By on July 3, 2012

Imagine it’s 1998 and you’re the successful CEO of a company that makes, oh I don’t know, jewel cases for CDs. Business is booming and your four-year-old 911 Carrera coupe isn’t quite the paradigm you want to project. You’re moving with the times, and there’s a new, modern 911 coming.

Keys in hand, you walk into your local Por-shuh dealership and… what the hell is that thing?

Flash forward to 2012 and your company now makes an app of some variety: iPaintswatch or some such nonsense. You’re minting money at $0.99-per-download, and your ’08 silver-on-black C2S is due for replacement – your business partner just bought himself an R8, and you simply must have LED running lights to keep up appearances.

You head back to that same dealership – which is now equipped with a cappuccino machine – squeeze past four Cayennes and three Panameras and feast your eyes on the newest 911…

Well first off, my eyes! The goggles do nothing! This (terrible) colour is called Lime Gold, and puts me in mind of the bilious shade you used to be able to get the E46 M3 in. Look, the 911 is a businessman’s coupe, not one of Ali G’s track-suits: after the tenth person said “nice car, too bad about the colour,” I figured the market research portion of the review was over.

Looking past the paint-job, the new 911 is long and languid, smeared out across those big blingy wheels. And, for some reason, someone’s hot-glued a chromed ingredient list on the back bumper. Again, enough with the booyakasha.

Still, looking at the smoothed, stretched and polished form of the Panamera Coupe, I’m sure you can make an educated guess as to how it’s going to drive.

You guessed right.

Jack Baruth informs that I was impressed by the new 911 at a Porsche-run press event. Not an entirely accurate representation: firstly, I was tagging along at a private driver-instruction day which was individually paid for by participants and Porsche Canada – bless their little Nomex socks – covered the tab for a few journalists to have track instruction time in two of their cars.

Secondly, the 991 didn’t so much impress as meet expectations. A lengthened wheelbase has the big flat-six slouching towards mid-enginehood to be born as the world’s biggest Cayman; no rough beast this, it’s a 3.8L direct-injection mill that surges against the reins once the revs crest four thousand, every one of its 400 horses a thoroughbred.

Not that you’ll ever see the thing: pop the bonnet and all you glimpse is what appears to be the cooling fans out of a desktop PC. Achtung! Fiddling vis ze motor is verboten!

With front-track widened to improve bite and enough aluminum in the bodywork to qualify as a tinfoil hat, the 991 is such an easy car to drive fast: brake later, turn in more aggressively, power-on sooner. The electric steering is perhaps a touch less communicative than the 997′s, but the difference has been over-reported – it’s still good enough to have Audi engineers flinging themselves from Ingolstadt parapets.

The 991 flows through the corners in a liquid manner, as velvety as the Scotch burr of my driving instructor. Later in the afternoon, his son will be having me sturming the curbs in the Panzerkreig Panamera GTS. Here we flick through the chicanes like a steelhead through a riverbend. Smooth, smooth, smooth, fast. Even on this soggy, debris-laden track, I am relaxed and confident: any idiot could drive this thing fast. Any idiot, in fact, is.

Wonderful stuff, but $60K better than a Cayman R? I don’t think so. Then again, take the 911 to the streets – where I found little brother’s bookend seat-bolsters and twitchy wet-weather behaviour to be liabilities; here, through the week, the 911 begins justifying its price tag.

The new interior is as button-festooned as the cockpit of a business jet and thus, feels like a business jet. 911s have always been expensive, here’s one that won’t have you terrifying your passengers at extra-legal speeds by way of explaining the cost.

Road noise is halved from the 997. I burble home on a busy evening freeway, heavily pregnant wife at my side. Both of us are somewhat tired out from a hot afternoon at a summer wedding, and the 991 is taut, yet forgiving. A supremely relaxing place to be. She dozes. I feel rested.

Hang on, is that a tunnel up ahead?

Windows down. Sunroof open. Sport Plus. Sport Exhaust. Manual PDK. Bang bang bang on the downshift – a stab at the go-pedal and the tiles echo to the wailing honk of a flat-six. Brake, stab. Brake, stab. Brake, stab.

