July 21, 2008
Toronto, Ontario – Character: that intangible quality is rare in cars these days as the modern automobile morphs into a safer, quieter, better equipped, more fuel efficient and more comfortable entity. For sure, cars are getting better in every way, but sometimes it seems we’re all driving a different take on the same ride.
Then there’s the 2008 Porsche 911 Carrera. If you’re looking for character, this ass-engined icon has buckets of the stuff. Not only does it march to the beat of a different drummer, it’s basically strutting along to a tune that was written about 70 years ago when Ferdinand Porsche came up with the VW Beetle. Of course, evolutionally speaking, the current 911 (code name 997) is about as far away from the original Beetle as Steven Hawking is from Homer Simpson.
Yet the 911 of today still fights the laws of physics and common sense with a flat-six hung out beyond the rear axle. But it’s the Porsche’s resolute adherence to this layout and its focus on driving involvement that makes the 911 one of the most intriguing and unforgettable rides on the planet.
My tester was the "entry-level" model rear-drive Carrera, which carries a sticker of $93,200. If you want a 911, this is the least expensive model.
Slide into the snug sports seat (be sure you have the key in your left hand), twist the ignition and the 325-hp 3.6-litre flat-six barks to life and settles in to a busy idle. Looking around the Sand Beige standard leather cabin, your eyes delight in the crispness and tight tolerances. As in all 911s, you sit upright, outward visibility is excellent, and all the major controls feel ideally placed.
The sport seats are comfortable and very snug – perfect for my thin frame but it makes me wonder how those with a larger build will fit. The six-speed shifter slots with a mechanical precision few cars can match.
Front and centre is a large tachometer with a bright digital speed readout below – a necessity as the smaller speedo to the left is marked in 50 km increments, making it nearly impossible to accurately check your speed at a glance. And speed is something this car serves up in great, glorious helpings.
The DOHC alloy engine features VarioCam Plus variable valve-timing and lift, plus a dual stage resonance induction system, so while the torque peak of 273 lb.-ft. arrives at 4,250 r.p.m., it has a broad spread and beautifully linear power delivery. And of course, the Swabian symphony emitted by the flat-six as it sails toward the redline is something every motoring enthusiast deserves to experience at least once in a lifetime.
It’s been a while since I’ve driven a rear drive 911 – my recent testers have been a C4S, Targa 4S and the insanely rapid Turbo – so it was refreshing to feel the more classic 911 experience here. The all-wheel-drive cars, while more planted and better balanced, lack the quirky purity of this car.
Under hard acceleration the front end goes light, as does the steering. Similarly, push hard in a bend and the front pushes wide ever so slightly, then it transitions to easily controlled oversteer. This car’s cornering attitude can be adjusted with the throttle much more so than in the all-wheel-drive cars, but we’re talking small fractions here – nothing scary. The bad-old-days of yore have been engineered out of the 997, but there is enough character here, despite the electronic safety nets, to get your attention… and keep it.
This car steers, grips and brakes like it’s reading your mind, coming together in an intangible mechanical harmony that hardwires itself to your car-driving mojo before you know what hit you.
You won’t find this bliss driving a 911 around town, however. The ride is jittery (the Sport mode of the optional two-stage PASM adjustable suspension is down-right ox cart-like) and the clutch is heavy.
On the highway, it’s reasonably quiet (for a 911) but the front end will get pushed around a bit in crosswinds. Again, nothing serious, but something I don’t recall experiencing in the AWD 911s. Chalk it up to that character thing again.
It is out on a winding country road, with the thin-rimmed wheel dancing in your hands and your feet dancing on the pedals (heel and toe action is a breeze in this car) where you will find the true essence of the 911 Carrera.
There is a practical side to this coupe as well. The two back seats are usable for smallish kids, and the seat backs flip down to make a useful parcel shelf. There is also front trunk that will swallow a couple of overnight bags. While on your highway journey, the 3.6 can be coaxed into returning quite respectable fuel mileage. Even on a couple of vigorous drives, I was getting 13 L/100 km – pretty impressive for a car that will launch to 100 km/h in 4.8 seconds. Official rating is 11.8 L/100 km city and 7.7 highway.
After a week in this Ruby Red Metallic specimen, I had to ask the hard question: "Why would one want anything more in a 911?" It is certainly fast enough. It makes all the right noises and rewards driving enthusiasm in the way only a 911 can. It’s comfortable (as long as you’re not commuting), economical, beautifully crafted and beautiful to look at.
And with a "market adjustment" of $2,630 off the $93,200 base price, this is the cheapest 911 we’ve seen in years. Go easy on the options, and you might even consider the 2008 Carrera a bargain.
Pricing: 2008 Porsche 911 Carrera
|(minus $2,630 "market adjustment" = $90,570)|
|(Power seat package $2170, Bi-Xenon Headlamp Package $1530, heated front seats $680, wheel caps with coloured crest $260, PASM $2790, Navigation $2950, Bose High End Sound Package $1950, floor mats $190)|
|Price as tested:||$||
Manufacturer’s web site