While browsing the press materials for Porsche’s latest iteration of the 911, there’s no mistaking its identity. Porsche would like its new version of the 911 (known internally and to enthusiasts as the 997) to be presented as “The 2005 Porsche 911 Carrera.” Add an “S” to the end of that if you opt for the sportier edition, but no matter the trim level, always refer to it as both a 911 and a Carrera. The Carrera name had been on a long hiatus, not having been officially recognized as a model name for quite some time.
Coincidentally enough, during the time the Carrera moniker was enjoying its sabbatical, the 911 was busy defending itself against critics who claimed the legendary sports car had gone soft on passion. The 996-model was often accused of being too refined and too perfect – the driving experience had been numbed, and the hardcore enthusiasts (and jilted journalists) complained loudly about the transistion to a water-cooled motor and the softer, less-edgy extreme makeover.
But that’s all antifreeze under the radiator now, thanks to the (almost) completely redesigned 2005 Porsche 911 Carrera. Boasting hundreds (if not thousands) of improvements and enhancements, any similarities to previous models are purely cosmetic. But, the purpose of this review is not to examine the technical details or to pour over the facts and figures- this review was done to share information about just one important aspect: The driving experience.
We were given some serious seat time in the 2005 Porsche 911 Carrera S, the spunkier brother to the base-model Carrera, and we took full advantage of the opportunity. We drove it on backroads, highways, vacant city streets, and the infamous Willow Springs Raceway in Rosamond, California.
We scored a few laps with motorsports legend Hurley Haywood, and let’s just say there’s really no experience like that of roaring through the 900-foot radius that is turn 8 with Hurley’s foot firmly holding the gas pedal to the floor, while we were hanging on for dear life, praying to anything and everything holy that Haywood will get us through the corner in one piece (he does, everytime). If there’s a more exciting ride anywhere on the planet, we’re not aware of it.
But before we talk about what would later become known as “the Haywood incident,” let’s focus on our driving impressions and experiences. Slipping into the 2005 Porsche 911 Carrera S (let’s agree to refer to it as either “the Carrera S,” “the 997,” or “the new 911” from now on), the first thing you’ll notice is the improved seating position. The seats offer an improved angle – one that allows for a clean, clear open view of the road, while providing more legroom. A tilting and telescoping wheel (a 911 first) is a welcome addition, especially for taller drivers like ourselves.
Instrumentation exudes typical Porsche perfection – the gauges are well placed, easy to read and offer plenty of information without being overwhelming. We wish we could say the same about the center stack controls – if our count is accurate, there’s more than fifty buttons surrounding the multi-function display, and most lean toward the cryptic-side of the scale. The HVAC controls are straightforward, as are the all important PASM and traction control buttons (more on those later). Materials are top notch, as is expected, offering a tasteful look and feel.
A quarter-turn of the left-side-mounted ignition switch brings the 3.8-liter flat six to life, and it sounds as though it awoke in good spirits. The exhaust note burbles with Porsche’s signature sound, offering just a hint as to what lurks just ahead of the quad tailpipes. Clutch action is velvet smooth and nearly effortless – the take-up is progressive and offers plenty of feedback. There’s no heavy feel to it – it simply engages and disengages effortlessly.
We slip the leather wrapped billet shifter into first gear, and it responds with a solid “snick.” Unlike so many other shifters we’ve encountered, there’s no vagueness – it feels as if the shifter is a solid extension of the transmission, with activations that are precise and immediate.
With the 355 horsepower motor warmed and ready to run, we ease out the clutch and begin our adventure. We work our way onto an old section of deserted highway, somewhere in central California, and immediately notice a dramatic improvement in ride quality over previous versions of the 911. Despite wearing some of the largest wheels to ever roll beneath a Porsche (19″), bumps and expansion joints are easily tamed by the Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) system. When left in “normal” mode, the ride is plush and comfy, and makes for effortless long-distance jaunts. Switching the PASM mode to “sport” immediately changes the character of the ride – we can literally feel the suspension stiffen and road irregularities that were once muted are now hitting like a pair of 18″ subwoofers.
