Porsche manages to instill the spirit of a racing car into its 911 models. Get behind the wheel, and suddenly you feel like Richard Attwood heading toward the finish of the 1970 Le Mans 24-hour race. And the 2011 Porsche 911 Carrera GTS embodies that racing car element very well, its rigid suspension making the lightweight car corner like a dancer.
A car for purists, the new 911 GTS model lacks a turbocharger, but still makes 408 horsepower from its 3.8-liter flat six-cylinder engine. Less of an amateur racer than the GT3 RS, the 911 GTS includes some civilized elements, such as luxury interior appointments and cabin electronics. At the same time, the 911 GTS boasts 23 more horsepower than the Carrera S. Along its 911 range, Porsche fills every niche.
The cabin of the 911 GTS shows the same luxury elements the company builds into its current cars, with soft plastics lining the dashboard and liberal use of Alcantara and metal components. If you want the cabin covered in cow, a leather option is available.
But body-colored metal over the transmission tunnel, combined with seats that require manual operation to move them up and down, fore and aft, give the initial impression that the 911 GTS is stripped down, a bare-knuckle lightweight racer. That impression lasts until you notice the buttons for adjusting the suspension, putting the car in Sport mode, raising the rear spoiler, and making the exhaust roar a little louder.
Technically expert handling
Although the 911 GTS exhibits excellent native handling, Porsche does not shy away from technology to make it even better. Its short wheelbase, light body, and rigid suspension reveal easy turn-in capability from the moment you start driving the car. Over a mountain road with many tight corners, the 911 GTS was absolutely in its element, delivering an exhilarating experience as it gripped the road at impressive speed.
As typical with the Porsche 911, the weight is biased toward the rear because of the engine placement. That means you can and should trail brake the 911 GTS into the corners, throwing load toward the front of the car, keeping the tires down and gripping the pavement. The brakes on this car modulate easily, providing plenty of stopping power but able to be applied gently to shave off speed.
CNET's car came equipped with the optional Porsche Active Suspension Management, a system that constantly adjusts the damping to accommodate the road and driving conditions. In normal mode, the ride is fairly rigid, and leans far more toward sport than luxury. There is absolutely nothing soft in the ride quality. Put the suspension in Sport mode, and the car lowers by 10 millimeters, with the ride getting even harder. Porsche didn't program in a Comfort mode. But this hard suspension means the car stays nicely grounded, keeping its tires in contact with pavement even over small rises.
A nice aspect of the 911 GTS is that, when you push the engine's Sport mode button, it automatically turns on the suspension's Sport mode. Sport for the engine means a more aggressively tuned throttle response.
One apparent miracle of Porsche engineering with the 911 GTS is that, with just 3.8 liters, the engine produces 408 horsepower. Technologies such as direct injection and variable valve timing help Porsche achieve this number. Torque, however, is down at 310 pound-feet. Under hard acceleration, the 911 GTS doesn't deliver the kind of mule kick felt in cars such as the Nissan GT-R. Rather, it piles on the power more gently, as if an expert valet were laying on each successive mile per hour in sure and steady fashion.