The 2017 Porsche 911 Is Even Faster, Still a Cop Magnet
When Porsche invited us to drive the 2017 911 Carrera, there could be only one allowable answer: yes. Rare is the car that inspires the level of devotion that 911 worshippers have for their idol. It's why the car has remained fundamentally unchanged for a half-century; when something proves to be this good, and this iconic, you simply don't mess with tradition.
Porsche has made three major exceptions to this rule over the years: the switch to a water-cooled engine, the addition of all wheel-drive to the lineup, and now this. You can’t tell by looking at it, but the 2017 911 has arguably one of the most important changes the lineup has faced in its existence.
Under the hood, you’ll find Porsche has ditched its signature naturally aspirated flat-six engine for a twin-turbocharged one. Gasp! Yeah, there are turbos now. Can a turbocharged Porsche 911 Carrera still be a 911 Carrera? Will it sound the same? Feel the same? Change is hard, guys, so I went to Napa Valley to drive it myself and see what the difference might be.
So, let's talk about these turbos...
Porsche enthusiasts have long sworn by the 911's flat-six boxer engine. No changes there. But historically (going back to the Steve McQueen era, and the legendary “Widowmaker” 930) the fastest 911s wore a “Turbo” nameplate on the back, like a badge of exclusivity that set them apart. You’ll find no such badge on the 2017 911 -- it’s therefore a bit of a milestone that the default 911 engines will now be turbocharged, and the naturally aspirated engines are officially out the window.
Why, you ask? Simply, this engine makes for a more environmentally friendly and fuel efficient 911. And yes, it’s also faster. If the engine change-up means nothing to you, you'll appreciate that this new 911 is, indeed, zippier than its predecessor. If you’re a diehard fan who grew up indoctrinated on a long line of naturally aspirated 911s, then blame emissions and fuel economy standards, if you must, but it isn't easy to increase power output without augmenting engine size (which obliterates fuel economy) or using forced induction (i.e., turbos).
A faster, whoosh-ier 911 is "just more fun" to drive
Step hard on the accelerator, and the turbocharged 911 reacts with the same acumen as its predecessor, albeit with significant whooshing noise in the background from the turbos. In theory, the 3.0-liter turbo flat-six delivers more punch than the outgoing 3.4 without a compromise to power -- 370hp for the Carrera and 420hp for the Carrera S tell you that much. In practice, you really feel it: the engine delivers peak torque by 5000rpm and keeps on screaming up to a redline of 7500rpm. Why? Like so many of the innovations to the '17 model, Porsche’s engineers defend it as, "just more fun."
Choosing a 911 with a clutch is rewarding in its own right, but the transmission to have is the lightning quick, seven-speed PDK dual-clutch automatic. It's a joy to use, executing shift after shift in milliseconds. There’s almost no turbo lag in everyday driving, and the robustness of Porsche's powertrain endures. If you're cool knowing your 911 is using boost to go faster, you’ll have no problem living with -- appreciating -- the technology of this engine.
Steering feel is just short of magically accurate, especially when compared to the numbed and overly boosted systems offered by the competition. The ride is stiff, but to call it “harsh” is to completely misunderstand the 911's mission: transmit just enough road information to be sporty, without overburdening passengers or chassis.
Yes, it still looks like a 911
Like I said, if you weren't aware of the engine substitution in the back, you'd hardly know this 911 was changed at all. A keen eye will be able to spot revised headlights and taillights, but the best way to distinguish these newer models is from behind: upward-slanted grille slats replace horizontal ones, giving what designers like to call visual height to the low-slung 911. There’s still something irresistible about the 911's buxom proportions, especially from behind, which will continue to taunt fellow motorists.
The view from inside is great... especially for spotting traffic cops
Sitting inside a 911 remains a slightly cramped affair, thanks to the low roofline and tightly positioned front seats -- don’t even get me started on the rear “seats.” The revised touchscreen infotainment system took me about two minutes to learn. Porsche’s own navigation system is sharp, or you can rely on your own devices and plug in with Apple CarPlay. The controls adhere to Germanic ergonomic rules -- no more than an arm's reach away if you're in a comfortable driving position -- and are clearer and easier to use than ever.
The best part is that you can pay less attention to the tech and spend more time enjoying the drive... until you realize just how good the rear visibility is. I'd even call it "ticket-avoidingly" good. On the otherwise gorgeous highways of NorCal, the view tends to be filled with officers just begging you to do one mile over the posted 65mph limit. Seriously, I had a CHP on my ass for 15 miles while the Subarus of the world flew past us at 85-90mph. But, that's the burden you bear when you're driving a car like this. Miraculously, I covered almost 300 miles that day and came away completely devoid of speeding tickets.
Conclusion: you owe it to yourself to at least test drive one. Now.
So is the addition of a couple of turbos a deal-breaker that negates the desire to own a 911? Not unless you're an ultra-orthodox member of the Church of the Holy Porsche. Will you still want to drive one across country, taking only the fastest back roads? Absolutely.
The evolution of the 911 Carrera presages further enhancements to the rest of the Porsche family, and it represents a new value proposition, integrating efficiency with the same precision and performance the 911 has long been known for. Case in point: the base Carrera now hits 60mph in 3.9 seconds, about as quickly as the legendary Porsche 959, which today would cost you at least 10 Carreras.
A test drive is a must, but since it starts at $90,450, it might be wise to ingratiate yourself with a Porsche owners club member who will let you experience it before you take out a second mortgage, and without a dealer breathing down your neck.
The turbocharged 911 is the real deal, not some sort of substitute. Get used to it. And watch out for cops.
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Jeff Jablansky is a contributor to Thrillist Cars, and he swears he was perfectly in the flow of traffic when a CHP officer decided to follow him for 15 minutes at close range. That was unwelcome, but you're more than welcome to follow him @unclewithcars.