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May 12, 2011

Living with a Carrera S

by JHW

I have been lucky enough to own some of the greatest enthusiast categorized daily drivers produced in recent years. A 1995 M3 (with the bulletproof 3.0 liter), a 2001 S4 (most mod friendly car I have owned), an E46 M3 ZCP (with a host of Dinan & Brembo upgrades), several Mustang variants, 3 Boxsters, a MKV R32, and an Elise (errr… not so great as a daily). Essentially, I have dated them all, and finally settled down. I cannot imagine not owning a 911!

The Porsche 911 might just be the perfect daily driver for those with a sporting interest. Like a cross trainer that can be worn with a suit, it is appropriate for most, if not every occasion. Not garish like an exotic, not brutish like a muscle car… as useable yet more special than the sea of M and AMG cars, but with a truer driving dynamic.; and likely better than all of them for it’s intended purpose. Whereas most cars get old, a Porsche ages. Now for a blemish on face of ownership – when your Porsche does age, it does so expensively. Mine has been reliable, but oil changes are around $400, and the mandatory service points all seem to cost upward of $1,500 (without anything gone wrong). You do however get what you pay for – I am always thrilled to get back in.

I live in exoticville, aka Newport Beach, CA – better known to some enthusiasts as the original home of Cars & Coffee and it’s moniker as “New Porsche Beach”. This is car country, and a short blast on the PCH will reward you with some of the best scenery North America has to offer, along with a smattering of amazing machines from sub compact to uber-exotic. Another benefit of such a backdrop is that a grey 911 seems to blend into the woodwork, a common sighting, and less offensive than a burbling 12 cylinder orange Lamborghini. I think that this would be true of most American cities, that is part of the appeal of a 911, they make phenomenal driving instruments, and shape them with restraint.

My example is a 997.1 (2005-2008) Carrera S, seal grey over black (hard backed adaptive sport seats), and of course – has an overly long list of options including full leather, Bose, Nav, Sport Chrono and so on. It is a great looking car, and after purchase I added the OEM sport exhaust (installed without the wiring harness, so that it is always in “loud mode”) and while this comes with zero power gains, it certainly adds much to the driving experience. The trunk is located where most cars find their motor, and though narrow, it is deep. I have never had any issues packing for a weekend or lugging groceries & shopping bags. If more space is required, the rear “seats” fold down for additional shelving.

To the on –road experience… bluntly – I love everything about it. It sounds right, feels great, and is fast enough to please most. I have often said that it turns Mondays into Saturdays, and these years in, I still find myself looking for the long way home. By todays horsepower standards, 355 hp / 295 lb ft of torque won’t knock anyone’s socks off – but the car feels sublime and certainly doesn’t lack for power down low, up high or anywhere in between. For those looking for more oomph and/or traction, the 4S and Turbo models are phenomenal, but the price gets up there quickly. The 2S variants can now be found for somewhat reasonable rates in the secondhand market, sub M3 money for sure. The 6 speed feels great, snicks into place and comes with a sturdy clutch that is just about right, perhaps a tiny bit soft for this application. There is an OEM short shifter for those who must have it, but the price tag made me laugh, and I have heard mixed reviews of the aftermarket options. Handling is as you would expect with all of these decades of refinement… neutral until you ask it to oversteer – and then predictable enough to play with near the limit. Of course, you can snap too far and find yourself in a ditch – the upper limits are easy to find, and take some talent and experience to control. The brakes are (of course) Brembo, and feel terrific for an OEM application. Though I have not properly tracked the car, I have taken it on canyon runs and done some auto-crossing, and they have performed well with solid pedal feel and no noticeable fade. I don’t doubt that they would need to be upgraded for anything more severe. I had a Brembo GT kit on my M3, and can say that the Porsche brakes fall short of a proper 6 piston monobloc / 2 piece floating rotor set-up, this should come to a surprise to no one. There is always room for improvement.

The suspension has a dual mode button, allowing you to pick between standard and “sport” settings. Not sure if the sport mode does anything other than provide more feedback – which I can confirm, it does (I have renamed this “Alone Mode”, as my wife and Dog are not fans). You can also select a sport mode which increase your inputs to the throttle pedal, I have this engaged most of the time, as it feels just about right for everyday driving.

So, as I begin to plan the end of my current ownership, I start to think about what will come next. What car could fill this hole?  I think the only answer is… another 911.  With so many variants available, I hope to try a more powerful version next, perhaps a 997.1 (or .2 PLEASE!!!) Turbo, or see what the new 991 looks and feels like. What a great time to be an enthusiast!

THE GOOD:  Looks right, sounds right, goes right , is perfectly useable everyday for years on end & ages with grace

 THE BAD:  Expensive to buy-in, expensive to maintain, expensive to unload. Sport exhaust should be standard (especially with on/off switch feature). The cupholders are the industry’s worst! A la carte parts and options are irrationally expensive

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