From the September 2000 issue of Car and Driver.
Fed chairman Alan Greenspan has been tapping the brakes lately, but that doesn’t mean you have to. Summer’s here, Europe’s famous fast-car makers are pushing the envelope harder than ever, and if you make your money the old-fashioned way—that is to say, you’re not a dotcommer—then your checks are still coming, right? So, if you’re ever going to establish ground superiority, now’s the time, before Mr. G. gets into ABS and slides everybody’s plans off the table.
The latest recipe for blurring the fence posts is Porsche’s 911 Turbo, fresh out of the oven and still steaming. This is the first Turbo model of the new-generation, watercooled cars. You expected escalation along with this new hardware, and you’re gonna get it good and hard—415 horsepower from a 3.6-liter flat-six that’s derived from the Le Mans winner of two years ago. It has four valves per cylinder, up from just two in the previous model. Twin turbos, of course. And dual intercoolers. The gearbox is a six-speed manual or, optional for the first time in the Turbo, a Tiptronic S five-speed automatic. All-wheel drive is standard, as it has been on all Porsche Turbos since 1996.
As a show of force, how about a rear wing that separates into a biplane arrangement as the coupe climbs through 75 mph, this to add stability on thrusts into autobahn velocities? How about 295/30ZR-18 tires wrapping 11-inch-wide rims in back? How about turbo boost to 12.0 psi?
Since its United States intro as a 1975 model, the 911 Turbo has resisted easy classification. Is it the most attainable of the exotic sports cars, or the most exotic of the attainable sports cars? With a base price of $116,818 for this 2001 model, most of us will need a congressional appropriation before adding a Turbo to the personal arsenal. At the same time, any other factory-made sportster with a chance of matching the Porsche’s performance will cost far more.
So this isn’t a comparison in which we round up all the candidates clustered around a price point. Instead, we’ve looked about to see what’s new and what threatens the balance of power among GT coupes.
Attracting the editorial eye—well, why hold back?—arousing the editorial lust is the new Aston Martin DB7 Vantage. Since the DB7’s 1996 debut in North America, the range of adjectives inspired by this classically proportioned coupe have opened with gorgeous and quickly zoomed past the hyperbolic. She is a looker! Now, with the addition of “Vantage”—Aston’s traditional name for its go-fast model—she’s a looker with a 5.9-liter V-12.
The price is $147,988 including destination, gas-guzzler tax, and options. Hey, this test is not about self-denial.
And while we’re indulging ourselves, something from the Ferrari squadron belongs in any fly-off among superpowers. Fresh for the 2000 model year is a new mid-engined coupe, the 360 Modena, which replaces the stirring F355. Think of the Modena as Ferrari’s most popular model, accounting for two-thirds of the company’s output. It’s Ferrari’s most affordable, too, at a base price of $153,500.
That said, it’s also one of the most electrifying cars on the planet. The 395-hp V-8 makes a pagan cry. The chassis hustles with an Olympian’s stride. And the influence of Ferrari’s Grand Prix adventures is as close as your fingertips. With the optional F1 gearbox, the shift lever is replaced by two paddles behind the steering wheel—one for upshifts, the other for downshifts. Like Ferrari’s star driver Michael Schumacher, you can flick through the six-speed and keep both hands on the wheel.
In military terms, we’re talking interceptors here, and to give them room to run, we reserved the state of Nevada. California and Arizona served as turn-around room. We successfully eluded radar lock in all jurisdictions, and no ordnance was expended. The following report was prepared for your immediate attention.
Third Place: Aston Martin DB7
Enzo Ferrari and Ferdinand Porsche were still low on their torque curves when the name Aston Martin first appeared on a car. That was in 1913, in England. Those ancient roots, of course, in no way ensured that the DB7 would be the traditionalist of this group, but there’s a certain poetry here nonetheless, because this long and curvaceous coupe is a beauty in the way sporting cars tried to be in those olden days before wind tunnels. Back then, the reach for speed meant streamlining. Mostly it was done by eye, on paper, with a pen. If it looked fast, the thinking went, then the air would let it be fast.
