Updated: Apr 13, 2021
Air cooled or water cooled? IMS failure? PASM? Sport Chrono? Wait, you mean the engine is in the back? 997, 991, 991.2, 987, 981 - huh? If you've spent any time whatsoever looking into Porsches, you've probably already discovered that there is a steep learning curve. Porsche-speak rivals government-speak for its fondness of acronyms. So where do we start? First and foremost, vehicle configuration. Here we will focus on Sports Coupes - the 718 and the 911. The Panamera sedan/wagon and SUVs - Cayenne and Macan - are fantastic vehicles in their own categories. And if you want to know more about any of them, or the electrifying new Taycan - please contact me directly by email or phone (434-536-0671). But we have limited space - so back to sports coupes. The Boxster roadster and Cayman hardtop, the new 718 versions of both of these cars, and the benchmark 911. Configuration: Mid- or Rear-Engined Boxsters and Caymans are mid-engined, which is a sports car ideal, and 911s have the engine hanging off the back of the rear axle. Yes, like a Classic Beetle. Why does this matter? Well, for most drivers it doesn't. And don't let any gearhead tell you otherwise. Unless you are driving at the limit (on a track, not public roads!), you will never have any reason to notice the difference. You will be able to tell a difference from any front-engined car you've ever driven. Porsche turn-in, whether in mid- or rear-engined formats is sublime. This is because the large mass of the engine is located close to the rotational axis of the car. Exactly in the same way that a figure skater turns more quickly when he or she draws in his or her arms. By contrast, front-engined cars have most of the weight on the nose- which is far in front of the car's rotational axis. So inertia will make these cars reluctant to turn in. Using the figure skater analogy again, you will turn more slowly with your arms extended. So which should you buy? Well, it's unfortunately not that simple. Boxsters and Caymans are mid-engined but entry level, and Porsche reserves it's best options and most power for the rear-engined 911. All anyone can really say to this is "it is what it is". If you're absolutely committed to a mid-engine format, then you'll accept the tradeoffs of a more entry-level car - or you'll start shopping Porsche's competitors. That said, the rear engine configuration in a modern 911 should not dissuade any potential buyers. Porsche has had 50+ years to make this work, and they have done a brilliant job. By contrast, old-school 911s are an entirely different matter, some of them even being nicknamed widowmakers for their tendency to snap-spin in the middle of a corner. Transmission: Manual or PDK PDK is Porsche-speak for its ultra-sophisticated dual-clutch semi-automatic transmission - Porsche Doppelkupplung, for "dual clutch". This is an amazingly good transmission, and it significantly improves the performance of cars so equipped. Like many current automatic transmissions, you can choose when to shift with paddles behind the steering wheel like a race car driver. But the dual-clutch is much, much faster, and also much more efficient than a traditional automatic transmission with a torque converter. When DCTs were introduced, they were pretty clunky in terms of shifts that were anything but smooth. But here again, Porsche has spent a lot of time, energy, and engineering dollars to make theirs work supremely well. "But it robs the car of feel" many people will say. This is a very difficult point. Nostalgic sorts like me are willing to give up marginal performance increases on the street for more enjoyable driving feel. And there is something simply wonderful about rowing a good manual gearbox yourself, especially once you learn how to rev-match with heel-and-toe downshifts. This is why manual transmission Ferraris are in such high demand - commanding an extra 50% or more compared to dual-clutch equipped vehicles. It's also why the 10-year-old 997 GT3 RS 4.0 has experienced such a rise in price - from roughly $180k when new, to nearly $500k or more now. And why the limited edition 911R was selling for several hundred thousand shortly after its release in 2016. 911 GT3 Touring models continue to be among the most in-demand modern Porsches, typically trading for an additional 10% or more over MSRP after a year of driving and 1,000-2,000 miles on the odometer. This all comes down to how you will use the car. If you plan to commute in it and have knee trouble, you will absolutely want a PDK. You will also want one if you are looking for highest performance or fuel economy. But if you want to feel like an old-school racing hero, you will definitely want an old-school manual box that engages you more in the mechanical process of driving the car. Engine: Naturally Aspirated or Turbocharged Shifting to turbos, on the way to full electrics, is one of the major transition points of the automotive industry, in an effort to increase fuel economy and lower emissions. It generally results in a smaller motor - but more importantly it completely changes certain things about the driving experience. Turbo Lag Have you ever pressed on the gas pedal of your car only to have to wait one or two seconds before it actually does anything? This is a phenomenon called turbo lag. Cars make power by breathing. But wait, they make power by burning fossil fuels, I thought? Yes. But to burn a fuel you need an oxidizer - oxygen in this case, which means breathing air. The more air you can breathe in a given amount of time, the more fuel you can burn - and the more power you make. There are three basic approaches to breathing more air: Make engines bigger, make them rev faster, or force air into them with turbos or superchargers. Superchargers are powered by the car, they actually use fuel or electricity to spin a propeller to force air into the engine. So they can always be "on", but they will reduce fuel economy. Turbochargers take a different approach, they use exhaust gas to spin an impeller that then forces air into the engine. That's all well and good when you're already driving, but what about light throttle when you are at a stop or just cruising? There is very little exhaust gas to spin the turbo - so there is a period of time before it has enough pressure to make any additional power. Non-Linearity Oh, come on, I thought we were already done with the physics in this email. Well, if you're still reading this far, then we suspect that's okay with you. In a normally aspirated engine, there is a roughly linear increase in power from low RPM all the way to the redline. For a turbo, the chart might show