Porsche 911 Carrera T Road Test: What's 911 minus 718?

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DETROIT - The first Porsche press car I ever drove was a 2012 Cayman R. Porsche has been charging customers extra for the privilege of owning less car for decades, but even back then, the R’s proposition felt a bit egregious — at least until I drove it. Apart from the fact that it was an AC-delete build that I was loaned during a wicked Washington, D.C., heat wave, it remains to this day one of the best cars I’ve ever driven. Those carbon buckets. Mercy.

When Porsche announced a couple of years ago that it would yet again be applying the strip-down treatment to the base 911, I opted to keep an open mind. There’s no back seat, after all. It’s basically a GT3 — my Goldilocks Porsche — without the kickass engine. OK, not really, but hey, it’s a 911. Even with the standard 379-horsepower flat-six, how bad can it possibly be?

Porsche sent us a solid enthusiast-spec tester, with few options, virtually all of them necessary. And since this came with a stick-shift, it’s about as light as a roadgoing 911 can get from the factory. Porsche says that the T checks in at 3,254 pounds before options. The front axle lift and rear steer add about 20 kg — just under 45 pounds — between them. Worth it.

Then there are the LED matrix headlamps. OK, they’re not necessary, and at $4,150 they are eye-wateringly expensive for a headlight upgrade, but they are quite nice to have, as is the extended-range fuel tank. Heck, at $230, that’s practically free, as is the heated GT-style steering wheel at $280. The Python green interior/exterior bits cost $10,000 alone against a $138,830 MSRP (2023 pricing). Remember, a base 911 is a $115,000 proposition these days. Kick the snakeskin finish to the curb and this thing seems almost reasonable.

Python isn’t for the shy. If you want to keep a low profile, this ain’t the way. I wouldn’t marry it, either, but pulling my orange Cadillac out of the garage to make way for a green 911 felt right. That said, I can’t help but notice that they also offer it in yellow …

There are only a handful of good roads near Detroit, but I skip the usual ones when I have a 911, opting instead to go see something I haven’t seen yet. It’s a grand tourer, after all. Last time, I took a drive down a now-forgotten indigenous trail; this go-around, I opted to explore Detroit’s southern ‘burbs, or in the regional colloquial, I went downriver.

From my home on the border of Detroit’s western extremities, there are no curvy backroads between me and my destination. In fact, this tour would be more grueling than grand in parts. I could take the freeway or Wayne County’s wide avenues. I opted to start with the latter and return via the former. A proper, varied testing loop.

You probably have a Telegraph Road where you live, but Mark was singing about this one. You don’t need a road sign to tell you when you’ve crossed into Detroit’s far northwestern neighborhoods. The eight-lane avenue is finally being resurfaced, but it’s pock-marked and covered in construction debris. The T handles it mighty well. It doesn’t exactly soak up the bumps, but it’s perceptibly better than the Caymans I’ve driven along this stretch. Promising.

South of the city, the lanes widen and the surface improves dramatically. The many stoplights offer abundant opportunities to wind out the T in first gear; it's a tall one. Hey, it beats not getting to experience it at all. Show me someplace in America other than a race track where you can do the same in second or above without the risk of getting arrested; I’ll be there.

Coming from a “traditional” five- or six-speed manual, engaging with the Porsche’s seven-speed requires a bit of a leap of faith. The less you think about it, the easier it is to find the gear you want, but muscle memory is a tricky thing. Second-guessing yourself almost guarantees you’ll fumble your way into the wrong gear. It may take some adjustment, but that’s not a knock, just a fact of life. PDK is available, but its complexity and weight penalty (100 pounds) seem innately contrary to the barebones and lightweight character of the Carrera T. There are other 911s for that.

I duck off Telegraph and head east toward Wyandotte. Eureka Road is more straight-line suburbia. I get held up behind a beat-to-death S10 with an “AMERICA FIRST” banner in the rear window. True story, as I can’t get around him. I turn north when I hit the river, looking for someplace to stop for a photo. A park in River Rouge serves up ample curb space and a river view.

At every turn, whether literal or metaphorical, the T seems to offer up just enough to rise to the occasion. A 0-60 time of 4.3 seconds? Fast enough. The 245s up front and 305s out back? Grippy enough. You never feel like the car’s outmatched, but it doesn’t offer the same copious reserve you'll find in pricier 911s. With the T, what you see is what you get. Like I said, it’s enough, but when we’re talking about a car that starts at $125,000, is enough itself enough?

I reflect on this amidst the chaos of Southfield Freeway. I’m headed back north. The fastest cars in Michigan are found right here on M-39, and most of them are missing pieces. It’s a great equalizer — a reminder that virtually anybody can go fast enough in a modern car. This 911’s inherent advantages don’t make it any better suited to this urban dragway; if anything, its prestige is a weakness. It’s obvious that many of these drivers don’t care whether they get hit, let alone whether they hit somebody else. And Michigan is a no-fault insurance state.

By every single metric, there’s a cheaper option out there than the Carrera T. A modern pony car can match the 911’s 0-60 for a third of the cost, and it’ll probably come with a bigger screen and a much bawdier engine. A premium sport sedan like the BMW M3 or Cadillac CT4-V Blackwing will likewise give the Porsche fits in a straight line and offers every bit as much luxury for way less money. A Miata will carve corners with equal finesse, and Mazda doesn’t even bother charging extra for the fact that it weighs 800 pounds less.

But once you start jamming all those things together? That’s when the 911 starts making sense. Three-hundred eighty-odd horses may not seem like much in 2024, but there aren’t many cars with that much power that weigh this little. You’re looking at the likes of the Corvette, Porsche’s own Cayman and the Lotus Emira. Two-seaters, in other words. Hmm.

And that's the crux of it, at least for me. The rear-seat delete is cool, don’t get me wrong, but without the rear buckets, a 911 becomes a much less compelling proposition over a well-optioned 718 Cayman GT4. The smaller Porsche has more power, weighs less, and rotates like the tight little mid-engine performance coupe that it is. If you’re going to buy a Porsche with no back seat and you can’t afford a GT3, that’s the one I’d pick, and if I’m going to spend the Carrera T’s $125,000 base price anyway, I’m probably going to spring for a Carrera 4S and cover all my bases; the all-wheel-drive S would cost exactly the same amount as our tester.

I love the idea of the Carrera T as much as I love the idea of making any performance car more accessible, but when it comes to 911, that’s a matter of degrees. Has Porsche truly created a new avenue for onboarding sports car buyers into the 911 brand, or is this simply another box for diehard collectors to check? I hope it’s the former. After all, this is a version of a car geared toward people who prioritize a great-driving car over creature comforts. It’d be a shame not to actually drive it.

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