Every Porsche 911 fulfills its time-honored promise of exhilarating performance. Whether it does it in 5 seconds or a little more than 3 seconds is between you and your accountant.
The flat six engine is the foundation of the 911. In 3.6-liter form, it hammers away with a muscular 345 horsepower resonating right behind the driver's seat. With the obedient, somewhat stiff-shifting six-speed manual, it'll hit 60 mph in 4.7 seconds and drills through the atmosphere until it hits 180 mph. Porsche's dual-clutch, seven-speed "PDK" gearbox makes it even quicker, and better. The PDK nests a pair of transmissions that can execute gear changes more quickly than a conventional automatic; it's faster than any driver on earth, and never misses a shift. And when it goes out of "Auto" mode and into Sport, Sport Plus, and Manual modes, it truly gives you as much control over the gears as you need, without a clutch pedal to juggle. The PDK hones 0.2 second off the 0-60 mph times of almost any 911, but does drop top speed to 178 mph in the base coupe.
Stepping up into something a little larger in displacement changes the numbers more. The "S" model gets bored out 3.8 liters and kicks in an extra 40 hp. Its 0-60 mph times falls to 4.5 seconds, with the usual changes for the PDK, the all-wheel-drive setup, the Cabriolet body, and Sport Chrono. Outfitted with a manual transmission, the 911S Coupe will top out at 188 mph.
A new GTS edition racks up 408 horsepower with a higher 7300-rpm peak than the S's 385 hp. Torque's identical at 310 pound-feet. The GTS pounces on the 60-mph mark in as many as 4.8 seconds (a hefty Cabriolet with a manual gearbox, and no Sport Chrono package) or as little as 4.2 seconds (a PDK Coupe with Sport Chrono, and activated Launch Control mode). The top speed is 190 mph. There's also a 911 Speedster with the same general specs, but it's only available with the PDK.
At the top of the lofty 911 lineup is the Turbo. It takes the 911 S engine, straps on a pair of turbochargers, and dials up 500 hp and 480 pound-feet of torque, with 516 lb-ft on tap for "overboost" that allows the extra torque to smooth out gearchanges. Here, 60 mph arrives in a blissfully short 3.2 seconds when the PDK is in force, or a couple of tenths later with the manual. A top speed of 194 mph is there if you can hang on--and there's even a Turbo S for the 2011 model year that cuts another tenth of a second off the 0-60 mph time and adds 1 mph to the top end.
To drive a 911 over the long haul, you need to brace for what could seem like a tough ride. It's not at all pliant--and that's the price to pay for its relatively compact size and those massive tires. The refund comes in the form of achingly perfect steering and in stratospheric grip. Every 911, no matter what suffix it carries, has brilliantly responsive controls and a neural, connected feel. The same holds true in cars with active suspension dampers (computer-controlled shocks that are standard on S and Turbo versions, and an option on other 911s). Sport Chrono doesn't aggravate the feel, like some other electronic controls on other sportscars can--it just amps up the drivetrain's intensity.
Braking is another 911 performance hallmark. Astounding grip comes with massive 18-, 19-, or 20-inch wheels, and a torque-vectoring option will clamp down on an inside rotor to quicken turn-in. Apply the brakes and you'll think you've pulled a ripcord on a parachute--especially with the carbon-ceramic brakes. It's almost wasted on public roads, where there's no practical way to approach the 911's limits.
Our review doesn't cover racing editions of the 911, the GT2 RS, the GT3 and the GT3 RS. Both have distinct powertrains and drive systems adapted for racing, down to a lithium-ion battery for track starts.