2004 Porsche 911


2004 Porsche 911

By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 9

Bottom Line:

Remarkable combination of high performance and civility.
  • Breathtaking acceleration
  • Race-style handling and braking
  • New Cabriolet version
  • Little cargo area
  • Entry and exit
  • Engine noise

Turbocharged versions of Porsche's iconic 911 rear-engine model have been very special since they arrived for the 1976 model year, and the latest 911 Turbo is the best such 911 ever offered.

The $118,400 twin-turbocharged 911Turbo coupe has been joined for 2004 by a 911 Turbo Cabriolet convertible, which is the first turbocharged 911 drop-top in about 14 years.

The $128,200 Cabriolet has an automatic 3-piece top that opens in a Z-configuration and quickly folds down into a compartment behind the rear seat. The Turbo Cabriolet is a little heavier than the hardtop and has a body based on the new 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet, with reinforcements to maintain a stiff structure without a fixed metal top.

I tested the 911 Turbo coupe, as the mechanically identical Cabriolet wasn't available yet.

The $68,600 911 Carrera coupe or $78,400 911 Carrera Cabriolet with their non-supercharged 315-horsepower version of Porsche's famous 6-cylinder engine are fast enough for most folks. They'll do 0-60 mph in approximately 5 to 5.7 seconds.

On the other hand, the 911 Turbo all-wheel-drive coupe (or convertible) is the ultimate 911. That is, unless you want to go half crazy and opt for the $191,700 911 GT2 coupe with its 477 horsepower version of the 911 engine with its horizontally opposed pistons.

Modified Race Engine
Before you jump for a GT2, consider that the 911 Turbo's 3.5-liter engine kicks out 415 horsepower and propels the car to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds and to 100 in 8.9 seconds. No surprise here, because the 911 Turbo engine is based on the Le Mans-race-winning Porsche GT1 motor. Porsche modified the GT1 race engine to meet noise and emissions regulations and to cope with low-speed traffic. The 911 Turbo Cabriolet is said to have virtually identical performance.

The 911 Turbo is good for 190 mph. Of course, it's got handling and braking to safely handle speeds most American drivers never experience.

Besides the added traction of all-wheel drive, this model has a sophisticated stability control system and feels very composed at all speeds.

Fast History
The 1976 turbocharged 911 had 234 horsepower and could hit 60 mph in 5.5 seconds. That allowed it to outrun a Ferrari and made it one of the world's fastest cars in a decade known mainly for slow, boring autos.

The first all-wheel-drive 911 Turbo coupe arrived in America for 1996. Besides providing a traction advantage, it allowed lots of power to be efficiently placed on roads.

Putting aside the glamour of exotic cars such as the 911 Turbo, it's all about dollar figures and performance numbers when comparing that Porsche with rival sports cars from Ferrari, Maserati, Aston Martin and Lamborghini.

For example, you can get the 911 Turbo with 444 horsepower if you order an approximately $18,000 upgrade package with such things as modified turbochargers and exhaust system, besides a strengthened transmission.

Safety Device
But enough is enough, right? Even the standard 911 Turbo's high-speed-related performance figures are academic unless you have access to a race track with long straight-aways or live in desolate areas of wide-open states such as Texas. Mostly, the 911 Turbo's heroic acceleration can be used as a safety device for easy merges into fast traffic and effortless passing on highways.

Cars with the 911 Turbo's awesome performance once were temperamental. But this Porsche can be driven in town as if it were an economy car.

My test car had the standard, slick 6-speed manual gearbox. It works with a light clutch that has a long throw but a progressive action. If you feel lazy, you can start out in second gear and shift to fourth at 30 mph with no engine protest because of high engine torque.

Automatic Transmission Offered
Those who feel even lazier can order an efficient $3,420 5-speed automatic transmission that can be left in "drive" mode or shifted manually with steering-wheel-mounted thumb switches.

Estimated fuel economy is poor in town. The 911 Turbo delivers 15 mpg in the city, and the highway figure is just 22 mpg. Some midsize sport-utility vehicles do just as well. That's because the 911 Turbo is very powerful and heavy at 3,388 pounds for a short-wheelbase car only 174.6 inches long.

Race Car Feel
The 911 Turbo feels like the competition-derived car that it is. You get razor-sharp steering with good road feel and just a bit of the old 911 steering-wheel kickback. The competition-inspired chassis and huge tires provide superb handling.

The ride is firm but supple, although some serious road imperfections jar occupants. Also, the short 92.5-inch wheelbase causes the car to jerk up and down a little on wavy pavement.

The brake pedal is firm, and stopping power is awesome.

The interior is generally quiet. Noise from the smooth engine is muted, although the motor still drones a bit at highway speeds and the tires make noise on some road textures.

A large windshield and sloping hood provide a great view of the road ahead, but it calls for above-average agility to gracefully enter or leave this low-slung car. There's good space for two tall adults in the supportive front power bucket seats, but the small rear-seat area is for toddlers.

Small Cargo Area
It's best to flip the rear seatbacks down to increase cargo capacity. The small front storage compartment is best suited to a couple of pieces of soft luggage.

The 911 Turbo has enough comfort and convenience equipment to help make it a good long-distance cruiser for those who travel light. Standard equipment includes an upscale Bose sound system, rain-sensing wipers and power outside mirrors. But the windows work slowly, and interior door handles are difficult to use quickly.

Porsche is big on tradition. So the ignition switch is to the left of the steering wheel, following Porsche race-car tradition. That location makes it awkward for right-handed people to use.

The engine compartment is so crowded you can only see a portion of the engine when you flip open its lid. Expect high repair costs if something goes wrong, although Porsche is known for durability.

Ferocious Appearance
The 911 Turbo looks nearly the same as other 911 models, although its appearance is a little more ferocious. For instance, three large intake grilles dominate the lower front fascia and feed cooling air to three radiators. The chromed dual exhaust outlets are huge.

If the price seems too high, consider the 911 Turbo a good long-term investment. This is one of those cars that are mighty hard to give up.


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BB04 - 9/22/2014 3:48:21 AM