2021 Porsche 911 Carrera First Drive: There’s No Such Thing as a “Base” 911

As my garage door went up and the morning light began to bathe the car’s taut and cohesive curves, I said to myself, “This would never get old.” Instead of hopping into the 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera, I paused to reflect on how simple, restrained, and unmistakable the Carrera coupe’s form is, yet how much thought and work went into its shape, gleaming in Racing Yellow paint.

All those compound curves, one flowing into another, positive and negative spaces, and there isn’t a single flat surface that I can find. There’s no bolt-on “jewelry,” no character lines or sheetmetal creases—because the whole car is a jewel and gesture in and of itself. Name another car with so few design details that looks as good. I walked all the way around the car, and there isn’t a bad angle. It’s sculpture you can drive.

As we know by now, the 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera represents the eighth (or 992-generation) 911, and of those, we’ve now driven three variants: the Carrera S that won our 2019 Best Driver’s Car competition, the Carrera 4S for those who would benefit from all-wheel drive, and the incomprehensibly great Turbo S that rightly leaps into supercar territory.

Naturally, each has a related but distinct personality. So, where does this so-called “base” 911 land in terms of character and driving experience? Say you are limited by budget to only just afford the bottom-trim 911. Is it worth it?

PC: motortrend.com

What’s The Porsche 911 Like To Drive?

Simply put, it is perhaps the most cohesive sports car of the bunch, the Goldilocks “juuust right” 911—so far. The way it drives can best be described as “pure.” The driver isn’t in awe of the engine; it’s just back there, ready and willing. I wasn’t in utter shock, like I was in the 640-hp Turbo S, with its tremendous power and athleticism.

Instead, I found myself using more of the power more of the time than I did in a Carrera S/4S, keeping the revs above the magical 5,000-rpm zone where the engine’s torque hands the duties of acceleration to horsepower. The standard steel brakes are progressive and easy to predict and thus modulate. The variable-ratio steering wasn’t as muted as I found in the Carrera 4S, but not as magical as that of the Turbo S that gets model-specific hardware.

The fact that I wasn’t amazed or distracted by one quality or another made the experience more holistic. I drove the entire car. I did not trade off between acceleration, braking, and cornering. Instead, I blended them all within the 911’s impressive performance envelope. The palpable chassis rigidity, how well the dampers work, the trusty brakes, the telepathic steering, and the tractable engine and brilliant transmission all worked in concert to provide an intimate and ultimately fulfilling driving experience. It’s supremely competent. Yet, a supremely competent Porsche 911 is superior to many other sports cars.

Does The 911 Coupe Come With A Manual Transmission?

PC: motortrend.com

We know a manual transmission is coming because I drove a 992 development car equipped with one. A year and a half ago, I said, “Speaking of the seven-speed manual, the U.S. and U.K. have the biggest take rates, so it’s not in danger of extinction. In most sports cars, 5 to 15 percent is typical, but for Porsche, fully 34 percent of the Carrera GTSs sold in the States, 70 percent of GT3s, and 80 percent of Carrera Ts have manual transmissions.” For now, however, it’s all eight-speed twin-clutch automatics. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. We have considerable love for the PDK.

And sure, the $15,900 more costly Carrera S’ same twin-turbo 3.0L flat-six is tuned to produce 64 hp more, but you would hardly notice or miss it. In the base Carrera, you’ll find that 379 horsepower and 331 lb-ft of torque is plenty thrilling. Combine that with the bargain-priced $2,720 Sport Chrono package that adds, among other things, dynamic engine mounts, a sportier shift protocol, and a drive mode switch on the steering wheel, and a true launch-control system that still amazes. With this singular option, the base 911 is all the sports car you’ll ever need or want. Throw in the $2,950 Sport Exhaust system with a loud button, and the car will sound the way it feels to drive.

How Does The 2020 911 Compare To An Old 911 Turbo?

PC: motortrend.com

The first Porsche 911 I drove was a limited-run 1997 Turbo S. It was a helluva brand introduction, and yes, I went to the wrong side of the steering wheel to twist the key and then I immediately stalled it easing off the clutch. Rookie! Yet, I had never experienced that kind of violent acceleration before—excepting for amusement parks with a padded steel bar locked over my lap.

The 993s were the last of the air-cooled-engine era but the first 911 Turbo to have permanent all-wheel drive, derived from the legendary 959. The mightiest 3.6-liter twin-turbo Turbo S made 424 horsepower, and with a six-speed manual (all three pedals hinged on the floor!), it achieved a then-mind-boggling 3.6-second 0-60 mph time.

The rear-drive “base” 2020 911 Carrera coupe pictured here, equipped with its eight-speed twin-clutch automated manual and launch control will match or even beat yesteryear’s top-dog 911 Turbo to 60 mph. So, yeah. We’d say it’s quick. We’ll have to get back to you on the car’s actual performance since MotorTrend testing has been suspended.

Why are we so confident in that 3.6-second figure? The 443-hp 2020 Carrera S/Carrera 4S have already run to 60 mph in 2.9 to 3 seconds flat. And as advanced as the 1997 Turbo S was, and with its 45-hp advantage, the 2020 911 Carrera is technologically 23 Porsche-years down the road. They’ve learned a thing or two since then.

Our test model Carrera coupe started at $98,750 (including destination), but adding in leather-trim interior, adaptive sport seats with seat ventilation, lane change assist, 20/21-inch front/rear wheels, and the aforementioned Sport Exhaust and Sport Chrono packages brought our as-tested price to $116,110. So not bargain basement, but also not a stripped-down package.

Will I Get Bored With A Base Porsche 911?

Sure, it’s difficult to read the fuel gauge without straining your neck, and the stubby gearshift toggle is unsettling, but there’s no doubt that piloting a 992 Porsche 911—even a base model—is as good as it gets for a driving enthusiast.

Certainly, there are quicker versions, more expensive and flashier 911s. But the base 911 might be the most satisfying everyday driver, and the best excuse to head for the hills. This ain’t no consolation prize. It’s the prize you greet every morning in the garage, every evening on the way home from work, and twice on Sunday. There’s no such thing as a “base” 911.

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