2005 Porsche 911
2005 Porsche 911 Expert Review: New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Raising the standard.Again.
Few automobiles are as neatly defined as the Porsche 911. The 911 says 'sports car' by look, reputation, even by name, and the substantially revised 2005 model delivers on a reputation for speed and style in spades.
This sports car hasn't earned its reputation overnight, of course. The 911's 41-year run is a story of steady, subtle improvement punctuated by periodic major overhauls. The changes for 2005 are closer to an overhaul, marked by a change in the 911's internal codename at Porsche (it's designated 997, replacing the 996, which had been built since 1998). If the 2005 model looks conspicuously similar to the original 1964, this 911 is nonetheless a thoroughly modern driving machine, packed with the latest in material advances, engine technology and electronic management. The 911 remains the standard by which other sports cars are judged, and the 2005 raises the standard.
There are hundreds of changes from 2004, including new electronic technology, more powerful engines and a redesigned interior. The 911 is equipped with curtain-style head-protection airbags for the first time. Even the familiar silhouette has subtle changes a Porsche nut will notice in an instant. These styling tweaks increase storage space and improve aerodynamic efficiency; in our view, they also increase the 911's sex appeal.
The 911 had evolved from its original air-cooled, VW Beetle roots long before this latest round of updates. Yet over the past 10 or 15 years, as Porsche engineers ironed out some of the 911's handling quirks, they'd also moved this sports car in a more civilized direction. Granted, the 911's race-bred handling and braking performance were surpassed by few cars. It turned with the accuracy of a sniper and blitzed along at 125 as stable as the Rock of Gibraltar. But the 911 has also adapted the accoutrements of a grand-touring coupe, with multiple-adjustment heated memory seats, automatic climate control, more sound insulating material and one-button convertible tops. To some hard-core 911 old-timers, it's become downright cushy. One of the most striking things about the 2005 model is that in some subtle but obvious ways, the 911 has devolved.
That doesn't mean it's suddenly become a Spartan buckboard of a high-performance car. The comfort, convenience and high-tech features are still here, and then some, including a new, optional fully active suspension. Yet in certain, very deliberate respects, the 2005 911 is more primal than its predecessor. Perhaps it's a more aggressive rasp from the exhaust, the way the engines deliver power to the drive wheels or the way the shift lever snicks between gears. Maybe it's an extra tingle of vibration through the frame channels. Whatever the reason, in standard trim the new 911 is edgier, and we're sure driving enthusiasts will appreciate the difference.
All told, if the 911 can be classified as a supercar, it remains one of the easiest supercars to live with. It's more user friendly than competitors, from the Chevy Corvette to the Ferrari F430. It rides smoothly and comfortably for a sports car. It's relatively easy to get in and out of and it's happy to putt around all day at Buick pace, particularly with the Tiptronic automatic transmission. The 911 has earned a reputation for being nearly bullet-proof, and there's very little about it that's finicky.
With launch of the 2005, Porsche has reduced the number of 911 models from 11 to just four. Among those four, the all-wheel-drive, crazy-powered Turbo S and Turbo S Cabriolet are still based on the previous platform (996). More variants of the new 911 will trickle out over the next few model years. A new 911 convertible should reach showrooms by the end of calendar 2005.
This we say with certainty: Nearly 60 years after the company was founded, Porsche continues to make some of the world's great sports cars. The 2005 Porsche 911 is the best one.
The introduction of a heavily revised Porsche 911 comes with a significant reduction in the number of 911 models in Porsche dealerships. While the company offered nearly a dozen 911 variants in 2004, it has just four in 2005. This simplification is likely to be short-lived, however, as Porsche rolls out more versions of the new 911 over the next few model years. A convertible should reach showrooms by the fall. For now, only the 911 Carrera and Carrera S are built on the new platform (designated internally as the 997).
The least expensive 911 is the Carrera ($69,300). It's powered by a 3.6-liter version of Porsche's classic flat six-cylinder 'boxer' engine generating 325 horsepower (10 more than last year) and 273 pound-feet of torque. Standard equipment includes leather-trimmed height-adjustable seats with power recliners, a digital AM/FM/CD stereo, trip computer, leather telescoping steering wheel, power windows, power locks with keyless remote, cruise control, and a speed-dependent retractable rear spoiler. The 2005 Carrera is the first 'entry level' 911 equipped with 18-inch wheels.
