2005 Porsche 911 Carerra
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
It's difficult to see by just looking, but some 80 percent of the parts in the sixth-generation Porsche 911 Carrera are new.
A few are easy to spot—the new, round headlamps that harken to earlier Porsches, for example. There's also the broad rear end that accentuates the renewed Coke bottle design of the overall body. And look at those wheels. The new, 2005 911 Carrera wears the biggest standard wheels ever—19-inchers with Z-rated tires on the up-level S model.
Many more changes, however, are felt more than they're seen. These include the improved workings of the manual and automatic transmissions, updated "flat" six-cylinder engines, new variable-ratio steering and new adaptive suspension.
Blessedly, all changes are done expertly, precisely tuning the 911 Carrera's already standout handling and performance to even more tantalizingly enjoyable levels.
It's not often that a new-generation auto combines subtle updates with substantial high-tech improvements in such a pleasing, holistic way.
And yes, this means that from the inside of the 911 Carrera, it's futile to try to see beyond the sport-utility vehicles, pickup trucks and even many cars that are on America's roads.
No matter. The 911 Carrera seats, themselves, are updated and comfortable. Indeed, Porsche engineers put the front seats 0.39 inch lower than in the previous 911 Carrera in order to improve headroom a bit for tall passengers. The shoulder area and seat cushion are "more generous" than before, too, the automaker says tactfully. Yet, someone my size—5 feet 4—had no problem getting comfortable in the seats, either. Could this mean more wives will be interested in driving their husbands' 911s? (Porsche says the majority of buyers are, and have been, men.) Only time will tell.
I tested both the adaptive sport seats and the all-electrically-controlled seats. They're two of the four seat options available for the 2005 911 Carrera.
The electrically-controlled seats come with 12 adjustments, so if you can't find a setting combination that works for you, something must be wrong with you.
The adaptive sport seats have seat cushion and seatback that can be adjusted separately, which is a smart feature. Meantime, the standard seats have better side support than before, and the sport seats come with firmer padding than the standard seats have.
I appreciated the fact that the 911 Carrera's steering wheels now is height adjustable. This also makes it easier for smaller-stature drivers to find a comfortable driving position.
Some of the interior elements in the new 911 are the same as in earlier 911s. For example, the small, almost useless vanity mirrors on the small visors and the black, plastic switches to turn on and off the map lights haven't changed. The hard-to-detect map pockets under the door armrests are still there, too, and storage space inside remains a problem. So do the two rear seats that look like perches with awkward, tiny seatbacks.
But the five dials in the instrument panel are spaced farther apart than before, making it easier to view each one, and white light-emitting-diode lighting now gives clear illumination to the dials at night.
I just wish the navigation system display screen was larger and more colorful. Porsche said the nav system is new, an optional unit, and uses a DVD player that's installed in the already-cramped luggage compartment. But the system didn't have the same compelling look as I've come to enjoy in the nav system of Infiniti's cars, just to name one example.
Still, the new 911 Carrera is the first to offer Bose Surround Sound, and it's awesome. Thirteen speakers—up from the nine in the 911's standard audio system—and a 7-channel digital amplifier fill the car with crystal clear tunes.
Two engines and two models
I know I never did during my test drives, first of the base model, then the up-level S. I've always loved the sounds of Porsche's horizontally opposed, "flat" six cylinder power plants, and the sounds from the new 911 Carrera are just as pleasing and just as distinctive as those of previous Porsches.
In fact, the company's engineers made sure to differentiate the two six-cylinder engines for '05 by sound, giving the up-level, larger engine a bit more muscular tune than the base engine has. But neither sounds like a deep rumbling, domestic muscle car, thank goodness. They both purr and whine like true Porsches.
The base engine remains the 3.6-liter, aluminum power plant with four overhead cams and Porsche's VarioCam Plus system. Power in the base engine is up only 5 horses—from the 320 horsepower in the 2004 911 Carrera to 325. Torque remains at 273 lb-ft at 4250 rpm, and the estimated fuel economy rating of 18 miles a gallon in city driving and 16 mpg on the highway hasn't changed appreciably, either.
