Porsche has made much of introducing the first 7-speed manual gearbox, so we split the day between the stick and the 7-speed PDK: Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe, or double-clutch. While the manual gearbox is clearly going to be near and dear to the hearts of those who feel there must be three pedals on the floor of a true sports car, we wouldn't be surprised to see the PDK start to raise doubts among those even slightly less committed.
The purists might question their own judgment when they realize the double-clutch is just a wee bit faster, and just as much fun to operate when you turn to the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, which pair especially well with the optional sport wheel.
The 911 has always been quick, even in base form. And with the Carrera S now rivaling the acceleration of the old GT3 it'll sink you even deeper into the sport driver's seat when you use Launch Control. Available only on the PDK edition, the system is designed to minimize wheel spin and maximize torque for the fastest off-the-line acceleration: press the button, hold down the brake, press the throttle to the floor and wait 'til it tells you to go. Releasing the brake, we noticed the way our peripheral vision seemed to vanish as our eyes focused on the barrier at the end of the temporary track Porsche set up for testing at California's Santa Maria Airport.
We hit 112 mph before slamming on the oversized brakes, quickly bringing us to a halt well before the looming barrier. Goosing the throttle again, we zigged and zagged through a serpentine course that included decreasing radius corners and a tight slalom stretch.
Straight line performance is impressive but what really matters is how the Carrera S effortlessly maneuvers through more demanding circumstances. It certainly impresses to know that it managed a 7:40 lap time on the grueling Nurburgring Nordscliefe, a full 16 seconds faster than the outgoing, sixth-generation Porsche 911.
Having the track available for the media was a smart move considering that even the tightest on-road driving we experienced offered little challenge to the 2012 Porsche 911 Carrera S. The biggest trial was keeping the car down even somewhat close to the speed limit, as one of our normally more demure colleagues discovered when the arresting officer noted her 94 mph speed in a 65 zone.
Most drivers will likely also be impressed with how much quieter and smoother the new 911 is on regular roads. But not all. We did hear complaints from a few of the collected media hordes that the new model was somehow too easy to drive. That was similar to what many said, a decade-some back, when an earlier 911 redesign switched to a water-cooled engine and re-engineered the suspension to reduce the chances of having the front and rear ends trade places when the car was overcooked in a corner.
If any current concern holds water it's that Porsche has almost numbed out the steering. To our mind, and hands, that's overstating the case. Yes, it's smoother and less likely to pass on the raw sensation of hitting every twig and pebble on the road. But unlike all too many of the new electric power steering systems that makers are fast migrating to, the electro-hydraulic system on the 2012 Porsche 911 continues to keep you in touch more than enough to let you know precisely what the car is doing.
One does have to get used to what the car is telling you, however, especially due to the much more limited amount of body roll allowed by the Dynamic Chassis Control system. But, again, there's still enough that it only took a few minutes, and a couple hard turns, to feel confident, comfortable and in touch with what the new 911 was doing.