For 2005, Porsche offers two different 911 engine sizes for the first time since 1977. The Carrera S ($79,100) is powered by a 3.8-liter boxer six, delivering 350 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque and shaving 0.2 seconds from the standard Carrera's 0-60 mph times. Besides the bigger engine, the Carrera S adds Porsche's new Active Suspension Management technology, 19-inch wheels with larger brakes and red-painted calipers, Bi-Xenon headlights, a sport steering wheel and aluminum-look interior trim.
The remaining 2005 911s are both based on the older platform (known within Porsche as the 996), but neither is anything to sneeze at. The all-wheel-drive 911 Turbo S ($131,400) gets Porsche's race-bred, twin-turbocharged version of the 3.6-liter engine, creating a whopping 444 horsepower. The Turbo S comes with Porsche's Ceramic Composite Brakes, which use exotic nonmetallic discs, and comfort and convenience upgrades such as full leather interior and a high-power, Bose-tuned stereo with a six-disc CD changer. The Turbo S Cabriolet ($141,200) is a Turbo S with a power-operated convertible top.
All 2005 911s come standard with new safety features. Porsche Stability Management, an electronically controlled system that helps a driver maintain control in the event of a skid, was previously a $1300 option on some models; it's now standard on all 911s starting with the Carrera. Further, the Carrera and Carrera S are the first 911s equipped with curtain-style head protection airbags. These deploy from the doors and augment the front and side-impact torso airbags.
Before it's finished, Porsche will surely roll out a host of 997-based 911 variants. For now Carrera and Carrera S buyers will have to do their personalizing from the option sheet, and there are a lot of options to choose from. These include performance enhancing equipment like the Ceramic Composite Brakes and practical things such as a roof-transport system that can turn a 911 into a building material or bike-hauling workhorse. Other more conventional options include Porsche Communication Management, which incorporates audio, navigation system, and trip computer into a single control interface ($2,680); heated seats ($410); metallic paint ($825); and a CD changer ($715).
Not personal enough? Go for the Deviating Front Seat Stitching Color ($335), the Leather Dome Lamp Cover ($335) or the Non-Metallic Paint to Sample ($4,315). They'll gladly match the color of the stone in your fraternity ring. Porsche maintains its long tradition of factory customization, with options that cover colors and materials for virtually every part or surface inside the car. And if there's not an existing option, Porsche will likely go off the card, for a price. Ostrich door pulls or jade-faced pedals might be doable.
Porsche fanatics don't like to identify the company's cars by their model names. These walking Porsche history books prefer internal code names, as if this bit of insider jargon demonstrates superior knowledge of the product. When it comes to the Porsche 911 (model name, not code name), the internal identifier has changed only a handful of times in 41 years, and only when Porsche considered changes significant enough to identify the model essentially as a new car. With the 2005 911, Porsche has changed its identifier to 997 (the internal code is 996 for 911s built since late 1998, and 993 before that). To consumers in a broader sense, this means that, whatever appearances might suggest, the 2005 911 is a major update. Porsche says that 80 percent of its parts are new, including every body panel but the roof stamping.
Given all that, no one other than a Martian will mistake the 2005 model for something other than a 911. In broad strokes, this sports car maintains the classis profile that has landed it in art museums and design school lecture halls. For Porsche, the 911's heritage can be a double-edged sword. Leave the car alone, and it might be perceived as dated. Change the car too drastically, and it might alienate hard-core loyalists, many of whom form the core group of 911 buyers.
If anything, the 2005 911's look seems to have devolved a bit, just like the basic character of the car. The most obvious change is the headlights and front fascia. Rounder, single-pod lamps replace the 2004 model's teardrop-shaped multi-light headlight assemblies. The new headlights sit more upright in the front fenders, and the turn signals and foglights are now laid horizontally in a squarer front bumper. The new look more quickly distinguishes the 911 from Porsche's less expensive Boxster. As significantly, it harkens back to the rugged look of 911s built during the 1980s.
In back, the new 911's taillights are smaller, installed at a more vertical angle relative to the bumper. Curvy rear fenders and wheel arches extend further from the side of the car, housing the 911's classic extra-wide rear wheels (the front wheels are eight inches in width, the rear, 10 inches). This staggered setup helps the 911's rear tires turn its horsepower into quicker acceleration and balances tire grip front and rear for high g-force turning. All 2005 911s have wheels at least 18 inches in diameter, and all are equipped with Z-rated tires. That's the highest speed rating available for street use.
