- The Washington Times - Friday, December 14, 2001

Few automobiles have clung to their roots as tenaciously as the Porsche 911, which was introduced as a 1965 model.

Thirty-seven years later, the 2002 Porsche 911 Carrera retains the same basic look and layout as its ancestor. It is a high-performance, rear-drive, sports/grand touring car with a horizontally opposed (boxer) six-cylinder engine mounted aft of the rear axle.

But it has not been a slavish dedication. Over the years, Porsche has produced front-engine models (928, 944, 924) and midengine models (914 and Boxster). It also has used conventional V-8 and in-line engines.

Still, to many disciples of the marque, it is the boxer-engine 911 that best represents the Porsche panache. And the designers and engineers have managed to maintain its look and layout while vastly improving performance and eliminating the sometimes spooky handling of the early versions.

For 2002, the fourth year of the 911 Carrera, there are many changes and modifications, including a new look and a larger, more powerful engine. But only dedicated Porschephiles would be likely to recognize the new styling.

For the rest of the world, the only real way to tell the 2001 and 2002 models apart is to park them side-by-side and carefully make detailed comparisons from all angles.

The new model picks up its headlight design from the 911 Turbo. In addition, it sports a differently shaped front end, wider rear-quarter panels and oval-shaped dual exhaust pipes.

Inside, the new instrument panel also was borrowed from the 911 Turbo, and a three-spoke sport steering wheel substitutes for the 2001 model's four-spoke wheel.

As always with Porsche, the 2002 911 Carrera is an expensive toy for the megabucks set as well as those of more modest means who are willing to sacrifice to obtain the rush that goes with driving and being seen in one of the world's premiere performance cars.

Base price of the 911 Carrera Coupe with the standard six-speed manual transmission is $68,665. The open-air Cabriolet model starts at $78,365.

With a few options, the test car, a six-speed Coupe, vaulted to $79,980. And it is quite easy to spend a bundle more because this Porsche has one of the longest and priciest options list of any car anywhere.

Using that list, it is quite possible to order a 911 Carrera that is one of a kind, yours and yours alone. If you wish, Porsche will even paint the car your favorite color no matter how wacky or garish. Just supply the color chip and prepare to pay the price.

New for 2002 is an optional sound system designed specifically for the 911 Carrera by Bose, the famed audio engineering company. It costs $3,240 extra, and comes in a package with a six-disc CD changer, high-intensity headlights and headlight washers. How the headlights relate to the Bose-conceived aural sensations is one of those marketing mysteries, but true audiophiles will happily acquiesce.

As before, the Carrera Coupe has seating for four, but only if the two rear-seat passengers have the stature of spider monkeys or toy poodles. In truth, it's a two-seater with a bit of extra cargo space in back when you fold the rear seatbacks. There's also a small trunk up front, for a combined cargo volume of about 12 cubic feet.

Porsche's boxer engines, in which the cylinders lie horizontally, feet to feet on both sides of the crankshaft, were air-cooled for many years, just like the engines on the old Volkswagen Beetle (the original of which was designed by the late Ferdinand Porsche). Now they use liquid coolant.

For 2002, the Porsche engineers have bumped both the displacement and the power of the six-cylinder engine. It now is up to 3.6 liters from 3.4 liters and delivers 320 horsepower (versus 300) without the benefit of turbocharging.

That power makes the new 911 Carrera the quickest and fastest of any non-turbo 911 model ever sold in the United States. With the manual gearbox, a skilled driver can hit 60 miles an hour from a standing start in under five seconds. Top speed, according to Porsche, is 177 miles an hour.

With that sort of performance, you obviously need compatible brakes, tires and suspension system components. Tires on the standard 17-inch wheels are fatter in the back than in front, the suspension system is fully independent and mostly made of aluminum, and the brakes are not much different from what you'd find on race cars.

The driving experience, at virtually any speed, is exhilarating, although you are not allowed to forget that you are still driving a missile that has its engine hanging out near the tail. It's almost imperceptible, but there is a bit of twitch in the handling at high speeds.

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