January 12, 2008

Photo Gallery:
2009 Porsche 911 Carrera S PDK

2009 Porsche 911 Carrera S PDK

2009 Porsche 911 Carrera S PDK

Click image to enlarge

This may come as a surprise to you, but there are some options available on the $107,800 2009 Porsche 911 Carrera S that I would consider “must-haves.”

It would be reasonable to expect that a car with a six-figure price tag would have everything one could want in a four-wheeled conveyance, but that’s not the case. Want floor mats? That’ll be $200. Metallic paint? Cha-ching: $970.

But those aren’t the big-ticket items. There were certain features included on our $134,345 tester that just made the Porsche experience more complete. Like the $4,980 full leather package. I know; that’s a lot of money, especially since the standard car comes with leather seats. But we’re not just talking leather seats. There’s leather on the doors, dash, and just about everywhere else in the 911’s spacious cabin. And the baby’s bottom analogy for this upgraded hide would not be out of place here.

Our tester also had the $2,880 navigation system; something I could easily do without, but it was a fine system with a touch screen and intuitive controls, so what the heck: I’d check that option box too. The only thing is that the communication/entertainment system isn’t complete with this one item. The increasingly popular Bluetooth connectivity will set you back another $950, and add $500 if you want to connect your iPod to the system. And don’t forget $1,030 for XM satellite radio.

2009 Porsche 911 Carrera S PDK

2009 Porsche 911 Carrera S PDK

Click image to enlarge

But seriously, give me the leather package and I could make do without those other embellishments. There was, however, one other extra worth serious consideration for anyone kicking the tires of this legendary German sports car: the PDK.

Impress your friends at a party with this one: PDK stands for “Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe” and roughly translates into “Porsche double clutch.” It’s a new transmission that replaces the old and much maligned (at least from this scribe) Tiptronic automatic (a.k.a. “slushbox”) and finally elevates the two-pedal Porsche into a seriously sporting machine.

Although there is no clutch pedal in this car, the PDK should absolutely not be considered an automatic transmission. The industry-accepted definition of an automatic is a transmission that makes use of a torque converter to allow the engine to run when the car is stopped. There’s a viscous fluid in the torque converter that power must travel through to get from the engine to the drive wheels. This process not only saps power from the engine, but it also dilutes the responsiveness associated with manual transmissions.

The PDK changes all of that. Think of it as an “automated manual” gearbox with two clutches that are controlled by a computer instead of a single clutch operated by your left foot. While one clutch is directly engaged in a specific gear, the other clutch “hovers” over the next gear and waits to be selected. Because of this, shift speed and smoothness are well beyond what can be accomplished with a conventional manual gearbox.

2009 Porsche 911 Carrera S PDK

2009 Porsche 911 Carrera S PDK

Click image to enlarge

In concept, the PDK is not a revolution in the industry: VW/Audi have been producing their dual-clutch DSG (direct-shift gearbox) in lower-powered TTs, A3s, and GTIs since 2003. The new Nissan GT-R and Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution also have dual-clutch transmissions that work on the same principles. But where the others have six-speed gearboxes, the Porsche gets seven, the highest of which allows for relaxed cruising and consequently lower fuel consumption. The lower six gears are more closely spaced for strong acceleration at any speed.

The Carrera S has a highway fuel consumption rating of just 7.5 litres per 100 km. Not too shabby for a sports car with nearly 400 horses in the trunk.

Oh, and the PDK will set you back $5,560 compared to the base six-speed manual. Archaic as it may be, I’ll take the third pedal and use the money I saved to pay for that creamy leather upgrade. But for some, the convenience of two pedals combined with the technology represented by the PDK makes it a value.

2009 Porsche 911 Carrera S PDK

2009 Porsche 911 Carrera S PDK

Click image to enlarge

One more note on the PDK: it’s head-and-shoulders above the clunky R-Tronic single-clutch sequential manual found in Audi’s exotic R8 sports car. Where the Audi’s gearbox is a deal-killer for me, I would actually consider the Porsche with its PDK. Really. I would.

Aside from the big transmission news, the 911’s changes for 2009 are several. While the internal model designation-997-hasn’t changed, the car has received many upgrades that catapult it into the 21st century: LED lighting front and rear, variable ratio steering, standard bi-xenon headlights with swivel option, a heated steering wheel, ventilated seats, Bluetooth, and auxiliary audio inputs. Most of these are options; however, last year they weren’t available at any price.

There’s no question that the 911 has evolved into what is now more of a comfortable grand tourer than a hard-edged sports car, but that doesn’t mean that it gives anything up in terms of response to its pilot’s inputs. On the contrary, this is one of the most communicative machines on four wheels. Steering response is simply telepathic. The way the engine races toward redline between instantaneous upshifts is an aural and visceral delight that must be experienced to be appreciated.

2009 Porsche 911 Carrera S PDK

2009 Porsche 911 Carrera S PDK

Click image to enlarge

But there’s one more thing that needs to be added to the must-have list: the Sport Chrono package, at $1,800, adds a level of driver control that completes the 911 package. It consists of normal, sport, and sport plus modes which alter the electronic throttle response and PDK shift patterns. There’s also a separate switch for the suspension firmness.

So aside from the fact that I can’t afford one, does the 911 have any flaws? There is one ergonomic issue that surprises me: while the industry standard for steering wheel-mounted shift buttons or paddles is right for upshift and left for down, Porsche has chosen to install an inverted U-shaped button on each of the horizontal spokes that requires a pull for downshift and a push for upshift, regardless of which side of the wheel you’re using. It only took one accidental downshift for me to stop using the wheel buttons and stick to the shift lever which is much more intuitive in its operation.

But really, that’s about it. This is the best looking and best driving 911 to date.

Pricing: 2009 Porsche 911 Carrera S PDK

Base price:
$107,800
Options:
$25,360
Destination:
$1,085
A/C tax:
$100
Price as tested:
$134,345

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