In total, the 2005 911's styling changes sacrifice some of the 1999-2004 model's beauty in favor of more visual belligerence. Yet very little at Porsche is done strictly for appearance's sake. The 2005 911 is a few hairs longer and taller that the 2004; more significantly, the 2005's track (the distance between the outside edge of the tires) and overall width have increased an inch. This wider stance improves the 911's lateral stability during quick, sharp directional changes. The 2005 uses aluminum body parts more extensively than the 2004, minimizing weight increases that would otherwise come with new equipment such as active suspension and head-protecting side airbags. New structural designs underneath the sheet metal improve the chassis' resistance to flexing (as when the car brakes full force or crashes over a pothole) as much as 60 percent, without increasing weight significantly.
When an automobile is designed to be stable at 180 mph and beyond, you'd better pay attention to aerodynamics. Much of the 2005 911's design work was undertaken to more efficiently manage airflow over, under and around the car, down to very small details. The side mirrors were designed to direct air along the sides of the car toward the automatically deploying rear spoiler, sweeping the side windows clean in the process. A new undertray reduces friction beneath the 911, while the wheel arches are flared.
The 2005 Porsche 911 Carrera and Carrera S interior has been redesigned from the base of the windshield to the rear jump seats, with new steering wheels, seats, gauges, switches and climate control, and the introduction of head-protecting curtain airbags. Such thorough overhauls are expensive, and rare from a small automaker like Porsche. Nonetheless, after some seat time in the new 911, drivers who are familiar with Porsche will realize just how significant the improvement is.
In a sense, the 2005 911's cockpit shares its basic theme (and look) with the 2004. It's a down-to-business place designed for serious driving. Nor was the previous 911's interior bad. This car's seating position has long been perfect for most enthusiast drivers, with outstanding visibility in all directions compared to some other high-performance sports cars. Perhaps surprisingly to drivers new to the 911, it has also been a truly comfortable car for traveling long distances. The new design will feel familiar to those who have owned a 911, and the ignition key remains on the left, as it's always been on Porsche's LeMans race cars. Yet beyond functional improvements for 2005, this may be the best Porsche interior yet.
In general, there's an improvement in the quality of materials, and specifically, in the feel of plastic surfaces. The 911 still isn't quite up to snuff with the best luxury sedans in its price range, but it now comes much closer to what the average consumer (and not just the Porsche geek) expects for the money. You no longer have to spring for the full leather interior, or those special options like the Leather Dome Lamp Cover, to get an interior finish that matches the car's overall quality.
The obvious changes inside the 2005 911 start with the steering wheel. It has a new, more contemporary three-spoke design, and its leather-wrapped rim is thicker and grippier than ever. As it often is at Porsche, there's more going on here than meets the eye. The steering wheel's core structure is an expensive magnesium alloy, which weighs less than the old steel/aluminum structure. More significantly, the wheel adjusts both up and down and fore and aft for the first time (albeit manually). This is also the first 911 to offer redundant controls on the steering wheel hub that operated the audio and navigation systems or the optional telephone.
The 2005 911 Carreras also feel a bit roomier than their predecessors, and we suspect more comfortable for larger drivers. The difference is a combination of small things, like the adjustable wheel and a slight repositioning of the pedals toward the front of the car. The front seats, already among the best going, have been redesigned. They have higher bolstering on the bottoms and back, but they actually feel roomier. The width of both cushions seems to have increased, especially near the top of the back around the shoulders. The seats are mounted lower to the floor, creating a bit more headroom.
The optional sports seats in our Carrera S test car were fantastic. They are more aggressively bolstered than the standard seats, and a bit firmer under bottom. Still, they remained supremely comfortable during a three-hour stretch at the wheel.
The gauges are spread in a larger pod than before, and the faces themselves are larger. The script and backlighting make them as legible as ever, but the extra space between them makes absorbing the information displayed a little less tedious. The dash vents are larger, too. Beyond the vents, we're not sure what Porsche did to the climate system, but it clearly moves more air at full bore than it did previously. The climate controls are located in the center stack. From an aesthetic point of view, they're the least appealing part of the new interior, but functionally they work fine.
The 2005 911's slickest new option could be the Sport Chrono Package. It's most obvious component is almost glaring.
