Since the first 911 rolled off the assembly line in 1965, Porsche has been on a singular mission to make it the world's best sports car. And it's done a great job. Even though the basic structure has remained essentially the same throughout the years, the 911 can never be called stodgy or behind the times. It's a classic that keeps getting better and more refined with age.
While the 2009 911 Carrera and Carrera S might look like the outgoing models, looks can be deceiving. Suspension, brakes, lighting, interior and exterior styling — all were massaged for the new model year. Plus, the Stuttgart-based automaker added a pair of new powerful and economical engines, as well as an optional, twin-clutch, seven-speed automated manual transmission that's simply spectacular. Is it the best sports car in the world? That's debatable. But one thing is for sure: It is the best 911 yet.
Porsche offers the 2009 911 Carrera as a two-door coupe or convertible (called Cabriolet), both in base or S trim. All offer 2+2 seating with small rear seats, and the Cabriolet has a power-folding soft-top. Also offered are the all-wheel-drive 911 Carrera 4 and Carrera 4S, as well as the 911 Turbo. The 911 GT3 goes on hiatus for 2009. This review covers only the 911 Carrera and 911 Carrera S.
Base versions are equipped with leather upholstery, automatic climate control, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, bi-xenon headlights, 235-watt AM/FM/CD stereo, cruise control, universal garage door opener, onboard computer, and staggered Z-rated 18-inch tires on alloy wheels. The S trims add Porsche's Active Suspension Managements system (PASM), a sunroof (coupe) and staggered 19-inch tires.
Mechanical options include Porsche's new seven-speed Porsche Doppelkupplung (PDK) automated manual transmission, PASM, a limited-slip rear differential lock, the Sport Chrono Package Plus, and Porsche's Ceramic Composite Brakes. Interior options consist of heated seats, ventilated seats, a heated steering wheel, a Bluetooth wireless cell phone link, XM Satellite Radio, a universal audio interface and a Bose sound system.
All 2009 Porsche 911 Carreras have dual front airbags and the Porsche Side Impact Protection system with dual front torso airbags that deploy from the seats, and dual front head airbags that deploy upward from the door panels. Other safety features include a tire-pressure monitor, anti-lock brakes with brake assist, traction control and electronic stability control. Cabriolets also have an auto-deploying roll bar system. Available as an option are dynamic cornering headlights that point in the direction the car is turning so drivers can see where they are going.
Under the Hood
The 2009 Porsche 911 Carrera offers two all-new boxer six-cylinder engines. Engineers have simplified the design with 40 percent fewer moving parts, which should translate to better reliability. Porsche's VarioPro variable valve timing returns, but both engines now have direct fuel injection, which helps increase power and fuel economy and reduce emissions.
Base trims have a 3.6-liter flat six that produces 345 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 288 lb-ft of torque at 4400 rpm — up from 325 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque in 2008. It is offered with a standard six-speed manual transmission or the new optional seven-speed PDK automated manual transmission. EPA fuel economy numbers are up 7 percent for the manual transmission at 18/25 mpg (city/highway) and up 15 percent for the PDK (compared to last year's Tiptronic five-speed automatic) at 19/27 mpg.
For 2009, the 3.8-liter flat six in the Carrera S produces 385 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 310 lb-ft of torque at 4400 rpm — up from 355 horses and 295 lb-ft of torque. Its fuel economy numbers are 18/25 mpg (city/highway) with the manual and 19/26 mpg with the PDK.
Traditionally, the 911 isn't known for its stellar interior. Even so, Porsche still tries to provide a pleasant environment for driver and passenger. The upholstery is leather, the headliner is suede-like Alcantara and the dashboard, door panels and center console use weighty soft-touch materials that have a quality look and feel. It's all very nice, but it doesn't have the attractive design or premium quality of, say, an Audi interior.
For the most part, form follows function. The instrument panel features the tachometer front and center, making it easy to see when the engine is operating in its ideal performance range (around 6500 rpm). Reading the offset and sparsely marked speedometer, however, can be tough, especially with the hammer down. The standard tilt/telescoping steering wheel combines with an array of seat controls to allow most drivers to find a comfortable driving position. Headroom and legroom up front are ample. The front seats have enough side bolstering to keep occupants in place during aggressive cornering, but it's not so deep that short drivers will knock their arms against the bolsters when shifting.