Well, if it looked fast, it probably looked good, never mind what the air thought.
HIGHS: Classic fast-roof proportions, melodious V-12 song, long legs on the open road.
LOWS: Snug cockpit dimensions, dark-ages bumpsteer when rushing over weathered blacktop.
This DB7 looks faster than a lascivious gambit, and it looks wonderful. Moreover, it’s as fast as it looks. Top speed, average of a two-way run: 182 mph. But the Porsche Turbo steamed past with a 10-mph advantage, a clear payoff for all its aerodramatically correct slots and slits.
The Aston is a traditionalist in another way, too. Its V-12 makes beautiful noises. Back in the decades before catalytic converters, we road testers doubled as music critics, reserving our most creative imagery for the paragraphs about exhaust note. Just one time through the gears had your author regretting all those superlatives sprayed away on lesser cars. For the record, the Aston Martin Symphony for 12 cylinders and 2 exhausts is the sweetest sound on tuned pipes this side of J.S. Bach himself. The evenly spaced pulses blend into a purr at constant speeds; they turn round and hard as the throttle goes down, then soft and fluffy when you lift. And they’re always loud, just right—if you had to go back—for a grand departure from the high-school parking lot.
As traditionalists would expect of a front-engined GT coupe, the cockpit is snug. The low roof pulls the lid down tight on tall guys. The tunnel, made wide to accommodate almost six liters and six speeds, squeezes footroom down to dark and narrow passages under the dash. Still, the 60-degree V-12 is less intrusive than a 90-degree V-8 would be.
Aston Martin is a Ford brand now, and the engine architecture began with two Taurus four-cam V-6s placed end to end. The light-alloy block and heads are produced by Cosworth. Output is 414 horsepower at 6000 rpm. Redline is 7000. The torque curve is smooth and progressive, not punchy.
The Vantage makes numbers that would be heroic in any other context. Here it’s merely a very quick machine. Zero to 60 mph happens in 5.1 seconds on the way to a 13.6-second quarter-mile at 106 mph. Skidpad grip is a creditable 0.85 g. Stopping from 70 mph takes 178 feet.
Out in the twisties, the DB7 behaves itself, except for overly eager brakes. There’s no such thing as a brush of the pedal; you always get a brake application, whether you want it or not. The steering lacks sharpness, yet the long nose swings smartly into the turn as you trail the throttle to load the front tires. Stability is excellent when you pick up the power. At 4054 pounds, this beauty is immensely drivable, but never flingable.
Despite its solid performance, this sporting coupe makes us feel rich rather than aroused. Its long, flowing lines clad in metallic sweet-pickle green remind of enduring values. Inside, carbon-fiber trim makes a high-tech statement against the soft black-leather upholstery, but the dark green carpeting reasserts a loyalty to the finer things. The winged Aston Martin emblem appears occasionally, in white outline on the black-faced tach and speedo and in full chrome splendor in the center of the dash; after all these years, so comforting to see it again. Built into the underside of the trunklid is an umbrella hanger, and a small compartment below—at first glance, could it be a floor safe?—has just enough room for the owner’s manual.
THE VERDICT: If Venus were to come calling as a GT coupe, she’d look like this.
If Sean Connery were still 007, this is the car he’d drive.
