2002 Porsche 911 Carrera new car reviews

Our 911 test car

For the most part, we here at GRM are pretty down-to-earth people: we live in modest neighborhoods, we keep an eye out for a bargain or two, and we know the beauty of dining at an all-you-can-eat buffet. However, sometimes it is fun to peak around the corner and see how the other half lives--as we did recently.

Our exploratory device was a new Porsche 911 Carrera, possibly one of the most coveted cars out there, and our destination was The Breakers, one of South Florida's most luxurious oceanfront resorts . We figured since we had access to a $75,000 automobile (actually a $76,167 automobile), why not live like the owner of a $75,000 automobile? The question: Is it really better to live like the Thurston Howell?

Don't think we're going totally soft on you guys, though. We managed to get an off-season break on the rate, so our ocean-view room was "only" $350 for the night�during the peak season it runs $570 per night. But we figure we work hard, and every now and then it's necessary to indulge a bit. So what if we needed welding gloves to handle our credit card the following month?

Anyway, back to the car. After 34 years of making evolutionary changes, Porsche engineers finally taped a clean piece of paper to their drawing boards and set out to design a new 911.

"Porsche had developed the original 911 to its maximum point, which put it at the epitome of sports car design," said Frederick J. Schwab, President and CEO of Porsche Cars North America. "Our goal was to take the basic 911 concepts and again produce the world's best sports car. To do this, we needed to start with a clean sheet of paper and incorporate new development and manufacturing techniques. What better time than 1998, our 50th anniversary year, to introduce the latest version of the Porsche 911 Carrera, the world's greatest sports car?"

While the new 911 is impossible to mistake for any other car, its measurements and dimensions are all-new. Every body panel has been redesigned, and for the first time since the car's 1965 introduction, the 911 gets a new roof line and windshield.

Along with the reshaping comes more room, as Porsche engineers made increases to the wheelbase, length and width. The height remains the same, but the car now has less ground clearance, in effect making the midsection of the car bigger. Despite all of these increases, the new 911 is 154 pounds lighter than the one it replaces.

Like the outside, the inside of the 911 has also been totally redesigned but with an eye towards the past. A flat-six boxer engine still powers the 911, but it's now cooled by a strange mixture of hydrogen and oxygen. This new water-cooled engine, similar to the one powering the Boxster, produces 296 horsepower and a healthy 258 ft.-lbs. of torque. Credit Porsche's VarioCam variable valve timing system for its well-rounded manners.

Engineers also redesigned the 911's suspension, although not quite as radically as the engine and bodywork. Like the most recent air-cooled 911, the new one still uses a McPherson strut-type front assembly. The rear suspension, however, differs considerably as Porsche's engineers developed a new multi-link rear suspension. Like the front unit, the rear suspension consists of aluminum control arms which attach the wheels to a die-cast aluminum subframe carrier. This carrier connects to the 911's structure via rubber bushings to help improve ride and comfort and isolate road noise as well as add to the car's structural stiffness. The suspension unit also serves to absorb crash forces in the event of a rear impact.

All this technical talk is fine, you say, but what's the car really like to drive? Honestly, it's pretty impressive, although old-school Porsche fans might not like the fact that this new 911 feels more like a BMW and less like a VW than previous models. The new engine makes a ton of power, and things inside the cabin are so quiet that it's pretty easy to unintentionally exceed most speed limits. Fortunately, a new digital speedometer keeps tabs on how fast you're moving. At first the digital speedo seems kind of out of place, but since the analog speedometer is a little hard to read, we didn't mind. Also, it's not like a new Porsche exactly blends in with the surrounding traffic.

Besides our little Palm Beach vacation, we exercised the Porsche up at our top-secret test site. "It was fast," was test driver J.G.'s first remark. "It went from zero to 60 in 5.14 seconds. And it went from 60 miles per hour to zero miles per hour in 111 feet, which is quite astounding if you ask me--and you did."

However, J.G. found that the car pushed a bit at the limit, much like almost every other modern production car. "It seems like they have tamed it for stupid people," he said. "It's very forgiving, but to make it forgiving I think they gave up a lot of potential. It's probably something that a decent alignment should be able to cure."

So, what did we learn from our live-like-the-rich experiment? Sometimes it's good to appreciate what you have. A $75,000 automobile and a $120 breakfast buffet for two might be a fun indulgence every now and then, but on the other hand there's nothing wrong with a seven-year-old Miata and a bag of bagels. Looks like you can take the boy out of the budget, but you still can't take the budget out of the boy.

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