In a word, the Porsche 911 is thrilling. Its overall performance is extraordinary. All variants accelerate with the verve of a motorbike and turn or stop on a dime, all the while behaving in smooth, civilized fashion for the more mundane demands of daily motoring. Yet for 2005, it's the heavily revised Carrera models that benefit from what we like to call de-evolution. They feed information back to the driver just a little more clearly and react to commands a nanosecond sooner. They also retain the wash-and-wear quality that has made the 911 a relatively easy car to live with everyday.
The standard Carrera is powered by a revised version of Porsche's familiar 3.6-liter, horizontally opposed six cylinder, otherwise known as the 'boxer' engine for the way its pistons punch outward. This boxer employs the latest materials technology, a race-car style dry sump lubrication system and a refined version of Porsche's VarioCam variable valve timing. Horsepower increases by 10 from 2004, to a peak of 325. (Peak torque remains 273 pound-feet.) Yet the updated engine is lighter, with lower fuel consumption at a given rpm and fewer exhaust emissions.
Our test car was a Carrera S with a new, slightly larger version of the boxer engine. The extra 200 cc in the Carrera S's 3.8-liter six pay off in a substantial increase of 30 horsepower for a total of 355 and 22 pound-feet of torque for a total of 295.
Even before the improvements, the 911's engine was one of the most tractable found in a sports car. The improved engines in the 2005 Carreras take this outstanding balance to new heights.
Gearheads aside, most consumers care less about specific technologies or how they work and more about what those technologies do. Anyone with a bit of experience in a wide array of cars will grasp the benefit of VarioCam. Ten years ago, high performance engines required more significant trade offs. Build them with good low-end power so they made the car jump with authority from a start and they would likely run out steam at higher rpm, coughing and wheezing as they approached the redline on the tachometer. Build them to spin like a turbine at higher revs, breathing like a sprinter and building velocity through the higher range, and they were likely anemic off the line. Variable valve timing allows engineers to better achieve the best of both worlds: good low end, free high-rev breathing. The 2005 Carrera engines deliver this combination better than just about any on the market.
Acceleration? We easily managed 0-60 mph runs under 4.5 seconds, measured with a portable, over-the-counter accelerometer. That's easily half a second quicker than a car like Audi's S4, which happens to be one of most capable, potent high-performance luxury sedans you can buy. In automotive terms you can do a lot in half a second. We couldn't legally measure the Carrera S's 0-100 mph times, of course, but we're quite sure that a Porsche driver could get to 100 with enough time to slam on the brakes, stop and wave as the S4 went by.
Regardless, the figures only hint at the satisfaction a driver can find in the 911's engine. The real draw lies in that tractability. Slam the 911's gas pedal at any road or engine speed, and the response is immediate, not to mention enormous. There's more speed available in just about any situation, rumbling up through the driver's backside and into the belly. We wanted to floor it every time we tracked through a turn and let the engine wind to its 7300-rpm redline, just to feel the acceleration and listen to the unmistakable rasp of a Porsche boxer engine (the best one yet). Anyone with a pulse should appreciate the visceral exhilaration built into the 911.
The best thing is that acceleration is only one component of the 911's impressive performance act. Porsche's engineers devoted significant energy to trimming the 2005 Carrera's weight in an effort to compens.
You might find high-performance cars with more sex appeal. You can certainly find one that's more brutish, if you prefer brute strength at the expense of finesse. You will not find a sports car with better overall balance than the Porsche 911, and you will not find a true high-performance machine that is easier to live with as daily transportation. The heavily revised 2005 911 Carrera and Carrera S take everything that's good about the 911 and make it a little better.
New Car Test Drive correspondent J.P. Vettraino is based in the Detroit area.
Porsche 911 Carrera ($69,300); Carrera S ($79,100); Turbo S ($131,400); Turbo S Cabriolet ($141,200).
Options As Tested
Power Seat Package ($1,550) includes dual power front seats with power height, length and backrest adjust, dual adjust lumbar supports, driver's seat memory; Bose High End Surround Sound Package ($1,390); three-spoke Sport Steering Wheel with multi-function controls ($990); Sport Chrono package ($920); heated front seats ($480); Auto-dimming mirrors ($385); wheel center caps with painted Porsche crest ($185); floor mats ($115).
Porsche 911 Carrera S Coupe ($79,100).
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