

    I accept that if you drive the Porsche PDK aggressively that it will perform as intended. My issue is that 99% of the time, I am not going to be driving like Remy Julien, but dealing with everyday commuting issues. In heavy traffic, PDK will most assuredly be in automatic mode and if I have to stand on the throttle to get it to shift down five gears so I can be in the meaty part of the torque curve, it isn’t a very balanced driving experience. The relatively small displacement engine in the 911 is further handicapped by a transmission that prioritizes mileage over enjoyment in its automatic programming. All Porsche needs do is offer some choice without the requirement to spend another $4,000 to get it. Have you driven a 2008 BMW M3? The Porsche PDK is a five star car with a two star transmission.

    • 0 avatar
      Jonkf

      As a responsible citizen, you should not be “standing on the throttle” in heavy traffic – getting into a position where you need to be in the “meaty part of the torque curve” is the kind of juvenile behavior that gives those of us who appreciate fine automotive engineering and performance a bad name.

      Take it to the track, dude; then get out of autoshift mode.

  • avatar
    jybt

    Hey, TTAC…

    No other car site believes that the PDK ruins the car or that the interior has too much plastic.

  • avatar
    Justin Berkowitz

    jybt :

    Hey, TTAC…

    No other car site believes that the PDK ruins the car or that the interior has too much plastic.

    Well two things. First, thanks for the compliment. Seriously. We really don’t mind being different.

    Second, the writer of this review, Jay Shoemaker, doesn’t speak for “what TTAC believes.” He’s just one of our maverick writers, free to express whatever his own (very, very well informed) opinion is.

    I’d imagine at some point someone else will review this car for us in a “take two” review. Perhaps their view will be different. Perhaps not.

    JB

  • avatar
    sean362880

    He’s just one of our maverick writers…

    wince…but back on topic:

    jybt – you’re wrong. Towler at CAR Magazine agrees with Jay on the gearbox, and I read another one somewhere that I can’t remember.

    http://www.carmagazine.co.uk/Drives/Search-Results/First-drives/Porsche-911-Carrera-4S-PDK-2009-CAR-review/?content-block=2

  • avatar
    shoes

    Uh-oh, I hope I am not being colored with the same Maverick brush as John McCain.

  • avatar
    doctorv8

    Don’t worry, Jay…you’re nowhere near as Mavericky as him and Tina, er Sarah Palin.

  • avatar
    Qusus

    Maybe Jay isn’t as much of a “maverick” as McCain but he does own just as many cars… and isn’t that what really matters here on TTAC?

    (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    A manual tranmsission shifts when you want it to. An automatic, regardless of implementation, shifts when engineers back at the factory think it should. Therefore, until they design one than can read the driver’s mind, no automatic will ever be worth a damn.

    If I were going to buy a 911, it would be a C4 with a manual transmission. The only options I would consider are PASM (if the ride is too hard to tolerate) and power seats (so that my wife and I could conveniently swap driving positions).

  • avatar
    Von

    To the Porsche salesman, buyers and reviewers have every right to drive the car however they want. As far as I’m concerned, this is a fair review because Jay has something of a rep for liking sports cars and even said he likes Porsches in particular in the review.

    Your loyalty while admirable, is misdirected. You should give feedback to the engineers. The car should adopt to the customer, not the other way around.

    Von

  • avatar
    TeeKay

    I don’t understand Porsche. Why does it want to do things half-assed? I see 2 obvious problems with the PDK (compared to the sequential systems in Ferrari, BMW, or even Audi.)

    1. Buttons, rather than paddles. Paddles are used in GP cars, Le Mans cars, etc., not because they’re cool, but because they’re functional and intuitive. In fact, almost 99% of Ferraries have gone paddles. For god’s sake, even the Audi A3 or GTI have gone paddles. Why Porsche decided to put buttons on its race-car-for-the-street 911, I don’t understand.

    2. The console lever. I notice that in sequential shift Porsche race cars, pushing forward means a downshift, while pulling backward means an upshift. It is quite intuitive, given how the body moves due to inertia when under braking (and downshifting) as opposed to accelerating (and upshifting.) In fact, that’s how the lever is set up on all sequential shift race cars (e.g., Porsche Cup or GT3 cars, Astons, older Champ cars, Japanese GT cars, etc.) But apparently, what’s good enough for a Porsche race car is not good enough for a 911. [In fact, only BMW and Mazda seems to get this shifting sequence correctly.]

    Very disappointing. At least, a manual transmission 911 is still great, cheaper, and easier to maintain.

