You’d have to be a serious car geek to notice the styling changes on the latest Porsche 911 models — a clipped taillight here, a widened air dam there. The major changes are under the hoods — er, tails — of the 911 lineup, where Porsche shoehorned a pair of new direct-injection six-cylinder engines with more horsepower and better gas mileage than their predecessors.
The automaker invited journalists to Salt Lake City’s Miller Motorsports Park for a day of track time in the 345-hp Carrera and 385-hp Carrera S. Racing veteran Hurley Haywood sat shotgun and offered timely advice as we took to the corners, driving home the point that (shhh!) professional writers are not, in fact, professional drivers. We also logged several hours in a Carrera S on some of SLC’s freeways and mountain roads.
The early verdict: The 911 remains a stunning track performer that’s quicker than ever, and its improved cabin controls have many competitors beat. But in drawing the line as a serious enthusiast’s car, it continues to come up short in comfort and convenience – not drastically so, but enough that casual drivers who just want a weekend cruiser should know what they’re getting into.
The flat-six-cylinder engines — 3.6 liters in the Carrera, 3.8 in the Carrera S — belt out Porsche’s iconic guttural roar, and both pack gobs of power. The larger engine in the Carrera S comes into play on the track, where there’s better grunt to dig you out of a turn should you be stuck in too high a gear. On the street, though, the base model’s deficit feels less noticeable.
The 911’s longstanding five-speed Tiptronic automatic is replaced by a seven-speed double-clutch setup known as PDK. (It stands for Porsche-Doppelkupplungsgetriebe.) PDK is impressive: Left in Drive, it’s as smooth as most regular automatics, and with the optional Sport and Sport Plus modes, it can jump two or three gears with “what-just-happened?” efficiency. A firmly shifting six-speed manual is standard, though PDK-equipped cars are a bit quicker.