The new 911 Carrera is a comeback car, Porsche's hard and conscious shove against collapsed sales and the perception of its machines as raucous, politically specious, expensive and marginally mishandling man toys.

Colors. Standard macho hues of gun metal gray and Boot Hill black have been expanded and softened by the more unisexual amaranth (love-lies-bleeding) violet and iris (goddess of the rainbow) blue.

And if the subtleties of your palette reach no deeper than candy apples, fluorescent socks or nail polish, the factory paint shop will even match those for you.

Price. A shave Mercedes, BMW, Land Rover, Jaguar and Lotus before, Porsche has tasted the poison of overpricing. As with Mercedes, BMW and others, it has revised pricing by re-examining engineering costs and restructuring manufacturing methods.

And at a base of $59,900, the 1995 911 Carrera Coupe is $5,000 less than the 911 Carrera 2 it replaces.

Handling. Not only were Porsche's coarse gear boxes and finger-snap oversteer decidedly unfeminine, such bad manners made even big boys mumble and turn ashen. That's why braking and steering have been refined. The ride no longer drums against every asphalt ripple, and a new multilink rear suspension keeps the car's rear tires firmly planted under most handling loads, modes and miscues.

And Porsche is heavily promoting Tiptronic transmission--an automatic with an auxiliary manual setting that works like the sequential shifter on a motorcycle to stretch the appeal of sporty cars to those who think heel-and-toe is a form of line dancing.

The Stuttgart worriers also had to address a long overdue need to restyle a car that was a superlative when President Clinton was in high school and really hasn't changed since.

Fortunately, Porsche's studio opted for less of the fore and more of the yore. The silhouette remains a gracious prow between molded fenders and reclining headlights, withan even, perfectly sloped rear. Unmistakably a Porsche 911. But just a little softer, a whisper more modern.

To make sure one doesn't miss this masterful blend of classic and classy, the wheel wells and fender flares, the cabriolet's rear aerofoil housing a mid-mounted brake light, are cues from Porsche's ultra-bad bandit, the 959. The rear also shows the 959's chunky underside, with twin, recessed exhausts yawning like Roseanne.

In concert, the lines speak the secret inherent to a quintessential design. If you want the car to look smooth and elegant, it will. If there's a lust in your soul and the light is just right, this certainly is a supercar you see before you.

The engine remains in the rear and air-cooled. The trunk is still in the front and holds only fold-flat luggage. The Carrera wears alloy wheels unique to this car, and the seating is still two-plus-one. Those also are quirky, pure, inimitable shades of Ferdinand Porsche.


Mech anically, the 1995 Carrera does everything quicker and faster. The six-cylinder, horizontally opposed rear engine has been boosted to 270 horsepower from 247. Zero to 60 m.p.h. acceleration is fractionally improved to 5.5 seconds, and top speed rises to 168 m.p.h. from 162. These performance numbers, however, are reduced slightly by the optional Tiptronic transmission.

For Porsche purists, there's a new six-speed manual transmission. Also huge disc brakes cross-drilled for maximum ventilation--and longer and more furious braking--with optional traction control.

Even with the price decrease, $71,350 for the 911 Carrera Cabriolet with Tiptronic isn't exactly lunch money.

One compensation is that the price includes anti-lock brakes, power top, extensible rear spoiler for added ventilation and downforce, automatic climate control, alarm, cruise control and leather-faced seats. The other plus is knowing that you own and drive a Porsche, one of the world's mo t distinctive vehicles and a thorough, vital performance machine that excels through every driving dimension.

The interior is just about everything that belonged on yesterday's Porsches: black analog dials with a center-mounted tachometer the size of a dinner plate, too many instruments for monitoring what the oil is doing and a huge clock.

But let's dump the ignition switch. It is set to the left of the steering column and commemorates--so help us--the disused and almost forgotten rite of Le Mans starts. That's when drivers sprinted across the track, leaped into their racers and keyed the ignition with one hand while pushing for first gear with the right.

It is not a technique recommended for pulling away from I & Joy Bagels. After dusk, the ignition switch disappears annoyingly into the puddle of a dark dashboard and can be found only by flashlight. Recognizing this flaw, Porsche has built a miniature flashlight into the ignition key.

There's been a redesign of steering column control stalks. They should be re-redesigned. They are too short, feel identical to even sensitive fingertips and are set too close to each other. Signaling a turn often results in keying the computer that monitors speed, temperature, distance and range, and is of zero assistance to surrounding traffic.

For lovers of six-speaker sound, Porsche has mounted an audiotape holder behind the center console. It responds to every movement of a driver's right elbow and is constantly spitting out cassettes.


The test vehicle was a Carrera Cabriolet in the previously mentioned amaranth violet, which is more the color of an asphyxiating plum.

The power top is a one-button operation and fully automatic, although the latching pin had difficulty locating its retaining hole. It complied with closure only when assisted by a sharp rap up the side of the frame.

The fit was firm, snug and about as noise- and windproof as a tarpaulin top can be. So was the boot, its snaps and squeeze-poppers, although the way its bulk rose above the vehicle's dorsal line certainly disturbs the beauty of this beast.

Beast? You betcha. Key starting the engine produces that anachronistic, traditional blatting of Porsche's flat-six that has been the 911 overture to exhilaration for more than 30 years.

It's a note that follows the power curve, growling a little unevenly at lower speeds, smoothing into an eager burble in the mid-range, and ascending to a rattling roar at fuller throttle settings. It certainly is as distinctive as the silk-ripping note of a Ferrari or the cast-iron chugging of a Corvette.

And, lord, how this car sticks and steers. The turn-in is pinpoint precise with immediate correctability. There is zero understeer, even when overcooking the car into rather tight and scary corners.


But what of that long-feared moment of rear-engined truth; that point in hard cornerin g where a throttle may be lifted, the rear end lightens and 3,000 pounds of Porsche starts swapping ends?

The fearful may rest. Thanks to that new multilink suspension on the twitchy rear, everything stays flat and full of grip even when lifting in corners is particularly brutal.

The Tiptronic clearly is superior to all other forms of clutchless transmission. But no matter the manual mode, despite a new talent that automatically downshifts the box when brakes are applied, it remains a mechanical system that thinks and acts for the driver. That's always enough to make some drivers take the bus.

Such talk, of course, leaves the impression that a Porsche is only for a talented, adventuresome elite in search of a highly tossable machine capable of triple-digit travels.

The joy of the new Carrera is that it indeed delivers much potency--but it remains a civilized, purring daily driver for those of gentler miens.

And it certainly proves that this particular dinosaur is getting younger by the year.

1995 Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet

Price: $71,350, base.

The Good: Styled into the '90s without losing classism. Bare-knuckle performer, but civilized daily transportation. Downpriced. New suspension eases rear-end, throttle-off whipsnap.

The Bad: Interior needs rethinking. Top not quite foolproof.

The Ugly: Not a bit of it.

Cost As tested, $73,113 (includes $913 for traction control, $125 for floor mats, $725 destination charges, leather-facedseats, cruise control, power top, anti-lock brakes, Tiptronic transmission, driver and passenger air bags).

Engine 3.6-liter, horizontally opposed six developing 270 horsepower.

Type Rear-engine, 2+2, high-performance convertible sports car.

Performance 0-60 m.p.h. (with Tiptronic transmission) as tested, 6.4 seconds. Top speed, track tested, 165 m.p.h. Fuel consumption, EPA city and highway, 17 and 24 m.p.g.

Curb Weight 3,064 pounds.