By Zack Klapman.
$130,000 is a lot of money. That can buy a modest house, or pay for college.
Brush away the Internet stories of 7-figure Italian relics and fall back to reality, and that’s still a ton of cash for a car. 130 grand will buy all kinds of fun, from a Scion FR-S to a C-class AMG to a Corvette ZR1. Go used, and there’s even more options.
But for those that want a new sports car with brand cache, to many there is only one choice: the Porsche 911. The 911 deserves the lore and cred it receives. Its successfully been raced on every surface, getting faster and more reliable. Formerly a bit hairy, what with the engine in back, now they’re as stable as Berkshire Hathaway.
But, despite Porsches being excellent cars, I’ve always resisted the “normal” 911s because so many, er, dispassionate people bought them. A lot of owners enjoy saying “I own a Porsche” more than they do driving them. That distaste for being mistaken as one of the dead had me saying, “I’d spend my money elsewhere.”
That conviction was tested when I arrived at a racetrack and saw a 2013 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S next to a 2012 Jaguar XKR-S. I’d driven an XKR and loved it; The “S” promised more. But I’d also heard the highest praise for the new Porsche. I regretted skipping a shower, in case I had to eat my foot.
Why do I love this car? It has the shape of an Aston Martin with the voice of an AMG. It’s tail-happy, loud, beautiful inside, and turns more heads than a 911. It’s like a Corvette’s distant cousin, the one from Brazil that makes Sofia Vergara look like Judy Dench.
The XKR-S is very fast; 550 supercharged horsepower and 502ft-lbs of torque kicks you in the back from 2,500RPM and never stops. In Dynamic mode the 6-speed automatic does a good impression of a dual-clutch. The regular XKR was respectably fast, but that $35,000 “S” badge really delivers: 0-60 in 3.6s, .96g of cornering and it stops from 60MPH like it hit wall. Big numbers. Its weight (4,005lbs) and width are noticeable, but between the sound, the speed, and the optional over-steer, I didn’t care.
The bad: Despite its “S”, this is not a track car. The transmission required frequent breaks from lapping. Fast and sticky, yes, but it’s a bit too frail; A chink in otherwise near-flawless armor.
The Porsche 911 has arguably the most iconic shape of any car, because it hasn’t changed much. The Porsche 911 is a rare car that anyone can name, regardless of the year. “That’s a Porsche right?”
That’s precisely why I was only drawn to more extreme and extroverted 911s (GT2, Turbo, etc). Without the wings and scoops, the most track-savvy 911 owner can be mistaken for the veterinarian that doesn’t know how many cylinders he has.
The 991 Carrera 4S has flipped my preconception on its head. Luxurious? Of course. Track car? Definitely. The car I drove, spec’d out to about $127,000 (carbon ceramic brakes, a PDK 7-speed dual-clutch transmission and active chassis control) flawlessly lapped Fontana for 2 days straight, only resting as long as it takes to undo and re-fasten a seat belt. 400HP ceaselessly screamed, taking me to 60MPH in 4.1 seconds; plenty fast for normal humans.
The 911 won Germany’s most reliable car of the decade (2000-2010). This is why. Other cars had to park and cool down, or get checked out. This car was a diamond.
Did I miss the turbos or rear-wheel drive? No. Porsche’s AWD system makes you think its RWD. Turn-in is immediate. It corners flatter than a masonry stone, without shattering bones. Automatic mode is just as fun as shifting yourself, and as aggressive. Brakes put you through the windshield. As a driver’s car, it is heavenly. I thought “regular” 911s were boring. My foot tasted terrible.
If you buy a new 2013 Porsche 911, and don’t take it to a track, or drive it hard on a good road, you are an idiot. You’re a man from Tahiti who never went in the ocean. With its reliability record, the 991 equal commuter and racer (definitely can’t say that for Jaguar). It’s truly a do-everything car, and only as boring as you are.
However, if you don’t go to racetracks, you have no reason to spend $130,000 on something that looks so common. If I could only own one car, I would buy the Porsche. But if I can afford a cheap track car too, I want something sexier and more extroverted. For a daily (only), I can’t ignore the noisy hips of the Jag.