What's New for 2003
Porsche finally puts a standard CD player in the 2003 Porsche 911. Five horsepower are mysteriously lost in non-Turbo 911s, meaning output is "only" 315 horses now.
Debuting in 1964 as a replacement for the aging 356 series, the Porsche 911 kept the basic Porsche tenets intact -- light weight, an air-cooled engine hung out aft of the rear wheels and a no-nonsense cockpit. The fearsome Turbo debuted in 1976 and, along with its blinding acceleration, sometimes taught overzealous or inexperienced (or both) drivers the meaning of drop-throttle oversteer -- a tendency for the tail to swing around if the driver jumps off the gas. During subsequent years, Porsche steadily increased power but also fine-tuned the suspension to the point that only the foolhardy could get into trouble while piloting the sharp-handling 911.
In 1999, the 911 underwent its first all-out "clean-sheet" redesign since its introduction in the mid-'60s. The new age 911 was slightly longer, wider and sleeker than any previous version. That year also saw a switch to a water-cooled version of the flat six, a seeming improvement from the standpoint of more efficient engine cooling and cabin climate control. But not everyone agreed; some car buffs flew the Porsche flag at half-mast. These diehards were afraid that some of the car's character was lost with the disappearance of the air-cooled design and its unique sound. They were partially right; even though the "new" 911's performance was impressive, the engine and exhaust were too subdued. Last year, along with more power was brought a better soundtrack that resurrected the intoxicating, metallic throbbing and full exhaust note that are unmistakably 911.
What's not to like? With MSRPs ranging from nearly $70,000 to $180,000, the Porsche heritage still includes sapping a big bundle of cash out of your wallet. The company also charges a fortune for many of the 911's options. But if you're looking for supercar performance in a legendary package, it's tough to top the 2003 Porsche 911.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
There are six 2003 Porsche 911 models: the Carrera Coupe and Carrera Cabriolet, the all-wheel-drive Carrera 4 Coupe and Carrera 4 Cabriolet, the 911 Turbo and the 911 GT2. A huge list of options allows one to personalize their 911 with different wheels and interior trim. Be forewarned, however, that it's all too easy to jack up the price of a 911; some of the options can cost more than $7,000. We do recommend the stability control (PSM) option that can help prevent the car from skidding or spinning out of control.
Powertrains and Performance
Standard 911s have a 3.6-liter, rear-mounted, horizontally-opposed six-cylinder engine that produces 315 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. The Turbo's figures jump to 415 hp and 413 lb-ft of torque. For $65,000 more than the Turbo, the GT2 offers 456 wild horses and 450 lb-ft of twist in a car that's 221 pounds lighter. This road rocket comes only in rear-wheel drive and doesn't have Porsche's stability control system. In other words, only highly skilled (and wealthy) drivers need apply.
Porsche offers the choice of either a six-speed manual or a five-speed Tiptronic S automanual transmission on all models except the GT2, which comes only with the manual gearbox.
All-wheel drive as well as stability control (PSM) is found on Carrera 4 and Turbo models. PSM is optional on the other 911s except for the GT2.
Side airbags and ABS are standard on all 911 models. Stability control comes on the Carrera 4 and Turbo and is optional on all the other 911s except for the GT2. No crash tests score were available for the 911 as of this writing.
Interior Design and Special Features
In spite of its lofty price tag, some of the 911's interior components could use some work. The control stalks feel flimsy and the lone cupholder is mounted too high, which could result in a spilt soda. Lastly, the sunroof opening is rather small, though one could buy a 911 Carrera Targa with its essentially oversized sunroof.
Driven sedately, the muscle-bound 2003 Porsche 911 is docile and easy to drive. But stab the throttle and the car blasts through the first four gears like a roller coaster rushing downhill, with the urgent song of the flat six at full cry. Speed is reigned in quickly by easily modulated and incredibly powerful brakes that feel as though they could stop a semi in short order.
The 911 is equally at ease running through various turns, possessing dead neutral poise that belies the rear-engine architecture. The steering has a reassuring heft and plenty of feedback that allows one to easily settle into a rhythm.
In the ugly reality of rush-hour traffic, however, one quickly realizes why so many people opt for automatics in their sports cars. Work the 911's heavy clutch enough and you might expect your left leg to resemble Arnold's in his bodybuilding heyday. Fortunately, Porsche offers its Tiptronic-style automatic transmission as an option.