something roughly linear - but in reality, you hit the gas, wait about a second, and then get a surge of power. That is not smooth, physically or metaphorically. And then as the revs rise, turbos typically run out of steam and start making less power short of the redline. As a colleague once described, "people always want more" - you don't want to get to the redline and have less power than you did before. So what now since essentially all Porsches have turbos? Well, like with anything else - including heavy SUVs, the inherent flaws of a rear-drive format, and clunky DCT transmissions - Porsche has improved their turbos dramatically to minimize their weaknesses. All that said, like manual transmissions, normally aspirated Porsches remain among the most valuable. Not only has the GT3 and its NA variants continued in the 911 range - but Porsche has now re-introduced NA engines in its 718 range-topping Spyder and GT4 models after enthusiasts' outcries, and for this model year, even the 718 GTS versions now have a NA 4.0 liter six cylinder in place of the 2.0 liter four cylinder turbo in the 718 and 718 S models. The Astonishing Myriad of Options. You mean there's still more stuff? I'm already tired... Yes. Porsche has one of the longest options lists in the industry. As with many German brands, features you would expect as standard on most cars are often options with Porsche, many times at significant additional cost. For a long time, you had to order the no-cost "Smoking Package" just to get a 12V accessory outlet in the car. One of the many Peculiarities of Porsche Procurement. There are options for performance, for luxury and comfort, and for aesthetics. Porsche will even paint the car to any sample you provide them if that's something you want to do. Or change the color of your badges. Or delete them altogether. I'll cover just a couple of options here since they relate to performance and are hotly debated on enthusiast boards. Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes (PCCB) Ceramic composite brakes were introduced in race cars because they have dramatically improved cooling properties, meaning they fade far less under heavy usage when on a track. In terms of absolute stopping performance, traditional steel Porsche brakes perform just as well in one or two stops. But if you're using them repeatedly on a track or a mountain road, you will likely notice your brake pedal getting softer. That's because they have gotten hot and are less efficient. PCCB is a costly option - around $8k on a 718 GT4 and around $9k on a 911 GT3. Will you notice a difference? Again, it depends on how you plan to use the car. If it's primarily street driving, with occasional spirited outings, traditional brakes are perfectly fine. If you're spending a lot of time on a track, you still probably don't need PCCB - lots of people track their cars with traditional brakes - but you will notice that they fade less if you spring for them. All that said, operating costs for PCCB are significantly higher than traditional brakes - so many owners with PCCBs swap them out for track usage. Where PCCB becomes a big issue, like so many things in the Porsche world, is in the secondary market - which I'll address further below. LWB vs. Comfort Seats Lightweight Bucket Seats (LWB) are an option on GT models (w.g., GT4 and Spyder models, plus GT3 variants). These are a $5,900 option on new GT4s and reportedly save roughly 32 lbs compared to comfort seats. They move fore and aft, but they have a fixed backrest which suits some but not all drivers. They also do not have seat heating. 18-way comfort seats are a $2,640 option on a GT4, and they come with seat heating.
Lightweight Buckets (LWB)
So which one should you get? This is a very personal preference, and it comes down again to how you plan to use the car. If resale value is one of your more important criteria, then we would recommend LWB. If daily drivability and driving in cool weather are important, then we would suggest you consider sport seats. Even for the occasional track day these seats will be perfectly fine. And they open up more options for using your car most of the time when you're not on a track. And if you're thinking of a more focused track car, then you're probably looking for more specialized modifications, anyway, including aftermarket racing buckets. What About Resale Value? If you "get the wrong spec", that can dramatically reduce your car's value if and when you re-sell it. It would be easy to say here "Who are you buying the car for, you or someone else? Why are you worried about what a potential buyer wants, buy the car you want." Well...if you're a confirmed gearhead like we are, then, realistically, you're probably going to be trading your car in a couple of years. So for total cost, we think you absolutely should think about future resale, up to a point. Some features are considered must haves, like a front-end vehicle lift for cars that are particularly prone to scraping their chins. Many people wouldn't even consider buying a car that doesn't have it. Sport chrono and sport exhaust (when it's optional) are fairly sought after for most of these vehicles, as is PCCB on GT models. But these are fairly straightforward - the higher price point for cars with these options roughly equates to the cost of these options when they were new. But, seats are an entirely different matter. Resale value for GT models has nothing to do with the original cost of the seats. More costly "comfort seats" actually decrease the price point on GT models on the order of $10k. Seriously. All that said, we think you should really ask yourself how much LWBs - or any other feature - could limit your use of the car. How much will you really be able to enjoy your car if you have to contort yourself to get in, or if you're not really comfortable on long drives. If that's the case, tune out all the other voices and buy what suits you. WOW. That was a lot. Did we answer all your questions? Most certainly not. I didn't even touch on the angst that shifting to water-cooled engines brought about in the 90s (was possibly a bigger thing in the community even than the current shift to turbocharging). Or the involved process that it takes to get an "allocation" to be able to order a high-demand model like a GT4 or a GT3. To summarize, an exceptional Porsche salesperson will probably walk you patiently through all these points and options. But we are also most happy to address these or any more of your plethora of Porsche ponderings - or those for any other car. Please reach out by phone or email. We love to chat - or couldn't you tell...? All the best, Paul