Still, the '05 911 Carrera doesn't feel as if it lacks power. Keep in mind the new model, with new, additional standard equipment such as door-sill airbags, is just 110 pounds more in weight than the previous 911 Carrera and weighs in at 3,069 pounds.
So during the test drive, the base car with Tiptronic transmission moved aggressively forward when I wanted, passed other cars with plenty of power to spare (downshifting on its own at times to accomplish the power passes) and roared down highways with gusto. It was, admittedly, a bit difficult to drive slowly in residential areas. The car just feels as if it's creeping along at those speeds.
The top-of-the-line S model—marking the first time since 1977 that the 911 Carrera has been introduced with two models simultaneously—is the more flagrant power machine.
It uses a 355-horsepower 3.8-liter version of the 3.6-liter base engine, as the bore diameter is increased and there's new geometry in the combustion chamber. Peak torque is 295 lb-ft at 4600 rpm, and it's worth noting that the torque is higher than in the base engine through the entire speed range.
The S immediately conveyed a more muscle-bound sense while still maintaining the 911's sprightly character. I got the S up to 153 miles an hour in relatively quick, steady fashion and could have kept going. Zero to 62 miles an hour is 4.8 seconds in the 911 Carrera S compared with 5 seconds in the base car.
Each transmission—the 6-speed manual and 5-speed Tiptronic automatic—is updated. It's amazing to see how smoothly a driver can shift the manual transmission. The shift throw is reduced 15 percent, too, so shifting can be done faster. And synchronizing rings in all gears are steel now, not brass, while the synchronizing process is improved, particularly in first through third gears.
The Tiptronic is nothing to sneer at. Indeed, I consider it one of the best high-tech transmissions around. Its shifts aren't lazy; they're responsive and sporty. The Tiptronic readily downshifts on its own when it senses the need, sometimes going down more than one gear to provide the best response.
Of course, the No. 1 benefit is it makes driving in traffic congestion so much easier to take. In fact, Porsche officials said the Tiptronic has been growing in popularity and now is fitted in more than 20 percent of the cars sold.
Handling is a hallmark
The new 911 Carrera's chassis has been subtly updated and provides a firm ride, as you'd expect. Indeed, with some suspension equipment, such as the sport setting suspension, it's downright stiff and taut-feeling—very nearly punishing.
But Porsche tries something new this time, putting Porsche Active Management System (PASM) standard on the S and optional on the base 911 Carrera. Overall, the system lowers the car by 0.39 inch from what the base car setup is.
The system also has two modes that are activated by a button on the dashboard. The comfort mode adjusts dampers for quite a compliant ride that helps ease passengers over bumps and pits in the road. On mostly smooth roads, I didn't feel fatigued at all by the ride with the suspension at this setting, which is, by the way, more compliant than the base car's standard suspension.
The sport mode, however, puts riders much more in touch with even slight road imperfections. As a passenger, I couldn't rest my head against the backrest, for example, because my head just kept banging against it, even on relatively clean pavement. The non-stop vibrations in my body became tiring, too, as I traveled for more than an hour in this mode.
But body roll sure is negligible and the car as a whole handles with palpable agility in the sport mode.
Note Porsche also offers a third "all-out" sport suspension that can be installed on the S instead of the PASM. It's about as close as a driver can get to a 911 Carrera version of race car.
There's a new variable-ratio rack-and-pinion steering system in the '05 911 Carrera that makes steering so much easier in tight parking maneuvers and when making quick passes around other cars. Simply, the driver needs less turning effort. And thankfully, it's not a weird sensation because it comes on smoothly. The system works by hydraulics, not electronics, by the way.
I also found the new steering provides a less jittery feel than earlier 911s had.
There's road noise from the tires and the engine is heard readily, especially on acceleration. But wind noise, even at high autobahn speeds, is virtually nonexistent.