The Porsche 911 is synonymous with the words “sports car” around the world. With its unmistakable shape and rear-engine layout, it may look unchanged, but it has undergone constant improvement for ever-sharper, race-car-like handling. Since its launch in 1964 as a 1965 model, the 911 has been offered in an often bewildering variety of trims, as well as three distinct body styles: Coupe, Targa, and Cabriolet.
Consider the current Porsche 911 lineup: There are sixteen variations of 911 on offer with three different body styles, two drivetrain choices, and various engines. This extensive lineup does cause some confusion. What’s difference between the 911 Carrera and 911 Carrera 4S? Why does the 911 GT3 RS look the way it does? How come Porsche offers both a Cabriolet and Targa version of the 911? We’re going to provide a rundown of the current 911 family to help clear up the confusion.
911 Carrera/S and Carrera 4/4S
The 911 lineup begins with the Carrera and Carrera S models. Redesigned for the 2017 model year, Porsche departs from the non-turbo, flat-six engines they clung to in the entry-level for more than 50 years, and starts off with turbocharging.
Stricter emission regulations require automakers to meet clean air standards while retaining the performance that Porsche customers expect. Turbocharging for all the flat-sixes allows them to meet fuel economy and emissions standards and improve performance. The standard Carrera features 370 horsepower, while the S packs 420 horsepower. The run to 60 mph flies past in 3.7 seconds with Carrera S and 4 seconds with the Carrera. There is a choice of either a seven-speed manual or Porsche’s PDK dual-clutch automatic transmission.
The 911 Carrera offers the most customization options in the 911 lineup. You can get it as a Coupe or Cabriolet, and with all-wheel drive in the Carrera 4. There is also an extensive options list from which you can choose lighter wheels, sport seats, a Burmester High-End Surround Sound System, carbon-ceramic brakes, and much more. Pricing for 911 Carrera begins at $89,400 and climbs to $122,600 for the Carrera 4S Cabriolet, plus Porsche’s $1,050 destination charge.
911 Targa 4 and 4S
Porsche never offered a 911 in a Cabriolet form until the early '80s. So what were you to do if you wanted the wind in your hair while driving a 911? In the late '60s, Porsche had the answer in the form of the 911 Targa.
In 1972, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration considered outlawing convertibles, as they offered no protection in a rollover. To meet the considered regulation, Porsche offered the 911 Targa to replace the popular 356 Cabriolet. The Targa had a removable steel roof panel and a plastic rear window. A stainless steel roll bar provided protection in the event of a rollover.
The Targa proved successful, and it has become a mainstay of the 911 lineup. Targa customers used to remove the top by hand, but since its debut, it has morphed into a large sheet of glass that retracts into a space behind the rear hatch. The current Targa’s roof mechanism is an impressive feat of engineering, with a set of electric motors that lift the rear window out of the way and lower the roof panels into a compartment. The rear window then moves back into place.
Like the 911 Carrera and Carrera S, the Targa line features turbocharged engines producing either 370 or 420 horsepower. Interestingly, the Targa is only available with all-wheel drive. Those who want rear drive will need to stick with the Carrera Cabriolets. Pricing for the Targa starts at $108,600 and tops out at $122,600 for the Targa S.
911 GT3 RS
Mention GT3 to any Porsche fan and they’ll go weak in the knees. This is because the GT3 is one of the most highly regarded models in the 911 lineup, as it’s basically a race car in street clothing. The GT3 RS takes that a step further.
The exterior gives you the first look into its racing DNA. There is a large front splitter and air vents to provide cooling for the brakes. The side profile reveals massive cooling ducts for the engine. Around back, there's a large carbon-fiber rear wing to keep the 911 GT3 RS grounded. Porsche’s Club Sport package is standard and features a six-point harness for the driver, a set of racing bucket seats, a fire extinguisher, and a roll cage where the back seats would be in lesser 911s, to provide additional rigidity and protection in a crash. The 911 GT3 RS’ body and chassis is a smorgasbord of exotic materials, with a magnesium roof, carbon fiber seats, and ceramic composite brakes.
Unlike the bulk of the 911 lineup, the GT3 RS retains a naturally aspirated flat-six, a 4.0-liter version with 500 horsepower. Paired only with Porsche’s PDK dual-clutch transmission, the GT3 RS hits 60 mph in 3.1 seconds and can reach a top speed of 193 mph. But where the GT3 RS excels is on a track. A wider body, larger tires, rear-axle steering system, and Porsche’s Torque Vectoring Plus system help the GT3 RS corner as fast and sharp as one of their race cars.
You can own a GT3 RS for a cool $175,900.
The letter R at Porsche indicates significant value. Porsche used this letter on a small number of 911s that were prepared for rallies, road racing, and attempting speed records during the sixties. Porsche has brought the letter R back for a special 911.
The 911 R takes some of the ideals from the GT3 RS and pushes them even further. For example, the 911 R is about 110 pounds lighter than the GT3 RS, thanks, in part, to swapping out its glass windows for plastic. Porsche also did some work on the rear-axle steering system to provide better handling. The GT3 RS’s ceramic composite brakes are not only lighter, but help bring the vehicle to a stop faster.
But the biggest change delivers delight to those who enjoy driving: a six-speed manual. This manual is hooked up to the same 500 horsepower, 4.0L flat-six found in the GT3 RS. While it is slower to 60 mph than the GT3 RS (3.7 seconds to the GT3 RS’s 3.1), the 911 R does feature a higher top speed (200 mph).
Porsche plans to build only 991 R models, each with a cost of $185,950.
911 Turbo/Turbo S
We finally come to maddest 911 models currently available, the Turbo and Turbo S. The 911 Turbo holds some significant history for Porsche. Back in the '70s, Porsche originally developed the 911 Turbo to compete in international sports car races, primarily the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Per FIA regulations, Porsche had to “homologate” the 911 Turbo, meaning it had to build a limited number of production models of the Turbo before they were allowed to compete. At the time, Porsche was only going to build about 400 models called the 930 and end it there. But the model became a cult classic overnight, and Porsche decided to keep building it. Since then, the 911 Turbo has served as the 911’s flagship offering.
The current Turbo comes in two versions: the standard Turbo and the Turbo S. Both feature the same twin-turbo 3.8-liter flat-six engine, but in different tunes. The Turbo boasts 540 horsepower, while the Turbo S features 580. Porsche’s PDK dual-clutch transmission and all-wheel drive come standard. In terms of 0 to 60, it’s a virtual dead heat between the two – 2.9 seconds for the Turbo, 2.8 seconds for the Turbo S. But the difference comes in top speed: The Turbo hits 198 mph, while the Turbo S races to 205 mph.
The best part about the 911 Turbo is that you experience all this power as either a Coupe or Cabriolet. Pricing ranges from $159,200 for the Turbo coupe to $200,400 for the Turbo S Cabriolet.