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2012 Best Car To Buy Nominee: 2012 Porsche 911

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Billed by Porsche as the best 911 yet, the 2012 model, or 991, is much like its predecessors, and yet much different.

The differences start with a wheelbase extended by almost four inches, nearly two inches wider front track, and yet about 80 pounds less weight. Despite the wheelbase and track extensions, the overall car's size is still amost the same as the 997 911.

More aluminum explains the lighter weight, and the longer wheelbase means more useful (though still tight) back seats. But as we found in our first drive, the 2012 911 is more different, more improved, than these factors would allow.

Direct injection is added to the engine range, increasing power, while the base Carrera gets a new 3.4-liter rated for 350 horsepower--a small gain over the previous Carrera, but it feels like more. That's due, in part, to the re-tuned PDK transmission, which is now so crisp and, in automatic mode, almost prescient, that there's hardly any reason to use the paddles yourself aside from the satisfaction.

Speaking of satisfying shifting, there's a new manual gearbox, too: a seven-speed. While it sounds bizarre, in practice, it drives like a close-ratio six-speed during sporty activity. On the highway, the quasi-overdrive seventh gear serves to boost fuel efficiency and minimize cabin noise.

Not that the cabin is noisy in general--wind, tire, and other external noises are all more damped than before, though the throaty roar of the flat six out back still penetrates at a healthy level. The new cabin is also more luxurious, more comfortable, and styled more like the rest of the Porsche lineup--in this case, not a bad thing, as it's simplified and cleaned up for the 911's core sporting purpose.

Given the cash and the choice, we'd take the Carrera S for its more powerful 3.8-liter, 400-horsepower engine, but both models put the handling and chassis front-and-center. That handling is all the more remarkable when you consider it relies for its interface on Porsche's first implementation of all-electric power steering. That's no mean feat, and though some of the legendary feel of the 911 line is lost, the new EPS system is remarkably accurate and consistent.

Considering its massive sporting potential, fantastic interior, and legitimate every-day utility, the 2012 Porsche 911 is a solid nominee for Motor Authority's 2012 Best Car To Buy award.
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