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A Pair Of Brutes For The Daring


Personal Business: Autos

A PAIR OF BRUTES FOR THE DARING

It's frightening how speedy sports cars are these days. Take the new Toyota Supra turbo and the just-upgraded Porsche 911 Turbo 3.6. Both boast heart-stopping acceleration and the cornering agility of a hungry cheetah. They look downright dangerous, too, with flared fenders, beefy tires, and outrageous rear spoilers. But the Porsche carries a much scarier price tag: $99,000--more than twice the Supra's sticker.

Only a buff wouldn't find the performance numbers mind-numbing. The Porsche rockets to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds and tops out at a white-knuckled 174 mph, which is useful if you live near a speedway. The Supra turbo hits 60 mph in just under 5 seconds; top speed is electronically limited to a sedate 155 mph. Stopping is quick, too. Both cars get back to zero in 120 feet, about 40 feet sooner than your average family sedan.

PUNISHING RIDE. The cars have distinct personalities. Purists may prefer the Porsche's raw, brutish feel. The turbocharger kicks in with a vicious punch that can send the rear end sliding during hard cornering, especially on slick pavement. On rough roads, the din is annoying, and the stiff ride punishing.

The Porsche's virtually useless back seat and cramped luggage space come as no surprise. On the other hand, the dashboard controls could be friendlier. The climate controls are hidden behind the steering wheel. The unmarked sun-roof switch is out of sight, under a dash panel, and there are two outside-mirror power controls--in separate locations.

The Supra, by contrast, offers a more refined driving experience. The twin turbos engage much more gradually, making the throttle easier to control. There's even an electronic traction-control system that automatically keeps the rear wheels from spinning, unless you turn it off. The Supra's ride is stiff, but not brutal, absorbing small bumps with ease. And the car is a bit quieter, too. One downer: The steering wheel feels a bit dead and telegraphs poorly how the tires are gripping.

Inside, the dash wraps cockpit-like around the driver. Controls and gauges are uncluttered and easy to use; only the radio switches are a bit complicated. The back seats are for midgets at best. But with the Supra's hatchback body style, there's more than twice the Porsche's luggage space.

Both cars have the latest safety features, such as dual air bags and antilock brakes. And their comfortable, sculpted seats keep you firmly in place, even during spirited cornering. But the Supra is way ahead on price: It starts at $42,800. There are less expensive, nonturbo versions of both cars. But once you've driven these hard-chargers, it will be a lot harder to settle for less.David Woodruff


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