2018 Porsche 911 Carrera T Test Drive Review: Hardcore Hero Or Trim-Level Travesty?

Test Drive

Marketing BS or the best non-GT3 911 you can buy?

Don’t bother trying to make an objective case for the Porsche 911 Carrera T based on spec comparisons and number crunching. Believe me, I tried. And after some hours in the Porsche configurator my brain was hurting. Short version? Of all the variations on the 3.0-liter turbocharged Carrera the T is intended to be the lightest and most driver focused of all, garnished with an old-school twist and revival of a classic 911 model designation.

If it all adds up as promised it could, on paper, be the everyman 911 R or GT3 Touring, channelling the hype-driven retro vibe that has seen those cars become collectors’ favorites. For just a $10,000 premium over the price of a base Carrera. In a bright color and with its side graphics, 20-inch Titanium Grey Carrera S wheels, standard Sport Exhaust and Sport-Tex trimmed seats, the 'T' has more than a sense of junior-GT3 about it. Crunch that spec and you’ll discover it keeps the base 370-hp power output of the standard Carrera but includes as standard features you’d never usually be able to add.

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These include lowered PASM suspension, mechanical limited-slip differential and – for the manual – a marginally lowered final drive for improved response. Lightweight glass, fabric door releases and the option to delete the rear seats when you choose the $5,200 carbon buckets adds to the GT3-on-the-cheap vibe, likewise the chance to add Rear Axle Steering usually denied to Carrera buyers. In Europe you can even leave a hole in the dash where your PCM infotainment should be, the silence in its place to be filled by you explaining to your passenger why saving 10 pounds in weight is worth the compulsory Carpool Karaoke. “Where do I sign?” you’ll likely be saying.

Before you do consider this – the Carrera S that costs just $3,000 more also gets much of the same kit as standard AND the increased power output of 420 hp. For all the T’s self-conscious dieting an S is only 33 pounds heavier, the extra power more than offsetting any supposed purist advantage. And begging the question is this really a 911 for drivers? Or just a cynically packaged poser’s special? The good news is there’s no such thing as a bad Carrera so you can’t really lose. But is there actually any difference in the way it drives? First important point – if you’re considering a T you need to go with the stickshift, which retains the Carrera’s seven-speed transmission rather than the GT3 manual’s bespoke six-speeder.

You can have it with PDK if you’d like but, beyond the stickers and trim details, you’ll not really have anything to show. Take an S, enjoy the extra horsepower and be done with it. You’ll be very happy, believe me. Still want the T? Save the money you were going to spend on the PDK and put it into the carbon buckets and rear seat delete. If it helps make the case you also get $910’s worth of Alcantara on the steering wheel and shortened shifter. Again, if this all sounds a bit extreme take the standard Carrera and enjoy the extra practicality and refinement. Reward for going fully committed includes a weight saving of around 50 pounds over a standard Carrera and a true expression of the T’s minimalist ethos.

Most importantly you’ll also have the all-important sensory connections with the car to better appreciate the way it drives. Because if you know 911s you’ll appreciate these tiny details can make the difference between a really good one and a truly great one. The lower final drive is only worth a tenth off the 0-60 mph time (and 1 mph off the top speed) but this and the reduced weight do make the T feel a tad more urgent than the standard Carrera. There’s been a lot of soul-searching about the 911 going all-turbo but this 3.0-liter motor is exceptionally responsive for a forced-induction engine. Through the Sport Exhaust it sounds the real deal too, the authentic 911 soundtrack preserved intact.

You hear a little more of the turbos whooshing and sighing with the rear seat delete but the throttle response is super-sharp and the increased mid-range over the old naturally-aspirated models gives you so much more punch. A mechanical limited-slip differential is a nice touch that purists will appreciate too. It doesn’t turn the Carrera T into some sort of drift tool but if you’re confident on the throttle you can fully exploit the 911’s slingshot cornering style without even a flicker of electronic intervention. Though you can spec the T with Rear Axle Steering our German-market press car did without it. It does mitigate the increased wheelbase length of the 991 platform, dials out understeer and seamlessly simulates the agility of older Porsches.

But real purists will appreciate the more natural response of the standard chassis, the traditional light-nosed 911 turn-in one of those character features you learn to enjoy rather than criticize. Another $2,090 and a few pounds saved, unless your parking garage is really tight and you need the turning circle. As a canyon car the 911 T is as close to a traditional Carrera as you can get in the modern Porsche range. It still takes up a lot of pavement compared with a traditional air-cooled 911 and the control weights and responses are electronically assisted simulations of the real thing.

But Porsche still does this better than anyone else and, from the weight of the EPAS to the throw of the shifter, it remains an authentic modern representation of traditional values. With the T Porsche is tacitly admitting that cars like the R and GT3 have become trinkets for collectors while the standard Carreras have evolved into mature GTs. Hence promotional material showing the car dirty from being used in the rain and treated as a driving tool to be enjoyed all year round, not dusted off for summer Sunday coffee meets. The T represents baby steps towards reviving some of the rawness that always made older Carreras so appealing without treading on the feet of the hardcore heroes at the pinnacle of the range.

Customer response to this car will therefore be important in dictating the direction of the next-generation 992 and whether there’s a place for a back to basics driver’s model in the range. If you like the sound of that you need to put your money where your mouth is now and let Porsche know.

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