2004 Porsche 911 Carrera 2 Tiptronic
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Review and photos by Greg Wilson

I decided to take one last fling in the 2004 Porsche 911 before the revised 2005 models arrive. Frankly, I don’t see why anyone would buy an ’04 model at this point, particularly at a suggested retail of $101,400, just $1,000 less than the ’05 model – but some serious haggling could bring down the price to a more acceptable level – particularly as the ’04 model is arguably more attractive than the new model, and has almost the same amount of horsepower.

My silver 911 Carrera 2 received many envious looks and compliments from bystanders during the time I had it. The classic 911 profile, though modified over the years, is still instantly recognizable and is extremely clean in its execution. I suspect this car will still look good ten years down the road. There are no weird styling gimmicks on the 911, except perhaps those integrated headlight and turn signal covers. And by today’s standards, the front and rear overhangs are rather long.

My test car had the standard 320 horsepower 3.6 litre boxer six cylinder engine and the optional Tiptronic S transmission. It was also fitted with some very expensive options. The Tiptronic itself is $4,790; Xenon headlamps were an extra $1,490; 18-inch alloys were $1,990; a premium Bose stereo was $2,275; a Sport Exhaust system was $3,360; and ‘lowered seats’ were $990. All in all, my car came to $118,580 plus Freight and taxes. I don’t know about you, but I’d expect Xenon headlamps and a premium stereo to be standard on a $100,000 car. The price of Porsche options has always amazed me.

2004 Porsche 911 Carrera 2 Tiptronic

2004 Porsche 911 Carrera 2 Tiptronic
Click image to enlarge

But if you want a car like a 911, there’s just one car that can fit that bill. There’s only one car with a horizontally-opposed six cylinder engine mounted at the rear, and there probably won’t ever be another one. I haven’t seen any interest among other automakers to place an engine behind the rear axle – which raises the question, why did Ferdinand Porsche decide on this engine configuration in the first place – and why is it still around? Two big reasons for starters: it eliminates the extra weight and bulk of a driveshaft, and a boxer engine has a lower centre of gravity than an inline or V engine. As well, the engine weight over the rear wheels provides good winter traction, and there’s less dive when braking from high speeds. The original air-cooled Porsche engines were also lightweight and didn’t freeze in the winter.

The current water-cooled 911, first introduced in 1999, is a far different car from the earlier models – a lot more comfortable, quieter, and easier and safer to drive. With the current suspension and Porsche Stability Management, it’s almost impossible to spin out, even if you try to in a test situation. But the trend to increased comfort and safety has a downside: the 911 is less edgy, less high-strung, and less communicative to the driver. You can go a lot faster in the current 911, but there’s a certain numbness that takes away the fun.

2004 Porsche 911 Carrera 2 Tiptronic
Click image to enlarge

And this is particularly true when it’s equipped with Tiptronic S transmission. The Tiptronic sucks the life out of the 911 – at least in automatic mode. Shifts are lazy and drawn out, if smooth. The 911 Tiptronic is so easy to drive around town, it’s easy to forget you’re in a high-performance sports car. For people who want the looks of the 911, but don’t want the bother of a six-speed manual transmission, the Tiptronic S is the answer. But enthusiasts should avoid this transmission.

The floor lever includes P, R, N, D, and a separate gate for the Manual mode. But unlike other Tiptronic transmissions, you can’t shift manually with the shift lever – you must use the buttons on the steering wheel.

2004 Porsche 911 Carrera 2 Tiptronic

2004 Porsche 911 Carrera 2 Tiptronic

2004 Porsche 911 Carrera 2 Tiptronic

2004 Porsche 911 Carrera 2 Tiptronic

2004 Porsche 911 Carrera 2 Tiptronic

2004 Porsche 911 Carrera 2 Tiptronic

2004 Porsche 911 Carrera 2 Tiptronic

2004 Porsche 911 Carrera 2 Tiptronic

2004 Porsche 911 Carrera 2 Tiptronic
Click image to enlarge

In my experience, these buttons are uncomfortable to use. There are two buttons on each steering wheel spoke, and they both perform the same functions: press ‘+’ to change up gears, and press ‘-‘ to change down gears. With the driver’s hands at the ‘9’ and ‘3’ positions, the buttons are pressed with either the left or right thumbs. As I’ve mentioned in previous Porsche reviews, this system of changing gears is awkward: first, you have to release your thumb grip with one hand, which essentially releases your grip on the steering wheel, defeating the purpose of having steering wheel controls in the first place. Secondly, the buttons are awkward to use when steering. Rotating the steering wheel even a few degrees makes it difficult to change gears.

In addition to the awkward shift buttons, the shift times seem slow, particularly upshifts which take about a second. Interestingly, you can still downshift or upshift even when the shift lever is not in the “Manual” position. However, the transmission will revert back to automatic mode if you stop using the buttons.

It’s not well known, but Tiptronic transmissions can also be downshifted by quickly depressing the accelerator pedal to the floor. This is somewhat counter-intuitive, but after a bit of practice, it becomes easy to do. Mainly, it allows you to focus on your steering and shift gears without taking your hands off the wheel.

