The Porsche 911 Carrera T is designed to make you think of old 911s. Its name references the 911 T of 1968-1973, a basic model designed to lower the barrier of entry for Porsche's then-new rear-engine six-cylinder sports car. There are gray painted mirrors, a modern reinterpretation of the single chromed mirror you used to get on a 911, while cloth seats and fabric door pulls also recall days gone by.

Old 911s are simple machines—small, lightweight and unburdened by technology, almost to a fault. That's why people love them so much. They offer a joyous, pared-back experience that's increasingly hard to find elsewhere.

It's a very charming car, which became obvious in 500 miles of driving around Los Angeles and a trip to Palm Springs and Joshua Tree National Park. The T never offers raw, visceral thrills, but it's an absolute pleasure on a twisty road and even manages to engage everywhere else.

But truly understanding the Carrera T requires context.

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Kevin McCauley

"With the 991, we introduced a new platform," August Achleitner, chief engineer for the 911 since 2001, told me. "[A] new platform always gives a chance to do changes, bigger changes that are usually not possible because of cost investment reasons."

The 991, the seventh generation of the 911, was the first truly new iteration of the model since the late 1990s.

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Kevin McCauley

Of all the “big changes,” the most impactful was that the 911 actually got bigger. It gained 2.2 inches of length, while the wheelbase increased by 3.9 inches. These changes effectively moved the rear axle back three inches, which made the 911 a little less rear-engined than before. This was done to increase stability and comfort, and in concert with a two inch wider front track, produce a more neutral handling balance. Old 911s are defined by tricky handling characteristics you expect with a small rear-engine car; the 991 isn't too tricky at all.

"The new 991 is hard to fault dynamically," we wrote in our first drive of the car. "You really have to make a gross driving error to get the chassis to break a sweat, and even then, the stability nannies intervene in the gentlest, least intrusive way. Forget any past wicked tendencies toward lift-throttle oversteer; the 991 exhibits easily catchable, controlled breakaway."

For a lot of people, though, the 991 never felt quite right. Objectively, it handled better than ever, but the appeal of the 911 has never been fully rational. After all, it's a car that developed a cult following precisely because of its faults. Recall that in the 1980s, Porsche tried to phase out the primitive, tricky-to-drive 911 with the sensible front-engine 944 and 928. It didn't work, mainly because people kept buying 911s, faults be damned.

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Kevin McCauley

By making the 911 bigger and improving the handling, the 991 got further away from what made the 911 so beloved in the first place. Other decisions Porsche made during the 991's lifetime didn't win favor with purists either.

For starters, there was the use of electric power steering, which boosted efficiency but made the 911's steering wheel a lot less chatty than the hydraulic power assistance employed before. Another defining characteristic of the 911, seemingly lost to modernity. Then Porsche dumped manual transmissions in the GT3 and GT3 RS, causing a purist's revolt. And in 2015, the lovely naturally aspirated flat-sixes in the 911 Carrera range were dropped for a 3.0-liter twin-turbo motor.

It seemed the 911 was losing its magic. Enthusiasts turned to old 911s, driving up the prices of air-cooled models and older GT3s and GT3 RSes significantly over the 991's life. But to Porsche's credit, the right people were paying attention.

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Kevin McCauley

“I say these guy are all a little bit crazy, but they're all crazy in the same way,” Achleitner told me. “[They help] not only to find the best technical solutions, but to find solutions [that] fit to a 911, and fit to the history of the car.”

One of “those guys” is Andreas Preuninger, the man responsible for GT3s. He created the 911 R in 2016. It was the lightest 991 yet, and it combined the 4.0-liter, 500-hp flat-six from the GT3 RS with a six-speed manual gearbox. Preuninger was clever when it came to the chassis setup of the R, too. He decided to prioritize fun on the road over lap times on track, and it worked. The R is an absolute gem, offering old-school thrills with modern performance and capability. It's probably the 991 at its finest.

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Kevin McCauley

People at the top of Porsche didn’t think there would be much of a market for the R, so they capped production at 991 units, offering most to those who bought the 918 Spyder. Demand for these cars ended up being so high, prices regularly crested $500,000 on the second-hand market.

The message was received in the boardrooms of Stuttgart. One year after the R made its debut, Porsche reintroduced the manual for the GT3, and just a few months after that, brought out a Touring Package for that car, which was basically a 911 R by another name.

Achleitner told me in 2017 that the Touring Package was Porsche’s response to R prices skyrocketing. But even that was an expensive, limited-production car—just not quite as expensive or limited as the R. As a result, he'd been fielding requests for a more affordable 911 that got some of the same treatment as the R. His answer was the Carrera T.

