It might seem counter-intuitive to slot a seven-speed manual gearbox into the Porsche 911 Carrera S when the dual-clutch PDK is such a perfect match for the 450hp/530hp twin-turbo flat-six engine at the back of the car. But if you're (quite literally) prepared to do the extra legwork, then the Carrera S manual is a sublime sports car and glorious GT, all wrapped up in the familiar and attractive form of a 911 shell. And, therefore, is an utterly heavenly all-rounder.
In the Metal:
A Gentian Blue 911 Carrera S Coupe is about as pure a shape as you're going to get in the Porsche portfolio these days and the iconic rear-engined sports car looks thoroughly superb as a result. Teamed to a light-coloured interior, this is a classy combination and one that plays on the Carrera/Carrera S models' perceived role in the 992 family as the grand tourers of the line-up.
Except... this particular car has something quite odd in the cabin. It's a tall gear lever, in place of the tiny, stubby razor-type thing that you'd find in the PDK variants. Yep, this is the fabled Carrera S manual, a seven-speed H-and-a-bit-pattern gearbox finding its way into the current eighth-gen 911 for the first time. It is only available at 'S' level, which means any car with the 450hp derivation of the twin-turbo boxer six 3.0-litre, but it can be paired to rear-wheel drive or Porsche Traction Management (PTM) all-wheel drive, and you can have it in the Coupe, Cabriolet or even Targa body styles, so in principle there are five different ways you can have your three-pedal 911 (Carrera S Coupe, Carrera 4S Coupe, Carrera S Cabriolet, Carrera 4S Cabriolet and Targa 4S, for the sake of clarity).
While it is said to be a little bit cleaner for CO2 emissions and fuel economy than the PDK, the manual makes some sacrifices on performance. Specifically, it is half-a-second slower than a Carrera S Coupe PDK to 100km/h from rest (taking 4.2 seconds, the same time as the 385hp Carrera Coupe PDK and it's a long way off the 3.4-second blast a Carrera 4S Coupe PDK would take to achieve the same sprint.
So does that mean this is a gearbox to avoid? Not a bit of it. What a completely tremendous car this is, in all aspects. While we're not about to say the addition of the manual gearbox makes the Carrera S GT3-esque in its mannerisms, there is certainly a huge extra degree of delight in rowing it along a decent, quiet two-lane road because you feel like you're doing more with it than sitting in the PDK and letting the auto take the strain. Also, this seven-speed gearbox is lovely to operate and much improved from our last experience of it in the old 991 Carrera T. It would seem there is more precision to the shift action, as there's less chance of getting 'lost' in the numerically overabundant gearbox of the 992 Carrera S, and Porsche has also had a play with how the transmission operates in terms of block shifts. So yes, you still need to be in either fifth or sixth before you can change up to seventh, but - going the other way - then you can drop from seventh to second in one hit if you so wish (and only do this sub 100km/h, please, so you don't inadvertently pop all the valves through the 911's engine cover) and, with the rev-matching engaged in Sport or Sport Plus modes, the shift is immediate and not in the least bit jerky.
There's a real joy, then, to piloting the Carrera S on the sort of roads that we all dream about, but the manual gearbox works just as well with the more laid-back side of the 992's character. It'll lug quite happily from 2,500rpm in seventh thanks to its peak 530Nm, meaning you don't have to be needlessly stirring the lever about just to make decent forward progress, and while you can find lag if you deliberately go looking for it in the regions sub-2,000rpm, in general the car feels every bit as tractable, refined and marvellous in everyday driving as it does being given a more thorough work-out on more remote roads. Even better, as we got to sample the Carrera S back-to-back with a version of the astonishing 992 Turbo, we can tell you that there's a much smoother ride and also a lot less road noise in the cabin of this 450hp car than there is in its blistered, muscular stablemate. So while a Turbo might seem like the best continent-crosser of the 992 line, we'd say the Carrera S is the finer option in this regard.
What you get for your Money:
Where it is available, the manual is a no-cost option, so for a rear-wheel-drive Carrera S Coupe like this, the starting price is the same as the PDK: €167,108. The increasing power outputs of the 911 family over the years mean that a Carrera S - one step up from 'base' grade in 992 world - is already well beyond €150,000 before you've so much as eyed up the options list. That said, there's a decent roster of standard equipment on the S, but there is still room for more items to be fitted and some of them, like electric-folding exterior mirrors, really ought to be fitted from the factory considering the initial outlay required to purchase the vehicle. Nevertheless, for the quality of car you're getting overall, the price is fair. It's just not massively affordable, even in the realm of top-end sports machines.
The latest Porsche 911 is never anything less than sensational in all its formats. But if you are one of those folks craving a bit of mischievousness from your rear-engined Porsche, then this manual 911 Carrera S is the car for you. It's a strangely dichotomous creation, a pared-back sports car on the one hand and a luxury 2+2 GT on the other, and you could argue the PDK does a good enough job of serving those two opposing requirements, but there's something about the manual that makes the 992 that bit more special and it blends the two halves of its character together so seamlessly that it's impossible to fault it in any one dynamic discipline.