Regardless of the PASM mode you choose, the Carrera S is nearly unflappable, even when purposely pushed to the limits. At one point early into our road test, we encountered a tricky set of off-camber esses. We approached them with trepidation, but our caution was unwarranted – we tried our darnnedest to upset the heavily biased back-end, but it remained firmly planted. Try as we might, we couldn’t force it to snap around on us (and that’s a good thing) – the suspension just hunkers down and grabs the road with a tenacious grip. Any extra weight that the new Carrera carries over the old model is invisible – there’s absolutely no body roll and the car never feels heavy.
Steering response from the variable ratio steering rack is spot-on; wheel response increases at any steering input angle greater than 30-degrees, just as it did on the previous 911, but perhaps as a testament to the improved suspension and chassis, the steering seems even more “solid” than before. With speeds firmly nestled in the triple digits, the steering felt firm, precise and confidence inspiring. The Carrera S is definitely a driver’s car, and it rewards its master with one of the most rewarding driving experiences ever, regardless of the conditions.
Throttle response is instantaneous and the flat-six pulls with authority, no matter where the tach needle points. Whether you’re cruising the freeway in sixth gear at a lazy 2,000 RPM, or winding your way through a twisty back road, low in the gears and high in the rev range, the motor is more than happy to oblige your right foot. We recorded a 0-60 time of 4.4 seconds and earned a quarter mile timeslip of 12.9 seconds at 110 mph. Not bad, especially when you consider that the 911 Turbo (costing nearly twice as much as our Carrera S) runs just a few tenths quicker in both tests.
The engine’s note is superb, and is easily heard in the cockpit under full throttle. Wind and road noise are minimal, regardless of speed. Plant your foot firmly on the brake pedal and the car stops with aplomb, no matter how fast you’re traveling. The big Brembos clamp the 13-inch cross-drilled rotors with a ferocity normally reserved for Great White Sharks and rabid pit bulls – we observed 70mph – 0 stopping distances of 149 feet, an all-time record on our books.
The 2005 Porsche 911 Carrera S shines on the street, but literally glows on the track. The Carrera’s true intentions are obvious once it hits the pits: this is a car that’s equally happy on the track as it is the local drive-thru. It’s even more happy in the hands of Hurley Haywood, who gave us the ride of a lifetime around tricky Willow Springs Raceway.
Exiting the pits, we took the Carrera up through its gears, our backsides planted firmly in the supportive seats. Hard on the brakes for Castrol Corner (turn 1), the Porsche set itself nicely for the sharp left and planted itself firmly as we raced to turn two, a 450-foot radius called “The Rabbits Ear.” This increasing-radius turn gives way to a short up-hill stint, followed by turns 3, 4, and 5, all of which are a series of banked, changing elevation corners. The suspension handled all of the transitions famously and provided us with plenty of feedback. Careful throttle application is the key to getting through those corners quickly.
Monroe ridge (turn six) is a tricky little bend that resides on the back stretch – the combination of traveling downhill at warp speed (we’re hard on the accelerator after exiting turn 5) and the slight right-hand pitch tricks you into wanting to lift from the accelerator, but the Porsche urges otherwise. It knows that it’s more than capable of handling the kink, and it begs to be pushed harder.
“Turn 7” (if you can call it a turn – it’s more like a slight weave) is dispatched, and turn 8, a 900-foot radius called “The Sweeper” appears to require a heavy application of brakes, but again, the Carrera S presses on, accelerating its way through the wide corner. As The Sweeper straightens out, we’re hard on the brakes, setting-up the chassis for the final turn, a 600-foot radius called “Turn Nine.” We row down a few gears, hold our line through the apex and mash the gas as we exit the corner and hit the 2400-foot front straight. It’s up through the gears as we rocket our way through another lap.
We ran a few laps with the PASM set to normal, and a few set at sport, and to be honest, the car was just as capable in either setting. The beauty of the Porsche systems is that they allow you to press the performance envelope firmly to the limit, without letting you lose control. It’s the perfect mix of man and machine – each helps each other while being careful not to step on any toes.
As the sun began to set on the California desert, our time with the 2005 Porsche Carrera S came to a close. We reluctantly handed over the keys, bid our farewells and watched with a tear in our eye as the 911 as it was driven off into the sunset. Porsche has made a bold statement with its new Carrera, and the S puts the exclamation point at the end. There’s never been a better time to buy a Porsche, and if you have the means, race to your dealer and plunk down a deposit. The only regret you’ll have is that you waited this long before claiming one as your own.