2004 911 New Car Test Drive
The Porsche 911 is the quintessential high-performance sports car and has been for as long as we can remember. A lot of driving enthusiasts grew up wanting one. This iconic machine celebrates it 40th anniversary in 2004, and it remains the standard by which other sports cars are judged.
The legend of the Porsche 911 is no myth. The current version delivers the latest engine and chassis technology and better performance than all but a few exotic cars available in North America. What's really impressive, though, is how easy it is to drive a 911. It's more user-friendly than a Ferrari, a Chevrolet Corvette or a Dodge Viper, and it's easier to live with as a daily driver. The 911 makes a better daily driver than the Porsche Boxster, as well. Porsche rightfully prides itself on the 911's wash-and-wear quality. As true high-performance sports cars go, the 911 has a reputation for being nearly bullet-proof, and there's very little about it that's finicky.
The wide array of 911s available might create some confusion among buyers beginning to explore the world of Porsche. Yet each of the 11 models is really a variation on, or a grade of, one primary theme, and any of them is an outstanding performer.
Handling and braking are extraordinary. Steering is quick and direct, yet the 911 isn't darty, and it feels as secure as Fort Knox at twice the legal limit. It rides smoothly and more softly than you might expect; it's comfortable in daily use and relatively easy to climb into and out of. The six-speed manual gearbox is wonderfully satisfying to use. With the optional Tiptronic automatic, just about anyone can drive one of these cars. And that sound! Porsche has revived the classic 911 exhaust note, and car enthusiasts will mistake it for nothing else.
Today's 911 bears little resemblance to the air-cooled, tail-heavy original, which had much in common with the Volkswagen Beetle. The handling quirks in 911s built, say, 10 years ago, have been virtually eliminated. But the 911 hasn't change overnight. Its history is one of periodic overhauls, spaced between steady, constant improvement, sometimes in the middle of a model year.
When Porsche says racing improves the breed, it's more than advertising fodder. The 911 is built on race-proven architecture. Two years ago, its body structure was stiffened and its front end was restyled to make all 911s look more like the highline 911 Turbo, and less like the less-expensive Boxster. The 911's rear-mounted, 3.6-liter horizontally opposed six-cylinder engine was enlarged and upgraded in both turbo and non-turbo versions. The base normally aspirated engine, which comes on all Carrera and Targa models, delivers an impressive 315 horsepower.
For most of us, these normally aspirated models are more than quick enough, and they cost significantly less than turbocharged 911s. The Carrera Coupe, the least expensive 911, can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds, according to Porsche, very quick indeed. If you want more, the 415-horsepower 911 Turbo can accelerate to 60 in about 4 seconds, with a top speed of 189 mph, but at significant cost. The lighter, race-inspired GT2 delivers even quicker performance and a top speed of 195. The GT3, a stripped-down 911 introduced in 2003 for easy racing homologation, is the most powerful non-turbocharged Porsche has ever offered for street use in North America. It accelerates from 0 to 60 in just 4.3 seconds, with a track speed of 190. The GT models aren't ideal for street use, though.
For 2004, there are minor changes across the 911 lineup, as well as two new models. At the lower end, there are new performance options, including a locking rear differential, new colors and new wheel designs. Moving up the scale, the GT2 turbo engine has been tweaked to a whopping 477 horsepower, with suspension and brake improvements to match. And for the first time in 15 years, Porsche offers a 911 Tu.
With no less than 11 iterations of the Porsche 911 available in 2004, the choices might seem a little intimidating. Allow us to simplify things a bit. Assuming you can't justify the $40,000-$50,000 price premium for the Turbo, and you're not ready for the rougher, highly focused GT2 or GT3 models, it really comes down to whether you want a hardtop, a convertible, or the Targa with its unique sliding glass roof and rear hatch. Then you have to choose between rear-wheel drive and all-wheel drive. Finally, you have to choose the excellent six-speed manual transmission or the superb five-speed Tiptronic automatic.
Okay, there's one more choice in 2004. You'll also have to decide whether you want to pay $20,0000 extra for about $10,000 more content in the limited-run 40th Anniversary 911, with the hope that it might be collectable at some point in the future.
The Carrera and Targa models all come with the same normally aspirated (non-turbo) engine rated at 315 horsepower at 6800 rpm and 273 pounds-feet of torque at 4250. Porsche's six-speed manual gearbox is standard; the five-speed Tiptronic S automatic ($3,420) is optional.
The Carrera Coupe ($68,600) is rear-wheel drive, and it's the least expensive 911. It's lighter and therefore slightly quicker than most other Carreras. The 911 Carrera Coupe is sometimes called the C2, or Carrera 2, for Carrera 2WD.
The Targa ($76,000) features a giant sliding power glass roof that opens nearly twice the size of the standard sunroof of the Carrera Coupe. It's also the first 911 with a rear hatch, which eases access to the storage space behind the front seats and expands cargo capacity slightly.
Carrera Cabriolet ($78,400) features a fully automatic convertible top, which folds into its stowage space in 20 seconds with one button. All 911 Cabriolets come standard with a removable hardtop and a wind deflector that reduces turbulence in the cockpit when the top is lowered.
The Carrera Coupe, Cabriolet and Targa come standard with a digital stereo and in-dash CD player, automatic climate control, heated power mirrors, leather-faced seats with power recliners, power windows with one-touch auto up/down, a telescoping steering wheel, anti-theft system and trip computer. LEDs gently illuminate the door handles, ignition switch, and light switch.
In 2004, Porsche will build a maximum 1963 Carrera 40th Anniversary 911 models ($89,800). These are essentially Carrera Coupes with engines tweaked to 345 horsepower and a standard locking differential to improve traction and optimize acceleration. They also include Porsche Stability Management (PSM) antiskid electronics. All 40th Anniversary cars will be painted metallic silver, with bi-xenon headlights and special 18-inch wheels, sill trim and badging.
The Carrera 4 Cabriolet ($84,000) adds all-wheel drive to the convertible. Its styling is shared with the Carrera 2 models. Porsche's slick AWD adds less than 200 pounds to the car's weight, and it directs anywhere from 5 percent to 40 percent of the power to the front wheels, depending on available traction and how hard the driver is pushing down on the throttle. The all-wheel-drive system is not intended to merely serve as an all-weather traction assistant. Instead, it is designed to help the driver handle unexpected curves and bends. Porsche Stability Management is standard on the Carrera 4 Cabriolet.
The Carrera 4S ($83,400) combines the 315-hp normally aspirated 911 Carrera engine with the 911 Turbo's body design and feature content. It shares the Turbo's suspension, all-wheel-drive layout, huge brakes, and larger wheels and tires. Only well-trained eyes can distinguish the Carrera 4S from the Turbo. The C4S Cabriolet ($93,200) is a Carrera 4S with a convertible top.
The all-wheel-drive 911 Turbo ($118,400) gets Porsche's race-derived 415-hp twin-turbocharged engine and all-wheel drive. It develops an awesome 415 pound-f.