C2 Road Test

ROAD TEST

Porsche 911
Carrera 2

Reproduced from
Autocar & Motor

6 December 1989

Questions. The
Porsche Carrera 2 poses more than perhaps any other model in the 911’s
illustrious 26-year history. Is this, the new staple 911, better than the Ј6,000
pricier all-drive Carrera 4? Is it a worthy successor to the thrill-raw Carrera
32 it effectively replaces? Is it good enough to take Porsche profitably into
the ’90s? Is it, indeed, the best 911 yet?

The early
indications suggest that it is all of these things. In a recent showdown with
its all-drive running mate (Autocar & Motor 1 November), the Carrera 2 won
by a short head, providing even greater driver rewards than the fabulous 4 on
demanding German roads. Here, in the UK’s first full road test, we probe deeper
still.

Already the
Carrera 2 has a formidable reputation to live up to. It’s the one well-heeled
911 purists are clamouring for, cheque books flapping in the rush. With the
delivery of the first right-hand-drive models, though, some doubts have even now
been expressed – mostly concerning ride quality and harshness. We can confirm
that they’re well founded, more on which later. Thankfully, the rest of the news
is almost exclusively good.

Perhaps best of
all is the Carrera 2’s price of Ј41,505. It’s faintly ludicrous to talk of
bargain material in the rarefied air of supercar pricing structures, but there’s
no denying that the Porsche is very competitively pitched. Even Lotus’s
stunningly well-evolved but still plastic and four-cylinder Esprit Turbo SE
costs Ј1,000 more and Ferrari’s delectable but less accelerative 348 is a whole
BMW 535i more at Ј64,503.

In essence, the
Carrera 2 is a Carrera 4 with two-wheel drive and, like the 4, available in
coupe, targa and cabriolet forms. There are no visual differences externally,
save for the (delete option) badging and only ‘spot-the-difference’ clues on the
inside. Both are strongly reminiscent of previous 911s, too, though the intended
back-to-basic purity of the new smoothed-off design – concealing 85 per cent
fresh hardware beneath – hasn’t met with universal praise.

Some feel that
the wraparound bumpers look a touch heavy-handed and that the self-raising tail
spoiler, while purely functional, does little to enhance the Carrera 2/4’s
styling on the move. Others are adamant that the new car must be counted among
the best looking 911s to date. Perhaps the most important thing is the reduction
of the drag coefficient from the 0.395 of the old-style 911 to 0.32.

For the 2, the
rear wheels are driven by the same tail-slung injected 3.6-litre flat-six engine
and via an only slightly modified version of the 4’s excellent five-speed manual
gearbox. Thanks to new cylinder heads, pistons, conrods and crankshaft – as well
as dual ignition using twin plugs per cylinder – the latest edition of the
naturally-aspirated boxer unit is also the most powerful, developing its 250bhp
at 6l00rpm and 228 lb ft at 4800rpm. A three-way catalytic converter is standard
kit, as with the C4.

Also shared with
the 4 are power-assisted rack and pinion steering and identical negative offset
suspension geometry at the front while at the rear the inner semi-trailing arms
provide a toe-in correction to improve stability in cornering. Wheels and tyres
are the same, too: elegant seven-spoke alloys shod with 205/55VR 16s at the
front and 225/ 50ZR 16s at the rear (Bridgestone RE 71s on our test car).

Performance and
Economy

A top speed of
158mph is slightly better than the Carrera 4’s 156mph – almost certainly a
function of energy lost through the all-drive car’s transmission – and all but
ties with the Lotus Esprit Turbo SE’s 159mph. Nothing else at the price comes
close, although, if Ferrari is to be believed, the more expensive 348 will see
the far side of 160mph.

The Carrera 2
piles on performance ranking points when it comes to sprinting, though. Not even
the super-lusty 3.6-litre boxer engine can twist the fat rear wheels fiercely
enough for traction to be broken for more than a few metres, but that’s no bad
thing. The Carrera 2 judders painfully but effectively off the line to record
0-30mph in just 2.l secs and 60mph in a hair-raising 5.l secs, statistics
undoubtedly helped by the now slick and astonishingly quick gearshift.

