Expert Reviews

First Drive: 2018 Porsche 911 Carrera GTS and Targa 4 GTS

The sign on my right shows a winding road, underneath it, a plaque reads “Next 17 miles”. The Alcantara steering wheel seems to twitch in my hands. Without conscious input from me, the 3.0L twin-turbo flat-six builds revs gently.

The road twists and turns, the 2018 Porsche 911 GTS with its wide body and 12-inch wide rear tires unflappable, turning in and holding a line with German solidity.

The SUV pulling jet skis is oblivious to my agitation.

When he finally pulls into the sixth turn-out, the rifle-fast PDK transmission kicks down into third, the rear wheels scramble for a millisecond, and we accelerate into the canyon. The road twists and turns, the 2018 Porsche 911 GTS with its wide body and 12-inch wide rear tires unflappable, turning in and holding a line with German solidity. The steering wheel is direct and communicative. The ratio has been increased 10 percent in this model, which happens to be equipped with optional rear-wheel steering, and I’m using barely 15 minutes’ worth of lock no matter what change of direction I’m making.

The engine builds ever more revs; intake noise, mechanical clatter and barking exhaust taunt me to go faster. I don’t of course. These are public roads, and I don’t like jail.

The optional ceramic brakes fitted here bite with ferocity at first application and deliver linear, firm feedback through the pedal. By feedback, I mean they make it clear that we are barely approaching 20 percent of their ultimate capacity. These things throw out the anchor with a vengeance.

If you are one of those people who don’t quite “get” the whole allure of Porsche – five minutes of this will make an evangelist of you.

There’s a 911 for everyone these days. This trim line is the Carrera GTS, and it comes in five variants:

Carrera GTS – rear-wheel-drive coupe
Carrera 4 GTS – all-wheel-drive coupe
Carrera GTS Cabriolet – two-wheel-drive convertible
Carrera 4 GTS Cabriolet – all-wheel-drive convertible
Targa 4 GTS – all-wheel-drive Targa top

Output from 2018 GTS models is up 30 hp on the S models and up 20 on the previous GTS, despite moving down in displacement to a twin-turbo 3.0L engine.

In the coupe we spend the morning in, the standard Porsche Active Suspension Management Sport (PASM Sport) suspension is 10 mm lower than standard, helping keep the 1,470 kg (1,515 kg in all-wheel-drive trim) chassis low and stable in the many mountain turns. The Targa and Cabriolet versions won’t get this option, as the extra flex inherent in those chasses means they won’t stand up as well over time to being slammed to the deck, but they do still get standard PASM as well as optional Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control – with active roll bars to help keep things tidy.

On coupe models, the front can be raised to help clear larger speedbumps or navigate driveway-to-road transitions.

The engine, transmission and suspension are all switched between modes via a four-position dial on the otherwise spartan steering wheel, its gloriously uncluttered spokes falling beautifully to hand.

Swapping into the Targa 4 nets us a treat – a manual transmission. Standard on all trims, the Porsche manual feels tight in the hand, the lever offering just enough resistance through the gates to make sure you know you’re working. The clutch point is well-defined, although the hilarity of me trying to press the clutch pedal – before adjusting the seat after my 6'7" driving partner got out – was too much for one on-looker to take. At speed, the gearbox is well-matched, and a nice broad spread of torque from 2,150 to 5,000 rpm plus a 7,500 rpm redline means we can settle into third and fourth. No need for Fast and Furious-style superfluous gear shifts unless you like that sort of thing. Which I do. #SuperfluousGearshift!

Speaking of needless race car references, the GTS models get standard centrelock wheels, which are some of the sexiest, and downright coolest things to ever grace a road car. You can get standard five-lug wheels as a $0 option, but if you do, you’re wrong. There’s also a functional front splitter which required Porsche to increase the height of the active rear spoiler when raised, in order to balance out the downforce at both ends of the car.

The Targa rides a little better than the coupe courtesy of the slightly gentler lowering job. I was surprised at how small the gap was between the two body styles though, with a slight hint of heft showing itself in rapid direction changes and at the mid-corner, but only a slight one. If you didn’t drive the two cars back-to-back, the difference would be unnoticeable.

The front seats are Porsche’s Sport Seats Plus, and come standard on all GTS models, complete with GTS lettering. The rear seats exist for insurance purposes only. It’s the front where the magic happens. The cockpit seats are firm but superbly bolstered, to the point that six hours of canyon carving had me feeling as fresh as when I’d first set out.

Part of that lack of fatigue comes from the effortlessness of the 911 chassis. It manages to tread the fine line of being easy to drive without feeling unduly numb or disconnected. There’s enough feedback through all the major touch points to give the sense of urgency and effort, without taxing so much from you that you can’t make a quick afternoon nine-hole.

There’s a lot to be said for infotainment and Porsche has upped its game in this department. The small TFT nestled in the third binnacle of the instrument cluster is controlled by a small stalk behind the steering wheel, and before long I find I much prefer that to buttons on the spokes – which are not only unsightly but always just too far for my thumbs to get to cleanly.

The centre stack screen is a touchscreen with many hard-button shortcuts to key functions and it is easy to navigate. The only gripe is that while parent company Volkswagen has a system that shows track information on satellite radio in preview mode, the Porsche system doesn’t. Also it lacks Android Auto.

The sound clarity from the system is excellent, though, and for most the car itself is plenty of entertainment – especially when you dial up the features of the Sport Chrono Package (also standard on all GTS models). For example, in cars equipped with PDK, you might opt to use Launch Control. Of course we didn’t, because public roads, but I’m reliably informed that launch control is almost enough to make one opt for the PDK over the manual, such is the ballistic missile grin the system is bound to engage.

Pricing: 2018 Porsche 911

Carrera GTS – $136,000
Carrera 4 GTS – $143,900
Carrera GTS Cabriolet – $150,000
Carrera 4 GTS Cabriolet – $157,900
Targa 4 GTS – $157,900