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'99 Porsche Carrera 911

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SAN FRANCISCO:  Some cars touch the emotions, for reasons beyond simply speed, luxury, or beauty. We understand that the warm feeling comes from inside us, that the automobile, built from thousands of carefully designed pieces of metal, plastic, glass and leather, doesn't feel anything, but we do. Porsches have always been that kind of car.

The 911 is an automotive icon. Dr. Ferdinand Porsche's self-named company, founded out of the ashes of World War II, continued the automotive work Porsche had done in the 1930s, most notably the design of the Volkswagen Beetle.

Early Porsches were handmade, and were hardly more powerful than Volkswagens at first. The "bathtub" 356 model Porsches progressed through three versions until, in 1963, the new Porsche 911 arrived designed by Dr. Porsche's son, Ferry. The future classic was upgraded to a six-cylinder, horizontally opposed, air-cooled engine in the rear.

For 35 years, the 911, like the Beetle, evolved gradually, even as it kept the same general configuration. However, when the air-cooled engine began to struggle to meet modern emissions standards, it was time for water cooling, and an all-new 911 to go with it.

Despite its 296-horsepower, water-cooled 3.4-liter engine and entirely new body and interior, the 1999 911 is still obviously a Porsche. See the raised front fenders, the fastback rear, and the sweeping curve of side glass. The bulging wheelwells remain, ready to accept low-profile rubber on 17- or 18- inch alloy wheels. The new car is seven inches longer and rides on a three-inch-longer wheelbase than the classic model. The windows are larger, and the windshield rake has been shifted from 55 to a more contemporary 60-degree angle.

The stylish new interior resembles that of the Boxster. A hood sweeps over the full cluster of nested gauges, which includes a 175-mph speedometer and a tachometer with a 7,000-rpm redline. The top of the shifter, the door handles and knobs gleam with a metallic glow. The door compartments are valuable, since the right section of dash is full of airbag. Side airbags are provided, too.

There's more interior space now, and a panoramic view. The steering wheel telescopes, and a fully automatic temperature control system keeps things comfy. The ignition key is still on the left, a trait as unique as Saab's floor-mounted key. Oddly lacking - cupholders (but who cares?).

My test car wore the optional 18-inch alloy wheels, with extremely low-aspect ratio tires. The fronts were 225/40/ZR-18s while the rears got the mongo 265 wides. The statement is simple, powerful, and unmistakable.

Driving the 911 is what really matters. The car is very fast and quick, meaning it could probably hit the 175-mph indicated on the speedometer, and it blasts to 60 mph in 5.2 seconds. Remarkably, the new 911 earns mileage figures of 17 city 25 highway EPA while doing it.

On secret back roads, the 911 ate asphalt like a demon. Response is immediate and gratifying. Older 911s have been criticized for being tail heavy, with a tendency to spin under duress, but this one always stayed the course. Improvements over the years, including aluminum alloy front and rear independent suspensions, have tamed the beast.

My car came with the six-speed manual transmission, which smoothed and quieted freeway travel. At speed, a little spoiler pops up out of the rear deck. It increases engine ventilation while creating downforce to help keep the car's tail glued to the road.

The new 911's power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering transmits delicious road feel and gives split-second response. The perfectly competent ordinary car I tested after the Porsche felt like mush by comparison.

What price glory? Try $71,680 plus a very long list of options. But, you get exhilaration, constant attention, and admiration, and, except for cupholders, everything a driver could want. By Steve Schaefer AutoWire.Net - San Francisco

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Byline:  By Steve Schaefer AutoWire.Net - San Francisco
Column Name:  No Cupholders Here
Topic:  '99 Porsche 911 Carrera
Word Count:   618
Photo Caption:  '99 Porsche 911 Carrera
Photo Credits:  Porsche PR
Series #:   1999 - 50

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