By on November 14, 2011

I know what you’re thinking.

I’m thinking it too.

Why me? How, with a host of competent hot-shoes, seriously-journalistic scribes and industry insiders here at TTAC, do the keys to a presser Porsche 911 get handed to the guy who publicly admitted to being not a very good driver and who has an unfortunate tendency to use four long words where one short one would do nicely? Would not the readership be better served by someone who could give you an in-depth, accurate 10/10ths dynamic assessment, or a brief, sober buyer’s summary?

Oh, probably. But there are two very good reasons I’ve got this thing.

First, I asked Porsche nicely. And repeatedly. Being that I’m in Canada, politeness works here like a Jedi mind-trick.

Secondly, this 911 is no adrenal-gland-prodding trackday GT3, nor supercar-blitzing Turbo S. Neither is it the new 991 nor the 997 that every other publication has already told you “is the one you want” – the GTS. Scope the specs on this particular slice of Stuttgart spizzarkle: four-wheel-drive, automatic transmission, “base” 3.6L engine – it might as well have training wheels attached.

Quite simply, what we have here is a 911 for Mr. Average, and if you ignore the fact that I’m a ginger, that’s me. I shall put on a hat and go drive it.

A stylistic critique of the 997, 2012 model or not, would be futile. Porsche has been honing the 911’s silhouette since 1963, and this particular variant has been kicking around since the ’05 model year.

Assuming that you don’t live on the moon, you’ve doubtless seen some trim level of the current 911 sitting curbside and drawn your own conclusions about the slippery reversed teardrop with the cello haunches. Corporate grilles be damned, every nuance of a 911’s shape is burned into the collective’s zeitgeist. This is the Porsche, the stallion-crest flag-bearer, and I suppose the only cosmetic things I can point to here are the slightly nicer optional Turbo wheels my tester is fitted with, and the fact that the last few years of 997s have been fitted with larger air intakes and the ubiquitous LED running lights.

But here’s the thing, the thrill I feel as I slide into the near-perfect seats and spend a few clumsy seconds trying to start the car with the key in my right hand (oh right, ignition’s on the left) is short-lived. Despite the flawless autumnal splendour of a rare sunny day in the Pacific Northwest, it takes all of ten city blocks for an invisible hand to twist the dimmer on the neon sign that’s blinking, “OH EMM GEE – I’m driving a 911!” in my head.

In quick succession I am passed by a V10 Audi R8, a white 458 Italia and a bright orange Lamborghini LP-550-2 Valentino Balboni. Hmmm.

Here in the City of Glass with its many narcissism-inducing reflective surfaces – the place that invented the butt-sculpting yoga pant (not that I had anything to do with it, but You’re Welcome) – a 911 Carrera is insufficient for posing; I might as well be driving a 2012 GTi for all the attention I’m garnering. The 911 might be the Porsche, but here it’s also just a Porsche.

The muted grey of this car’s Platinum Silver Metallic paintwork may have something do do with it, but the cheery fact is that the 911 has, over the years, gradually shed the Gordon Gekko ostentation of a crimson, whale-tailed 964 convertible. In an age where hot Bimmers are slathered in M badging and skittle-shaded entry-level coupes like the Hyundai Veloster boast big, blingy, colour-matched rims, mid-line variants of the 911 seem restrained, discreet, reserved. To my mind, that’s a good thing.

A Carrera4 is not – supposedly – meant to be coddled, so through the week a 911 becomes my commuter car. This is not as much fun as it sounds: I have a short drive to work, but at this time of year it’s a tangled mess, clotted with lumps of slow-moving SUVs, snarled by construction and confounded by sheer volume. Each day, I walk out to be greeted by the permeating dampness of a West Coast winter and learn a little more about the idea of a 911 as a daily driver.

Most of it is good. The PDK is somewhat clunky from cold, but soon warms up and begins shuffling through the gears imperceptibly and rapidly; sixth and sometimes seventh gear is achieved at not much more than side-street speeds of 30mph. Smooth yes, sporty no.