  • avatar
    rtr

    Shoes – as promised I drove various 911′s with PDK today. In counterpoint to your review:
    You fault PDK for shiftng like an automatic when in AUTOMATIC mode. What else would you expect? When configured as an automatic it shifts smoothy and seamlessly. Outstanding performance for an auto box. If you want to hold gears, why not move the shift lever to the left and shift it yourself, like a manual?

    When driven aggressively the PDK changes its style and holds gears longer. I ran an autocross and to my astonishment, leaving the car in automatic worked just fine. The shift logic seems almost telepathic. In manual mode it behaves like the Ferrari F1 tranny except that the shifts are a lot smoother.

    With the sport chrono plus option (and here I agree with you,it should be standard equipment) the game is upped to track readiness.

    I drive a cab, a C2, a C2S and a C4S, the “s” cars with Chrono sport plus. Amazing performance. Launch control provided brutal acceleration although it isn’t anything I’d use in the real world.

    The AWD cars did not understeer a whole lot, the new clutch pack is a big improvement over the previous viscous coupling. Were you accelerating before the apex? Turn in was pretty much the same as the rear drive cars.

    All in all I was delighted with the new engine and especially PDK. The faster cycling ABS was also impressive. Normally I can outbrake ABS, but not on this car.

    Best,

    Bob

  • avatar
    SpinNB

    I agree with some of your review – the buttons instead of paddles, paying extra for a “sport” button – but I never got the full sense of the PDK.

    Is it a crappy Tiptronic update? A problematic first gen SMG? Or VW GTi DSG good? You make it sound like the computer brain renders the PDK into a Tiptronic disappointment while Bob basically says that PDK will hold revs to redline like VW’s DSG (I’m reading between the lines on Bob’s comment).

    So which is it?

  • avatar
    laalves

    It seems I’m one of the few here that feels this review has missed the point.

    Neither the PDK nor even the Tiptronic were ever meant to be used in auto mode if you want to drive these cars like sports cars. Simply put, there are no auto boxes, either with Sport mode or not that can read your mind or see the road ahead and deduce what your appetite is.

    Both the PDK and Tiptronic are meant to be driven in Manual mode if you want to drive the car sportystyle. That’s it.

    Of course the car will shift to sixth until 30mph if you don’t step on it. What did you expect? That’s the whole logic of an auto box, with all its limitations and advantages.

    What’s interesting is that if you read an European review (manual shift culture and habit) the PDK is enshrined in magic as the next best thing to sliced bread.

    If one reads an American review (auto shift culture and habit), they say its crap.

    The thing is that you will notice that the reviewers who praised it are using it the way it is intended: manually. Auto shifting is just a footnote on those reviews.

    Simply put, there is no such a thing as auto shifting sports driving. Period.

    Always drive in manual ;)

  • avatar
    quietman

    OK Jay so you didn’t get a chance to drive the PDK with Sport Chrono. Then you you didn’t get to drive this fine beast of an automobile. One word of advice — drive it with the Sport Chrono. For all you reading folks that haven’t had this experience, here is the scoop. The PDK autobox is quite frankly the most beautiful transmission product ever created by the wizards at Porsche. In “sport plus” mode it won’t auto up shift until you reach 7100 RPM. Personally I was blown away by the fun of having race track performance on the street “going to block to block”. Also, give it a run with the “launch control” setting. My local Porsche dealer challenged me to try to fry the clutch on the PDK in this mode, and alas it was impossible (though I thought he was going to get a bit upset when I had gone through TEN interations of the test enjoying every one of the “NASA test rides”). Instead he just smiled and told me they had one at the track for the last 5 weeks and have told their technician not to come back to the dealership until he had successfully broken it. Unfortunately his wife has filed for divorce as she believes her husband has abandoned her… On my tenth run at launch mode, the dealer still smiling in the passenger side, estimated I got the 0-60 time down to 3.8 seconds on the C4S I was putting through the paces. He said the car after it warms up, just tends to get quicker (and of course tires get stickier) and Porsche is being very conservative on their published performance specs right now because they are having a bear of a time in Weissach getting the 2010 model Turbo with PDK within safety levels on the version of the meatier DI Six engine that will release for that and the GT2/GT3 models to release over the 2010/11 time frame. Yeah that’s right. I was going to wait for the new Turbo, but i put my slot in for a new C4S to be delivered this Spring (and I am picking it up over there (Eurodelivery) as I now have an excuse to use the wife’s employer airline fringe benefits (passes) – though she made me set an appointment to order her a new Boxster S so she could join the fun)! As to the handling and sheer ecstasy of the new C4, well … I can’t say much more than this generation of Porsche 997 is without a doubt the finest time I have had behind the wheel of ANY sports car i have ever driven. FYI, given that I have owned a stable of Porsches, Bimmers, and other assorted monsters over the years, this is a comment I have taken great pains of disbelief to have said. I also have driven just about every Italian beast out of Northern Italy as well, so that should put it all in perspective. So, in closing I have one thing to say – just get one, sell the wife, the kids, the house (if you still have it), and do it. You can apologize to them all in the next life. Oh, by the way Porsche has given all their US dealers C4Ss’ for demo purposes this year to torture test, so don’ be afraid to ask your local dealer to get a real test drive. They will oblige.

