Porsche’s Tradition Continues


2012 Porsche 911 Carrera.

There’s an all-new Porsche 911 for the 2012 model year, and every piece of sheet metal is different. But if you see it and know anything about cars, you’ll say “That’s a Porsche 911.” It’s new, yet familiar too. On purpose.

It all started way back in 1963. After years of selling the “bathtub” 356 model, Porsche introduced a clean-sheet design, retaining the air-cooled rear engine but upping the cylinder count to six. Compared to the 356, it was long, elegant, and modern.

Porsche’s designers didn’t know it at the time, but that initial shape would define the brand for decades, even though there were plans over the ensuing years to discontinue the 911.

In the late 1970s, the company debuted two much more conventional car designs, the 924 and 928. Each had a front-mounted liquid-cooled engine, and were more “modern” interpretations of what a Porsche sports car could be.

Well, guess what. Even though both of those designs had success to a degree, they’re each now long gone. Yet the 911 remains. The Porsche line has been supplemented more recently with a smaller mid-engine car (the Boxster / Cayman), an SUV (the Cayenne), and now a four-door (the Panamera). Yet, again, the 911 remains.

The new iteration is dubbed the “991” inside the company, but we know it as the 911 Carrera and 911 Carrera S, the latter with more power. Compared to the outgoing model (there are actually two completely different “2012” cars for some strange reason), the newer car’s engines are more efficient, and also more powerful.

Both the Carrera (350 horsepower) and Carrera S (400 horsepower) employ standard stop-start technology, something you’ll be familiar with if you’ve been in a hybrid vehicle. When you come to a stop, the engine shuts off. Everything else including the climate control keeps working, but fuel is being saved. As soon as you move your foot off the brake pedal, the engine fires right back up in an instant.

The car I tested, a Carrera S with the PDK 7-speed automatic transmission, was rated at 20 mpg city and 27 highway. Pretty amazing for a 400 horsepower sports car that performs as well as any regular 911 ever has. (I emphasize “regular” since there have often been ultra-performance variants of the car over the years, just as there will be for this one.)

If you’ve ever driven a 911, this one will feel quite familiar. If you never have, well, it’s hard to describe the je ne sais quoi that the car imparts. From the first twist of the ignition key (still located to the left of the wheel), to the distinctive rumble of the flat six cylinder engine, to the weight of the steering, to the way the car enters and exits a corner. It’s Porsche magic.

Even parts of the interior design, just like the exterior, seem to evolve yet stay the way they should. The instrument binnacle before you, with the tachometer front and center, arcs just so to each side. The deep bucket seats are lean and firmly sculpted, like the physique of a tri-athlete. Even the way the doors swing open is reminiscent of every 911 that’s come before.

Alas, progress and technology mean that the cost to own Porsche’s signature sports car isn’t bargain territory, not that it ever has been. An entry level Carrera will set you back some $82,000. And the Carrera S I tested started at $96,000 and with numerous options came in at a stout $126,000. Ouch.

But this 911, like all others, is part of an engineering bloodline that goes back nearly 50 years. A bloodline that has seen many variations over those years, but with each generation having a distinctly Porsche flavor and feel.

I’ll see you down the road.

Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @dave_kunz, Facebook: ABC7Dave.

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