The sport seats, as previously mentioned, are fantastic: grippy yet cosseting. The steering-wheel is blissfully free of buttons and gently nudges your hands towards the correct 3-and-9 position. The rest of the interior is fairly spartan, and little different from that of a base-equipped Boxster. Satellite navigation is straightforward to use, the iPod interface is fiddly.

Visibility is excellent. Ride is firm, but acceptable. Tire roar stops just short of Nissan 370Z levels. Parallel parking at first brings beads of sweat to the brow in fear of curbing those low-offset rims, but becomes a doddle with a few days practice.

Whatever visceral tug that iconic shape gave me on Monday morning has been eroded by Saturday evening. The Carrera4 has been competent, welcoming, even reasonable on fuel, but in the day-to-day of city driving it has yet to shine. At this point, it might be tempting to scan the option list and begin grumping about the outrageous cost of extras that should be standard on a $100K car – $400 for auto-dimming mirrors? Really?

Instead, it’s time to head East.

As the sun slips down behind us and the scenery changes from skyscraper-and-supercar to pickup trucks n’ Holsteins, I can feel a little knot of anticipation growing in the pit of my stomach. I’m heading home.

Here, high in the hills above the fertile Fraser Valley, I awake early on Sunday morning to find the 911 coated with crystalline ice, its badge encrusted in hoarfrost. Day is breaking, diamond-bright and brittle-blue, brilliant with all the promise of a cloudless wintry sky. I fire up the big flat-six and a low-pitched thrum backs the percussive tappeting of valves as clouds of vapour issue from twin exhausts to hang in the cold, clear air.

While the frost clears from the windshield, I retreat to the warmth of the kitchen to chat over coffee with my father. About what I can’t remember: it’s not important.

“You want to go for a ride, Dad?”

The Porsche’s summer tires – I am the last to drive this car so shod – are frozen hard as hockey pucks and scrabble at the cracked and heaved pavement at the foot of the driveway. I have the car in Sport Mode with Porsche’s Active Stability Management engaged. This car is fitted with Sport Chrono – a must-have for PDK-equipped cars – and while engaging Sport+ on a public road is the province of sociopaths, kicking the 911 into sport transforms it.

We go haring up the first of several hills, the pleasant whuffling of the Carrera’s exhaust crescendoing into a sonorous turbine-tenor, hard first-to-second, second-to-third shifts hammering us back in the seats with a thump. Finally, Porsche has seen fit to add proper paddle-shifters, though they’re steering-wheel mounted, rather than on the steering column. We climb.

These are the roads I grew up on, intestinal loops of off-camber, often slippery asphalt, patchworked with hasty repairs, rumpled, rutted, rippled, dimpled and undulating. I have ridden the school bus on them, have sat shotgun in my Dad’s ’85 535i as we flew along through tree-dappled sunlight, have nursed a recalcitrant Land Rover along at imprudent speeds during my rash teenage years, have driven them home in the first car I paid for with my own money.

Dad taught me to drive here in that stick-shift E28, and here I am taking him for a ride in one of the finest pieces of machinery ever engineered. We blast along winding, sunny country roads with snow-capped mountains and frost-coated fields as the backdrop, whipping up red-and-yellow vortices of fallen leaves to swirl in our wake. If this is all beginning to sound a bit like a Porsche commercial, that’s pretty much how it felt.

With a dual-clutch gearbox, all-wheel-drive and a hefty price tag, this 911 invites direct comparison to the Nissan GT-R. In fact, picking Godzilla over this car (as optioned) would leave about $10K remaining in your jeans. As a kid, I would have said it was a no-brainer: the car that boasts the better numbers is the better car.

However, I’ve had a reasonable amount of seat-time in Nissan’s scalp-taker, and it’s a very angry, impatient, heavy thing. Where the GT-R stomps, crushing curving tarmac like a steamroller with R-compounds, the 911 fairly dances along the roads.

