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Test Drive: Sports Cars - Ladue News: Diversions

Test Drive: Sports Cars

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Posted: Thursday, September 20, 2012 5:02 am | Updated: 11:35 am, Mon Sep 9, 2013.

For most automotive enthusiasts, a sports car is the ultimate object of desire. Power, handling and great looks are a hard combination to beat.

At the top of any sports car enthusiast’s list is the venerable Porsche 911. For almost 50 years, the rear-engined 911 has been the benchmark against which all other sports cars are measured—and with good reason. First of all, it’s gorgeous. With its trademark silhouette, there’s no mistaking a 911 for anything else.

Though it’s evolved greatly since 1964, elements of the first 911 still can be seen in the newest iteration, which is lower, longer, wider and has a longer wheelbase than its predecessor.

Power is the heart of a 911, and the heart of this new 911 is a rear-mounted, 350-horsepower 3.4 liter boxer 6-cylinder; or a 400-horsepower, 3.8-liter in the ‘S’ version. With either engine, zero to 60 times are in the low to mid four-second range. Power is delivered to either the rear or all four wheels through the world’s first-ever 7-speed manual transmission, or a 7-speed PDK automatic. I’ve driven the PDK on the street and on the track, and it’s good for an automatic. I know Porsche says the automatic has quicker acceleration, but if you’re a true driver, the manual is definitely the way to go. Executing the perfect shift is a thing of beauty, and allows you to really engage with the mechanical nature of the 911. In this automated world, there’s something to be said for controlling the machines that seem to want to control us.

Speaking of control, driving the 911 is the ultimate in automotive control. I’ve been fortunate enough to drive the 911 on two different tracks, and you couldn’t ask for a better track car. It never lacks for power, the steering is tight and allows you to steer almost by telepathy. It handles like it’s on rails, and the brakes feel like they could stop time. Just incredible. Almost as incredible is how easy it is to drive around town. It’s kind of like Superman before he goes in the phone booth: very mild-mannered and well-behaved. But all the time, you know that if you remove the glasses and unfurl the cape, this thing can fly. Despite all of its exotic sports-car performance, it also should be an extremely reliable car and even gets decent mileage, at 20 city, 27 highway.

An interesting new feature of the 911 is Auto Start Stop, which stops the engine while at a stop light. Though a great fuel-saving feature, start up was a bit rough, and the system wasn’t quite smooth enough yet to go unnoticed. It will probably improve with time. Fortunately, it can be defeated with the push of a button.

The interior of the 911 retains its classic five-gauge dashboard, with the tachometer front and center, reflecting the car’s performance purpose. The left-handed ignition start is another classic touch.  Heated and cooled seats are very well-bolstered to keep you in place during spirited driving, and a modern center console contains all the buttons required to control a modern vehicle. Rear seats are useable for pre-teens, but they do fold down to form a parcel shelf. Of course, since the engine is in back, the trunk is in front, and it’s large enough to hold a big duffel bag or suitcase. Dual automatic temperature control and air conditioning that actually works are nice improvements over classic 911s.

Plaza Porsche general sales manager Kevin Rodermund says, “The new 911 outhandles the previous one. They cleaned up the rear end and have a number of exciting new wheel options. It’s 4 inches longer and 2 inches wider with classic 911 styling and a cockpit-like interior.”

The new 911 starts at $83,000 for the regular Carrera, and $97,400 for the Carrera S. If you want four-wheel-drive or a convertible, you can expect to add about $2,500 and $10,000, respectively, to the sticker.

This fall, we get another completely re-designed Porsche sports car, the Boxster—all new for 2013. Though instantly recognizable as a Boxster, the new model slightly expands its dimensions and modernizes the look of this classic mid-engined rear-drive roadster, with a more sharply raked windshield, large front air intakes, and a large air intake behind the door to feed the engine.

As with all Porsches, the Boxster’s best attribute is the way it drives. With its mid-engine architecture, it’s almost perfectly balanced, making carving through curves a delight. In the base Boxster, power comes from a 2.7 liter flat 6 cylinder that pumps out 265 horsepower via a 6-speed manual or 7-speed PDK automatic. The Boxster S sports a 315 horsepower 3.4 liter flat 6 good for 0-60 sprints of less than 5 seconds. Again, though the PDK is good for an automatic, this car just begs for the manual shifter to maximize control, handling, and most important, fun. Braking is typically Porsche-excellent. A sport setting changes the suspension from comfortable street-friendly to serious track-handling mode. Steering is extremely responsive and tight, and handling is about as good as it gets in a sports car whose price tag has fewer than six digits. The Boxster is simply a joy to drive, especially hard. Mileage for the Boxster S is 21 city, 30 highway—quite impressive for such a powerful sporty car.

Heated and cooled well-bolstered seats are comfortable and help keep you in place when you’re having fun. A rising center console puts the shifter more at hand than in previous Boxsters, and the interior has all the modern amenities expected in a premium European car.       Of course, one of the best attributes of the Boxster is its soft convertible top that can be dropped in about nine seconds at the touch of a button at speeds up to 30 miles per hour. The dash is composed of three large round gauges, with the largest center gauge of course being the tachometer. With the engine in the middle, storage is found both in the front and back of the car. In the back is a small storage area that could hold a large gym bag, but the front is big and deep, enough to swallow a suitcase.

According to Parktown Porsche’s Jay Barbeau, “The new Boxster is even more balanced than before. The wheelbase is longer and the cockpit is lower and more forward. Acceleration rivals the 911.” 

The new Boxster starts at about $50,000 for the regular Boxster, and the Boxster S starts around $61,500.

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