She rolls her eyes. I chuckle. And yet…

You want track performance? The 991 has a button for that. You want a smooth and cosseting street drive? There’s a button for that. You want to act like a loon or have a start-stop system that’s so quick you can be sitting at a light with your engine off and still blow the doors off 95% of whatever rolls up next to you? Buttons for both.

You want a visceral, emotional connection? Where the hell’s that button?

Everyone likes to talk about the 911′s evolution; an engineer’s gradual progression, each year a slight improvement. Really though, there’s a disconnect.

If you think the 911 should be a small-volume, hand-built car that’s engaging and ruthlessly mechanical, then good news. The toughness that Porsche built into the air-cooled Luftwaffe means that even a moderately-preserved example can make for a good daily-driver.

There are squadrons of specialists to care for these cars, warehouses packed with spare parts, and while the air-cooled cars may have their dynamic and ergonomic quirks, they’re easy to drive in modern traffic, even in less-than-ideal conditions. Buy one and you’ll also enjoy a depreciation curve that’s as horizontal as the Bonneville Salt flats.

But after 1998, the 911 was something different. No longer the car that burst forth from the Beetle’s chrysalis, it’s become the everyday sportscar, an instrument of speed that’s as capable on the track as it is at everyday life. Each successive generation has been faster, more flexible, more capable.

The difference between an air-cooled 911 and the current 991 is the difference between a finely-crafted mechanical watch and an iPad. The watch does one thing, and does it well. The iPad does everything and does it all better than the watch.

But the watch is not just a watch, whereas the iPad is just a very fancy tool. The craftsmanship that went into making the watch no longer exists and it is therefore irreplaceable. The iPad is only as good as the latest update, and like Apple, only a few months in and Porsche has already released a version that is very slightly improved.

It is the best Porsche yet. The best 911 ever. A technical marvel and an engineering masterpiece and one of the finest pieces of machinery ever made. It is probably the best car I will drive all year.

And I don’t want one.

Porsche Canada provided the car tested and insurance as well as comping the aforementioned on-track driver instruction day. Photos by Kieran McAleer where noted.

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36 Comments on “Review: 2013 Porsche 911 Carrera S – Track and Field...”


  • avatar
    philadlj

    After seeing the car in person, I’m now certain: I prefer the looks of the 997 from every angle.

    This new generation looks too stretched out, the front turn signals (?) overlapping with the lower intakes look like a photoshop mistake, and all the lettering describing _exactly_ what model and trim level it is (read: how much you spent) is just plain tack-y.

    Finally, that colour belongs on a Camry, not a Carrera. Excellent Radioactive Man reference.

  • avatar

    Good review.

    I always hate it when an Apple critique makes its way in. Only as good?

    Love the color.

  • avatar
    duffman13

    This seemed appropriate:

    Memphis: I’ve been in L.A. for three months now. I have money, I have taste. But I’m not on anybody’s “A” list, and Saturday night is the loneliest night for the week for me.
    Roger the Car Salesman: Well, a Ferrari would certainly change that.
    Memphis: Perhaps, Mmmm. But, you know, this is the one. Yes, yes yes… I saw three of these parked outside the local Starbucks this morning, which tells me only one thing. There’s too many self-Indulgent wieners in this city with too much bloody money! Now, if I was driving a 1967 275 GTB four-cam…
    Roger the Car Salesman: You would not be a self-indulgent wiener, sir… You’d be a connoisseur.

    Is this car faster and better than any 911 before it, yes. Do I want it? No.

    I’d prefer the white and green one in the picture, or maybe a mid-80s vintage with the duck-tail spoiler most of all. It would only be about as fast as my S2000, but I wouldn’t care. Because it is a classic, and the way the car is supposed to be.

    There is something to driving a car like an AP1, or 930 or older 911, or a 355 or older Ferrari (I wish) fast. I find it fun to flog a car that most would describe as actively trying to kill you. When the computers started making driver error/talent irrelevant, I would argue it stopped being driving anymore.

    I’ll stick with being a connoisseur, thank you.