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Kevin McCauley

If you were hoping the Carrera T would be a 911 R on a budget, I'm sorry to disappoint you, but it isn't. It does carry some of the R's spirit, however.

To save a little bit of weight, Porsche stripped out some of the 911's sound deadening. You'd need a stopwatch to determine any performance difference this measure makes, but you can hear it easily. Even though the engine is muted by its turbochargers, there's a lot of flat-six noise to fill the interior. Listen closely, and you can even hear air rushing when the throttle open up.

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Kevin McCauley

Getting rid of the insulation means there's more of the bad sounds, too. Enjoyment of real intake sound comes at the expense of more noise intrusion from the T's big Pirellis. In a world of increasingly isolated performance cars, where sound has to be played through speakers to fill the void, this is a refreshing change of pace.

As is the seven-speed manual gearbox. It benefits from a slightly shorter overall ratio and a shortened gear lever, and I think it's a must-have. As much as Porsche's dual-clutch, PDK, impresses, it can't replace the involvement offered by a manual transmission. It's a big part of the 911 R's secret to success, and it makes the Carrera T feel like a real sports car.

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Kevin McCauley

It handles like a real sports car, too. This Carrera T benefitted from optional rear-wheel steering which makes the car feel a little smaller than it is in reality. At lower speeds, the rear wheels turn in the same direction as the fronts, which virtually shortens the wheelbase, while at higher speeds, all four turn in the same direction, virtually lengthening it. It's hard to feel the rear-wheel steering actively doing its job and that's what Porsche wanted.

Unlike a lot of its rivals, the Porsche 911 nails the balance between ride and handling, and that's especially true of the Carrera T. It handles beautifully, while remaining comfortable enough for every day use in spite of its low profile tires and sportier suspension setup.

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Kevin McCauley

Porsche came under a lot of fire for adopting electric power steering for the 991, and early iterations of the system were especially not well received. The engineers figured out how to make it work, and while the steering in the Carrera T isn't quite as sweet as it is in a GT3 RS, it's still nice. Of course, it doesn't wriggle around like it does in old 911s, but it gives the driver what they need.

Porsche's logic behind adopting twin-turbo engines for the Carrera range will be (rightfully) debated for some time, but there's no arguing with the quality of this 3.0-liter flat-six. It's as good as turbo motors get, with no perceptible lag and totally linear power delivery. It revs like a naturally aspirated engine, but it offers tons of low- and mid-range torque, too.

At no point did the Carrera T ever blow me away with any one particular attribute, but it proved to be a faithful companion in my four days with it.

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Kevin McCauley

Of course, the Carrera T, like every 991, feels different than any 911 that preceded it. That's just physics. To improve the 911, Porsche had to kill off the delicate little thing we grew to love over the years. Rear-wheel steering can help make the 991 seem a little smaller than it is in reality, but it can't work magic.

And don't take 'different' to mean bad. Bigger though it may be, the 911 is still a benchmark sports car and an absolute pleasure to drive. It just doesn't drive exactly like an old 911. But, it did make me think of older 911s, though not the ones I was expecting.

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Kevin McCauley

I thought of a 1987 Carrera 3.2, the first 911 I ever drove. A great example of what a normal 911 felt like in those days. It’s far from being the raciest thing in the world, but a wonderfully harmonious car. The grip, the brakes, the power and the usability are all perfectly in proportion. Then I thought about the 1967 2.0-liter Targa I drove last year—again, a lovely sports car, but one that felt totally daily drivable.

The Carrera T offers something similar.

It's tempting to accuse Porsche of selling out with the 991 and abandoning the enthusiasts that carried the 911 forward over the last 55 years. I'll admit that I wish Porsche still made a truly small rear-engine sports car; a brief drive in an air-cooled 911 reminds you that there was something there that has been lost.

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Kevin McCauley

In reality, Porsche probably had to make the 911 bigger. It was really the only way to improve handling, and if you look at the entire history of the 911, Porsche has always tried to improve handling through various means, engineering around the inherent flaws of a rear-engine car. A rear-engine car that has remained in production far longer than it probably had any right to.

The 991 never quite got its fair shake. It couldn't have. Cars with a cult following are forever haunted by their pasts, and the 911 is no exception.

And with time spent in the Carrera T, it's hard to be mad at Porsche. It's a lovely sports car, and a welcome reminder that there are people at Porsche who care about enthusiasts.

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Kevin McCauley