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First Oz drive: Porsche improves on 911 perfection

New look: All 911s now get the Turbo's more aggressive front and rear-end styling treatments.

One of the world's great sportscars just keeps getting better

1 Oct 2001

MANY would describe facelifting Porsche's consummate sports coupe as akin to improving on perfection.

But far from resting on its hard earned laurels the Zuffenhausen car maker has aimed right at the jugular vein of its rapid new competitors by releasing a more powerful and more rigid 911 Carrera with even livelier handling for model year 2002.

Small price rises will accompany the updated 911 range, which will comprise no fewer than six variants by late March, when the Carrera 4S is added to the Carrera coupe, Carrera Cabriolet, Turbo, GT2 and Targa 911 line-up.

For now, Porsche has stroked the standard 911's horizontally-opposed six-cylinder engine by 4.8mm to produce a capacity of 3.6 litres and added the VarioCam Plus variable valve timing technology - which adjusts inlet valve lift as well as timing - from the 911 Turbo. The result is a 14kW peak power increase to 235kW at 6800rpm, with 370Nm of torque now available at 4250rpm.

Despite a 25kg hike in weight due to the addition of extra roof and side reinforcing - which is claimed to increase the benchmark 911's structural rigidity by a whopping 25 per cent - the extra power sees the standard Carrera's claimed 0-100km/h acceleration drop from 5.2 to just 5.0 seconds, bettering both BMW's M3 and the forthcoming C32 AMG.

Seatbelt pretensioners with belt force limiters have also been added to the 911, as well as revised suspension specification and - for the first time - a glovebox and an interesting dash-mounted dual cupholder said to be designed after in-depth consultation with US customers.

Of course, all 911s now feature the flagship Turbo model's more aggressive front and rear-end styling treatments - with lift reduced at both ends - although the stylish new headlights incorporate Halogen beams, not the Turbo's expensive Bi-Xenon units.

Porsche 911 pricing now starts at $186,000 for the standard 911 Carrera coupe manual, while the MY2002 911 Cabriolet - also available now - is priced at $202,000. Both are available with Porsche's five-speed Tiptronic S semi-automatic transmission.

Further up the 911 tree, the open-top 911 Targa will be priced at $203,600 when it arrives in early November, while the $221,000 Carrera 4S - a Turbo-look, all-wheel drive 911 to replace the Carrera 4 - will complete the range in late March.

MY2002 pricing for the 911 Turbo is set at $306,000, with Porsche's highest performing road car, the GT2, commanding a $399,000 pricetag. Just 20 GT2s have been made available to Australia for 2001/2002, all of which are already spoken for. Packing 340kW, the GT2 blasts to 100km/h in just 4.1 seconds and to a top speed of 315km/h.

The Porsche Boxster has also come in for MY2002 revisions. Both the Boxster and Boxster S get the updated 911's matt-finish interior switches and seatbelt pretensioners, while cruise control is now standard on both models and the S gets a standard wind blocker. Accounting for the new standard equipment, both Boxsters have risen less than one per cent, and are now priced at $109,890 and $133,500 respectively.

Porsche Cars Australia predicts 911 sales volumes will continue along current trends at around 400 per year, though it has revised down its Boxster sales projections to just 300 for the coming year.

"We have consistently sold 350 to 400 Boxsters every year since launch in 1997," said PCA sales and marketing manager Michael Bartsch. "They are volumes that are more consistent than those achieved by competitors like SLK and S2000, but we thought it prudent to revise down our Boxster projections this time round." PRICING:
Boxster 2.7 $108,900
Boxster S 3.2 $133,500
911 Carrera coupe $186,000
911 Cabriolet $202,000
911 Targa $203,600
911 Carrera 4S $221,000
911 Turbo $306,000
911 GT2 $399,000 DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:
The 911 has long been an industry yardstick in terms of structural integrity, handling and muscular engine performance, so when Porsche updates its flagship sports coupe everybody takes notice - even when the changes seem somewhat minor.

However, changes that appear minor on paper produce a significant change to the overall 911 package in terms of both rigidity, handling and performance, raising the bar substantially in three key areas.

First, the standard 911 borrows VarioCam Plus variable valve timing technology from its Turbo sibling, increasing the flat six's already V8-like driveability substantially and giving the impression there's more torque on tap everywhere.

If the 3.4-litre six was flexible before, in stroked 3.6-litre form it must truly be one of the finest six-cylinder production engines ever assembled, BMW's 254kW straight six notwithstanding.

Next most noticeable improvement is the livelier steering. A factor of minor suspension recalibration and extra chassis rigidity, the steering feels even more willing to steer almost intuitively, but has lost none of its precision or feedback.

In either rear or all-wheel drive guise, the 911's steering is also one of motoring's finest examples.

Porsche could easily have given the 911 a cosmetic makeover to maintain its edge in the hotly contested performance coupe segment. Instead, it attempted to improve three of the most important areas of performance car engineering in one of the world's most accomplished sports cars.

It succeeded in making the 911 an even quicker, sharper, more driveable and rewarding car to drive - and an even more formidable benchmark to which others will aspire.

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