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    05 911Turning convention on its head - almost invisibly.

    It's been forty years since Porsche confounded the world by hanging the engine way out the back of the 911 and calling it a sports car. The laws of physics dictate that it should have been a disaster but it offered such a uniquely entertaining driving experience that it quickly became one of the world's favorite driver's cars.

    We can only imagine, then, the pressure engineers must have felt when developing the 2005 Porsche 911. They needed to stay true to the car's origins and yet improve it in every way. It's a big responsibility tinkering with an icon and for a small independent company like Porsche there's no room for error.

    It's clear that the new Porsche 911 has been developed with a lot of input from customers. For a start, the round headlamps are back so it looks like a proper 911 once more. On the surface, that seems to be the only change to the bodywork but in fact every panel except the roof has been changed. You'll notice that more when you sit behind one in traffic - the wheels are farther apart so the wings bulge much more than before. This, combined with a slimmer waistline, gives the car a tougher, more muscular look. The new 911 is looking lean and mean and we like it.

    Inside the 911 is more luxurious than ever before with a completely redesigned center console and improved plastics elsewhere. A LCD screen is now standard that lets you wade through the multitude of stereo functions and make other adjustments too tedious to list here, though it's positioned very low down and is awkward to look at while on the move. The new climate controls and bigger dials are the essence of simplicity, however, while the new three-spoke steering wheel feels chunkier and looks much better. You can finally adjust the steering position, too, and there are new front seats to maximize comfort, though the rear seats are still virtually useless. Overall, the 911's interior is more befitting a car of its prestige, even if there are a few too many buttons in there for my taste.

    Sticking it to the streets

    Those new fenders hide some extensive suspension work that includes a broader track (1.2-inches at the front and 1.3 at the back, if you're interested), beefier wheel mounts, new cross-drilled brake rotors, and redesigned suspension sub-frames. Lots of aluminium was used to reduce the weight of the suspension allowing it to react better to the road surface and even the tires were specially developed to match the 911's unique handling characteristics.

    Big news for the new 911 is the option of PASM or "Porsche Active Suspension Management." This neat system lets you scoot to work with the suspension feeling surprisingly compliant and the electronic stability systems on full alert, but once you switch it sport mode the shocks stiffen up, the cars drops four-tenths of an inch and the electronic safety features let you hang the back out a little bit. Normally I don't think much of these systems but on the 911 the car's whole demeanor changes at the flick of a switch. And not only does it feel better, it's faster around the track in Sport mode too, as the optional lap-timer revealed.

    On the street, the new 911 is more civilized than ever. The ride (on the standard, non-PASM) model is a little smoother and the cabin is a little quieter while the slick six-speed gearbox and light clutch makes it a pleasure to wring the most from the 325-hp, 3.6-liter, six-cylinder boxer engine. Though it's only got an extra 10 hp, the revised gearbox and bigger wheels means the new 911 Carrera is two-tenths of a second faster to 60 mph from rest, now taking just 4.8 seconds. The 3.8-litre, 355 hp Carrera S (distinguishable by its larger 18-inch wheels, different tailpipes, and subtle S badges) needs just 4.6 seconds to perform the benchmark sprint and is all out of puff at 182 mph, five miles per hour faster than the basic Carrera. The five-speed Tiptronic automatic, operated via the gear selector or steering wheel controls, has also been reconfigured to react faster and will now hold a gear at the redline during enthusiastic driving. The gearshifts are smoother too, even when you stomp hard on the gas and force a sudden kickdown, though Tiptronic models are around half a second slower to 60 than the equivalent manuals.

    Too much improvement

    There are two areas where the 911 has been improved a little too much. The new exhaust system is more refined and quieter than before, but the distinctive boxer sound is all but gone unless you're flat out in a tunnel with the windows down. And the new steering rack, though offering better low-speed maneuverability and being slightly more responsive than the outgoing model, deprives the driver the intimate relationship with the front wheels that he or she used to enjoy. Watching and feeling the front-end dance around is an important part of the 911 experience so while there's no doubting it's more stable and grippier than it was, the 911 isn't quite as delicate to drive.

    Still, that's a small price to pay for the array of improvements elsewhere and speaking of prices, the new 911 Carrera can be all yours for $69,300. Given the added equipment, this makes it the best-value 911 ever, though you might want to consider the optional PASM for a truer 911 experience. I know that shouldn't make sense but remember that Porsche is in the habit of turning convention on its head after all.

    Re: 05 911Turning convention on its head - almost invisibly.

    "Big news for the new 911 is the option of PASM . . . but once you switch it sport mode the shocks stiffen up, the cars drops four-tenths of an inch "

    Wrong. Where on earth do people get this stuff?

     
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