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TC's 2005 Porsche Line-up Test Rides

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By Thom Cannell
The Auto Channel

Short of a million-dollar lottery winner, an invitation to drive Porsches on a race track runs close second. With a million dollars you can own a Porsche!

Thus I, and various other media racer-wannabes gathered for a day of very high speed entertainment at Waterford Hills Road Racing track. After a short business meeting charting Porsche’s latest developments we

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dropped the tops on all manner of Porsche Cabriolets, donned helmets and started engines. Each of us was—thankfully—accompanied by a professional driver to remind us we are amateurs. BRAKE NOW, is a critical part of instructor’s vocabulary; a loud and commanding voice a necessity.

Porsche brought five different open cars: Boxter and Boxter S, the 911 Carrera Cabriolet and Carrera S Cabriolet, and a 600 horsepower (that’s SIX-HUNDRED-HORSEPOWER) 205 mph (yes, TWO-HUNDRED AND FIVE BLOODY MILES PER HOUR!) Porsche Carrera GT priced at $440,000. Excuse me a moment for deep breaths… Fortunately I got up to speed in a Boxter S before driving the GT.

Porsche Boxter S $53,100
The 2005 Boxter , at eight years old, is in its second generation. This mid-engined ragtop now has brakes from a 911 (bigger and stronger) and improved stability control (Porsche Stability Management.)

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PSM is far less aggressive than most stability controls—you can slip and slide quite aggressively before it kicks in.

There’s room for taller drivers and a 240 horsepower 2.7-liter engine that sprints to 60 mph in under 6 seconds. S models have a larger, 3.2-liter engine with 280 horsepower connected to a six-speed manual. Either incorporates six airbags: driver and passenger, thorax, and head.

Motoring out of the pits, into turn 1 (follow along on the track map I could feel an improvement in the shifter – it’s 26% shorter throw makes it quick and slick. Accelerating into turn four—uphill, blind—brakes felt smooth, strong and easy to apply in a very graduated amount. Great brakes are a Porsche hallmark.

Quickly down the hill and into sweeping turn five, there was no chassis flex, and plenty of torque on exit onto the long back straight.

911 Carrera Cabriolet $79,100
The next car, an “ordinary” Porsche Carrera Cabriolet, was equipped with Tiptronic, Porsche’s steering-wheel mounted manual

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automatic. By the middle of turn one we had shifted to third gear and used the torque from the 3.6-liter boxer engine to drive around the track. This vehicle felt a bit looser than the Boxter S, but had way more power. The day was cool, so heated seats were turned on for comfort (though high-Gs with a helmet and comfort are seldom used in the same sentence.) With 325 horsepower it was very easy to go much quicker than the Boxter S. Fortunately the Cabriolet has 318 mm (12.53”) front and 299 mm (11.77”) rear rotors, inner-vented and cross-drilled, with monoblock four-piston calipers.

Part of the art of driving well, and fast, involves knowing when to brake, and how much brake to apply. Often the amount of brakes was (to me, not the professional beside me) barely perceptible. A slight change of balance to the front makes tires bite as direction changes. It felt as though I only turned on the brake lights! There are few vehicles with this level of excellence in brakes.

911 Carrera S Cabriolet $88,900
Unlike the Carrera, the S Cabriolet was equipped with a 6-speed manual, but

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it was still third gear for “poodling around,” no downshifting of the ultra-smooth transmission. While the added torque and acceleration of second gear might have reduced lap times, my focus was on basics; when to apply gas (as you begin to unwind the wheel,) when to brake (mostly in a straight line, sometimes trailing into the turn,) and when to turn in. These techniques are the essence of driving quickly and well, and can be practiced on every corner in your daily commute.

The Carrera S has larger brakes, 330 mm (12.99”) front and rear, with distinctive red four-piston monoblock calipers. It was equipped with Porsche Active Suspension Management. This lowers the car by 10 mm in

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normal mode (vs. Carrera) and in sport, activates individual dampers continuously. Input comes from a pair of accelerometers (front right , left rear damper dome) for vertical movement, plus input from steering angle, road speed, brake pressure and engine torque. A little math and the suspension reacts to reduce dive, squat, rocking or jumping, and body roll. Craig Stanton, my right-seat race-driver conscience ( switched PASM on and immediately you could feel the car settle and firm, taking a more aggressive stance and attitude.

Like a lineman taking a set, or a martial artist exhaling before a blow, the Carrera S felt poised to attack each corner. S models have more horsepower, 355 from a 3.8-liter engine. And all Carreras now have variable-ratio steering. Beyond 15 plus/minus of center, steering changes from 2.98 turns lock-to-lock to 2.62. Steering columns tilt and telescope. You can tell the Carrera from S models by tailpipes. S models have twin round tailpipes and red brake calipers, Carrera’s have two oval pipes and natural-colored calipers.

Carrera GT $440,000
Saved the best for last, I did. I’ve driven million-dollar prototypes, and even a fuel cell test car valued at $11,000,000. That’s not the same as driving a car that can actually reach 330 kmh (205 mph.) This was a real car, an “everyday” driver.

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I reached under the highly sculpted door side and found the latch, then squeezed in. While the racing-style bucket slid easily forward, it only tilts via bolts. The shifter is high-mounted, center, and barely a hand-span from the wheel. The 5.7-liter V-10 starts with a key twist and comes alive with a snarky, raspy throat. Launch is tricky—I killed it twice. There is almost no rotating mass to make up for requisite technique; its carbon fiber and silicon carbide clutch is less than 7” in circumference, compared to 15”. I added gas, and rolled away. I did not burn out and hit 100 kmh (60 mph) in less than four seconds, which a Carrera will do. No, I motored rather briskly into turn one feeling incredibly fortunate. In just one lap I was applying half throttle on the back straight, and in two more I was at full throttle out of turn five. As 5,500 RPM showed on the tach, well over 160 km/h (100 mph,) it was time to brake hard into turn six, balance the car on brakes, squeeze the throttle for an instant before caressing the brake again, and turning into turn seven.

The amazing thing, this supercar is easy to drive. I mean, you could get groceries! Well, if you put the grocery bag in the passenger seat; there’s barely room for a six-pack under the hood once the top panels are stored. You’re seated low, profilin’ in the extreme, surrounded by acres of bonded carbon fiber chassis. Behind you is a racing engine that is a stressed chassis member like a Formula 1 car. Pedals are bottom-hinged and feel unusual; you can push your heel against them with no change in pedal angle, which makes it easy to be gentle with the controls.

Oddly, the Carrera GT is easier to drive than a Viper or Corvettet Z 06. It feels more refined, more balanced, less edgy. I’d love to have one for the typical week-long test drive. Instead I’m back to mundane vehicles, an Audi A4 Avant, Infiniti Q45, Mazda 3s, and no race track to test them.

Porsche Model Specs

copyright 2005 Thom Cannel