First, a word of apology to the Highland Park police department. And this is truly awkward for both of us. Yes, I saw that radar speed sign posted on Preston Road near Armstrong. I could almost make out the flashing, smoking digits of my estimated speed as I whooshed past, but it was blurred from inside the cockpit of the new 2012 Porsche 911 Carrera GTS.
OK, fine. That might also have been me test-driving the same car later with modernist architect Lionel Morrison on Turtle Creek Boulevard, and we may have — briefly — been airborne in a scene reminiscent of the joy-riding valets in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Or maybe it just felt that way at the time.
The point is, you can’t get into a 911 and not drive it — hard. Like, real hard. Porsche’s fabled halo sports car has been a gateway drug for adrenaline junkies since its debut in 1963. Over the years, the brand has carefully nipped and tucked its way through five redesigns — more like refreshes — and countless iterations, but has always stayed true to the basic rough-and-tumble formula. Until now. The sixth generation has gone more uptown. The interior is chicer. More aluminum components mean the car is lighter and brings fuel economy to an impressive 21 mpg combined. A longer wheelbase adds almost four inches, improving weight distribution and opening up the cockpit a smidge. I could theoretically strap both of my Boston terriers into the back seat comfortably. Did this just become a mommy sports car?
Skipping over the Carrera S, I opted to check out the GTS, which has an upgraded 3.8-liter flat-six engine and 23 more horses than the Carrera, for a total of 408. And if you’re going to drive a Porsche in springtime in Dallas, you might as well get the cabriolet. And if you’re going to get the cabriolet, you might as well get the flashiest paint job on the Park Place Porsche parking lot: the aqua-fabulous Ipanema Blue Metallic. (I know Dallas superchef Kent Rathbun is proud of his signature Racing Yellow 911, but there’s officially a brighter Crayon in the box.) The grand total with options? $132,260.
What hits you most behind the wheel is this rocket’s engine sound. Punch it and there is that trademark high-pitched whine as it revs up-up-up before spiraling back down into a low, tough rumble. (The only things missing are flames from the tailpipes.) Even better, tap the sport-exhaust button on the center console to augment the loudness and resonance of the engine sounds and let the neighbors know you’re home. Most of the car’s other gadgetry is less mischievous: power everything, a Bose Surround Sound satellite system that, no matter how many times I switched the station, always ended up right back on the same bass-thumping rap station the next time I got in. Strangely, that began to feel right by the second day.
The ignition is still awkwardly located on the left of the steering column, Porsche’s longtime nod to early Le Mans races when drivers had to do a running start. My most bedeviling experience was with the cup holders. I was convinced there were none until I happened to push against a thin strip of decorative carbon-fiber trim above the glove compartment. Like in a James Bond movie, the trim piece swung down, revealing two holders that can be popped out. (I soon became obsessed, and began defiantly asking anyone I showed the car to if they could find the cup holders. Not one of them could.)
The electric soft top, thankfully, is more intuitive to operate and can be opened or closed at up to 30 miles an hour. If you flip up the see-through screen behind the front seats, wind buffeting is minimal. Porsche purists argue the convertible top ruins the lines of a classic rear-engine 911. I don’t disagree, but I think the added fun factor is worth it. Besides, with the top erected, I might have missed that jogger near Lee Park, clutching a mink stole in one hand and a laptop in the other. Thief? Estate-sale shopper? Cross-dressing fitness enthusiast? Who knows. Everyone was busy looking at my neon-aqua Porsche.
Rubbernecking aside, the car was easy to coax through downtown tangles and construction zones with only minimal interventions by the suspension and stability-management systems. The car’s seven-speed Porsche Doppelkupplung (say that backwards three times) transmission is a worthy $4,320 upgrade, enabling faster, smoother gear changes in both automatic mode or manual, the latter using the steering wheel’s paddles. I maneuvered effortlessly into tight quarters in the Arts District for a messy lunch from the Butcher’s Son food truck. Heading over to nearby South Side, I did some laps up and down Akard Street in front of the JonesBaker Interiors + Architecture compound. Scruffy designer William Baker was in the parking lot and took note — as if he had a choice. (The car’s sport exhaust system was fully engaged. I won’t be ignored.) I pulled in for his inspection. He loved the 19-inch, all-black wheels and compared the glitzy blue hue to azul, but cautioned: “It’s not a color everyone is going to like, because most people will want to be a little more under-the-radar. You’re already in a Porsche, how much louder do you need to get?”