  • avatar
    Nostrathomas

    I guess I’m one of the few, but I love the weird color. I always thought 911′s looked great on those slightly off-colors…..Diamond Blue, Irish Green, Beige Gray, Copper Metallic, Pacific Blue etc etc….and this new 997 reminds of that era. It perhaps doesn’t pull it off as well, but I like that it’s not just another black/grey/white/red sports car.

    • 0 avatar
      NMGOM

      You said: “I like that it’s not just another black/grey/white/red sports car.”

      Yep, I agree. That color could afford to be slightly darker perhaps, but it’s OK with me.
      Also agree on the oh-so-standard offerings for sports car (and sporty car) colors. What gives? I was disappointed that my BMW 325i was so unimaginative in exterior color offerings*, while being so imaginative and well-thought out inside. Congratulations to Porsche for being a little exploratory in this realm.

      * Only one color came close to being “out-of-the-box”: sparkling metallic graphite, which I got. It’s better known as “gray” (^_^)..

      —————-

  • avatar
    racingmaniac

    The watch analogy was very well done, even if I don’t entirely agree with it…

  • avatar
    Advance_92

    I think that color is only popular in southern Germany.

  • avatar
    replica

    I love the color. A similar color existed on the 2002 Civic Si, we called it “baby sh*t green.”

    Great review, one minor gripe though. If you’re going to write about a certain aspect of the car, have a picture of it following right after. Comments about the interior with no picture of the interior next to it, bah.

  • avatar
    fredtal

    The color doesn’t bother me at least in these pictures. At least it’s something different.

  • avatar
    tjh8402

    Hats off to you Brendan. That was one of the best written and most enjoyable reviews I’ve read on here. You had me cracking up.

  • avatar
    hachee

    Brendan, I really enjoy your articles – keep them coming!

    I’ve always loved the 911 (996 really excepted) and one of these days, I’ll take the plunge (although it’ll most likely be a used 997 or 993). I’m not a big fan of the “over-teching” of these (and every other) car, but after having driven a new 991 a few weeks ago at a Porsche Roadshow event, I can say “I want one”. I don’t know how it compares to a 997, but I can say it was pretty damn amazing. If I had $110K or so to drop on a car, why the fk not??

    And having driven a Panamera GTS at the same event, I can also say “now I get it.” Who cares about the looks – the car was awesome, and it HAS to be more fun to drive than any other super lux 4 door sedan out there.

    Oh, and I love the gold color too.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Great review Brendan. There is not doubt that a lot of the visceral qualities of the 993 were lost when Porsche decided to broaden the appeal of the 911 and turn it into the everyday super car. Nice as the 911 is, I still prefer the Cayman.

  • avatar
    geggamoya

    It’s not just the 911 either, sadly. I’ve driven a few (non P-car)german 400hp+ cars recently and they were excellent in almost every way, but they did not raise my heart-rate. I tried everything but crashing. There is no “root-fizz”. At least this one doesn’t have one of those “sound generators” that play engine sounds thru the speakers. Does it?

    And the watch analogy is excellent. A fine mechanical movement is beautiful. An incredibly complex piece of functional, timeless(haha) art that does a very simple task brilliantly.

    Rational Man would make a speadsheet and come to the conclusion that a 15$ digital Casio is the best watch in the world, grab a Weetabix and head straight for the Toyota dealership to purchase a beige Corolla. After all, he’s had the current beige Corolla for 20 years already so it’s probably time for a new one. He’s file cabinet full of of maintenance records and receipts over the least 20 years make that clear.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    I don’t know diddly about Porsches other than knowing the model types. Is there a rational site, or sites on Porsche ownership? Some site where owners state their love of the car and can curse like a Navy Chief when describing some difficult repairs?

  • avatar

    “A lengthened wheelbase has the big flat-six slouching towards mid-enginehood to be born as the world’s biggest Cayman”

    Not so much. The engine is still nestled just behind the rear bumper.

    http://farm7.staticflickr.com/6200/6155347110_5247220b50_b.jpg

    Frickin tradition. Why can’t they just build a Cayman with bigger balls? So much untapped potential.

    As long as the 911 is rear engined, it will continue to piss me off.

  • avatar
    vanpressburg

    Is this car better than Audi R8?

