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Lake Bell Test Drives the 2012 Porsche 911 S

Never a Porsche aficionado, the actress saw the light after a jaunt to Coronado Island.
Joe Pugliese

This story first appeared in the June 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter.

To gear myself up for my four-day test drive of a 2012 Porsche 911 S, I treated myself to rewatching the opening shot of Le Mans -- a five-minute love letter to a 1970 slate gray 911 S. Even if your older brother didn't force you to watch that film 5,000 times during your younger years, you likely know who Steve McQueen is and that Porsches are undeniably badass.

In truth, I've never been a Porsche aficionado, but with the recent death of the designer responsible for the 911, Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, whose legacy has been trumpeted by automotive journalists across the globe, I was compelled to investigate why Porsches are so beloved. Because to me, they all kind of look the same.

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After interviewing several Porsche owners, I believe that loyalty to these sloped-backed sophisticates is something that comes with time and after considering the brand's accomplishments on the track. After all, as my father, Harvey Siegel, owner of Virginia International Raceway, proclaims: "Porsches are the beacons of endurance racers because of their historically dependable engineering." That's a point of great pride for the company -- very German. And how can any car enthusiast not be invigorated by a brand that busted out the 917 Can-Am race car that blazed past its competitors in the 1970s? Porsche's lineage is as full of victories as a Wagnerian opera.

Luckily, I had to pick up an overachieving friend who was running a marathon relay race from L.A. to San Diego and got to do a little racing of my own. I had 206 miles of pavement on which to investigate the newest incarnation of the 911, and I'm convinced the new car lives up to the model's reputation. Not only does this iconic machine grip the road with confident grace -- growling like a monster when the sports exhaust function is activated -- it's also simply a joy to drive.

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Speaking of overachieving, the 2012 911 sports the industry's first seven-speed manual transmission. I tried to get my hands on the manual for the test but had to settle for a $125,000 aqua blue example with the trendy PDK automatic transmission. Then again, shifting seven times does sound like a workout.

The finish line of my friend's relay race was just past an eight-mile-highway straightaway on Coronado Island. There wasn't a single car or cop in sight, and duty called. I flipped it to sport mode and took that 400-horsepower six-cylinder engine up to 104 mph. I get it, Porsche-heads, I get it. What's more, you're doing 100 while cosseted in a supremely refined and luxurious cockpit. Despite a strangely cumbersome cup holder, which is incongruous with the car's otherwise effortless ergonomics, the pebble gray leather interior was flawless. I think I'm starting to understand the obsession. Per my father, "Porsches are arguably the most successful race car in history." Yes, the love stems from the allure of victory but also staunch dependability, consistently sophisticated engineering and … Steve McQueen.

What do you think?

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