The 2020 Porsche 911 Is Slower, But Better, With a Stick Shift

The Porsche 911 Carrera S can once again be optioned with a manual gearbox. It doesn't make it faster, but it does make it better.

silver porsche 911
Will Sabel Courtney

Here's a hot take for you: there is no rational reason to buy a new Porsche 911 with a manual gearbox.

None. Zip. Nada.

Porsche's handiwork at crafting and integrating dual-clutch transmissions into their cars is almost unparalleled in the new car world. (And many of those that can compare, like Bentley, derive their efforts in part from Porsche's handiwork.) With no clutch pedal to manipulate, no shift lever to row (not even a vestigial one, now that Porsche swapped the shifter over to what amounts to a hefty toggle switch) and a computer system smart enough to know when to upshift early and often for better efficiency and when to keep spinning all the way to the redline for maximum power, the automatic gearbox is easier in daily life and more adept at high-speed driving than most of us who aren't racing drivers. Why would you choose anything else?

porsche 7 speed manual transmission
Will Sabel Courtney

But here's the thing: sports cars aren't about being rational. They're about emotion: sex appeal, the thrill of speed, the pursuit of pleasure. That they can serve the practical purpose of transporting people and good from A to B at all is merely an excuse for them to exist in a world where few of us have the luxury of buying products with five- or six-figure pricetags solely for kicks.

Objectively, the 911's manual gearbox —available only in the Carrera S and Carrera 4S models, at least for now — is inferior in most ways to its dual-clutch alternative. But the things that make it look worse on paper are the same features that subjectively make it more fun. Considering sports cars are ultimately about fun, that means it's the superior choice.

Not buying it? Read on.

Learn More: Here

The Carrera S is slower with a stick (which is good).

The shift-itself option in the Carrera goes by many names: brand fanboys call it Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe, or PDK for short; other gearheads call it a dual-clutch gearbox, or DSG; the dentists and lawyers who buy it to impress their status symbol-obsessed friends, presumably, just call it an automatic.

Regardless of what you call it, though, there's no denying how effective it is at squeezing every ounce of acceleration out of the car. Using the system's carefully-programmed launch control, the PDK-equipped Carrera S can sprint from 0 to 60 miles per hour in three seconds flat, according to Car and Driver's testing. Equipped with the seven-speed manual, C/D found it took 3.6 seconds.

back of 911
Will Sabel Courtney

But aircraft-carrier-catapult acceleration isn't the point of the Carrera models. (If your goal is simply the pursuit of giddy, whiplash-inducing increases in speed, the 911 Turbo S is more your cup of tea.) The car isn't so stupidly powerful that you race through gears so quick that you have to shift like firing a semiautomatic rifle; you get a little time in each gear, and with the stick, you learn to appreciate each one.

Leave it in third on a winding road, and you can ride the torque up the rev range until all the horses rally up — or delight in snapping off a 3-2 shift before the corner and then wringing it out in second before climbing back up. Or drop it into seventh on a long highway cruise and see how far the turbocharged engine's surprising well of low-end torque can take you before you need to swap down a cog or two. It's all good clean fun.

The Carrera S is harder to drive with a stick (which is good).

Porsche now equips every dual clutch-equipped 911 with a pair of paddle shifters behind the wheel, enabling the driver to click off gear changes with little more than the lift of a finger. Odds are good most buyers won't bother doing this often, though. It's not laziness; it's the simple fact that Porsche's own tuning for the automatic is better than your brain. When you seize manual control of a PDK, there's always that nagging irritation in the back of your mind that knows the car could do it better on its own.

With the stick shift, however, you're on your own. It's a sink-or-swim proposition: find your way through the notchy pattern fast, or look the fool as you lose momentum and fall off the pace. Likewise, the clutch takes a tender touch when starting out or sliding from first to second; it proved a sobering experience for your humble author, who grew up learning to drive on stick shift Hondas and Hyundais. (Then again, it also made me realize how long it'd been since I drove a new car with a manual transmission —a testament to their ever-smaller presence in the market.)

back of 911
Will Sabel Courtney

For those whose love of driving was first formed on video games and racing sims, these might not seem like attractions to you. If you rank among those who wear their manual-shifting capability with pride, though, the added difficulty taps into one of the reasons you started to love driving in the first place: the feeling of mastery, of maturity, that comes with conquering the car.

Also, as the many stories of auto thieves being stymied by a stick shift go to show: it makes the car harder to steal.

The Carrera S feels more old-fashioned with a stick (which is good).

I'm not one of those enthusiasts out there who lionizes old cars and turns my nose up at modern-day ones. Cars these days are generally faster, quicker, safer, more comfortable and better-made than any of those that came before, and anyone who says there's nothing involving in, say, a modern super-sedan clearly needs to get their adrenaline glands checked.

But there's no disputing that driving a 911 with a stick shift makes you feel more directly connected to the car. There's a physicality to the experience that you just don't find in even the most involving sports cars equipped with paddle shifters. Your hands and feet are always moving, not in the space of inches, but over the course of feet. You can feel the engine tremble when you rest your hand on the shift knob. You're less passenger, more partner.

With a manual transmission, a car a better expression of the human-transportation bond that goes back well beyond the car or bicycle, back to the days when controlling horses and sled dogs and other living beasts was the only way to exceed the speed of our feet. Somewhere deep inside of us, all those generations of instinct still lurk, telling us to seek the primeval joys of harnessing a powerful creature and using it to go fast. The fact that you can have all the excellence of the newest 911 — the gorgeous design, the comfortable interior, the incredible handling, the intuitive steering, and so forth — along with that visceral thrill might just make the stick shift Carrera S one of the best cars you can buy today.

Base Price (Price as Tested): $115,100 ($135,840)

Drivetrain: 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged flat-six; seven-speed manual transmission; rear-wheel-drive

Horsepower: 443

Torque: 390 lb-ft

Fuel Economy: 17 mpg city, 25 mpg highway

Seats: 2 adults and 2 small dogs

Learn More: Here

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