The iconic Porsche 911 celebrates its 50th birthday next year, but the party has already started with the fantastically fast 2012 911 Carrera S. This Seventh Generation 911 has a more powerful yet smaller engine. The car is lower, longer and wider than the previous generation, all characteristics designed to help ensure a more enjoyable driving experience – which is to say they help make the car go faster.

With Porsche, it’s always about the performance. With the 911 Carrera S, you can be the envy of dreary-eyed drivers on Interstate 12 on weekdays, and then on the weekends you can take the car to your favorite track so the sports car can really stretch its legs. To time your laps, Porsche mounts a handy timer/stopwatch on the center of the dashboard.

The car is sleeker that the previous version and it looks stretched thanks to an increase in wheelbase of nearly 4 inches. It’s also lost weight – about 100 pounds – thanks in part to the aluminum used in the hood, doors, engine lid and roof.

The new engine in the Carrera is a 3.4-liter “boxer” 6-cylinder that is more powerful and gets better fuel economy than the 2011 model’s 3.6-liter engine. The new engine spits 350 horsepower, launching the Carrera to 60 miles an hour from a standstill in 4.2 seconds. Our test car, the Carrera S, has a larger 3.8-liter powerplant that puts out 400 horses that can gallop to 60 from zero in just 3.9 seconds.

The test car was also equipped with the optional Sport Chrono Package ($2,370) that helps provide a sharp increase in performance. Push the sport-plus button on the center console and hang on. When you pass 70 mph you’ll likely still be in second gear with the tachometer pushing 7,000 rpm.

Porsche’s phenomenal PDK transmission keeps things moving at a very fast pace. The PDK is a dual-clutch gearbox that readies the next gear before the car leaves the current one. Race car drivers can’t shift any faster than the PDK. The top track speed of the Carrera S with the Sport Chrono Package and PDK transmission is 187 mph. In cars equipped with PDK, the sport-plus button on the console also can engage a feature called “launch control,” which is exactly what its name would imply.

To engage launch control, the driver puts the car in “drive,” presses the sport-plus button, presses and holds the brake, and then mats the accelerator pedal. As engine torque rises, the car senses what the driver wants, and “launch control active” appears on the cluster. But be warned here: Do not take your foot off the brake until you are absolutely ready to go, because you will absolutely go fast. As Porsche says, “Maximum acceleration will occur” when you let the brake go.

Now, when you are not on a race track and you’re just tooling around town to the “oohs” and “ahhs” that this car naturally attracts, Porsche has introduced a feature designed to enhance fuel economy. The car’s auto stop/start feature is one reason the 911 Carrera S is EPA rated at 20 miles per gallon in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. But because Porsche realizes that not everyone likes their car’s engine to cut off at stoplights, engineers installed a button on the center console to deactivate the system.

The base 2012 911 Carrera S costs $96,400. If you think that’s steep, don’t even bother with options, which on the test Carrera added more than $31,500. Add in another $950 destination charge, and you’d have to write a check for $128,940 for the 2012 911 Carrera S we tested. But if you love to drive fast cars and writing a check like that doesn’t cause your hand to shake uncontrollably, this is one heck of a fast, fun car.

STATISTICS

Engine: Horizontally opposed 3.8-liter 6-cylinder

Transmission: PDK automatic

Horsepower: 400

Test model base price: $96,400 ($128,940 as tested)

EPA mileage rating: 20 mpg city / 27 mpg highway