The Porsche has a taut, sinewy feel as you feed it into a corner and then squeeze the throttle out, feeling a slight hip-pivot caused by the mild pendulum effect of that rear-mounted engine. We’re not hurrying, simply flowing through well-known and well-worn twists and turns, watching for slippery patches and keeping an eye out for neighbours out on horseback. The roads remain abandoned.

I slow as we come to a corner where I remember a past winter’s ice, and sure enough, some badly dug ditchwork has allowed twin rivulets to flow across the steeply pitched road and freeze into thin and splintered sheets. Just for a lark, I lightly goose the throttle from low speed as the 911 picks its way across the ice-patch gingerly, shifting the power around like a cat lifting and shaking its paws as it walks across a wet floor. The result is undramatic: this car is equipped with the new electrically-controlled all-wheel-drive system out of the 997 Turbo, capable of putting 100% of the power to either axle. As the front wheels grip dry tarmac, I’m temporarily piloting a front-wheel-drive 911. Blasphemy.

It’s also capable of an incredible standing start with launch control activated. After stopping to take a quick picture I test it out: Sport+ button engaged. Stand on the brake pedal, bury the throttle in the carpet. 6500rpm. Release the brake.

The result? 0-60 in 4.6 seconds and some seriously impressed Herefords. Or they could be bored. Or hungry. Cattle are a pretty inscrutable lot.

I could drive this car here forever, endlessly looping these empty roads, but this is a fleeting moment and it’s time to return to reality and hand the keys back. But not before handing out one more free ride.

On our way back to the city, we stop in to see a very good friend who is completely useless about cars. His son is just turning five, and is somehow developing into a full-fledged gearhead despite his dad’s neglected Honda Civic and practical minivan. The house is littered with Hot Wheels and Pixar characters. Does he want to go for a ride?

Seconds later, we’re all strapped in, windows down with the heat on full. Bang-bang-bang through the gears and then hard on the brakes as we all dissolve into helpless, joyous laughter. “Uncle Brendan, this car is more fun than I thought it was going to be,” I’m informed with all the irony-free seriousness that the only the very young can manage. Amen to that.

You can buy a 911 in eighteen different flavours, and while this car skews slightly from the way I’d pick mine (skip the PDK, spec an “S”, hold off on the all-wheel-drive and sat-nav and spend the money on driving lessons instead), it’s still a very special car. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.

The new 991 is already here, and I can’t wait to drive it and compare it to the low-mile 993 I drove a few weeks ago, and to this, last hurrah of the 997. The truth of this car? If you save up and manage to swing the lease payments, or pick a used one up with 30K on the clock for the same price as a new STi, then you will discover the same thing I have. Just occasionally, there is meat behind the legend. Just occasionally, the reputation is earned.

Porsche provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

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34 Comments on “Review: 2012 Porsche Carrera 4 PDK...”

  • avatar

    It’s refreshing to read about a “base” of a car, spec’d differently from what most enthusiasts would want to get. Great scenery in the pictures, too.

    • 0 avatar

      Brendan: nice review… we have snow here too… quick question: have you driven the Corvette? Just wonder how you thought the Porsche compared with the Vette, cos the mainstream magazines always bash the Vette, when comparing it to the Porsche… which is strange, cos my son has owned both vehicles, and, despite what the hacks say, 1. the interior of the Vette, IMHO, is not inferior to the Porsche, and 2. The Corvette is an awesome value, compared with the 911… So, any opinions?

      • 0 avatar

        I haven’t driven a current ‘Vette recently. I don’t know why mainstream mags are always so hard on it. Personally, I’m not really an interior guy, all I care about is the seats, and I don’t remember the basic car’s seats being particularly well-bolstered. All I know about the ‘Vette for sure is that I’m not cool enough to pull off owning one.