  • avatar
    Alwaysinthecar

    My 1996 993 is not nearly as quick or as forgiving as the 997 or the current 991. It’s small, noisy, smells like oil, and can wear on you during long freeway trips. It’s constantly reminding you that you’re driving an actual sports car.

    I’ve contemplated letting it go as the resale value is still quite good at the moment. A new version is certainly tempting. But my fear is that I might be giving up the essence of what a Porsche is all about. And that includes the unique smell of leather and oil that hits you every time you open the door, and the indisputable ‘tink’ sound it makes when you close it.

    • 0 avatar
      PaulyG

      Don’t do it! I went the other way. I started with a 996 and ended up buying an ’89 3.2 several years ago after driving a friend’s car of that vintage. That drive was the ah-ha! moment when I realized what the real Porsche magic was all about.

      I love the odd smells, bank vault door closure, and the little ways you can see that the wiring was done by hand in the engine compartment. I even like the odd noises my car makes when cooling down after driving it hard. It is a wonderful mechanical device, not just an appliance for speed. None of this can not be replicated by anything modern on the road.

      The new water-cooled Porsche’s are supremely competent, but are bit soulless because of that competence.

      • 0 avatar
        tejasjeff

        +1

        God I miss my 89 Carrera.
        The sound of that engine sitting in the garage creaking and crackling as it cooled down from a hard drive was pure magic.
        My Porsche guru who literally grew up at his Dads dealership and spent a year sabbatical from college working in the factory(courtesy of the old mans friendship with Ferry) always said that was the THE 911.
        wish I still had mine.

    • 0 avatar
      needsdecaf

      Your post reminded me of a verse from one of my favorite songs. And reminded me of why it’s one of my favorite songs, despite not being the best piece of music ever produced…

      “Well-weathered leather,
      Hot metal and oil,
      The scented country air.
      Sunlight on chrome,
      The blur of the landscape,
      Every nerve aware.”

      -Rush
      “Red Barchetta”

      Ironic that the foil in the song is a “gleaming alloy air-car”.

      I only know one air car back in the 80′s….

      “Suddenly ahead of me,
      Across the mountainside,
      A gleaming alloy air-car
      Shoots towards me, two lanes wide.
      I spin around with shrieking tires,
      To run the deadly race,
      Go screaming through the valley
      As another joins the chase.”

  • avatar
    FJ60LandCruiser

    Am I crazy for loving the Lime Gold color.

  • avatar
    Nick

    Last time I saw that colour was on a ’72 Plymouth Fury Gran Coupe. Suitable colour for the car and the era. This Porsche? Not so much.

    ‘and all the lettering describing _exactly_ what model and trim level it is (read: how much you spent) is just plain tack-y.’

    It sure is…the ‘oh look at me’ car that Porsche has become.

    If I had the money for this Porsche, I think I’d pay for someone to build me an Ultima with the baddest 454 small block they could put together.

  • avatar
    ccd2

    The crux of this article is that we have engineered the fun out of a lot of cars. Porsche is busy blurring if not outright eliminating the distinction between sports car and grand touring car. PDK will shift faster than I ever could, but should any automatic be part of the sports car experience, supremecy of PDK be damned???

    This is apart from the fact that, on the street, a car this fast is meaningless. Have sports cars simply gotten too good for their own good (and ours)?

  • avatar
    Johnny Canada

    Brendan, is there a reason why you won’t mention the price of your test vehicle?

  • avatar
    ccd1

    There was a segment in Road Testament on YouTube with Chris Harris which was basically on the future of the sports car. If you cut thru all the clowning around, a couple of interesting points were made. First, that a “sports car” in the future (and perhaps even now) may be defined by a lack of tech which separates the driver from the road. This could mean, stick shift, hydraulic steering, a minimum of electronic nannies. Second, true “sports cars” may become a small volume niche product made by low volume car makers. Not bigger outfits like Porsche, but smaller outfits like Lotus (if it survives) or others.

    The reasons for this possible evolution are clear from this review: a technically excellent product that fails to move the soul. Porsche could remove some of the “improvements” made to the 911, but these sort of changes would only appeal to a small minority of their clientele. Porsche is going to follow the money and nothing even remotely resembling a Lotus Elise style stripped down sports car will ever be in the offing from Porsche. Instead, the 911 and Cayman/Boxster will be cars that admirably (if without soul stirring emotion or sould stirring idiosyncrasies) perform daily duties while still being able to be taken to the track a couple of times a year.

