2018 Porsche 911 Carrera S essentials: The standard, for good reason
What is it: Come on now: There's no way you don't already know what the Porsche 911 is. The Carrera is as close to a standard-issue 911 as exists in the model's vast, complicated lineup. Pricing starts at $92,150 for a non-S, 370-hp Carrera; this Carrera S gets 50 more hp at a $106,150 entry point. From there, the sky's the limit.
Key Competitors: Chevrolet Corvette, Jaguar F-Type R, Nissan GT-R
Base Price: $106,150 As-Tested Price: $115,700
Full review: Porsche 911 Carrera
Highlights: Everything about this car, from the 420 hp to the feel of the shifter, feels just about right. The turbo engine doesn't sound as glorious as past motors, but it has plenty of accessible grunt and the optional (read: pricey) sport exhaust gives it a bit more voice.
Our Opinion: My whole life, there’s been a Porsche 911-shaped blind spot in my view of the automotive landscape. I’ve always known these things were out there, obviously, and I’ve always had a generalized respect for the model and its legacy. But I’ve never spent any significant amount of time in 911s, new or old. They’re unfamiliar territory -- and there’s a pretty high intimidation factor when it comes to learning said territory’s curves and contours. There's a lot of 911 esoterica to take in, and almost a whole new language of model designations and milestones to internalize.
But fate finally conspired to put me in this 911 Carrera S for a few hundred miles. It didn’t convert me into a True Believer, but I do have a much better sense of why people can’t seem to get enough of these things. Bottom line: Even if there was no Porsche legacy behind it, this would still be an excellent driver-oriented car.
It takes about two seconds behind the wheel to realize how wonderfully set up it is for enjoyable driving. You find yourself tripping into cliches when trying to describe it (“the shifter falls nicely to hand,” etc.). But what can I say? The shifter does fall nicely to hand! And while seven seems like way too many speeds for a manual-equipped vehicle not meant to haul trailers though the Rockies, there’s a neat lockout keeping you out of gear seven unless you hit it from fifth or sixth. The same can’t be said about the seven-speed gearbox in the Corvette C7, unfortunately.
Sure, we can nitpick some of the engineering choices. Would the 911 really still be a rear-engined machine rather than a mid-engined one (a la the Boxster or Cayman), if Porsche wasn’t afraid of ticking off the purists? Maybe not, but then again, those stubborn purists are the reason this thing a manual is offered alongside the quicker, and therefore "superior," PDK. You can tell that Porsche has had to work to overcome any weird quirks inherent in the rear-engine configuration, like massive rear tires (305-width -- the same width as the rears on a Challenger SRT Hellcat Redeye, if you can believe that!).
But whatever. It’s a slightly odd setup, but it works. And it does feel instantly distinctive when compared to a typical front-engine, rear-wheel drive performance car. It reads corners and curves differently than, say, a Corvette ZR1, and you can feel it so clearly in your butt when you’re driving; the way it moves around on an on-ramp is all it takes to drive home its distinctiveness. I can only imagine how much fun it would be on a closed circuit -- just the Carrera S, I mean. The track-oriented cars must be insane.
Our Robin Warner, who is a much bigger fan of Porsche than I will likely ever be, recently explained to me the appeal of more extreme takes on the 911 formula like the GT2 RS. The key, at least for him, is in how quickly you become comfortable with the car -- how all concerns about over-engineering, or pricing cynicism, or Porsche-fanboy hype, fade into the background when you get out on track and realize how far you can push these things and how readily you attain that level of confidence.
This comes through even on the street. It's responsive but not harsh. The optional PASM sport suspension is never too stiff. It's not punishing to drive at a moderate pace and it's rewarding to drive fast. All in all, it's very balanced: an excellent foundation for Porsche's vast 911 lineup.
The only thing is, it's not the 911 I'd buy, even as a non-track-rat. Shortly before my stint in the 911 Carrera S, I got a little bit of seat time in the 911 GT3. Its 4.0-liter naturally aspirated H6 has, with its 9,000-rpm redline, a special metallic rasp and an immediacy that this car’s punchy turbocharged motor can’t quite match. It’s more expensive, but not by a whole lot in terms of PorscheBucks. If you’re considering a Porsche the GT3 is the one I (with my admittedly limited insight into the World of 911) would advise you to buy, even if you're not hunting for anything more than the Carrera S' 420 hp -- cars like it aren’t going to get any more common or affordable in our downsized, forced-induction and soon-to-be-electrified reality.
--Graham Kozak, features editor
Options: Sport exhaust system with tailpipes in silver ($2,950), rear axle steering ($2,090), PASM sport suspension ($890), lane change assist ($850), seat ventilation ($840), sport seats plus ($810), seat heating ($700), automatic dimming mirrors ($420)