Pros: Raw sporting ability, luxurious interior, classic 911 profile, extensive dealer network
Cons: Expensive, costly options, impractical back seats, first-year electrical bugs
2012 marks an interesting year for Porsche's flagship sports car, the 911. Caught between body styles, the new "991" model chassis makes its debut on the base 911, 911 S and their respective convertible models. The rest of the 911 lineup remains on the outgoing "997" chassis, so if you're looking for the upper-level trims of the 911 you'll end up with the older underpinnings. Those models include the Carrera 4 ($85,400), Carrera 4S ($98,300) and their cabriolet versions ($96,500 and $109,400 respectively); the GTS and GTS Cabriolet ($103,100 and $112,900); the 4 GTS and 4 GTS Cabriolet ($110,200 and $120,100); the Targa 4 and Targa 4S ($93,500 and $106,400); Turbo and Turbo Cabriolet ($137,500 and $149,000); and finally, the range-topping Turbo S and Turbo S Cabriolet ($160,700 and $172,100).
While Porsche tends to lean more toward evolution than revolution as it redesigns its products, the 2012 911 and 911 S models see only minor exterior updates, but major interior and mechanical changes. A completely refinished and decidedly upgraded interior along with a new seven-speed manual transmission are just a couple of the changes seen on the new 991 chassis.
First introduced in 1963, the 911 has carried its rear-engine, independent suspension setup all the way to the 21st century. With time, the car has grown in size, weight, power and price. What once was a (relatively) affordable club racer is now a legitimate premium car with a price tag to prove it. The entry model now has 350 horsepower and a starting price of just over $82,000, but the top-of-the-line 911 Turbo S can exceed $200,000. That said, the competitors for this Porsche range everywhere between luxury cruisers like the BMW 6 Series to all-out performance machines like the Lamborghini Gallardo.
Before you rush out to fulfill your childhood of fantasies of Porsche ownership, we think it's important that you keep something in mind: new model years frequently come with quirks that automakers address over the life cycle of the vehicle. There's no question that the 2012 Porsche 911 is the most luxurious 911 ever built, but it doesn't come without a few technological gremlins. In reviewing our 911 S, we experienced six "phantom" check-engine lights, all of which went out once we turned the car off and restarted it. The dealership technicians were unable to identify any issue, which leaves us wondering how they'd repair these electronic glitches.
Comfort & Utility
With the launch of the Panamera, Porsche designers proved they understand that there's more to travel than simply the business of driving. Its interior rivaled high-end brands like Maserati, but maintained the same "race me" feeling evoked by Porsches of yore. For 2012, the 911 has received the Panamera treatment inside.
The standard seats are snug and well suited for spirited drives, while comfortable enough for long commutes and road trips. For shoppers looking for a more tailored fit, Porsche also offers three additional seating options, ranging all the way to adaptive sports seats for an additional $3,825. The real improvement to the 911 is in the center console, though. In the past, it felt empty, with little more than a shifter to occupy your hand. Now, the console is mounted high to give the interior a cockpit-like feel, and Porsche has created a full command center out of the space around the transmission tunnel. You can deploy the spoiler, switch between sporting modes or even tune the exhaust all with the push of a button or a flick of the wrist.
The instrument panel also mirrors the Panamera's, with a five-canister design for the gauges. A full-color digital display keeps the driver informed while allowing the passenger to tinker with the stereo controls. For trunk space, the 911 maintains its classic "frunk," meaning that whatever doesn't fit in your back seat must find a home in the front boot of the car. Don't be too concerned, though, because there's plenty of room for a big trip to the grocery store, or a small trip to Home Depot. In our week with the car, we fit a $260 grocery run in, and we still had room for more.
Bluetooth, navigation, rain-sensing wipers, HomeLink and iPod integration are all standard on the base 911, but that doesn't mean that there isn't room to grow. Each 911 can be configured to the driver's personal taste, so there can be any number of combinations of options. For simplicity's sake, we'll address the packages available here, but don't be afraid to order your Porsche with options a la carte.
