Thirty-four years in preparation, Porsche has evolved to the next level in the age-old pursuit of building the supreme sports car. The all-new 911 is improved in every way over the last-generation supercar of the same numeric designation. Zero-to-60 in under five seconds. Top speed of 172 mph. The performance numbers are not extraordinarily better than the previous 911, but this car was not just improved with minor modifications. Not one component is shared with the previous-generation 911, yet the car is somehow better in every way.
The new design had to keep trademark 911 themes while becoming entirely different. The car's profile, wheel arches and C-pillars hark back to the original design while creating a fresh new appearance. In fact, says Porsche, the clay modeler who specializes in sculpting the C-pillar area has been with Porsche since the 1950s, shaping the C-pillar on the original 911. How old is that guy, anyway? Even a design touch as basic as the air grille is a remnant of previous generations, since the new 911 no longer needs one: the engine is now water cooled.
Still mounted behind the rear axle, the new engine is otherwise different in every way. The 3.4-liter flat-six double-overhead-cam motor puts out 296 horsepower and 258 foot-pounds of torque, and its new cooling system helps optimize power all over the rev range. The improved suspension is derived from the 928, and it's designed to protect the car from oversteer while cornering at the limit. Huge brake rotors and GT1-inspired monobloc calipers make slowing down even easier than accelerating.
The 1999 911 is wider than the previous car to compensate for the widened track. It's longer than the previous car, allowing for a more steeply raked windshield and better aerodynamics; the 911 now slips through the wind tunnel with a .30 coefficient of drag. The extra length also allows for a longer wheelbase that improves handling and traction while allowing engineers to design a more spacious interior.
While we love to row the gears the old-fashioned way, even the automatic transmission is perfectly acceptable in this car. Porsche's Tiptronic S is a five-speed automatic with steering-wheel mounted Formula-One-style paddle shifters. Push either button up or down, and the transmission changes gears accordingly, in about the time it takes to bat an eye. The Tiptronic is fool-proof, not allowing the performance junkie behind the wheel to downshift into redline, and upshifting just when you've forgotten what redline means.
Slowly rolling out new variants, the 911 started its 1999 production run early on as a coupe, but the 911 Cabriolet emerged soon thereafter. The Cabriolet features a top that opens or closes in 20 seconds, and a removable aluminum hard top is standard. The 911 Carrera 4 permanent four-wheel drive model begins its production in October 1998, and features a new variable power system, available Tiptronic transmission, distinct wheel design, and a new stability control system to keep the rear end from sliding out.
What's not to like? Critics will complain that the new 911 looks too much like the not-so-serious Boxster, and we see their point. Several components are shared between Porsche's two-car lineup in an effort to reduce costs and improve future development for all Porsche cars (including front fascia, rear taillights and several interior components). But make no mistake: the new 911 is the most advanced car Porsche has ever built, and it's one of the best sports cars in the world.