  • avatar


    Love your description of the roads throughout the valley – I’ve driven many of them, and you’re spot on.

    Of course, the sportiest vehicle I’ve been lucky enough to hoon is our Focus, so no comparison at all to the Porsche (the worst being my father’s then new Ford Aerostar in ’92 – switchbacks were literally a white knuckle affair!).

    How were the summer shoes once they had warmed up?

  • avatar

    Great words and photos, Brendan. Congrats on getting the car. These are wasted on the roads in my area. I envy you your location.

    • 0 avatar

      I dunno, Michael, there are some fun roads around here. You have your own handling loop. Too bad the race course on Belle Isle runs counter to the normal one way traffic in a couple of spots or we could use that.

      I have my own variation of fast car slow. It’s called going around corners at or near the speed limit. Going around a 90 deg corner in a 25 mph zone can be fun. Who says you have to slow down for the turns?

      • 0 avatar

        Hey Ronnie, come to Lassen County sometime: two-lane winding mountain roads, evil switchbacks, all combined with snow flurries and black ice! Awesome in the summer, scary in the winter.

  • avatar

    While absolute power might corrupt absolutely (GT-R), something about being connected to a car in that “just right” kind of way makes one smile. Thanks for taking us on the ride…wish my dad was still alive so I could do the same thing with him…must have been a special morning!

  • avatar

    Very nice review Brendan. Jack was right that you’d do the car justice. I appreciate the mid-spec version. In the real world, I think many of us wish for such reviews. TTAC is among the few that deliver.

    M3? Who drives those…tell me about the 335i, hardly a slow-mobile. I think most of us ordinary enthusiasts are somewhere in the mindset of getting a Camry SE rather than a 4-Cyl. A turbo Optima or the base 4? A base 911? That’s still off the charts. It’s the 1% not the 99%. How high in the 1%? Does it really matter? Does anyone really care if the new McLaren is faster than a Pagani Zonda or the new Lambo Aventador? Now you’re in the top 1/100th%.

    • 0 avatar

      I think most of us ordinary enthusiasts are somewhere in the mindset of getting a Camry SE rather than a 4-Cyl.

      Sure, but it’s getting hard to find a good one. The XV10 Camry SE was only available in ’95, and only with an automatic. The true enthusiast Camry was only made in ’92 and ’93 and was simply called a Camry V6. Those are probably even rarer.

  • avatar

    The problem is, y’see, this car is effectively a hundred grand in Canada, worse if you even breathe at the options list.

    Even discounting that the Covette, 370Z and GT-R are also similarly ludicrously overpriced when they cross the border, it’s all kinds of hard to ignore. I mean, you could get a base Corvette and a nice Dodge Caravan to carry your stuff. Or three Mustang GTs, or one of each a Camaro, Mustang and Challenger.

    Or, y’know, a Z06 or GT-R.

    Yeah, road feel, pedgriee, etc, whatever. We’re talking about commuter cars for not-quite-one-percenters, here, not track-day specials.

    Fun’s fun and all that, but c’mon….

    • 0 avatar

      This. For me, it’s more like an M56 and a Lotus or Se7en.

      Though I suppose there’s a point on the income scale where such things don’t matter: you buy what you want to buy, and the value proposition of “for the price of ____, I could have _____” disintegrates.

      I’m that way with hamburgers (bacon, mushroom and swiss on a hearty double-patty, please). So by extrapolation, I’d need to make roughly 10-20x what I’m making now to hit that point with cars.

      • 0 avatar

        To make things worse – and as alluded to – this car stickered at 118k with options. Still, they do quite well residually, hence the leasing comment. What would I have? Um, probably the 470whp ’02 WRX wagon sleeper that just came up for sale locally, plus three years worth of mortgage payments.

  • avatar

    Great review, thanks.

    “Felt like a commercial” I know what you mean!

    Please post the bigger version of the ice logo pic.