For an additional $2,420, the car's audio system can be upgraded to the mid-level Bose Audio Package, but real audiophiles may want to spring for the Burmester sound pack for $5,010. If you're looking for heated and cooled seats, the Premium Package Plus costs an additional $4,650, but also includes power folding mirrors and adaptive headlights.
Porsche's quick-shifting PDK dual-clutch transmission might be a necessity for shoppers looking for an automatic, and it might be preferred by those who want to race. Either way, it's an additional $4,080. And, to add on ceramic brakes, the adaptive suspension, torque vectoring and the Sport Chrono package, you're looking at spending as much as an extra $17,000 in driver technologies.
No, the 911 isn't a cheap car to add to your garage (especially when dressed well), but it can be made into a legitimate racecar with the prowess to take on Italian exotics. Our only fear here is that with a bigger engine and added electronic systems frequently come added electronic "quirks." This can be especially true with a first-year model, which could lend itself to more of those unexpected dealer visits.
Performance & Fuel Economy
The entry-level 911 comes with a 3.4-liter horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine that's good for 350 hp. The 911 S is equipped with a slightly larger 3.6-liter engine that produces 400 hp. An all-new seven-speed manual transmission comes standard in both cars, and the PDK dual-clutch automatic is optional.
We're not sure how often shoppers in this segment seriously consider fuel economy, but the 911 receives middling-to-decent figures. The base 911 with the PDK transmission is rated at 19 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway, while a similarly equipped 911 S pulls the same in town but 26 mpg on the highway. Fuel economy with manual transmission is rated a tick lower.
With its nearly useless back seat, the safety features in the 911 are focused on the driver and front-seat passenger. Both passengers have full-size head, knee and side airbags, as well as side curtain airbags.
The 2012 Porsche 911 has not yet been crash-rated by the IIHS or the federal government.
Everything about driving the Porsche 911 makes you feel like a rock star. No matter how you equip it, the car is an absolute thrill to drive with its aggressive power delivery and ultra-tight handling. Steering is also among the most direct that we've ever experienced, despite Porsche's inclusion of an electrically assisted steering system for 2012. Inside, the cabin is comfortable and easy to navigate, and the car is intuitive to maneuver on enthusiastic drives. Whether you're looking for a comfortable cruiser, an exciting weekend warrior or a dedicated track toy, the 911 works as a one-size-fits-all solution. That's if you have the budget, of course.
The only downside that we can see to driving a new 911 is that the car feels larger and heavier than we expected. In our opinion, "Porsche" should be synonymous with "small" and "light," but the 911 is neither. Again, this all comes down to personal taste. If you're in the market for a scaled-down racer, it might be worthwhile to take a look at the Cayman S or the upcoming 2013 Boxster S. But, if owning "the" Porsche is on your bucket list, the 911 is an easy choice.
Other Cars to Consider
BMW 6 Series: While not as aggressive as the Porsche, the BMW 6 Series offers a roomier and more comfortable interior in a generally sporty touring car. If you're looking for something with the same punch as the 911 S, the BMW M6 will be available later this year.
Audi R8: Audi's R8 costs about as much as a well-equipped 911 S, and is just as athletic, too. Plus, the R8 has the exclusive appeal of significantly more expensive exotic cars.
Jaguar XK: The Jaguar XK now sits on a slightly outdated platform, but it's probably the most comfortable sports car you can buy for less than $100k. It's built more for highway cruises than track days, but it's worth a look if that's how you plan to use your Porsche.
You should count on Porsche introducing a whole slew of trims for the new "991" version of the 911, ranging from all-wheel-drive and targa models to turbocharged and special edition cars. However, we think the sweet spot is in the 911 S Cabriolet, and you can buy that today. With its 400 hp, legitimately premium interior and open-air experience, it's sure to give you a rush when you gun the accelerator, as well as a generally pleasant ride for longer trips. The only consideration here is price, because with a starting price of $108,000 and options that can push it well over $130,000, there are several interesting alternatives available. But for the Porsche faithful, it's a slam-dunk.