A coupe body design can often suffer from poor rearward visibility, but not the 911. The classic design has thin rear pillars that don't block the view and the rear window is big. Sight lines to the sides and rear are also aided by 2009's larger exterior mirrors. This is a user-friendly, driver-focused cabin.
With that said, the rear seat isn't so user-friendly. It's only good for very small children. Alternately, its 7.24 cubic feet of volume is a good place to put packages. That's important because the trunk is up front has only 4.42 cubic feet of cargo room, which is about enough for two overhead-sized suitcases.
On the Road (and Track)
To give journalists a feel for the new 911's handling prowess, Porsche let us play on the 24-turn, 4.5-mile Miller Motorsports Park road course just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. On the track, the new model is incredible.
The 911's fantastic road feel and quick, direct steering remains unchanged. Balance, however, is improved immensely. The inherent problem with a rear-engine design like the 911's is oversteer, a propensity for the rear end to come around during aggressive cornering. The new 911 is so supremely balanced, however, that the rear end stays put. Part of the reason is the pair of new engines. Both are shorter, lighter and sit lower than the previous engines, improving the 911's center of gravity.
The engines are also more powerful than their predecessors. Each provides smooth, linear acceleration that doesn't knock drivers back into their seats but instead just keeps pulling. Zero to 60 mph comes faster than it feels — 4.7 seconds in the coupe with the base 3.6-liter boxer six and the smooth-shifting six-speed manual transmission.
Performance is even better with the new PDK automated manual transmission, making it a fine choice for both weekend racers and those who don't want to row their own gears. The PDK, a pricey $4,030 option, can shift faster than a human can shift a manual and, unlike some previous attempts at automated manuals (BMW's Sequential Manual Transmission comes to mind), power to the wheels is never interrupted. Those shifts happen quicker with the S version's Sport Chrono system in Sport mode, and the PDK enters full race mode with the optional Sport Chrono Plus package's Sport Plus mode. Note that the shifts can feel harsh in Sport Plus, and they come at redline, so it's not for use on the street.
Zero-to-60-mph times vary for the S trim. With the manual, Porsche says 0 to 60 mph takes 4.5 seconds. With the PDK, it's 4.3 seconds. And if the Launch Control feature that comes with the PDK is employed, the sprint is only 4.1 seconds. To activate Launch Control, press the Sport Plus button, step on the brake, jab the throttle and rev the engine to 6500 rpm, then let go of the brake. The 911 leaps to life with little if any tire spin. All times are two-tenths of a second slower for the Cabriolet.
The 2009 911 Carrera also stops short and quick. The base version gains last year's S brakes, meaning 13-inch diameter brake rotors are now found at each corner in all models. In a full-day on a long racetrack, we never experienced any brake fade. The pedal may have softened a bit, but there was never any hint that the brakes wouldn't bring us down from speeds in excess of 130 mph. With that kind of racetrack performance, drivers can be confident that the brakes will do the job on the street.
Track prowess aside, the 911 does have some drawbacks on the street. The price for excellent road feel is ride quality that can feel too harsh, especially when the PASM system's Sport mode is engaged. Both engines also emit Porsche's signature guttural blat. It can be music to the ears to some, but others might find it annoying, especially on long trips. Occupants also have to deal with copious road noise from the 911's wide performance tires.
Right for You?
The Porsche 911 Carrera is for anyone who loves to drive, but not for those who want to be fiscally responsible. With limited cargo capacity and room — realistically — for two, the 911 is a great sunny day cruiser. It's also chock full of amazing engineering and sturdy performance parts that make it a great choice for weekend warriors who get the occasional chance to drive on a racetrack. For toting the family around, look elsewhere.
Kirk Bell has served as the associate publisher for Consumer Guide Automotive and editor of Scale Auto Enthusiast magazine. A Midwest native, Bell brings 18 years of automotive journalism experience to MSN, and currently contributes to JDPower.com and Kelley Blue Book's kbb.com.