Expert Reviews

2023 Porsche 911 Carrera T First Drive Review

While Porsche can easily point to a long and storied heritage – and it does just about every five minutes – the truth is that the company’s products really bring out the math nerd in all of us.

This is particularly true of the 911 range, which now comprises more than two dozen models, each differentiated by little details and tiny metrics for everyone to obsess over. Among the latest – but not the latest – additions is the 2023 Porsche 911 Carrera T, which rides on a suspension that’s 10 mm (0.4 in) lower than standard and weighs 35 kg (77 kg) less than the base Carrera. Ooo, all the lovely numbers.

No wonder most mainline 911s have long been the choice of engineers, pilots, and the like. Here in California the movie producers of Hollywood cruise top down in their 911 Turbo Cabriolets, eager to see and be seen. Yet the Porsche Club of America (PCA) members who’ve memorized all the different colours and quirks of year-to-year model changes are off blitzing the twisting canyon roads, stopping to talk spec sheets at the parking lot of Newcomb’s Ranch.

The Carrera T is exactly the perfect car for entry-level Porsche 911 obsession. At $133,750 with freight, it’s scarcely more expensive than the standard Carrera but comes with all sorts of tweaks to provide confidence when parking next to a fancy new 911 GT3 Touring without feeling like you’re in the cheap seats. The 911 Carrera T isn’t Porsche Lite – it’s Porsche Light; and while all those changes are pretty minor when viewed as dispassionate facts, they add up to a feeling that’s immensely satisfying.

What Year is That Thing?

Parked next to each other, the 1968 Porsche 911 T doesn’t look much like its modern equivalent in the same way a ballerina doesn’t look much like a 100-metre sprinter. But while the car has gained muscle and mass over the years, the concept has largely remained the same.

This eighth-generation 911 is known by the chassis shorthand 992, but a casual passerby wouldn’t be able to distinguish it from the 2018 version. The plus here, if you’ve been pining after a 911 since you were crashing Hot Wheels into each other, is that your new 911 will still look like a new 911 long after yours is not the new 911 anymore. You may need to read that twice.

Careful, cautious styling evolution has long been Porsche’s approach to the 911, and thus far it’s worked. The Carrera T sits a little lower than the base version and rides on the staggered 20-inch front and 21-inch rear wheels of the Carrera S. Metallic accents are painted a dark grey to further differentiate the Carrera T from its base and S brethren, and then there are the side decals that do the same.

Porsche Power Just Hits Different

Pop open the lid over the rear-mounted horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine and gaze on the majesty of… the back end of a gaming PC from 2009? Sadly, integrating the power-retracting spoiler in the rear of the 992-series 911 means all you can see from up top is two big fans and a scripted 3.0 – as in the litres of displacement this engine is working with.

Somewhere down in the bodywork is the 911’s base engine: a 3.0L flat-six being force-fed air by twin parallel turbochargers. Peak horsepower output is 379 hp (380 PS – metric horsepower – for all you fellow Porsche geeks) at 6,500 rpm, with a broad-shouldered wave of torque from 1,950 to 5,000 rpm.

However, actual power output is almost certainly higher. For years, 911s have regularly put down eye-raising performance metrics that often exceed what Porsche claims. It’s not so much sand-bagging as it is aiming to deliver a minimum level of performance in, for instance, heat-soaked conditions. So, if you don’t think you can live with a 911 with less than 400 hp – wink-wink, grin-grin – then (probably) not to worry.

With the base engine offering more than enough output, the Carrera T’s real reason for existing swims into focus: it’s the only way to get a manual transmission in an entry-level 911. The base Carrera is now auto-only, and slightly quicker because of the speed at which that gearbox shifts. The 911 Carrera T seeks to appeal to the three-pedal Porsche purist, though you can add the eight-speed Porsche Doppelkupplung (PDK), if you’d prefer. And it’s a no-charge option, although it promptly eliminates the weight advantage.

Let’s break that vaunted lightweight 911 claim down here. Porsche says a manual 911 Carrera T without the rear seats (another no-cost option) tips the scales at 1,470 kg (3,241 lb). Besides the weight savings of manual versus automatic transmissions, the Carrera T also benefits from less sound insulation, thinner glass, and a lightweight battery. Some of the bits it gets from the Carrera S (sport exhaust, larger wheels) bring the weight back up, but when the dust settles it’s a 35-kg (77-lb) advantage over the base Carrera. Going with back seats adds seven kilograms (15 lb), but I’d totally do it.

The Road Doesn’t Care About Your Numbers

The Carrera T is not a 911 GT3. The latter is a track-focused special, intended to offer as close an experience you can get on the road to driving one of the Porsches that compete at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. The 911 Carrera T, by contrast, is simply a basic Carrera fitted with a few parts from its quicker stablemates, then put on a mild diet and offered with a manual. Because it’s not a race car, those weight savings don’t really matter.

Can you notice such scant weight savings in a T-designated 911? In the original version from the late ’60s, almost assuredly so. In a modern car making almost 400 hp, out on real-world roads, I submit that the weight difference is akin to wearing low-rise socks because you think they’ll help you run faster. The effect is mostly imaginary.

But combine that placebo effect with a satisfyingly snick-snick gearbox, added sound from the sports exhaust, and thinner sound insulation, and the Carrera T is just all kinds of wonderful. It offers all the basic goodness of a modern 911. The steering is precise more than talkative, as has been the case for years. Grip level is at or beyond anything you need on public roads, with 305-mm (12-in) wide tires out back taming any rear weight bias. Braking is immense. Every input is met with a response of absolute accuracy. It drives like you hoped a 911 would, which is how most 911s drive. Certainly, the base Carrera and Carrera S are also truly excellent at dispatching a canyon road at speed and getting your pulse rate up, too.

Final Thoughts

However, were this your 911 of choice, you’d also be driving with that little bit of self-satisfaction in the back of your head, the one that comes from having not made the obvious choice. The one that knows that having the lightest 911 currently on offer makes a great bragging point, even if it’s a razor-thin distinction.

These numbers are all great fun to jot down and obsess over. Beyond the nerdy spec-sheet stuff, the 2023 Porsche 911 Carrera T is genuinely engaging on an emotional level – the kind of car that provides an experience beyond what acceleration figures or horsepower levels can tell you. It’s a Porsche 911, already a special car designed by engineers who fuss over every detail. Then Porsche went and put the final cross on that T. It’s not all about the numbers. But in the numbers, you can find joy.