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PORSCHE REVAMPS A RACEHORSE

Slow-moving cars scuttled out of the way as I screamed down the autobahn at 150 mph in the redesigned version of one of the world's classic sports cars, the Porsche 911. Even at that heady tempo, I was gliding along as smoothly as if I were riding on welded steel rails.

Porsche's first ground-up redesign of the 911 in 34 years is a masterwork. The $65,700 rear-engine speedster retains its distinctive shape, only with flatter, more aerodynamic lines. Gone are the air-cooled engine and pedals that sprout from the floor, a la vintage Volkswagen Beetles. What remains is a car that is almost without peer for fast, sure-footed driving.

The 911's first-ever water-cooled six-cylinder power plant has ample oomph. The 300 horsepower engine launches the two-seater to 60 mph in just over 5 seconds. Top speed is 175 MPH. Minus the big cooling fans of the old model, the engine is far quieter at low speeds. But stomp the throttle and it emits a gleeful scream as the tachometer nears the 7,300 RPM redline.

A six-speed manual transmission is standard. For an extra $3,100 you can get a new five-speed version of Porsche's Tiptronic automatic with switches on the spokes of the steering wheel that let you change gears at the flick of a finger. The car's antilock brakes are exemplary, bringing you to a stop from 100 MPH in four seconds.

BAG SPACE. The 911's handling is more refined than ever. Zinging down curvy country roads is an absolute joy. Inside, the new 911 is both more stylish and functional than its predecessor. Its standard leather seats are firm but comfortable, with plenty of lateral support. Front and side airbags are standard. And passengers have more room. But the backseat, though still too cramped for anyone but children or small adults, offers more space for luggage. That's important, because the storage space under the hood handles only a couple of soft overnight bags.

As in the Boxster, the 911's smaller cousin, the main instrument panel combines an old-style analog tachometer and a digital speedometer. They're both easy to read. I was disappointed, however, by the optional integrated navigation and sound system that gives spoken directions. It runs a stiff $3,500, and only a techie could love its confusion of buttons and dials. The navigation function is also maddeningly unreliable--it directed me to a street that was closed, for instance.

Sun worshippers might consider the new 911's $74,000 convertible. Its cloth top stows behind the rear seat at the touch of a dashboard button. It can also be activated from a distance by a key-mounted radio transmitter. The convertible also comes with a hardtop as standard equipment.

TOUR OPTION. If you want to take your new 911 on a European tour this summer, you might consider picking it up at the factory outside Stuttgart. For $2,250 extra, you get insurance and roadside help for a month of driving, plus shipping back to the U.S. An even better time to take delivery is in the fall. The weather's still fine. And trippers will be off the autobahns--giving you room to let those horses run.

By David Woodruff
EDITED BY AMY DUNKIN



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PHOTO: Porsche 911 Cabriolet


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Updated June 11, 1998 by bwwebmaster
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