Its shape is immediately recognizable by billions of people around the world. It’s been in continuous production for more than 50 years. There are entire racing series built upon it, and it’s the ultimate supercar daily driver. Without a doubt, the Porsche 911 is the greatest car ever made.
Granted, this is up for debate. But just as Led Zeppelin is objectively the greatest band of all time, it’s tough to argue against the 911’s phenomenal performance, style and heritage. It’s the one car that every auto enthusiast wants to own at one stage or in one form during their lives. Which brings me to the point. The 911 takes many forms, and it is infinitely customizable. It’s not a singular car but a platform. Through various engines, drivetrains, interiors and roof configurations, it can be tailored to suit the individual pursuits of most any driver. But therein lies the challenge. It begs the question, “What is the right 911 for me?”
The answer can likely be found in the following buyer’s guide.
The Carrera coupe is at the core of the 911 line. This is the icon and most popular model. The base Carrera starts at $91,000, but my preferred version is the 4S, starting at $112,000, as that’s the car I bought in 2017. This marked the mid-model refresh to the 991.2 designation and a new 370-horsepower, twin-turbo engine. The high-performance S version adds 50 horsepower, bringing it to 420, and gets you from zero to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds with the PDK automatic.
The addition of all-wheel-drive (hence, the 4) not only compensates for understeer and gets to 60 mph 0.1 second faster than rear-wheel drive, it’s also great for snow when you swap the summer treads for snow tires. Just as importantly, the S brings bigger, stronger brakes and red brake calipers to call them out. For my purposes, the Carrera made sense because I have two small kids, who can actually fit in the rear seats, and because I wanted to put a rack on it for bikes and skis. In this sense, the Carrera is the most practical 911. Upgrading to the 4S is practicality on steroids.
Targa 4 GTS
I had the pleasure of driving the Targa 4 GTS in Los Angeles for a week, which is the ideal place to own a Targa. When the top is retracted, the Targa retains the classic look and lines of the 911 but with an open-air driving experience.While it’s only a portion of the roof, the Targa does feel like a convertible. This experience is further enhanced by the sport exhaust, which crackles and pops when you let off the accelerator. It can also be tuned down with the sport dial on the steering wheel, which adjusts shifting and suspension among other driving characteristics.
Starting at $139,900, the Targa is the cream of the 911 GTS crop (also available in Carrera and Cabriolet form). It’s a healthy step up from the S with an additional 30 horsepower, bringing it to 450 with a zero to 60 mph time of 3.5 seconds for the PDK automatic with Launch Control. The sport suspension also lowers the car by 10 millimeters. My test vehicle included rear-wheel steering, which is a $5,000 upgrade and makes for even tighter handling. If I didn’t live in a climate with snowy winters, the Targa would be my 911 of choice. However, it’s also one of the toughest models to come by and can command a premium.
The Turbo S is the Jekyll and Hyde of the 911 line. It’s a bona fide supercar that holds its own against Ferrari, Lamborghini, and McLaren with a top speed of 205 mph. Yet it’s a daily driver that can seat four and be driven confidently in the snow. My first-hand experience driving this 580-horsepower beast, which starts at $190,700, was at the Porsche Experience Center in Los Angeles. The facility features a small road course, a low-friction circle for oversteering practice aka drifting, and a long acceleration straight for flat-out speed with a banked turn at the end.
Given the choice of pretty much any 911 to drive, the Turbo S was an easy decision. While the GT3 is a much better track car with its lighter front end, there is nothing like the feeling of Launch Control in the Turbo S. With an instructor, of course, you put the car into Sport Plus mode, hold the brake pedal with your left foot and bury the throttle with your right. The RPMs come up but no power is going to the wheels…until the instructor tells you to drop the brake, at which point all 580 horses are unleashed to all four tires. The G-forces are enough to make some people pass out, my instructor later tells me, as it accelerates to 60 mph in just 2.8 seconds and on to more than 150mph on the long straight before easing off and getting ready for the Nürburgring-like turn at the end. We do this several times, and the rush is every bit as exhilarating with each pass.
The Carrera T is the latest iteration on the 911 platform. It’s the driver’s version of the base Carrera, designed for the sports car purist. It starts with the standard 370-horsepower, twin-turbo engine and adds an option package that one couldn’t otherwise spec on the Carrera. This includes sport exhaust, rear-wheel steering, 7-speed manual transmission, sport seats, rear seat delete, nylon door handle pulls and a defroster-less rear window to save a few ounces. I had the chance to drive the Carrera T on 100-plus miles of winding roads in Napa Valley, California, and it exceeded my expectations. Coming from the Carrera 4S, I assumed it would be underwhelming.
But I hardly noticed the drop in power and rather enjoyed the manual shifting. Not from an ideological perspective but just that it makes driving more physical; it feels like you’re more involved in the act of driving, despite the PDK automatic being faster. Who is the Carrera T for? If you’re looking for a weekend sports car, possibly in the company of a local Porsche club, this is an ideal option. It starts at just $102,100 and makes for an excellent conversation piece among fellow 911 enthusiasts.
I’ll be very clear that I’m not a fan of the 911 convertible, which is available in both the Carrera and Turbo lines. The rag top breaks the 911 lines and silhouette such that it’s painful to look at. One of the benefits you won’t appreciate until you own a 911 is the daily admiration of its beauty. It’s like a work of art parked in your garage or driveway. Its lines, curves and overall presence are nothing short of inspiring.
The Cabriolet, however, robs you of this pleasure, and it’s worse when the top is down. It doesn’t look like a 911. It’s also slower by 0.2 seconds from zero to 60 because it’s heavier by more than 100 pounds. This makes it less of a driver’s car for a premium of more than $10,000. If you’re looking for an open-air 911 driving experience, the Targa is a far superior option in all respects. If, however, you’re buying a 911 primarily to be seen driving a 911, then the Cabriolet is an ideal choice.
In many ways the GT3 is the only pure sports car in the 911 lineup, whereas all of the others are sports car hybrids with the addition of all-wheel-drive, rear seats, convertible tops and other ways to make them practical daily drivers. The GT3 is bred for the track and, for now, enjoys the distinction of being the last naturally aspirated 911. While it is slower than the Turbo S from zero to 60 (3.2 seconds) and at top speed (198 mph), it will smoke it on a road course because it’s so much lighter and, therefore, corners a lot faster.
My next 911 will be the GT3 with the Touring Package, which is a $0 option that does away with the rear wing in favor of an extended rear spoiler, opts for the 7-speed manual transmission and simply says “Porsche” on the rear lid with no other model designation. It’s a 500-horsepower sleeper…if that’s even possible with a 911. The challenge with GT3s is actually buying one. The allocations per dealer are very limited, so an order can take more than a year to arrive. When that happens, though, the only way to take delivery of a GT3 is through the European Delivery Program so it gets its first miles on the Autobahn. Though I’ve yet to drive a GT3, the 2019 GT3 RS looks like it takes the 911 experience to another level.