  • avatar

    “Hoarfrost”? That some kind of nod to Baruth?

  • avatar

    In 1991, the Carrera4 I drove for 14 years stickered for US$75K. Today, a base Carrera4 stickers for US$85K. Inflation alone would suggest a $130K sticker. That’s before considering everything in the base car without options you couldn’t even get in the 20 year old one, like a radio better than a wretched old Blaupunkt.

  • avatar

    “Uncle Brendan, this car is more fun than I thought it was going to be” Soothe spoke the lad.

  • avatar

    I’ve been driving my 993 C2S for 14 years now in all kinds of weather. It has never let me down and each time out is as fun as when I first bought it in 1997, despite the lower horsepower compared to modern cars. Best part is that depreciation is much less than the more current 911 incarnations. Resale today is only $25k down from the original MSRP. Not bad for a 14 year-old car. I do like the power and amenities of the newer versions, but I just can’t seem to be able to part with this one.

    • 0 avatar

      Here in California, depreciation on Porsche, especially 1999 to 2007 models, is horrific… probably due to the large number of rich kids who buy them, trash the motor, and then sell them cheap… which is why used “bargains” on 911’s are hardly a bargain!

      • 0 avatar

        A 993 is a “special” used Porsche, the resale value is very high compared to newer ones, simply because they are better. The reliability of the older ones with more current style and better performance. The 1999+ Porsches have horrible resale values because they are known for grenading engines and cheap build quality.

      • 0 avatar

        The 996s and early 997s are PsOS compared to the 80s and early 90s 911s (911/930, 964, 993).

        Plus the early 996s have those ungainly ‘spiegelei’ headlights and plastic fantastic interiors. In Germany used ones start at about 15K Euros, usually with the ‘AT-motor’ label attached (austauschmotor), which is about the same price or slightly below that of a half (maybe slightly less than half) decent original 911 (1963-1989)

        Used 993s start at about 25K, 997s at 35K, but the latters are 10+ years younger than the 993s of course and eventhough the grenading engine is still a possibilty they’re a step up from the 996s at least in terms of looks and interiors.

    • 0 avatar
      Jack Baruth

      I wouldn’t trade my 993 straight-up for a 997 of identical configuration.

  • avatar

    Very, very well written. Please continue to use four long words in the place of one short word. It’s a pleasure to read your work.

  • avatar

    Hmm, I recognise those roads. Is that area north of Mission? Lots of fun driving to be had around there – and if your cars bodywork isn’t of prime importance, lots of gravel tracks too.

  • avatar

    This is now my favorite TTAC review, and I was SO that 5 year-old boy. I agree completely, and it really is a special car. I had a brand-new 2009 Carrera S Cabriolet (6-speed) and sold it because it was far too impractical and expensive (and frankly just a waste) as a car that never left the potholed city streets. One day I’ll have another when I live in an area with roads where the car can be enjoyed as it was meant to be enjoyed. I’ve heard people complain about the slow evolution of the 911, that the styling doesn’t change enough in particular, and that’s what makes it brilliant. You perfectly captured the essence of what the 911 is all about. Thanks for the review!

  • avatar

    I agree that “hoarfrost” is a perfectly descriptive and understandable word. Too bad these are no longer air cooled, or you could have had a blast describing how well it blows the leaves off the road.

  • avatar

    Very nice pictures.

  • avatar

    Brendan… loved the review, and your writing is quickly becoming as much fun as a Baruth story. Keep it up!

  • avatar

    That is some neat looking scenery. Looks like some Need for Speed track from back in the day. Is that rule that you can relocate to Canada as a foreigner and pay off income taxes for the rest of your days still in effect?

    Maybe if that Ponzi scheme I’m running (no not really) works out I have another destination to add to the list aside from the obvious Monaco and Vanuatu.

  • avatar

    It’s not often that I read car review and wish I was there with the driver. Nice work. The 911 sounds about perfect.

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