Oh, you’d be surprised.
BUT WHAT DID THEY THINK?
A businesswoman, a valet, an architect: They meet our Porsche 911 GTS test car
PARTNER IN MORRISON DILLWORTH + WALLS; ARCHITECT, ONE ARTS PLAZA
CURRENT RIDE Audi A7
PORSCHE-PHILE? Yes. “I’ve had a couple of 911s. My wife’s had a couple of Boxsters. I appreciate all of the people that buy 911s because I like to see them on the street.”
TOP UP OR DOWN? Down. “When you have the top down, you really have a sense of speed. Much more so than when you’re all enclosed.”
BUT … “The hardtop version is prettier. Much cleaner.”
THOSE BLACKED-OUT WHEELS I think cars need a little jewelry, and that traditionally has been the aluminum wheels. To me, these dull the car down.”
A REAR END WITH FLAIR “One of the things that has been a 911 hallmark for a long time is this wide flare on the back fender. Nice and muscular.”
HEADLAMP WASHERS? “They’re not practical. Have you ever seen someone driving a car like this with dirty headlamps?”
FINAL VERDICT “The changes have all been incremental. This design is all about refinement vs. experimentation.”
PRESIDENT OF PERENNIALS OUTDOOR FABRICS; WIFE OF FELLOW CAR LOVER DAVID SUTHERLAND
CURRENT RIDE Mercedes-Benz GL550
PORSCHE-PHILE? Neutral. “The old ones used to rattle when you closed the door. This one sounds solid.”
FIRST IMPRESSION “Oh, wow! Look at all those speakers.”
THE STEREO NEEDS ADJUSTMENT BECAUSE … “I like the music heavier on my side.”
THE WAY A CAR SOUNDS “I love being able to hear the engine and really engage with the gears, whereas my car is all about being isolated from that. I grew up in the country, and I knew who was going by my house by the way their car sounded. One of them was my boyfriend.”
BUT ABOUT THOSE WHEELS “I think a chrome wheel would make it overdressed. The black is just right and matches the top.”
TALK ABOUT A GOOD WEAVE “The convertible top is solution-dyed acrylic, which is the same as our outdoor fabrics. Whatever this fabric can do, my fabric can do. And I can do it in more colors.”
FINAL VERDICT “Hot car. Definitely a color statement.”
VALET WITH DALLAS VALET SERVICE INC., AT 21 TURTLE CREEK HIGH-RISE; FUTURE MED-SCHOOL STUDENT
CURRENT RIDE 2004 Mercedes-Benz C230
FIRST IMPRESSION “Everybody loves to be flashy.”
FAVORITE DETAILS The LED headlights, the black 19-inch Spyder wheels, the bright-red brake calipers
SITTING INSIDE MAKES HIM FEEL “Bossy. Like I own the building.”
WHAT? NO PUSHBUTTON START? “I really prefer the keyless pushbutton starters. They’re very helpful. All you have to do is put the key in your pocket and you don’t have to worry about finding the ignition. Some are over here, some are over there. It’s a pain.”
SIZE MATTERS “Is that supposed to be a back seat?”
THE ENGINE COMPARTMENT, OUT BACK “Fixing it seems hard. You would have to take the entire engine out to get to it. But I’m not a mechanic. It seems well-designed to get all of that horsepower and torque into this shoebox.”
THE DEVICE ON THIS CAR HE TEACHES US HOW TO OPERATE WITH NO PROBLEM The Bose Surround Sound system — interesting, since, in Itani’s line of work, “We’re not allowed to touch the radios.”
PREFERS MANUAL LABOR “Automatic shifter? That’s a negative.”
FINAL VERDICT “Babe magnet.”
2012 PORSCHE 911 CARRERA GTS CABRIOLET, PRICE $132,260, PARK PLACE PORSCHE; PHOTO ASSISTANT WILL GRAHAM; OPENING SHOT LOCATION: EXTRA SPACE STORAGE, 6434 MAPLE AVENUE