The Essence of Porsche

Is the standard Carrera still relevant to enthusiasts?

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August 10, 2023

Starting with the 997-generation 911 of 2005-2012, Porsche grew its Carrera range to consistently include S and GTS variants, which remains the case to this day. So appealing are those more powerful and better-equipped models that they often overshadow the standard Carrera. Today, it’s not uncommon for new 992-gen 911 buyers to tell me they went for the S or GTS because they “needed” the extra power. But since when is nearly 400 horsepower in a base 911 not enough?

Today, I have the opportunity to get behind the wheel of a relatively lightly optioned 992 Carrera for a drive on the freeway as well as some backroads. The goal is to see if this entry-level 911 is, in fact, truly outshined by its higher trim-level siblings to the point that it is no longer relevant to enthusiasts. I’ve had several good drives of both the 992 Carrera S and GTS (in both manual and PDK forms), so I’m confident I can give a fair and reasonable take on just where a new Carrera stands in the year 2023.

Tech Brief

The 992 Carrera is largely unchanged from when it debuted in late 2018. It features a 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged flat-six engine that makes 379 hp and 331 lb-ft of torque. It is only available with an eight-speed PDK transmission, as the seven-speed manual is only offered in Carrera T and up models. Some enthusiasts may consider a base Carrera without the choice of a manual gearbox to be sacrilege. However, Porsche chose to do this because the overwhelming majority of recent-generation base Carrera models were ordered with PDKs.

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Underpinning the Carrera is a MacPherson strut setup in front and an aluminum multi-link arrangement in the back. Braking is handled by 330 mm (13.0 in.) iron rotors clamped by four-piston calipers on all four corners. Wheels and tires consist of 19 × 8.5 alloys wrapped in 235/40ZR-19 rubber up front and 20 × 11.5s with 295/35 ZR-20s out back.

Optional equipment fitted to our tester includes a 23.7-gallon extended range fuel tank with a 6.8-gallon greater capacity than stock ($230), a heated GT Sport steering wheel ($590), four-way Sport Seats Plus ($810), Adaptive Cruise Control ($2,000), and 20/21-inch Carrera S wheels ($1,790) with colored Porsche crest wheel caps ($190). It also has the $5,350 Premium Package that features Surround View, the Storage Package, front seat ventilation, power-folding mirrors, a Bose Suround-Sound stereo system, ambient lighting, Lane Change Assist, and the Porsche Dynamic Light System Plus. A standard, no-options Carrera starts at $114,400. All in our test car has a sticker price of $130,640.

The Drive

The 992-gen 911’s interior is an excellent mix of modern technology and quality materials combined with a few classic styling cues. The dashboard, for example, is reminiscent of one you’d find in classic air-cooled 911s, like the 3.0 SC and Carrera 3.2. Although I do wish Porsche would use even higher quality interior materials (or at least offer higher-end, Mercedes-like materials in an options package), the fit and finish of everything you touch and interact with is high quality. The standard front seats are a happy medium of comfy yet well-bolstered to hold you in place when you push the car harder through the twisties.

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On the road, the twin-turbo flat-six behaves like a naturally aspirated engine for the most part and pulls strongly with virtually no turbo lag. I say “for the most part” because the turbo sounds are the only thing that consistently remind you that you are in a car with a boosted engine. A Launch Control start from a stop sign at a deserted intersection brings an explosive 0-60 mph run in less than four seconds. It is tractable on the freeway and cruises for longer distances without drama. Still, cruising on the highway in a sports car of this caliber is boring, as it is not really making the best use of what you’ve got to work with.

On the backroads, the 992 feels like an overachiever—and I mean that in the best way. Push it a bit too hard into a corner? The car notices, for sure, but it manages my occasionally ape-like inputs beautifully. However, such a finely designed and balanced chassis doesn’t mean that the experience is only fun if you drive like a lunatic. Modern 911s have a very high ceiling in terms of how hard you can push them before they bite you. However, driving hard without regard for the car will only lead to very bad things. So in the case of the 992 Carrera, you start driving at four or five-tenths and build up from there until you find your limit. At my eight-tenths, I realized the 911 has a higher limit than I was willing to try to find on a guardrail-less country road.

As has been the case with 911s for decades now, the stock iron-rotor brakes are so good that the outstanding optional Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes (PCCBs) aren’t an automatic “yes” on the options list. The route I drove didn’t require heavy braking from higher speeds (over 100 mph). If I were regularly driving on a high-speed race track, however, the PCCBs would be the first item I’d want besides the required safety gear.

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The Verdict

With a base price of $114,400, the Carrera is $16,900 less expensive than the $131,300 Carrera S and $36,500 less than the $150,900 Carrera GTS. While just under $20,000 more for the S is appealing, the S isn’t an absolute must in every circumstance. The Carrera is a gem to drive on the backroads, but it is also civil enough to take your family out in without garnering serious complaints. The same, of course, can be said of the other Carrera variants in the lineup. But the base model does it more unassumingly.

Relative to 443-hp Carrera S and 473-hp Carrera GTS, our test car delivers more performance on the street than most drivers will ever realistically need. For example, with a 4.0-second 0-60 mph time and a 189 mph top speed, the 992 Carrera is quicker and faster than every air-cooled production 911 Turbo—yes, including the 4.4-second 0-60 and 183-mph 993 Turbo S. In terms of the water-cooled 911s, the new base Carrera is on par with or faster than the 996 GT3, 997 Carrera GTS, 997 GT3, and the 991 Carrera S. And despite the fact that the 992 weighs 100 to 300 pounds more than all those previous models, it still has the feel and dynamics of a top-level sports car.

And that is where the distinction is made. If I were shopping for a 911 as my daily car or weekend fun car, then the Carrera is what I’m buying. Even if you plan on running an occasional autocross or track day, the Carrera will suit you fine. However, if you are a more frequent track-day attendee, then Carrera S or GTS models make more sense. Make no mistake, though, the standard Carrera is already plenty quick. So, is the base Carrera still relevant to enthusiasts? Without a doubt, the answer is yes.

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