published Saturday, February 25th, 2012

Kennedy: 2012 Porsche 911 resets performance benchmarks

This new 911 Carrera S from Porsche of Chattanooga represents an important
update of the venerable German sports car.
Photo by Mark Kennedy
This new 911 Carrera S from Porsche of Chattanooga represents an important update of the venerable German sports car. Photo by Mark Kennedy

Any discussion of the new 2012 Porsche 911 boils down to adjectives and numbers.

First, the adjectives: Our Carrera S test car from Porsche of Chattanooga was classic, curvaceous and compelling.

Now, the math: (400 horsepower) plus (0-60 mph in 4.1 seconds) equals ($123,845).

Any questions?

Scores of sports car enthusiasts turned out for a recent 911 unveiling event at the Porsche store on Lee Highway.

The long-awaited update of the iconic German sports car — the first since 2005 — has created a buzz in the automotive world. Production cars with a top speed just south of 200 miles per hour have a way of doing that.

STYLING

The new Porsche is the sixth generation of the 911, which was introduced at the 1963 Frankfurt, Germany, Motor Show. Amazingly, the new car shares many of the same body contours as the original, rear-engine coupe.

Timelessness is part of the beauty of the 911. It takes an educated eye to see the generational changes. An extended wheelbase — about 4 inches longer than last year — results in an overall exterior lengthening of less than 2 inches but results in a quantum leap in handling dynamics, according to Jerry Hickey, a sales consultant at Porsche of Chattanooga. Slightly shorter front and rear overhangs are the only visual clues of what’s going on under all that sexy sheet metal.

Inside is where the new 911 Carrera S features major design tweaks. A new center console blossoms into a 4.6-inch color display screen for viewing the trip computer, audio system and navigation information. The standard sound system is now a nine-speaker, 235-watt arrangement.

Our test car was equipped with a new secondary display screen tucked into the instrument cluster behind the steering wheel, so you can view navigation functions and computer without turning your head.

Still, many of the normal 911 idiosyncrasies — ignition switch to the left of the steering column, tachometer in the center — are lovingly preserved in the new model.

All and all, the new Porsche has more creature comforts than ever and is a completely functional everyday commuter car.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

On a short test drive in the Ooltewah-Collegedale area, the Porsche 911 handled as if it were on rails.

The redesign includes a rear-engine placement pushed forward several inches, which makes the car more balanced and well mannered than the previous 911. Even less-experienced drivers should feel calm and confident behind the wheel.

Under hard acceleration, the 3.8-liter, flat-six boxer engine comes alive with a throaty growl that reverberates through the cabin. Porsche has engineered an acoustic channel to broadcast the melodious engine sounds through a vibrating membrane behind the cabin. There’s a button to dampen or amplify the effect.

Traveling south on Interstate 75, I punched the 911, and the engine roared to life and launched the coupe into a spirited romp across three lanes of traffic. Realizing this was just a pinch of the power available inside this snarling beast was exhilarating.

New electronic-assist steering does nothing to numb the 911’s reflexes, and the wonderful, dual-clutch automatic transmission helps produce astonishing 0-60 mph times.

BOTTOM LINE

Yes, the Porsche 911 Carrera S resides in a rarefied price segment, but that’s the cost of peerless performance. Our test car’s sticker shows a base price of $96,400, with more than $26,000 worth of options. A lower-cost, base 911 (making a more modest 350 horsepower) is in the pipeline and will start at $82,100.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is the editor of the Times Free Press opinion pages and writes the Sunday “Life Stories” column. He also writes a Saturday automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for Best Community Lifestyles four times during his tenure. Before Chattanooga’s newspapers ...

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