With the Detroit Lions ensconced in a new downtown stadium, there's little reason to return to the old Pontiac Silverdome. So imagine our surprise when an invitation arrived to visit the old, domed field for a chance to drive the new Porsche 911. Not starting out from the arena, but inside, as part of one of the more unusual automotive introductions in recent memory. Yet it was as fitting a display of the sports car's prowess as the road rally that followed, for when you're heading for the end zone with the accelerator flat on the floor, only faith and ceramic brakes stand between you and a concrete wall.
The '05 model is the latest incarnation of a product that has dominated the sports car market since it first appeared in the 1965 model year. Those expecting a more radical design for the new car, code-named 997, might be a wee bit disappointed. But for most Porsche aficionados, the new 911 should be well received. There are actually quite a few changes in styling, though most are subtle, and many serve functional purposes, such as the larger front air ducts. Porsche designers returned to a more traditional round headlight, and wider front and rear fenders enhance a Coke-bottle shape that makes the new car both more graceful and more muscular in appearance. For the first time, 19-inch wheels and tires are available.
While the active adjective on the outside is evolutionary, more revolutionary revisions will be found inside, where Porsche buyers traditionally have had to accept the conceit that true sports cars should be Spartan affairs when it came to refinement and creature comforts. The 2005 model's cockpit is elegant, with subtle touches of metal, all bringing to mind Porsche's popular Cayenne sport-utility vehicle. Added features include a new navigation system.
The power train is the heart and soul of a Porsche and the new 911 doesn't disappoint. The sixth-generation Carrera gets a modest increase in power, its 3.6-liter boxer-style 6 now pumping out 325 horsepower. The Carrera S heats things up with a 355-hp, 3.8-liter engine that will launch the car from 0 to 60 in 4.6 seconds. The S tops out at 182 mph, quick even for the German autobahn.
Choosing the tight confines of the Silverdome was a masterstroke for displaying the benefits of the new Porsche Active Suspension Management system. With its rear-drive power-train layout, the 911 has traditionally been a handful for even experienced drivers. The outgoing model tamed the car a bit, but with the new digitally controlled suspension and race-style ceramic brakes, the 911 is now, perish the thought, almost easy to drive at the upper end of its formidable limits.
There are those who relished the occasionally unpredictable behavior of earlier 911s. Yet like the new car's subtly refined design, it's hard to come up with anything less than praise. As the 911 marks its 40th anniversary, there are plenty of reasons to celebrate.