I just spent an afternoon driving the brand new Porsche 911 Carrera S through the redwood forests outside of Fort Bragg, deep in the emerald crown of California. It's impossible to write that sentence without feeling like a jerk, because unless you were on that launch you didn't spend the afternoon driving the brand new Porsche 911 through a redwood forest. And unless you’re Drake, or your last name is Dicaprio or Gronkowski, there's just no way your life could have been any better for those fleeting six hours.
Let me try to explain to you the dizzying sensation. If you’re lucky, you have been blessed at some point to experience the visceral fusion of driver and machine, dependent on the specialness of that machine. Your McLarens, Ferraris, Lambos, Bentleys, etc, holding top billing. Even more rare, however, are those moments where you get to experience one of these superior cars on roads that allow them to offer up all the delicious fruits of their engineering.
And such is Route 128, which slices from Yountville to Albion as it carves an asphalt ribbon through the towering, majestic pillars of the redwood forest. The road is dark from the shadows, dappled with light beams that pierce through the vertiginous canopy above. And along on this high contrast, twisting chiaroscuro you row through seven gears of the 911’s manual transmission, summoning varying bursts of power from the latest itineration of Porsche’s famed high-revving flat-six engine.
The 911 has existed since 1963, religiously retaining its basic shape and rear-mounted engine setup. As it has evolved, slowly growing in dimension, the 911 lost its beloved air-cooled setup and replaced it with water coolers. While still one of the most lauded vehicles of all time, Porsche has rankled zealots with “advancements” like its electronic steering — a required modern update that nevertheless eliminated the storied Porsche steering feel in 2011. This is not just gearhead minutia; it defined one of the world’s finest driving experiences.
'"With bursts of violent acceleration, toe-taps on the throttle turn the thick redwood trunks into blurring sienna-stemmed weeds."
The steering feel on this Carrera S has been greatly improved since that first somewhat numb electric steering, although it still lacks the connected, unfiltered communication that only comes from direct mechanics linking the steering wheel with the front axle. Some drivers may complain it still suffers from lack of feel, but what I experienced carving through those redwoods was a gorgeous sensitivity, as emotive as the rumbling soundtrack emanating from the twin exhaust tips in the rear.
The truly monumental update of this “991” platform is the inclusion of twin-turbos onto base Carrera and Carrera S vehicles, incorporating forced induction into entry-level Carreras for the first time ever. Of course Porsche has used turbos before, but that power-goosing technology was applied to the eponymous Turbo models only, and those were the top dog 911’s. So yes, Porsche will continue to call that model Turbo even though it is no longer a truly descriptive moniker.
As is sadly the way of the universe, displacement had to be reduced in order to service the gods of fuel efficiency and emissions. That means the flat-six powerplants shrink from 3.4- or 3.8-liters (in the Carrera and Carrera S, respectively) to 3.0-liters. But fret not, thanks to those turbos power jumps to 370-hp (or 420-hp for the Carrera S).
The Carrera will burst from 0-60 mph in 4.2 seconds with the dual-clutch 7-speed PDK automatic; in 4.4 with the manual. The Carrera S will do so in either 3.9 or 4.1 (PDK vs. manual). You can even pay extra for Sport Plus programming with the PDK, and that speeds things up more: 4.0-seconds for the Carrera, and an absolutely blistering 3.7-seconds in the S trim. Top speed is 183-mph for the former, and 191 for the latter.
With those violent bursts of acceleration, toe-taps on the throttle coming out of corners turn the thick trunks of the redwoods into blurring sienna-stemmed weeds out of your peripheral vision. Porsche engineers have done a remarkable job eliminating dreaded turbo lag; surprisingly, you don’t so much feel the turbos as you hear them: a high-pitched whine that pierces through the baritone notes snorting from the optional sport exhaust.
It’s not just power that’s improved, of course. The holistic vehicle dynamics allowed the new 911 to circle the Nürburgring in 7:30 — that’s 10 seconds faster than the previous non-turbocharged 911s. It's a significant jump, one aided not just by the improved engine but also by the Porsche Active Sport Management suspension (PASM) which used to be optional but now comes standard.
And the similarly named Porsche Stability Management (PSM) system now has a Sport mode that features a higher intervention threshold before the system kicks in, allowing greater yaw and wheelspin before the electronic nannies are activated to save your ass. Consider this a halfway point between active stability control and shutting it completely off.
Other improvements include optional carbon-ceramic brakes borrowed from the 911 Turbo S, and the inclusion of optional rear-axle steering — an agility adding technology lifted from the ballistic, $176,000 GT3 track monster. What it does is turn the rear wheels to aid in handling: in low speeds the wheels turn opposite of the front wheels, for compass-like pivoting and a higher turning radius, and at high speeds in the same direction for greater stability.
We should probably also mention an improved infotainment system with Apple CarPlay, paired to a 7” touchscreen with pinch-to-zoom ability and handwriting recognition. But if you ever find yourself on a sun-dappled road behind the wheel of a Porsche 911, and you’re fidgeting with the touchscreen, then you probably don’t deserve to be there at all.
Carrera S: $103,400
Carrera Cabriolet: $101,700
Carrera Cabriolet S: $115,700