  • avatar
    tincanman99

    I drove a 911 with PDK and it drove great quite frankly.

    Is it as engaging as a manual, absolutely not. Why? Because you can put it in D and do nothing and let the computer do the work. The advantage of this is when you are in traffic you dont have to go crazy with the clutch. Here in the northeast there is a lot of traffic so it makes life easier.

    On the other hand when you want to shift it, you can at any point just like VAG’s DSG. No it doesnt have paddles but frankly who cares. Porsche never does things the normal way, you should know this by know. Yes it has buttons but they are not buttons in the sense of a radio, these are buttons that slide along a track. I dont see what the big deal is about it. My Audi A3 has the paddles and it works great but so do these buttons.

    The transmission can be kind of lazy around town if you are not pushing it. It shifts to the highest gear it can as soon as it can just like the VAG DSG. Get on it though and watch it shift quickly. You can jump into any gear at any time just by hitting the buttons. The transmission shifts far faster than any human being every could.

    I would strongly consider PDK if I was buying a new Porsche. It just makes it easier to drive. Hey they use them in race cars, thats good enough for me.

  • avatar
    jhc

    For those of you that have driven the PDK, do you get the lurchness when down shifting from 4th to 3rd between 3-4K rpm consistently as I do?

  • avatar
    fahren

    “The transmission can be kind of lazy around town if you are not pushing it. (…) You can jump into any gear at any time just by hitting the buttons. The transmission shifts far faster than any human being every could.”

    What PDK does if you are driving lazily in traffic, 40 mph on 6th or 7th and then you want to (manually, using the paddles) downshift to 2nd? Does it downshifts one by one, until you reach 2nd (so you have to pull the paddle 3-4 times) or does it skip some gears?

    If it downshifts one by one, then well, your statement is far from being true – even unexperienced driver, driving normal manual, would run circles around such automatic transmission when downshifting from 6th to 2nd ;)

    Otherwise, what really brothers me, does PDK automatically downshifts in manual mode? If so, when exactly?

    • 0 avatar
      askbjoernhansen

      What PDK does if you are driving lazily in traffic, 40 mph on 6th or 7th and then you want to (manually, using the paddles) downshift to 2nd? Does it downshifts one by one, until you reach 2nd (so you have to pull the paddle 3-4 times) or does it skip some gears?
      It will jump straight from 6th to 2nd or whatever gear will give you the optimal power-band – even in “normal mode”; unless you are driving completely feather footed.  It’ll do it quickly and more accurately than most of us would be able to do manually.  It’s really a lot like magic.
      If you drive it “gracefully”, it’ll act gracefully.  I’m surprised though that the reviewer didn’t manage to kick it into the more aggressive mode.  It really doesn’t take much tinkering to find.  Hit the throttle a little faster; kick the brake a bit harder and it’ll know that you mean business.   For example brake aggressively and then start accelerating right away and it’ll have changed to “aggressive” mode.
      (My 4S has the sport chrono stuff and I appreciate having the “normal mode” for a commute in traffic and the sport and sport plus options for having fun – sport plus basically doesn’t let the RPM fall under 3500 and doesn’t change up until it redlines).

  • avatar
    cbloom

    To be clear, the author has not reviewed the right car.  If you want a speedy automatic Porsche you need Sport Chrono.  Without the Sport button you are driving a car in eco / overdrive mode.  PDK is in fact a great transmission, as good as Ferrari’s or BMW’s.  A PDK car without Sport Chrono is just a sucker move.

  • avatar
    PeteMoran

    What rtr said, and he/she said it best;
     
    You fault PDK for shiftng like an automatic when in AUTOMATIC mode. What else would you expect? When configured as an automatic it shifts smoothy and seamlessly. Outstanding performance for an auto box. If you want to hold gears, why not move the shift lever to the left and shift it yourself, like a manual?
     
    What’s always missing from reviews like this is the relative comparison. What is the manufacturer trying to achieve? The manufacturer’s intent is to replace the previous generation of tiptronic box. It is not intended (yet) as a manual replacement for those that insist they “like” it or “must” have it (those people, especially in the USA, are liars).
     
    Drive a PDK vs Tiptronic back’to’back and you’ll see there is no comparison. The fact the PDK makes choosing a manual even less justifiable just annoys those manual “aficionados” (cough) further.


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