The Montezuma-Borrego Highway running from Ranchito to Borrego Springs in the Anza-Borrego desert wilderness is one of the more impressive 11-mile stretches of pavement in Southern California. Its technicality and a rapid elevation ascent or descent, depending on your direction of travel, is enough to turn even the most iron-clad gut. And it’s short enough to do back-to-back-to-back up-and-down runs in rapid succession. Essentially, it’s a near-perfect setting for spirited driving. Perfect for a Porsche 911.

So it seemed divine provenance, then, that this is exactly what we found ourselves driving one balmy winter day in the California desert. It’s the latest iteration of Porsche’s 997 sports car, and Porsche calls it the 911 Carrera GTS.

Semi-officially, it’s going to be another couple of years before we see a new generation 911. In the meantime, Porsche continues to tease with a handful of special models, like the exclusive and very expensive 997 Speedster, and this somewhat more down-to-earth model.

In regard to performance and pricing, the GTS occupies that nebulous region between the Carrera S and the GT3. At least that’s how Stuttgart seems to have seen it. Others might perceive this release as the beginnings (or continuation) of a strategy of hair-splitting but hey, more options is never really a bad thing. The GTS is available as either a coupe or a cabriolet.

Visually, it stands apart from its lesser brothers with a widened rear track and overall wider rear end like the standard four-wheel-driven Carrera 4 or Carrera 4S. This 911 version, however, is only available with rear-wheel drive. A new front apron also distinguishes it, with diagonal webs in the central air inlet and a black-accented lower spoiler edge. That accent continues along the lower edges of the side skirts and completes its circuit on the lower portion of the rear bumper cover between the twin sets of duel-exit tailpipes. There’s also Carrera GTS script on the lower forward corners of the doorsin black or silver, depending on body color. Carrera GTS script is also present on the stainless steel doorsill plates, on the decklid and beneath the decklid. Like the 911 Turbo and 997.2 GT3, the GTS receives standard 19-inch centerlock wheels; it will be the only Carrera model to receive them.

On the inside, velvety Alcantara is the dominant accent material, found on the seat inserts, the steering wheel rim, the gear and handbrake levers, and the door handles and panel inserts. The steering wheel itself is a new three-spoke SportDesign unit that debuts in this model. The Carrera models’ standard plus two rear seats are deleted as standard, although you can opt to have them added back in at zero cost.

The 3.8-liter flat six engine has been modified beyond Carrera S spec to offer higher peak power output, just over 400 horses, and a higher max torque output, 310 lb-ft, with a slightly broader and therefore more usable peak plateau that stretches from 4200 to 5600 rpm. Power is transferred to the rear wheels by a standard six-speed manual. The seven-speed PDK dual-clutch auto-manual is available as an option. In spite of adding 30 kg, or almost 70 pounds, to the 911’s unladed weight, PDK increases its performance capabilities by a small margin. It’s worth it if you’re all about shaving a couple tenths of a second off your acceleration times, but then again, it supplants the wonderfully involving 911 do-it-yourself shift experiencefor our dollars, the best and most engaging that money can buy, from clutch pedal to gear lever.

Like the other 911 variants, the GTS comes with a Sport button that can be engaged to sharpen throttle response and stiffen the suspension. Cars equipped with the optional Sport Chrono Plus package and PDK also get a Sport Plus button, which in turn allows access to the Launch Control program that enables the 911 to rocket to 62 mph in 4.4 seconds, compared to 4.6 in a manual transmission car.

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