Hope you get my name: What’s puzzling you is the nature of my game
Even among enthusiasts, confusion about the new Porsche 911 Carrera T continues to roil.
Let’s cut right to the heart of it: It’s got nothing to do with the underpowered stripper touring model from 1968, nor does it have anything to do with the 911 Turbo (though it does have two turbos). Here’s the thing: Porsche wanted to name it “Clubsport” after its spiritual predecessor, the 1987 911 Carrera 3.2 Clubsport, but BMW owns the trademark on that name these days. “T” is what they had left. They say it stands for “Touring,” but only if you use the autocrosser’s definition of touring.
Frame it in the context of the limited edition 3.2 Clubsport, though, and it makes a lot more sense. Unlike the original T, which was a base model with a much less powerful engine, the new T follows the Clubsport playbook to the letter. Less weight, sport suspension, manual transmission, mechanical limited-slip differential, and no increase in power. (PDK and rear steering are optional. The former is discouraged.)
Its mission is to be the best-driving street 911, which requires its own explanation. Although all Porsches are track-ready according to the company, only GT models developed by the motorsports division are considered track-prepped. You can absolutely track the 911 T, but what you really ought to do is what we did: drive the best parts of the Rallye Monte Carlo route.
On exceedingly narrow mountain roads with many times more curved miles than straight ones, you don’t for a minute pine for the extra 50 hp of a Carrera S and certainly not the 130 extra horsepower of a GT3. I’m extra certain about that last part because we also had a new GT3 Touring (aka rear wing delete) on hand, and it was more often than not too much car for the road.
That’s the beauty of the 911 T. On your favorite back road, you can use every inch of the car. You can absolutely whale on it, burn through the tires, and punish the brakes for all they’re worth without automatically putting yourself and your car at grievous risk of harm. Not too much or too little, the 911 T has just the right amount of power to feel like you’re getting everything the car can give you.
As our favorite roads, and incidentally our test route, tend to be in the mountains, there’s quite a bit to be said for the turbos on the latest Carreras. With their rear engines, 911s put down power exceptionally well, and the low- to midrange torque the turbos afford you allows the 911 T to leap off hairpin corners even at high altitude. A shorter final-drive ratio exclusive to manual transmission Ts makes the powertrain even more responsive.
More than just making the best of its power, the 911 T is about limits: finding them, testing them, exceeding them, and dancing on the edge of them. They’re more than high enough to have a ball on public roads but low enough that exceeding them leaves you room to recover. A GT3 on roads like these has limits so high by the time you’ve found them, it won’t end well.
The degree of precision and control Porsche has dialed into the T with just a sport suspension package, limited-slip diff, and rear steering is legitimately impressive. It’s as if it was set up from the factory for autocrossing. The car feels alive, desperate to tackle a turn the minute you set off. Every crack of the downsized steering wheel is met immediately with an aggressive tack into the corner, every routine maneuver an invitation to turn your commute into a race. The only thing this car wants is to be driven hard by someone who enjoys driving for driving’s sake.
Porsche will tell you some of this is thanks to weight savings, but take it with a grain of salt. Thinner rear glass and nylon straps for interior door handles do indeed save weight, but not much. Opting for the $5,200 USD carbon-fiber bucket seats will save weight, too (partly by removing the rear seats), but not a large amount. The best thing you can do to keep weight down is the same thing you can do to keep the price down: don’t add features. Sure, you can tart it up with adaptive cruise control, heated and cooled leather seats, a premium stereo, and more, but at that point you might as well just get a 911 GTS.
No, what makes the 911 T special is its lack of conveniences. It’s an enthusiast’s blend of semi-exclusive performance features at a price you can’t match playing with base Carrera build sheets. Even the carbon-ceramic brake option is up for debate. Unfortunately, unlike with some previous stripped-out Porsches, things like the stereo and A/C aren’t. On the former, the U.S. regulation requiring all cars to have reverse cameras beginning in 2018 prevents Porsche from ditching the infotainment system like they do in Europe, and if it’s there, you gotta keep the speakers, too, so it works. For the latter, Porsche simply decided an A/C delete was a bridge too far for a car nominally named “Touring.”
The good news is that none of that really matters. The T drives like a GTS for 20 grand less, which is to say it drives brilliantly. More so because the GTS has tricks such as Porsche Active Suspension Management, Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control, and Sport Chrono with adjustable drive modes. The T does it all natural. That’s really saying something; six months ago when I reviewed the GTS, I wrote, “If you want a properly sporty 911 with all the performance goodies and none of the coddling luxury bobbles, the GTS is the way to go (and it’s hardly a stripper, either).” The T has taken it a step further, stripping out the remaining luxuries of the GTS and just giving you the pure performance stripper we enthusiasts are always telling automakers we want.
Also while reviewing the GTS, I noted the shifter on the seven-speed manual could be a bit better, more like the one on the GT3. The T gets a shortened shifter, and Porsche has taken time to refine it a bit in the process. The gates are still close together, but I found myself missing many fewer shifts despite using the shifter a lot more. The shorter final drive ratio also had the welcome effect of shortening the gears, making you use the shifter more often, and that’s always a good thing. We buy manuals because we enjoy shifting them, after all.
Climbing behind the wheel, you won’t think the T is more raw just because I said so, either. The thinner rear glass and loss of some sound deadening provided by the now-absent rear seats (provided you upgrade to the bucket seats, which you should) will make you look over your shoulder to make sure a window isn’t cracked open a bit. The steering is quick and more talkative than the GTS’ through the smaller steering wheel. The damping is one size fits all, and it stands on a middle ground between a full GT3 and an actual grand touring model like the standard Carrera. The bucket seats don’t recline, but they’re comfortable on a long drive. They’re leather and Alcantara, but the standard seats are cloth with leather trim—aside from the steering wheel, dash cover, and center console, the only bit of leather that comes standard on the car (which is basically nothing for a Porsche that offers optional leather-wrapped vent slats).
Here’s the kicker: Because it had recently snowed on the Col de Turini, our car wasn’t equipped with its standard Pirelli P Zero summer tires. Rather, it was riding on Sottozero winter tires. The road was clear but cold and still wet in some places, so it was a wise decision, but you already know winter tires don’t grip like summers. Braking performance was most notably diminished, and understeer was more likely. The T left all these favorable impressions despite the handicap.
All of this is provided, of course, you show some restraint. Porsche will happily load the T up with leather-wrapped vents and power heated and cooled seats and adaptive cruise control and on and on if you’re willing to pay for it. If you want all that, just get a GTS. It’s already a great balance of performance and luxury. The 911 Carrera T is the performance-parts-only stripper we enthusiasts claim we want, but it only delivers the magic if you let it. Yeah, $103,150 USD is a ton of money for a “stripper,” but if you’ve got it and you’re serious about buying the best-driving no-frills street 911 you can, there’s no better choice.