A Relative Bargain

Whether the Carrera GTS deserves its own model name is open for debate—but it does offer pricey 911 options at a discount.

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January 21, 2011

Mehr leistung; more power. That’s the name of the game for Porsche’s “new” Carrera GTS, intended to deftly split the hair separating Carrera S from GT3. Most important, perhaps, is the improved torque band; at least that’s what the Porsche engineers say. They also say it has a “sexy rear end,” wider by 44 mm.

Strapped into a GTS Cabriolet with a six-speed manual transmission, the seat of our pants found it hard to believe Porsche’s claim that this luxurious convertible 911 can reach 62 mph in just 4.8 seconds. Why? Its speed is deceptive. The 408-bhp flat six’s smooth power delivery lulls you into more speed than you had in mind. While the GTS may not feel like a four-second car from behind the wheel, you can be sure it is. Car and Driver got a 385-bhp 2009 Carrera S coupe to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds, a result that suggests the 408-bhp GTS Cabriolet may be quite a bit quicker than Porsche’s official claim.

Porsche claims the GTS handles more neutrally than the Carrera S despite its wider rear end, and the banked, constant-radius turns outside Palm Desert are perfect for experimenting with the effects of throttle position on handling. Lifting off the gas pedal slightly has the GTS’s nose settling and turning in. Squeezing its throttle past the apex is all it takes to widen our arc and track out. We noticed slight understeer in the GTS Cabriolet in slower corners, something we didn’t experience during our brief stint in the GTS coupe.

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The steering is tactile and light and there are no dead spots, but, as with other 997s, it’s slightly numb just off center. The GTS Cabriolet isn’t as rigid as the coupe, but you’d be hard-pressed to notice that unless you drive them back-to-back. Both versions process lumps in the road neatly thanks to their PASM dampers. The GTS sits 10-mm lower than a Carrera S, while a 3.0-mm thicker, hollow front anti-roll bar keeps body roll in check.

The GTS is further stabilized by its 32-mm wider rear track, a product of 10-mm wider, 305/30ZR19 tires and different wheel offsets sitting under the wider rear flares. A mechanical limited-slip differential with 28-percent lockup on acceleration and 23 percent on deceleration improves traction through curves.

Porsche engineers credit the bulk of the 3.8’s 23-hp increase to a variable-resonance intake manifold. It utilizes six vacuum-controlled flaps that alter the air’s path to the cylinders at different rpm, optimizing torque and power. A carbon-fiber airbox, ported and polished cylinder heads, a sport exhaust, and a remapped ECU round out the changes.

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Horsepower peaks at 7300 rpm, 800 rpm later than in the 385-hp Carrera S. Both cars make 310 lb-ft of torque, but in the GTS those pound feet are delivered at 4200 rpm (200 rpm sooner) and stick around until 5600 rpm. If the specs seem familiar, that’s because they’re the same as those for the $16,900 optional X51 Powerkit 3.8 for the Carrera S, one of several desirable standard features on the GTS.

What the GTS offers that you can’t get on a Carrera S are several exclusive visual alterations. “In the interior we emphasize the close relation to the GT models,” says August Achleitner, director of the Carrera product line. Stoop into the GTS and you’ll meet an interior swathed in Alcantara. The Cabriolet comes with back seats, but the 3,131-pound GTS coupe doesn’t. Why not? Porsche wanted to make it lighter than a Carrera S coupe, but the rear seats can be added back in for no extra cost.

Apart from the Carrera 4S rear flares, there are some exterior visual cues to distinguish the GTS from lesser Carreras. It comes with 19-inch centerlock alloy wheels which are only available on the 911 Turbo, GT2 RS, and GT3/RS. The rocker panels, taken from the GT2, are painted black, and the tailpipes poke out from a black-painted section of the bumper. The Sport Design apron uses a black spoiler lip to reduce front-end lift. The GTS Cabriolet has a drag coefficient of 0.31, the same as a GTS coupe with PDK (due to additional cooling needs). The GTS coupe with the manual transmission checks in with a cD of 0.30, where a 2011 Carrera S coupe with the stick shift registers 0.29.

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The biggest difference from the Carrera S isn’t what the wind sees, or what the seat of your pants perceives. It’s what you get for the price you pay: The GTS Cabriolet costs $112,900. A Carrera S Cabriolet retails for $101,500, but adding the X51 option alone brings the S Cabrio’s price to $118,400, never mind other options. So while it’s hard to call the GTS a new model, it makes a strong case as a well-optioned Carrera S with the Powerkit 3.8 thrown in for free. Of course, the $103,100 GTS coupe presents an even more compelling argument…

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