2000 Aston Martin DB7 Vantage
414-hp V-12, 6-speed manual, 4054 lb
Base/as-tested price: $145,100/$147,988
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 5.1 sec
100 mph: 11.9 sec
150 mph: 30.0 sec
1/4 mile: 13.6 @ 106 mph
Braking, 700 mph: 178 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.85 g
C/D observed fuel economy: 15 mpg
Second Place: Porsche 911 Turbo
Next time the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty comes up for review, this Porsche needs to be on the table. It pushes the notion of off-the-shelf performance way off the chart. Dropping the clutch at 4000 rpm slams the breech closed on a ballistic launch. The rears spin just a little, shuddering as they slip-stick-slip-stick on the edge of adhesion for the first 50 feet. Then they grip like paint. With boost to the max and a heathen howl, the Turbo easily hits 60 in second gear in 3.9 seconds. Halfway through fourth, it burns past the quarter-mile mark in 12.3 seconds at 116 mph. That’s not quite a Porsche record. The Turbo S (C/D, July 1997) hit 60 in 3.7 seconds and cleared the quarter in 12.2 seconds. It also rang the cash register up to $164,510.
HIGHS: Heroic thrust, God’s own grip, a mild manner that’ll reassure your better half if you stay out of the boost when they are aboard.
LOWS: Looks okay if you like heat-exchanger styling, but what’s with those furniture-leg pads on the front bumper?
Still, for nearly 50 grand less, this new Turbo takes away from this test two crowns: It’s both price and performance leader. For the record, it also qualifies as a Low-Emission Vehicle according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
So why is it ranked second? “The Germans have taken the fun out,” wrote one tester. “This is an appliance for speed.”
The minority opinion disagrees, wondering how speed could ever be too disciplined, too composed.
Still, it’s a question every car guy must confront. Speed and cockpit intensity are often completely unconnected. To which of the two do you award highest marks?
Apart from thunderous resonances from the tires over certain road textures, this 911 Turbo makes relaxing sounds. Engine noise is muted, gear-mesh whirs and whines are minimal. The clutch is tricky when starting from a dead stop—the effort curve gives no clue to engagement—but otherwise the car makes no demands for driver expertise. Below 3000 rpm you must wait a bit for the turbos to spool up when you call for power. In this regard, the Turbo is not at all like a big-engined car. But when the power comes, you feel a long, inexorable push that pauses only briefly as you change gears. And it’s a push that barely fades as the speedo needle sweeps past 150.
The undemanding nature of this car continues into braking and cornering exercises. That’s part of the problem. They feel like exercises rather than probes to the giddy limits of the g envelope. Brake feel is firm, and the anti-lock system contributes excellent stability. Stopping distances and cornering forces are best of the group, by a small margin over the Ferrari.
The all-wheel-drive system never puts more that 40 percent of the torque to the front wheels. So the fronts never feel overloaded, never give up, lapsing into wholesale understeer. Cornering grip is beautifully balanced under all circumstances we encountered. Steering is smooth, not edgy. Mid-corner grip as you pick up the power is trusty and bountiful. And full-power traction on exit is unprecedented, unparalleled, and unimpeachable. Have Newton’s laws been repealed or what? How can these forces come so easily?
Compared with the lofty mechanical achievement, the Turbo’s visual details are disappointing. Heat-exchanger openings in every view distinguish it from ordinary 911s, and the flared rear—2.6 inches wider to enclose the extra-meaty rear tires—brings a this-guy-pumps-iron look to the car. But the black rubber bumper pads in front are an assault on good taste, and the chrome plastic headlight covers glitter like something from the Kmart auto department. Inside, the dove-gray treatment looks too much like every other Porsche. Too many cut-lines in the dash. Too many reflections in the instrument dials. How come the digital displays in the bottom of the dials disappear when viewed through polarized sunglasses?
THE ARCHIVE: Something to keep the corpuscles red-hot while your MiG is on back order.
On a g-per-dollar basis, this new 911 Turbo is a slam-dunk. Yet, somehow, it remains cold to the touch.
2000 Porsche 911 Turbo S
415-hp flat-6, 6-speed manual, 3500 lb
Base/as-tested price: $116,818/$118,535
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 3.9 sec
100 mph: 8.9 sec
150 mph: 21.6 sec
1/4 mile: 12.3 @ 116 mph
Braking, 700 mph: 163 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.93 g
C/D observed fuel economy: 18 mpg
First Place: Ferrari 360 Modena
You don’t take a seat in this machine. You snap into the socket, and the juice zaps through your body. The V-8 snarls—raaah! raaaahh! The steering is ziggy sharp way into the three-digit speeds (don’t sneeze). Body roll stays as flat as Nebraska. The throttle is trigger-quick and the brakes shrug off speed. There’s no relaxation in this office. The voltage is nonstop.