Only the savagely
rapid Esprit Turbo SE has the measure of the Carrera 2 to 60mph with a time of
4.0secs. The Porsche still has its jaws locked firmly on the Esprit’s tail at
100 mph, recording a time of 12.7 secs to the Lotus’s 12.4 secs. It’s the
Carrera, however, that covers the standing kilometre – perhaps the single most
pertinent benchmark of ground-covering potential – more swiftly with a time of
24.6 secs against the SE’s 25.3 secs, sharing a 132mph top speed.

The real beauty
of the Porsche’s engine is the sheer breadth of the power band and its
scintillating kick above about 4000rpm. If it sometimes feels less than
enthralling at modest revs, it’s only because the final rush of revs to the
7000rpm red line is so devastating. It gives the Carrera 2’s performance a
delicious duplicity. The car can be driven with a level of laziness that borders
on negligence, pulling crisply on a whiff of throttle from absurdly low revs in
fourth or fifth.

But outstanding
tractability soon becomes a solid shove in the back. Take a look at the fifth
gear 30-50mph time of 7.5 secs (11.2 secs for the Esprit). Plant the accelerator
in the carpet and the response is instant and relentless. The fourth gear
50-70mph time of 5.5 secs is impressive by any standards but the 70-90 and
80-100mph times of 5.0 and 5.l secs respectively show how much the Porsche still
has in hand. Enhancing what must be close to the ultimate in user-friendly
performance is the 911’s inimitable and addictive chain-saw-in-cotton-wool
engine note – that benign growl with a hint of distant menace. It doesn’t sizzle
and crackle in quite the same way as it used to but neither is it quite so loud,
especially at speed. The aural enjoyment lasts all the longer as a result.

Not only is the
gearchange as swift as the driver cares to make it but it’s also beautifully
well defined. The across-gate 2/3 action is a dream, the 4/5 movement less slick
but still good. The clutch action, too, has been improved out of all
recognition; it requires a meaty push but the tricky over-centre action has gone
and take-up is very progressive. Only the gear ratios remain a bit odd – both
long and widely spaced, though the engine does a marvellous job of filling the
holes (something that was quite beyond the Turbo) and the 98mph third is a
perfect overtaking gear.

Whether Porsche
customers view economy as a prime consideration these days is open to
interpretation, but they have usually done rather better than owners of rival
supercars. The Carrera 2 continues the trend, our hard-driven test car returning
20.4 mpg overall – remarkable in view of the performance. A projected touring
consumption of 24.6 mpg is also conspicuously good by class standards and
permits a practical range of around 416 miles on a 16.9 gallon tankful of
unleaded.

Handling and
Ride

The 26-year-old
amelioration of the 911’s handling deficiencies reached its apogee with the
Carrera 4 which, through sheer weight of technology, rushed tail slides
precipitated merely by lifting off the throttle mid-bend out of existence.

That the Carrera
2 displays a similar disinclination to let go at the back is even more
impressive, especially since it is paired with a sense of agility and
adjustability seldom apparent in the C4. Seat of the pants inputs count for mare
in this car, but no longer are they the driver’s only shot. Unlike previous
911s, the Carrera 2 is a fundamentally well balanced and stable machine.

Power assistance
certainly hasn’t harmed the 911’s helm responses. It may have removed some of
the more gratuitous feedback effects – the exaggerated writhing and kick-back –
but what remains is more useful and married to perfect weighting and gearing.
Given the massive grip of the Bridgestone RE71 tyres, the tight dimensions of
the C2’s body, fine visibility and the facility to administer big reserves of
power with great accuracy and there can be no disputing this Porsche’s immense
stature as a superfast ground coverer.

Technical
Focus

The Carrera
2’s air cooled flat-six engine is identical to that in the C4 and,
with 250bhp at. 6l00rpm, is the most powerful normally-aspirated 911 unit
yet. Engine and gearbox are a single unit at the rear. Maximum torque of
2101b ft is developed at 4800rpm. Bore and stroke increases give a swept
volume of  3600cc
. Twin
plugs and dual ignition help keep combustion clean and, despite high
11.3:1 compression ratio, engine runs on unleaded. Three-way catalytic
converter
is standard for UK cars, making unleaded obligatory.
Optional Tiptronic semi-automatic transmission allows clutchless manual
shifting as well as fully automatic operation. 

