Vehicle Overview
Because last year’s changes to Porsche’s long-lived 911 series were extensive, only the addition of an in-dash CD player is new for the 2003 model year. Porsche’s 2003 lineup includes seven versions: the rear-wheel-drive (RWD) Carrera coupe, convertible and Targa coupe; the all-wheel-drive (AWD) Carrera 4 Cabriolet (convertible) and 4S coupe; the higher-powered AWD Turbo coupe; and the limited-production 911 GT2.

Freshly shaped at the front end in 2002, the 911 has Turbo-like headlights and a wider rear-end panel above restyled oval exhaust tailpipes. Additional power also emerged in 2002 as the rear-mounted six-cylinder engine grew from 3.4 liters to 3.6 liters and from 300 to 315 horsepower. The body structures were also strengthened, and a glass rear window replaced the previous polycarbonate pane in the convertible models, which have a power-operated top.

The Targa coupes feature a sliding glass roof that’s twice the size of a customary sunroof, which opens to 20 inches. A wind deflector is installed at the leading edge. A cloth blind protects against the sun and adds cold-weather insulation.

First introduced in 1996, the current Carrera 4S was “created in the image of the 911 Turbo,” says Porsche spokesperson Robert Carlson. In fact, the basic coupe body, suspension and AWD system are shared with the 911 Turbo. The front end resembles that of the Turbo, but the Turbo’s large air intakes are not needed.

The 4S has the same automatic-deploying rear spoiler that the other 911 models have; it raises at 75 mph and lowers at 50 mph. Solid-spoke wheels hold 18-inch tires. Porsche’s Stability Management System is standard on the 4S and Carrera 4 Cabriolet and optional on the other models.

Twin turbochargers in the 911 Turbo help the 3.6-liter six-cylinder engine crank out 415 hp. AWD and a six-speed-manual transmission are standard. A five-speed automatic with Porsche’s Tiptronic system is also available; it permits manual gear changes.

During the 2002 model year, Porsche also introduced a new temptation to satisfy even the most power-frenzied sports-car enthusiasts. Billed as “the ultimate Porsche” and called the 911 GT2, it adds a batch of racing-derived features to the 911 Turbo foundation and takes on an extra 41 horsepower in the process.

Even better for performance, the 911 GT2 weighs about 220 pounds less than the Turbo for a power-to-weight ratio of 6.8 pounds per horsepower. Instead of all-wheel drive like the 911 Turbo, the 911 GT2 is equipped with rear-wheel drive, which helps keep the weight down. Porsche claims a 0-to-62-mph acceleration time of about 4 seconds and a top track speed of 195 mph. Porsche’s Ceramic Composite Brakes, which are optional on the 911 Turbo, are standard on the 911 GT2.

Gradually reaching dealerships since the 2002 season, the 911 GT2 is priced at $181,700. Porsche expects to send approximately 250 units to the United States each year. Competitors come from the exotic sports car crop: the Aston Martin V12 Vanquish, Dodge Viper, Ferraris and Lamborghinis.

Even though the 911’s sleek, low, curvaceous shape has remained essentially the same since the car was redesigned for 1999, the latest Carreras look more assertive. Carrera 4 convertibles come with a removable hardtop, while the regular Carrera has only a fabric top. Carrera models can have an optional sport suspension and roof rack.

Nearly devoid of extraneous trim, the smoothly contoured 911 body looks the part of a near-supercar. The Turbo’s appearance is even bolder with its wide stance, especially at the rear. Three large intake grilles dominate the lower front fascia, which sends air to the Turbo’s three radiators. Air scoops integrated into the leading edges of the rear fenders channel air to intercoolers. A biplane two-piece rear spoiler on the Turbo differs from that on other models and is supposed to enhance high-speed stability.

Even though the basic appearance of the 911 GT2 is similar to that of the 911 Turbo, several design changes are noticeable — and they’re functional and not just decorative touches. The front air intakes are larger, and distinctive air intakes sit ahead of the front hood. Air-intake scoops at the rear have been moved far to the outside. Standing 50.2 inches tall, the 911 GT2 rides a 92.7-inch wheelbase and measures 175 inches long overall.

A one-piece fixed wing replaces the automatic-deploying rear spoiler on the 911 Turbo, but the wing can be adjusted manually by 6 degrees for racetrack driving. The 911 GT2’s wing is taller, extends farther to the rear than the Turbo’s spoiler and produces greater downforce at higher speeds. Ducts at the wing ends deliver fresh air to the engine.

Reworking the suspension has produced a 0.78-inch lower center of gravity. The wheels and tires are also larger than the Turbo’s, measuring P235/40ZR18 up front and a massive P315/30ZR18 at the rear. Ceramic composite brakes reduce unsprung weight by 36.6 pounds, which helps enhance suspension response.

Called four-passenger automobiles by Porsche, the 911s have plenty of space for front-seat occupants but backseat riders are likely to be in trouble, especially in convertible models. A tachometer and three-spoke steering wheel sit ahead of the driver, with the ignition switch to the left of the dashboard. A locking glove box is included.

The bucket seats are made of a synthetic material and upholstered in leather. Standard equipment includes power windows, remote keyless entry, automatic climate control, a CD player and an anti-theft system. Automatic climate control, cruise control and natural leather trim are optional.

Under the Hood
Dubbed a boxer engine because of its horizontally opposed cylinder layout, the base six-cylinder is mounted at the rear of the car and develops 315 hp. Although the Turbo’s 3.6-liter displacement is almost the same as the Carrera’s, bore and stroke dimensions differ. Turbos are fitted with twin turbochargers and produce 415 hp and 415 pounds-feet of torque; an optional power kit boosts horsepower to 444.

Both engines team with a six-speed-manual or optional five-speed-automatic transmission — the latter is fitted with Tiptronic, which allows manual gear selection. Manual-shift buttons are mounted on the steering wheel.

To derive the 911 GT2’s 456 hp from the engine used in the 911 Turbo — which makes 415 hp — Porsche engineers attached twin turbochargers to give the fuel/air mixture an even stronger boost as it makes its way into the cylinders. The 3.6-liter horizontally opposed six-cylinder achieves its peak horsepower at 5,700 rpm and develops 457 pounds-feet of torque through the 3,500 to 4,500 rpm range.

Mufflers present less back pressure than on the Turbo. A modified six-speed-manual gearbox is the only available transmission.

All 911 models have side-impact airbags and all-disc antilock brakes. Supplemental safety bars pop out of the convertible’s rear deck if sensors detect an impending rollover. Porsche’s Stability Management System is standard on Turbo and AWD models and optional on RWD Carreras.

Driving Impressions
Piloting a Porsche 911 in any form is like savoring a legend in its own time. Measured against Porsches of the past, recent models are comparatively easy to drive and quite civilized. They provide a oneness with the road and also blend a reasonably smooth, extra-stable ride with vigorous performance and utmost handling talents. Even the familiar engine whine isn’t as omnipresent as it used to be, and the exhaust note is subdued yet exuberant. Porsche’s six-speed gearbox is as good as they get.

Wedded-to-the-road handling and directional stability are neatly enhanced by the Carrera 4’s AWD system. The highway ride is super, but the 911’s suspension sometimes reacts harshly on rougher pavement. Acceleration is energetic in all six forward speeds, even without the Turbo.

The snug-fitting leather-trimmed seats are tempting to many riders but may be disdained by others. Storage space is meager.

Reported by Jim Flammang  for
Posted on 3/26/03