Porsche has never been free to redesign the 911.
Since its introduction in 1963, whenever people have heard the word 'Porsche,' they've immediately imagined a car with a long hood and an engine hung out over the tail. Other cars from the automaker were 'A Porsche.' A 911 was 'The Porsche.' Its odd layout and distinctive appearance would, unbeknownst to the company, become the only thing Porsche's superfans would allow. It's like how people only want to hear the classics at a Paul McCartney concert. When he plays something off Flaming Pie, everyone heads for the bathrooms.
In the 1970s, Porsche saw the end of the line for the 911; the automaker thought it had taken the rear-engine platform as far as it could go. It needed to go a new direction. Porsche told famed 911 tuner and car constructor Alois Ruf, "you cannot do more with this car. This is the end. You should switch to a 928.”
With a water-cooled V8 up front, four seats in the middle (two of them small), and a trunk out back, the 928 was more of a German Corvette, designed with grand touring in mind. It could handle track duty, but a highway and mountain run from Munich to Portofino was its intended stomping ground. This was the car that was intended to replace the 911.
It never went past intention. Famed Porsche CEO Peter Schutz saw that the end of the 911 was scheduled for 1981 on a planning chart. In what can only be described as a boss move, Schutz walked up to the board and extended the 911's line from 1981 "across the page, onto the wall, and out the door."
With Porsche's grand plans of replacing the 911 with its V8 brother dashed, the 928's end was written on the same wall that once held the end of the 911. In 1995, it went away after 18 years of production. The 911 outlived its replacement, but it had to assume a new mandate: remain true to the design that made Porsche a household name and the subject of countless doodles in school books while broadening its range of use.
Suddenly a car which had undergone very few revisions in its history began to evolve rapidly. The 911 range grew to fill as many gaps as possible. Today, the 991.2 generation ranges from a base Carrera all the way to a 700-horsepower, Nurburgring-dominating GT2 RS ... with 21 other variants in between.
Five of those variants fall under the Carrera GTS umbrella. What makes a GTS a GTS? First, it's more power. The 3.0 liter turbocharged flat-six in the GTS has the Carrera S's optional Powerkit, giving it 450 horsepower and 405 lb-ft of torque. That's a 30 horsepower and 37 lb-ft increase compared to the Carrera S. It also comes with the options you'd need to make the ultimate Carrera S, like sport seats , Sport Chrono, and PASM sport suspension, along with a number of cosmetic updates like tinted tail lights, sport design front fascia, Alcantara wheel and shifter, and a number of other detail changes.
The GTS becomes a value proposition, because all of these options on a Carrera S would cost a boatload more money. Here, Porsche has put all of that goodness in one tidy package. Add in the manual gearbox and our car's optional rear-wheel steering, and you have the most versatile 911 you can buy.
This isn't a bad thing. Porsche needs the 911 to have a wide breadth of use and buyer. Need a track day car? 911 GT3. Want an acceleration demon? 911 Turbo. Walk into a dealer and ask for "one Porsche please?" Carrera 4 Cabriolet. Want a sports car that's at home in every environment? Carrera GTS.
But this GTS is not, as some suggest, a bridge between the Carrera and GT3. Instead, the 991.2 GTS closes the gap from the Carrera to the top tier road-focused 911, the Turbo.
Naturally aspirated 911s were high strung, they rose to a crescendo. The Alanis Morissette of engines, they were at their best when angry and screaming. That's what made the old, naturally-aspirated GTS reminiscent of the GT3, a car that revs to 9,000 and wants you to run it ragged at every shift. The new, turbocharged GTS has a different demeanor, one more suited to grand touring. Though it tries its damndest to make you think it isn't a turbo, it just can't hide its turboey not Turbo turboness. It feels familiar at the extreme ends of the tach, but the abundant mid-range transforms the driving experience.
With the additional torque, pulls that used to require a downshift or two can now be accomplished by adding throttle. That transforms how the GTS behaves on the highway. It's an engine that is just as happy cruising as it is being constantly shifted on a back road, just like the 911 Turbo. Problem is, the gearing is Shaq-level tall. It's done for acceleration numbers and fuel economy, but by the time you hit the top of second you're already breaking most speed limits.
Thankfully, you don't need to hit redline to feel engaged. One of the arguments that Schutz made when he saved the 911 was that it's a car with character, that's why people flock to it. That character is still there in varying amounts throughout the 911 lineup. You can't drive the GTS exactly like you'd drive a front-engine GT car, unless you prefer your sports cars in a ditch.
Everything pivots off the rear axle. Proper weight transfer is still a key to getting the best out of a 911, even the GTS, which feels less obviously rear engined. You have to get weight on the nose and manage it to make it turn. On corner exit, tromp on the throttle, send the weight to the rear, and power out. When you figure it out, it's still magic and has a bucketload of pace over a back road.
It also responds to you if you aren't going flat out. The crackles of the exhaust and the feel of the steering don't change if you're going the speed limit or double the speed limit. You still feel the road, you still notice it pivoting behind you, the front end still feels light if the nose isn't loaded.
Other details? The seven-speed manual, which felt like an afterthought in the first 991s, is the gearbox to have. Engagement is positive and it's now highly unlikely you'll be putting it in fifth when you meant to grab third. Steering, which went electric with the debut of the 991, is vastly improved and more talkative. The small dial on the wheel to select drive modes is straight out of Ferrari's playbook. With the widebody from the Carrera 4 and center-lock wheels from the Turbo S, the GTS is easily the best looking Carrera you can buy.
This is a wildly capable 911 that works in the widest variety of scenarios, the go-to guy if you're looking to be quick on track, comfortable on a long road trip, and effortless on a back road. It can't really fit four people, at least not four full-sized people, but it has plenty of space inside.
That makes it the choice daily driver 911. Not high-strung like a GT3. Not boomy like a GT2. Not apocalyptically quick like a Turbo. And not the 911 that would be bought by people who aren't in the know. Sound familiar?
It's the 928's intent in a familiar package, merging the best grand touring coupe Porsche ever built with the 911's traditional, quirky layout. Maybe Porsche couldn't redesign the outside of the 911, but it was able to redesign its intended use. And with that, the automaker found a way to trick the traditionalist, rear-engine crowd into buying what is essentially the car that was intended to replace the 911 35 years ago.