That said, the
driver who puts his wits on the back burner is still likely to singe his fingers
with this car. It may be an easier 911 to drive quickly but it’s still one in
which you need to read the road accurately, especially if its wet. The point at
which the driver squeezes the throttle on the exit of a wet bend is critical.
Too much too soon and the nose runs wide; administer the gas late and the tail
twitches disconcertingly before digging in and putting the fabulous traction to
best use. Feeding in the power gradually is still the best way round,

On dry roads,
however, the Carrera 2 is remarkably forgiving, not only resisting liftoff
oversteer but also allowing the brakes to be applied deep into a bend to tuck
the nose in towards the apex. Hard on the power again and the C2 catapults from
the exit with the ferocity of a steam sled.

It’s harder to be
positive about this Porsche’s ride. Put plainly, it’s extremely firm and while
suspension control is beyond criticism, its absorption properties are poor. The
Porsche copes badly with humps and sudden camber changes and feels unpleasantly
harsh over small irregularities. Worse still is its reaction to sharp ruts and
cat’s eyes. The suspension thumps over these so fiercely the result sounds like
grapeshot fire. Road roar on coarse surfaces is just as poorly suppressed.

On the road,
stopping power is unimpeachable, allied to a firm and meaty pedal feel.


At the Wheel

As recognisably
‘911’ as the Carrera 2’s external appearance, the cabin continues to mix good
ideas with bad execution. Thus, the array of instruments is impressively
comprehensive but only the centrally-sited revcounter is genuinely easy to read.
Twelve new warning lights are a welcome addition nonetheless. As before, much of
the minor switchgear comprises fiddly micro-switches located either on or
underneath the facia. This isn’t merely anti-ergonomic, it’s a mess. The driving
position isn’t good, either. Despite the contribution of well-shaped seats that
adjust for reach, rake, height and tilt to the whirring of electric motors, the
fixed steering wheel and pedals that are heavily offset to the left impose
compromises.

Comfort and
Space

The Carrera 2
just about cuts it as a 2+2 in an emergency but is best treated as a two-seater
– in which case both leg and headroom are fine and the backrests of the rear
seats fold flat to provide a flat and stable luggage platform. It’s just as well
because you can’t get much in the front boot, despite the minimal space occupied
by the space-saver spare wheel.

The new heating
and ventilation arrangements with their simple and easily understood controls
are a huge improvement on the antiquated system of the old 911.

Finish and
Equipment

Our test car came
with the standard cloth- faced seats which looked rather ordinary in beige,
though at least they harmonised well with the hues and materials employed
throughout the rest of the cabin. This isn’t always the case with Porsches.
Build quality and detail finish were up to Porsche’s usual impeccable standards.

Standard
equipment includes ABS braking, a 10-speaker Blaupunkt stereo system and an
ultrasonic alarm system that is automatically armed when the central locking is
activated. 

Verdict

Summary

Performance


Economy


Transmission


Handling


Ride
Comfort


Brakes


Accommodation


Boot/storage


At
the wheel


Visibility


Instruments


Heating


Ventilation


Noise


Finish


Equipment


   

Our Rating


Value Rating


One tester was
moved to call the Carrera 2 inspired. Another opined that, despite its storming
performance, less treacherous handling and unmistakable charisma, he couldn’t
live with one. The driving position, suspension harshness and road roar
constituted problems he wasn’t prepared to overlook.

So it seems that,
26 years on, the most famous sports car still in production continues to split
opinion. Faster and fitter than ever, it simply has to be the best 911 to date
by any objective reckoning. Yet it seems to be the perpetual Porsche’s lot to be
a flawed machine. Loyal Porsche customers will accommodate the shortcomings for
the thrill of owning a car that, perhaps more than any other, continues to
represent driving in its purest form. On the other hand, the Carrera 2 might not
be the car to pull in extra business for Porsche

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