Other manufacturers use paddles behind the steering wheel to shift gears. This allows the thumb grip to be retained while one or two forefingers tugs on the right paddle to shift up and the left paddle to shift down.

The 911’s 3.6 litre boxer 6 cylinder engine with variable camshaft timing has plenty of low-speed response, and 0 to 100 km/h is achieved in the five to six second range. 80 to 120 km/h passing power is also terrific, but where the 911 shines compared to other sports cars is in braking and handling. Its huge cross-drilled rotors provide exceptionally short, fade-free stops – fortunately, the brake pedal isn’t too sensitive, but it does take a rather firm push. The 911’s rear-biased weight distribution (36/64 front/rear) helps keep the car level under hard braking.

And with its low centre of gravity, fully independent suspension, and sticky Michelin Pilot 285/30ZR-18 inch radials at the rear and 225/40ZR-18 inch tires at the front, the 911 Carrera stays glued to the pavement and exhibits a neutral handling attitude. Porsche’s stability control system, PSM, allows some oversteer at the limit, but prevents severe understeer or oversteer by braking an appropriate tire at the right moment.

The power steering feels a bit heavy at slow speeds, but over 30 km/h, it has a direct, positive feel. At speeds over 120 km/h, the steering becomes somewhat lighter due to the tail-heavy nature of the 911 – but aerodynamic downforce keeps the front end down, and steering response remains good.

Highway cruising is quite pleasant with the engine turning over 2,300 rpm at 100 km/h and 2900 rpm at 120 km/h in top gear. Outward visibility is excellent.

The 911’s cockpit has one-piece seats with integrated head restraints. These seats don’t look that impressive, but they become more comfortable the longer you’re in them. On long drives, and during consistent cornering and braking, they provide excellent comfort and support.

The basic 911 interior is functional but not particularly stylish. There’s a hint of aluminum trim on the glovebox and a handsome Porsche crest on the steering wheel hub, but otherwise it’s monotone.

Ahead of the drivers are a large central tachometer, a 300 km/h speedo, and smaller water, fuel, oil pressure, and voltmeter gauges. As well, there’s a digital odometer, transmission gear indicator, outside temperature gauge and trip computer which includes readouts for distance ’til empty, average fuel economy, average and speed.

The 911’s telescopic steering wheel pulls in and out, but doesn’t tilt up and down. However, you can raise and lower the driver’s seat. Front and side airbags are standard in the 911.

Two cupholders slide out of the upper instrument panel, but if cups are inserted, it’s difficult to operate the climate control. Interior storage consists of covered bins in the doors, a small glovebox, a small centre lockable storage container, and an open storage slot in the dash. But don’t put coins in the open slot – they’re very hard to get out.

My 911 had a steel sunroof (not a glass moonroof) which tilts up or slides back. With the sunroof fully open at speeds between 50 km/h and 70 km/h, there is significant wind buffeting and booming in the cabin, but at highway speeds, the vibrations stop.

Behind the front seats are two small ‘jump’ seats with folding backrests. With the backrests folded down, there is a considerable amount (7 cubic feet) of interior cargo room. However, you can’t put suitcases or heavy objects back there because they are unrestrained and could act as missiles in a collision.

The trunk is under the hood, and it is only big enough a couple of overnight bags – there is no cargo space at the rear.


Verdict

A classic high performance sports car with exceptional handling and braking characteristics, the Porsche 911 Carrera is best purchased with the standard 6 speed manual transmission. The Tiptronic S transmission sucks the life out of this sporty car.


Technical Data: 2004 Porsche 911 Carrera 2 Tiptronic

Base price $100,400
Options $18,180 (Xenon headlamps $1,490; Tiptronic S $4,790; 18 inch alloys $1,990; PSM $1,730; Bose stereo $2,275; lowered seats $990; sport exhaust $3,360; silver metallic paint $1,150; mats $160; wheel caps $245.
Freight $1,045
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $119,725
Type 2-door, 4 passenger coupe
Layout longitudinal rear engine/rear-wheel-drive
Engine 3.6 litre HO 6 cylinder, DOHC
Horsepower 320 @ 6800 rpm
Torque 273 lb-ft @ 4250 rpm
Transmission Tiptronic S 5-speed automatic(6 speed manual standard)
Tires Front: 205/50R-17; Rear 255/40R-17
Curb weight 1340 kg (2959 lb.)
Wheelbase 2350 mm (92.6 in.)
Length 4430 mm (174.5 in.)
Width 1770 mm (69.7 in.)
Height 1305 mm (51.4 in.)
Cargo area 130 litres (4.6 cu. ft.) front trunk
  201 litres (7.1 cu. ft.) behind front seats
Fuel consumption City: 13.0 l/100 km (22 mpg)
  Hwy: 9.2 l/100 km (31 mpg)
Fuel type Premium
Warranty 4 yrs/80,000 km
Assembly location Suttgart-Zuffenhausen, Baden-Wurttemberg

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