    Taken to its natural conclusion, the car of tomorrow will be designed to keep us in contact with our environment: the office, homes, the cloud, etc. And the car will try to keep us from crashing/killing ourselves while we tend to everything besides driving. Any car which does not perform this kind of function is likely to be a limited volume special use vehicle. The sports car may be one of a number of such category of special use, small volume cars.

  • avatar
    Boxerman

    The cayman, whats so great about it. A few of the Cayman R’s have started showing up at track days, they have motor but are really sagging arsed on hard corners. Bottom line even my humble NA elise on slicks can blow away a similarily competent driver in any cayman on slicks.

    As for the 911 a 997 GT3 is a formidable weapon,if you drive it without spinning, the others are too soft/slow to really go on a track at any sort of hard pace. The 991 appears to be a Gt car.
    Porche could have made something better.

    A ferrari 458 is at once modern capable and definatly not lacking in feel fizz or soul. Yes it costs more, but a few years ago a 911 GT3 was rated more highly than the 430 as a serious drivers tool.
    My point is ferrari can go modern and still retain soul and hard edged performance, so could porche, that they did not is a cop out deluxe and missing the point. The electro steering was to save complexity of build and fuel economy, which is a cheapening the core of the product dynamicaly, and missing the point about why people buy these, its not for the extra .5% fuel economy.

    Many people who knew nothing about cars bought 3 series BMW’s in the day because it felt quality and sporty. Many people who are not serious drivers bought 911′s for the same reason as well as the pose. Driving one felt like driving a sports car. Now that is dialed out whats left, the looks and the price tag. look what happened to Honda when they lost wishbones great motors etc to chase toyota. They became a not so great toyota and more expensive than hyundai.

    90% of performance cars are bought by people with no clue, people who follow or ctach on to those who do have a clue, that is how the “brand” gets built and has credibility. Racing adds to that but is only part for the equation. Statistical superiority did little for the NSX and is not doing too much for the new Maclaren with we can deliver last week waiting lists.

    Porche may sell more in the short term, but they have finaly killed the 911 which will hurt in the long term as their brand message becomes rebadged VW’s. The USP of a porche was a 911, all the other p cars trailed in its wake. What is the point of a 991. A 928 with the engine in the back? How long did the 928 last all while porche was ignoring the 911. Seriously why not just make a two door panamera, and a really good 911.

    You might note that while ferrari keeps the mid engined v8 pure they sell californias and all sorts of other crap to keep the money flowing and the poseurs happy while the brand keeps its performance mojo intact.

    On the other hand, from what I saw at the track last week, the truly awesonme car these days is a roisson.
    Maybe Lotus will be bought by Honda or toyota and resurrect as something serious to ocupy the place the 911 had, certainly lotus drivers these days are by in large car fanatics.

    As for porche the last serious machine they made was the RS4.0 a fitting swansong. Short of that motor in a cayman we are not going to see something superlative from them again, except the occasional hyperexotic. Don’t believe me, when is the last time the “iconic” porche turbo was truly great, it was the 993 turbo s. Since then this icon has been blanded into a plastic surgeons special. Whither porche.
    And yes I used terms like “Iconic””USP” so that if some MBA numb nuts reads this, they might understand in their own language, because they sure F**d up the 911.
    Rant over.

  • avatar
    Oliedog

    I parked my 997S next to a 991 the other day. The cars are completely different from interior to exterior. I am not saying bad or good, but the new 911 reminds me of an Aston Martin more than a 911. Nonetheless, I am sure it is a blast to drive and own.

    I note that some seem to dream of the days of old when cars had more “feel” and seem to smite Porsche for installing electronics to make the car safer and maybe a little duller. I am not sure about that as my 911 feels every crack and wobble in the road – which I enjoy. But the bigger issue is that today the 911′s are so fast they are dangerous to own if you are not careful. Go 60, drop one into third and floor it and you might run through the car in front of you.


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