Arguably the most iconic shape in the auto industry is that of the Porsche 911.
Porsche, the car company, has gone through a variety of relationships with VW, Audi and the Porsche family. In addition to a lucrative and hugely sought-after engineering and development arm, it builds and markets a variety of vehicles including the Boxster, 911, Cayenne and Panamera. A new entry-level sports car is in the works, to be developed by Porsche and shared by VW and Audi.
But mention Porsche anywhere humans draw breath and it is the 911 that comes to mind first.
The design is instantly familiar from any angle and harkens back to the company's first production vehicle, the Porsche 356 in 1948.
Designed by 'Ferry' Porsche, son of Ferdinand Porsche, who designed the original VW Beetle, the 356 shared a basic layout with its VW cousin – an air-cooled, four-cylinder engine located in the rear. But the Porsche had a tube-frame chassis and from that point on the two vehicles took on distinctly different personalities.
The 356 continued in production until 1965 by which time the Porsche 911, with a rear-mounted, air-cooled, horizontally-opposed six-cylinder engine was two years old.
The 911 has remained in production for almost 50 years, but development has been continuous and any relationship to the original is deliberate and carefully maintained.
That first generation 911 was built from 1963 to 1989, including a wild turbocharged version known as the 930. The second generation, known internally as the 964 spanned the 1989-93 era and was followed by the 993 ('93-'98); 996 ('99-2005) and the current 997. The sixth generation is set to appear as a 2012 model.
Those designations are all internal, the 911 is still marketed and known worldwide as the 911.
Just as the car has evolved, so has the powertrain. A relentless pursuit of higher performance has involved extensive racing, both from purely ·factory· involvement and heavy support of independent teams around the world. In a wild variation of shapes and powertrains, the rear-engine 911 has been one of the most respected, feared and reliable racing cars on the planet.
The flat six engine was air-cooled from the original 1963 911 until 1998, when a switch to water-cooling was made necessary by growing emission regulations. Like everything else At Porsche that water-cooled engine has benefitted from racing and engineering to the point where it produces up to 620 horsepower from a mere 3.6-litres of displacement.
My test car for this review was an 'entry-level' 911 Carrera. Perhaps nowhere else in the auto industry is the term 'entry-level' so appropriate. The current Porsche 911 is available in 23 separate configurations ranging from the $90,100 Carrera to the $279,500 GT2 RS.
Porsche is known to be one of, if not the most profitable car companies in the business. The GT2 RS almost certainly does not cost $189,400 more to produce than the Carrera, but all those racing and development costs have to be recouped somehow!
People buying a Porsche fully expect to pay for the privilege and this is not lost on the marketing department. The 911, even in its most basic form, is a luxury vehicle and consumers around the world are not only willing to pay for luxury – but pay extra for personalization. The bottom line, before taxes and delivery for our $90,100 base model, was $112,660 with but a few options. The price sheet looks like this:
BASE 911 Carrera $90,100
Dark Blue Metallic paint $820
Brown Natural Leather interior $5,900
"911" Model Designation $110
Sport Chrono Package Plus $1,690
Porsche Doppelkupplung (PDK) $4,660
19" Carrera S II wheel $1,770
Front heated seats $600
Leather Sport Seats $510
BOSE® Surround Sound-System $1,650
Deviating Carpet $820
PDK 3-Spoke Sports Steering Wheel $560
PASM Sports Suspension Package $3,470
A couple of those items deserve explanation. Yes you pay an additional $110 to have the 911 badge on the trunk lid//engine cover and $600 for heated seats on a $90,000 luxury vehicle!
The $820 for deviating carpet covers the cost of the person on the assembly line reaching for a specific color carpet rather than black.
The Sport/Chrono Plus package is a sophisticated combination of analog and digital clocks atop the instrument panel, related to a button on the center console that activates launch control · more on that in a moment · and a timer to record the results.
The $3,470 suspension package includes an electronically variable system that can be set to one of two modes, a limited slip rear differential and a 20-mm lower ride height.
And lastly Doppelkupplungsgetriebe is Porsche-speak for double-clutch automatic transmission –a superb seven-speed unit with manual controls.
Before leaving the topic of pricing, I would be remiss is I didn·t mention the same car costs 22% less in in the U.S. at a time when the Canadian dollar is worth more. Enough said!
And enough about history, exclusivity, pricing and profits. What·s it like to drive?
The short answer is, I want one!.
The longer version entails everything from the industry's most precise and communicative steering system and powerful brakes to the characteristic wail from the exhaust under full throttle and the intuitiveness of the PDK transmission. This simplest of 911s can be a smooth, silent and sophisticated boulevard cruiser or transformed into a streetable race car by the simple expedient of exercising your right ankle.
While it might be considered heresy to recommend an automatic transmission in a sports car, I would argue it is a wise decision in this case. The PDK is a race-proven improvement that combines the ability to fully control shifts manually or let electronics do it for you.
No human can change gears anywhere near this speed. Equipped with the PDK the 911 accelerates more quickly and achieves greater fuel economy than the manual version. On that subject, Transport Canada says you can get 11.1 litres/100 km in city and 7.3 on the highway. I didn·t!
What I did get, on several occasions, was 100 km per hour from a dead stop on wet pavement in less than five seconds. Thanks to launch control, the 345-horsepower and 288 lb-ft of torque from the 3.6-litre six-cylinder engine and the PDK transmission.
The process could not be more simple · or repeatable. Push the Sport Plus button on the instrument panel, place the transmission in drive, hold your left foot on the brake and push the accelerator to the floor with your right foot. The engine climbs to and maintains 6,600 rpm. Then lift off the accelerator and hold on.
That level of acceleration places this, the least powerful 911 in exclusive territory, allowing a speeding ticket in less than five seconds. Faster and more powerful versions of this car/engine combination are only tens of thousands of dollars away!
With the engine hung out behind the rear axle, early and even more recent versions of the 911 were famous for departing the intended path and road backwards. All that racing and development have all but removed that tendency. The 911 is a delightful combination of ride and handling. The limits are extremely high and the result of exceeding them costly, but driven with sanity or lots of experience this car is as capable as anything on wheels.
The interior is luxurious, the front seats hug you like a loved one, but the tiny rear ones should be used for packages only.
In my experience, reviews of Porsche automobiles typically conclude with the same observation: the cars are wonderful and we should all have one. True, there is the occasional variation on this theme as the reviewer struggles to maintain objectivity, but usually said driver is having such a blast in the loaner Porsche that critical perspective evaporates at the first turn of the key (or the first turn in the road).
Forgive me in advance if this piece on the 2010 Porsche 911 Targa 4 ends up the same way, but I will try something different concerning the car that transported Grant Yoxon and I to the 2010 New York Auto Show. Rather than asking whether the car measures up to expected standards, I·m thinking more along the lines of whether we measure up to it.
After all, they don·t sell Porsches to just anybody, you know (okay, they do), but aside from the vulgar subject of money ($149,875 for this particular car, if you have to ask), there are your abilities as a driver, your reputation and your personal aspirations to consider.
The Porsche 911 is an automotive icon and very likely the best luxury sports car you can buy · but watch that option sheet.