Raising the standard. Again.
Few automobiles are as neatly defined as the Porsche 911 . The 911 says "sports car" by look, reputation, even by name, and the substantially revised 2005 model delivers on a reputation for speed and style in spades.
This sports car hasn't earned its reputation overnight, of course. The 911's 41-year run is a story of steady, subtle improvement punctuated by periodic major overhauls. The changes for 2005 are closer to an overhaul, marked by a change in the 911's internal codename at Porsche (it's designated 997, replacing the 996, which had been built since 1998). If the 2005 model looks conspicuously similar to the original 1964, this 911 is nonetheless a thoroughly modern driving machine, packed with the latest in material advances, engine technology and electronic management. The 911 remains the standard by which other sports cars are judged, and the 2005 raises the standard.
There are hundreds of changes from 2004, including new electronic technology, more powerful engines and a redesigned interior. The 911 is equipped with curtain-style head-protection airbags for the first time. Even the familiar silhouette has subtle changes a Porsche nut will notice in an instant. These styling tweaks increase storage space and improve aerodynamic efficiency; in our view, they also increase the 911's sex appeal.
The 911 had evolved from its original air-cooled, VW Beetle roots long before this latest round of updates. Yet over the past 10 or 15 years, as Porsche engineers ironed out some of the 911's handling quirks, they'd also moved this sports car in a more civilized direction. Granted, the 911's race-bred handling and braking performance were surpassed by few cars. It turned with the accuracy of a sniper and blitzed along at 125 as stable as the Rock of Gibraltar. But the 911 has also adapted the accoutrements of a grand-touring coupe, with multiple-adjustment heated memory seats, automatic climate control, more sound insulating material and one-button convertible tops. To some hard-core 911 old-timers, it's become downright cushy. One of the most striking things about the 2005 model is that in some subtle but obvious ways, the 911 has devolved.
That doesn't mean it's suddenly become a Spartan buckboard of a high-performance car. The comfort, convenience and high-tech features are still here, and then some, including a new, optional fully active suspension. Yet in certain, very deliberate respects, the 2005 911 is more primal than its predecessor. Perhaps it's a more aggressive rasp from the exhaust, the way the engines deliver power to the drive wheels or the way the shift lever snicks between gears. Maybe it's an extra tingle of vibration through the frame channels. Whatever the reason, in standard trim the new 911 is edgier, and we're sure driving enthusiasts will appreciate the difference.
All told, if the 911 can be classified as a supercar, it remains one of the easiest supercars to live with. It's more user friendly than competitors, from the Chevy Corvette to the Ferrari F430. It rides smoothly and comfortably for a sports car. It's relatively easy to get in and out of and it's happy to putt around all day at Buick pace, particularly with the Tiptronic automatic transmission. The 911 has earned a reputation for being nearly bullet-proof, and there's very little about it that's finicky.
With launch of the 2005, Porsche has reduced the number of 911 models from 11 to just four. Among those four, the all-wheel-drive, crazy-powered Turbo S and Turbo S Cabriolet are still based on the previous platform (996). More variants of the new 911 will trickle out over the next few model years. A new 911 convertible should reach showrooms by the end of calendar 2005.
This we say with certainty: Nearly 60 years after the company was founded, Porsche continues to make some of the world's great sports cars. The 2005 Porsche 911 is the best one so far.