HIGHS: Jet-fighter view of the road ahead, quarterback poise in the zigs and zags, and, of course, that Ferrari snarl from the engine room.
LOWS: Molded cockpit carpet barely exceeds trunk quality, and wear your Nomex gloves when you lift the hatchback engine cover.
Acute! Intense! Incendiary! Get back—unless you think you’re man enough for an all-day orgasm.
Obviously, this piece is about a whole lot more than just going fast. It’s about feeling fast, too. And about certain thrilling extravagances of design.
Why hold back? Yellow piping on the black seats echoes the exterior paint and simultaneously picks up the scream of the yellow Ferrari emblem centered in the steering wheel. Yesss!
Backing up is not a maneuver that usually promises much, until the first time you look back through the glass wall at the rear of the cockpit and see the engine, naked and quivering just beyond your shoulder blades, topped with two swelling cast-aluminum plenums finished in red crackle. Of course, polished Ferrari logos stand proudly on each.
So unexpected. So exuberant. So sexy. Although not quite a match for the Turbo, the 40-valve, 3.6-liter V-8 pours its heart out trying, ripping to its 8500-rpm redline, sprinting to 60 in 4.6 seconds and through the quarter in 13.1 seconds at 110 mph. Cornering grip is just a tick behind the Porsche’s, 0.92 g versus 0.93. And attacking the twisties takes more skill, because the controls are so alive. Too alive, we think. The throttle travel is so short that even a tiny shrink back of the foot chops the power. Such abruptness on entering a turn transfers weight sharply forward, just asking for the tail to come around.
In fact, it never did. The tires stick fiercely, always balancing toward firm understeer. More power dials up more understeer. But you have the feeling of never being quite smooth enough. It makes you reach deeper into the talent bin, working for a perfection other cars might not notice.
The F1 gearbox—a six-speed manual system in which all the shifting and clutch work are done by electrohydraulic wizardry—lets you devote full attention to your path, working the paddles with just your fingertips. Switched to the “sport” position, it bangs the shifts home harder than we ever would on the road. Or you can push the “auto” button and let the computer call the shifts.
This Ferrari, at 3291 pounds, is the leanest car in the group, and it always feels light on its feet. Apart from the quickness of the controls, and the relentlessly exhilarating noises, it’s surprisingly easy to live with. The trunk in front is remarkably spacious, better by far than the Porsche’s. Cockpit entry and exit are easy. The sill is low and painless to slip across. The people space is broad, with lots of elbowroom and a fairly normal driving position. Wheel location is about right, unlike the monkey reach required in Ferraris of yore. You can’t brace against the door during cornering; it’s too far away. But no problem: The seat has terrific lateral support. The cowl is low, opening to a big-picture view ahead. The driver works in a tach-centered office, a big dial straight ahead with big numbers up to 10 (thousand). Our only serious complaint concerns the 12-volt outlet located rearward in the console, leaving a long reach to the windshield for the radar-detector cord. Well, the warning beeps, chirps, and whistles that come along for free with various ignition-key positions get annoying pretty fast, too.
THE VERDICT: Nobody does rip and snort like the Prancing Horse.
What we have here is a machine that never stops expressing itself. And in no case does it whisper.
2000 Ferrari 360 Modena
395-hp V-8, 6-speed automatic, 3291 lb
Base/as-tested price: $153,500/$154,340
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 4.6 sec
100 mph: 11.1 sec
150 mph: 29.6 sec
1/4 mile: 13.1 @ 110 mph
Braking, 700 mph: 165 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.92 g
C/D observed fuel economy: 16 mpg
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