Porsche 911 Carerra

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Everything has changed, but it all seems familiar. In its seventh generation, Porsche’s iconic 911 is thoroughly updated while retaining the same unmistakable look and design philosophy it’s had for 50 years: a refined, rear-engined sports car that’s capable of extreme high-speed touring. The advances have been many—liquid cooling, twin turbos, seven-speed transmissions—but the mission remains the same.

We thought it was a typo when we first saw it in a report from our German correspondent more than a year ago. But he was accurate, as is his way: The Porsche 911 would be, and now is, offered with a seven-speed manual transmission. Seven speeds! A veritable embarrassment of forward gears! So many gears, in fact, that Porsche put an indicator in the tachometer so you don’t get lost.

Porsche and supplier ZF have accomplished what no other car company has, which is sharing the basic structure of its manual and dual-clutch automatic trannies: The two boxes share about a third of their parts. Beyond the benefits of commonality, the benefit to Porsche and to 911 buyers is improved fuel economy. At 19 mpg city and 27 highway, the new 3.4-liter Carrera gets 1-and 2-mpg bumps (city and highway, respectively) compared with last year’s 3.6-liter Carrera equipped with a six-speed manual.

So, for those times when you would like to drive your Porsche not at all like a Porsche—just locked in overdrive and trundling along on the highway—you will get better fuel economy. In seventh gear, with the shift lever listing heavily to the right, the Carrera feels sedated. To keep on top of the ebb and flow of highway traffic, we typically left the car in sixth, the gear in which it reaches its 182-mph top speed.

That’s the thing about the new 911: It is a two-mode car. Porsche, like all automakers, has to be evermore mindful of fuel economy, hence the seventh gear, the standard stop-start system, the electrically assisted steering, and the greater use of aluminum body panels. Turn off the stop-start system and avoid seventh gear, and what you’ll give up in efficiency you will surely gain back in joy.

True, the electric steering filters away some of the feel of earlier 911 helms, but it also eliminates occasionally extraneous pavement feedback. Pile on some revs, and that characteristic hard-shelled thrum of  the 350-hp flat-six still thrills. And the grip is just tremendous. The new car hangs on the skidpad more tenaciously, stops shorter from 70 mph, and gives up only a tenth of a second in 0-to-60 and quarter-mile times to the 408-hp 2011 Carrera GTS with its bigger engine.

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Tommy Milner, Corvette Racing Driver, 24 Hours of Le Mans Champion & Win Your New Car Spokesperson