Review: 2013 Porsche 911 Carrera S – Track and Field

Brendan McAleer
by Brendan McAleer

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.

Brendan McAleer
Brendan McAleer

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  • Boxerman Boxerman on Jul 13, 2012

    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.

  • Oliedog Oliedog on Aug 13, 2012

    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.

  • Akear I just wish GM could produce a vehicle 80% as good as the crown.I sat in a Trax at a Chevrolet dealership this weekend and was shocked how cheap it felt. GM does not care.GM - what a disgrace!
  • Akear I like the grill treatment of all Mitsubishi products. It is an interesting and original design.
  • El scotto Some rambling thoughts; Elon is pulling billions in cash out of Tesla. Tesla will be around, Elon won't let them fail. Mitsubishi is an odd place, you can't sell vehicles if you don't have dealers. Out of all the "Automalls" near you, how many have a Mitsubishi dealership? The Agnellis owned Fiat, Fiat got sold to Stellantis. The Agnellis control Exor. How much of Stellantis does Exor own? I really should be drinking beer with Billy Ford and talking Big-10 trash with him. Ford and Lucid should work out a partnership. You want an electric Lincoln? Have Lucid build it and slap a Lincoln name plate on it. BTW, kick Farley's butt to the curb.
  • Akear US contentChevrolet Trax - 5%Honda Pilot - 52%What a disgrace!I glad Consumer Reports panned the Trax, and put it on its avoid list.
  • Akear This is similar to what lazy GM and Ford used to do.