New generation Porsche icon

May 16, 2012, 5:12 PM

For The Associated Press

(AP) – The new-generation, 2012 Porsche 911 Carrera has the familiar, sexy shape of its forebears. But it’s tastefully redone with a wider front track, a body that’s a bit longer and lighter, a holistically designed interior and modern touches like light-emitting diode tail lamps.

Of course, there’s more power, too _ up to 400 horses and 325 foot-pounds of torque from the up-level, naturally aspirated six cylinder.

Surprisingly, though, the additional 15 horses, which for the first time can come through a seven-speed manual transmission, don’t hurt fuel economy numbers.

There’s even automatic shutoff of the engine at stoplights to preserve its premium gasoline. This stop/start feature is a typical fuel-saver in gasoline-electric hybrid cars and was adapted for the non-hybrid 911, where, impressively, it scarcely hampers off-the-line getaways.

The ride in the 2012 911 Carrera is more pliant than ever. Revamped, selectable suspension settings allow a driver to reduce ride harshness so long-distance travel is more comfortable and less taxing. When the situation calls for a more racy performance, the driver can set the suspension for a firmer ride.

The changes in this seventh-generation 911 are well-received in the United States, where 911 sales for the first four months are up 48 percent from the same period last year, to a total of 3,095.

Judging by the many admirers drawn to the test 911 Carrera S, there are plenty more wannabe buyers out there, even if the starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price is $83,050 for a 350-horsepower, 2012 911 Carrera and $97,350 for a 400-horsepower, 2012 911 Carrera S.

There are other changes in the 2012 model. The parking brake now is electronic, so the lever is gone. While Porsche keeps the tachometer big and smack in the middle of the gauges in front of the driver, the center console is full of buttons around the shifter that personalize everything from seat temperature to the volume of sound from the car’s exhaust.

The 911 coupe trunk remains under the front hood and measures just 4.76 cubic feet. It is basically a deep rectangle, so be prepared to do some hefty lifting to get heavy items in and out.

Inside, there’s a sense the car is wider. Larger drivers and passengers still will feel closed in. Tall, lanky passengers will find a decent amount of seat track and seat height adjustment.

The two back seats are narrow and usable for briefcases and such and, maybe, by children who don’t mind that they can’t hear much of the conversation in the front seat.

The reason: The 911 flat six engines remain behind the back seats, and engine sounds _ so coveted by Porsche fans _ come through clearly. The hallmark sound is music to the ears of anyone buying a Porsche.

With a height of around 51 inches, the new 911 sits slightly lower to the ground than its predecessor; some will have difficulty dropping down onto the low, fitted car seats. Passengers look up at Toyotas and Hondas. The 911 sits so low that passengers can find themselves at eye level with tailpipes of trucks and license plates of some sport utility vehicles.

The only way to get clear views of the road in this car is to be in front of other vehicles, which is easy to do because the new 911 is eminently maneuverable. Indeed, the test 911 Carrera S tester felt like it was “at one” with the driver. As quickly as the driver decided to change lanes, the car was responding to the slightest of steering inputs.

There were no sloppy motions in the new 911 tester. There was precision in steering, stopping and car motions.

The car’s 20-inch tires clung to the pavement and displayed amazing grip, even on broken pavement on twisty mountain roads.

With optional active roll stabilization in the test car, the car’s body motions were minimized, so the body didn’t pitch or display any weight transfer while traveling through S-shaped curves.

At just over 3,000 pounds, the 911 doesn’t feel heavy like a Mercedes-Benz SL, and it doesn’t feel overly aggressive the way a V-8-powered Ford Mustang does.

Sad to say, buyers can’t see much of the 911 engines. The view is mostly two cooling fans, two fluid filler areas and a plastic engine cover.

But there’s no complaint about the performance of the test car’s 3.8-liter, four-cam, horizontally opposed six with peak torque of 325 foot-pounds at 5,600 rpm.

Power from this engine shot the car forward in any situation, including just as the engine started up on its own after a short, fuel-saving rest at a stoplight. These startups were smooth, with none of the hesitancy and near-stall sensations found on some early hybrids.

The optional dual-clutch, seven-speed PDK automatic transmission worked smoothly and could be left in automatic or shifted manually, sans clutch pedal.

Zero to 60-mph in the new 911 with PDK is a mere 4 seconds, and federal fuel economy ratings for the test car were 19 miles a gallon in city driving and 27 mpg on highways. Note these lab-derived numbers don’t take into account the automatic stop/start mechanism.

The new 911 Carreras has been the subject of two U.S. safety recalls. One involved seat belt anchors that might be faulty. The second recall involved a fuel line that might disconnect and leak gasoline.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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