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Car Report

Test Drive: 2012 Porsche 911 Carrera S

1.0 g.

In the world of sports cars it’s a magical number, the barrier between mere excellence and exaltation.

A measurement of traction and cornering ability, the figure means that the lateral or longitudinal forces being created by a car as it travels through a turn or decelerates are equal to those pulling it toward the center of the Earth.

In other words: If your seat disappeared in the middle of a corner, you could theoretically stick to the door without falling onto the floor.

After a brisk run through some sweeping curves in the 2012 Porsche 911 Carrera S, followed by hard stab at the brakes, I was impressed to see by the onboard performance computer that I’d cracked the mark both side to side and to the front.

Even more so when I got out of the car.

That’s when I noticed the flakes embedded in to the sidewall of the Michelins. I’d forgotten that the car was wearing snow tires. The mind reels thinking what it could do on summer rubber.

Perhaps I should’ve waited until the weather got warm.

Not a chance.

Although it looks like the previous six, this seventh generation 911 is very much an all-new car. It’s lower and wider than last year’s model, and rides on a 3.9-inch longer wheelbase, for a variety of reasons that I’ll get to soon. Its design is intentionally familiar, but with lines that are slightly more muscular and sensuous than before. It’s also lost a few pounds in the process.

Way out back where it belongs, the engine of the Carrera S is the latest version of Porsche’s 3.8-liter flat-six-cylinder, now with 400 hp. A seven speed manual transmission is standard for those who have a thing against idle right hands, but my test car was fitted with a dual-clutch automatic that costs a mere $4080 on top of the car’s $97,350 base price. Even so, if the recent history of 911 sales is anything to go by, most buyers will be checking that box on the options list.

Inside you’ll find a coupe-sized take on the new Porsche family interior that was first seen on the once-blasphemous Panamera sedan and is quickly spreading throughout the lineup. The prominent button-laden center console set in a sea of leather standing in sharp contrast to the cabin of the very first 911, which had no console at all.

Watch: World's quickest family car

That wheelbase stretch means it’s roomier inside, too, but the folding rear seats remain suitable only for golf clubs and garden gnomes. Believe me, I tried to fit and am still recovering from the attack of claustrophobia that ensued.

The extra inches were also reportedly added to facilitate hybridization of the powertrain if it should be deemed necessary to do so at some point in this lifecycle of this 911. So far it hasn’t. But that’s not to say the 911 isn’t already thinking about efficiency. In an effort to save fuel, it’s been fitted with a stop start system that turns off the engine when it’s stationary and in drive, lighting it up again with a shake of its tail when you take your foot off the brake.

Assuming, of course, that you haven’t opted for the $2370 Sport Chrono Package and switched the car into Sport Plus mode, which keeps the engine running at all times and activates launch control. Press hard on the brake, mat the throttle, drop the brake and prepare to experience speed accompanied by the opposite of silence.

With a 0-60 mph time of 3.9 seconds, this is one of the quickest 400 hp cars ever made and, despite the luxury that surrounds you, it feels every tenth of it. If you shelled out for the $2950 Sport Exhaust System (the checkbook is open, so just do it) you hear it too. At full bore the 911 sounds as if it’s fueled by flaming Jägerbombs, enhanced by an induction tube that pumps the sonic assault from the engine bay into the back of your head. It’s like the aural equivalent of a beer bong, and just as intoxicating.

Drink it in as you drive.

The Carrera S comes with all manner of electronic driving aids and an active suspension system that are options on the less powerful $82,050 base Carrera, but one more inevitably pricey feature makes them all work that much better.

It’s called Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control and is the same magic that makes the Cayenne SUV do a good approximation of a sports car on the street without giving up its off-road capability. (Go ahead and laugh it up, but the Cayenne can hang in the dirt.)

In essence, the $3160 system is a hydraulically adjustable anti-roll bar. This allows the suspension to be soft while you’re cruising along in a straight line then stiffen up like a go-cart in the turns. You crank the steering wheel hard to the right expecting to see that left fender dip to the outside and it doesn’t.

Remember that pancake you had for breakfast? The 911 corners flatter than the griddle you cooked it in.

This means that there’s more rubber on the road, and partially explains the car’s heroic grip, even on knobbies. That longer wheelbase also makes this Porsche less prone to pirouetting than 911s past, and exceptionally easy to control when driven hard.

Purists will bemoan the switch from hydraulic to energy-efficient electric-assist steering, but they shouldn’t. The only time it felt at all strange was when I entered an imaginary slalom and it got a little numb negotiating the third or fourth cones that weren’t there. Unless you skip your prescribed medication, this won’t be an issue.

Granted, when you add up all of those four figure options, plus a few more like the $3,140 metallic paint, $5,200 Carrera Red natural leather upholstery and $5290 Burmeister stereo fitted to my test car, the bottom line of $132,360 may make you think that you are seeing things, but that sort of pricing hasn’t been a hindrance to sales for those who have indulged in the past six generations of 911s and it won’t be this time around.

Nor should it be. More than ever, the latest Carrera is a legit luxury competitor to the likes of the Mercedes-Benz SL and Jaguar XK, but can still play with the BMW M3s and Corvettes at the track. As a two for one proposition, paying $132G for that 1.0 g almost seems like a bargain.

Just remember to change the tires to get a full return on your investment.

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2012 Porsche 911 Carrera S

Base Price: $97,350

As Tested: $132,360

Type: 2+2 2-door coupe

Engine: 3.8-liter flat-6-cylinder

Power: 400 hp, 325 lb-ft torque

Transmission: 7-speed automatic

MPG: 20 city/27 hwy