If you want to, you can talk yourself out of a lot of things in life. But it doesn’t last — you always come back to fundamentals.
Take the Porsche 911. I last drove one about two years ago, a 911 4S Cabriolet, and it was all it should have been, a “drive for your life car” that serves up impeccable performance with a German pedigree. It showed no indications of letting me down behind the wheel.
But then came the siren call of other machines. Ferraris, Lamborghinis, McLarens. Cadillac Vs and BMW Ms and Mercedes AMGs. Audi RS. A Jaguar F-Type. A couple of Aston Martins. Even a mad little MINI John Cooper Works and a madder Alfa Romeo 4C.
I had gotten too far from the the 911. And then another one showed up.
The 911 is the current soul of Porsche. The sports car has been in continuous production since 1963 and after five decades, it represents the culmination of Teutonic problem solving — because as great as the 911 is, it’s based on a funky basic design.
The flat-six-cylinder “boxer” engine, one of the auto world’s truly legendary powerplants, sits behind the rear drive wheels. The 911 offers effectively the only example of this storied engine configuration on the market today (the rear-wheel-drive version of the Tesla Model S is technically a rear-engine car, but that’s because its electric motor is lodged between the rear tires).
And it isn’t hard to see why: in this day and age, nobody would engineer a high-performance car with the motor located so far aft. The thing is all tail, and in the 21st-century version of the 911, you have 375 horsepower (or more) being pumped to those rear tires. This contributes to some challenging natural driving characteristics, most involving the back end wanting to execute a quick pass of the front wheels.
Countless enthusiasts, historians, journalists, and engineers have carped about this over the years and made it into a prime whipping point for the 911; every debate about whether the car is worth a wit begins, crankily, with that rear engine layout. What was Porsche they thinking?
But then again, the car maker has spent the past 50 years addressing this issue. And really, the problem was solved by the 1960s. So it’s more accurate to say that Porsche has been steadily perfecting the 911 design for four and a half decades. And by “perfecting,” I mean endlessly fussing over. The car has been tweaked and tweaked and tweaked and them tweaked some more.
So the 911 Targa 4S that landed in the driveway of BI’s test HQ was the current culmination of this lengthy technical exercise.
For me, the 911 has always been the most self-contained of fast and fun cars. The Ferrari 458, for example, contains a screaming V8 located amidships. Press toward the redline and your eardrums could bleed. A Lamborghini with a V10 creates a wild symphony of exotic burps and burbles from its yowling V10. A Corvette Z06 has its 650-horsepower V8 parked up front, and the roar coming out of the exhaust pipes in the back is borderline unholy.
Against this rude cluster of supercars, the 911’s behaviour, sonic or otherwise, is subdued. Powerfully subdued, but subdued nonetheless. I’m not saying it’s quiet. But it offers just subtle indication of power by comparison.
What really makes the 911 so great, and invariably leads me to conclude that its the finest car on earth and always will be, all happens when you slip behind the wheel. Obviously, this could just be me, but the car just feels right. Fire it up by turning — in the case of the Targa 4S — the starter switch on the left, and the flat-six springs to life. Get the seat and the steering wheel where you want them, and then off you go.
Our 911 lacked a manual transmission (there is a 7-speed available on some versions) for the ultimate bonding experience, but the dual-clutch setup (Porsche’s outstanding PDK unit) plus 420-horsepower was swiftly a thing of beauty to drive.
A word on beauty. I never think of the 911 as being a particularly stunning car. I mean, just have a gander at an Aston Martin DB9 or a Ferrari 488 or a Lamborghini Huracán in a charcoal paint job. All gorgeous. But then I get a 911 in the drivewway and some sort of dormant lustful synapse sparks. True, the bug eyes will forever remind of the 911’s spiritual predecessor, the Volkswagen Beetle. But I don’t care. Drool-drool-drool. Want. One. Please.
The driving is effortless and hypnotic. You can’t find anything wrong with the twin-turbo engine: playing around with the power band is like caressing a tailored velvet suit or sipping 25-year-old first-growth Bordeaux — supple, smooth, with an undercurrent of attitude.
The handling is predictive. Lay the car into a corner or a curve and settle it into a speed and it just guides you smoothly around. There’s never a reason to get jerky with the throttle or to hammer the brakes (but hammering the brakes, the superb brakes, is plenty satisfying). On the freeway, you can hold it in fourth gear and not worry about dropping into third for some punch. The power is a spikeless continuum. There’s no better car to practice performance-oriented driving with. Yes, it’s abundantly forgiving. Yes, it gives up hundred of hp’s to the competition. But it doesn’t give up the sweetspot of car-ness — it defines it.
I hate saying goodbye to a 911. I probably should have bought one by now, given the effect on me that it predictably has. I always seem to balk at the prices (although you can easily find an older model for around $20,000). And when I get a crack at a new one — our Targa came in at close to $150,000 — I tell myself to forget about and it and go shopping for an ancient Mazda Miata.
But wow, what a car. I honestly don’t know how anyone will ever do better. Stay tuned for our review, by the way. Then we’ll give you the whole story.
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