Rendez-vous June 1998 – The new 996!

RSR Rendez-vous June 1998

Automobiles Lauzon Hosts Rennsport:

What a great way to start the season. Automobiles Lauzon invited Rennsport for their official unveiling of the Porsche 996. They put on a fantastic evening with wine, hors d’oeuvres and even a jazz combo. The real stars were the cars of course. There were seven Boxsters, some with hardtops, and one convertible with a roof rack (a very clever piece of engineering by the way) carrying what else, a Porsche Mountain Bike!

Under wraps were four 996 coupes awaiting the moment. In front of a crowd of more than 100 Rennsport members the covers were lifted and we were treated to the new 911 in all its glory dazzling under theatre lights installed for the occasion. This was a classy production!

Best of all, we could touch, poke and prod the cars inside and out. It was interesting to hear the different comments about the latest generation 911. Most liked it a lot, others found it quite a departure from the 993. More on that in a moment. There were also a couple of new Beetles in the adjacent show room and they got plenty of attention too. I saw a few members getting test drives in the Speed Yellow car. I admit it, I love the new Beetle, especially in yellow.

We all had a great time, and I’d like to thank Automobiles Lauzon for their hospitality. It was very gracious of them to go to a lot of trouble to host us, especially twice in the same month. Louise and I were away on business so we missed the special presentation of the fabulous Paris Dakar 959 the week before.

The 996 – Impressions:

The 996 has caught trendous attention from afficianados of the marque. Recently I was able to drive one. My tester was a 996 coupe with manual transmission and standard suspension. Here are my first impressions:

The more I see it the more I like the design except for the Boxter headlamps. I dislike them on the Boxster too. My European friends told me the design grows on you fast. They’re right. I like it better every time I see it, except for the front.

Look a trunk! Still a 911 but there is more useful room than in my 4S. I could drive this to a meeting overnight with a suitbag in there, which is more than I can say for the 993.

Engine compartment – nothing to see there, much like the 993.

The doors – don’t close with the vault like clunk of the 993. Feels and sounds like closing the door of an Audi. I’ll miss the “crunk” sound.

The interior is nice. Not quirky. Well done with mostly good ergonomics. A first for the 911 in about 20 years. The style reminded me of Audi and that isn’t bad. It is German Tech all the way. This interior was planned and there are no obvious add ons like the previous 911’s.

More leg room. Nice! Tall guys won’t have to contort themselves to drive this car. More shoulder room too. Romantic interludes may be possible in this one.

More room in the rear. Also good, you’ll be able to drive your kids to school until they are in 6th grade now. Otherwise more room for track essentials.

Slick levers for hood and engine lid on the door sill. Look like decorations but functional too.

Adjustable steering wheel. Yes!

Sport seats on this model feel different from the 993, maybe a little wider. Still nicely bolstered. I’d need a tape measure to figure why they felt different.

More air bags. Two front, two side. I hate air bags.

Lockable center compartment. Perfect for stashing the cell phone.

No glove box. Sacrificed to the *@#!! air bag. Maybe the owners manual comes on CD else it goes in the trunk.

Air bag warning lable. Huge great ugly thing stuck on the dash. I peeled it off. The good news is that it can be peeled off.

Instrument cluster is nice. I’d praise it on any other car. Very different from the 993. Big tach right in front as God intended. Small speedo compensated for by digital speed display in bottom. Hard to read with sun glasses but no big deal. All the important info is front and center. Digital readout useful for adjusting cruise control to 119 for drives to track under the watchful eyes of the SQ or OPP.

Start engine. Ignition key is in the correct location. Boxer six sound. Yes! Thank God!

Smooth clutch with nice engagement. Not digital like my BMW 540 which defies you to make a smooth gear change.

Engine feels like it has a big flywheel, takes longer than I’m used to to come back to idle after a blip. Emissions control gear? Adjustment?

Snick … nice gearbox linkage, short throw and an improvement on the 993 which is darn good.

Car seems a bit sluggish at low revs, could be I am fooled because it is so much quieter inside. Have to cheque the torque spec.

Very flat and fat powerband over 3000 RPM. . We’re having fun now! The car is deceptively quick. Pulls hard from 3000 to the red line. Much less fuss that my 993. Tickets would be easy to get in this car. Less sensation of speed than I’m used to. Probably because there is no aerodynamic noise.

Where’s the wind noise? At last I get to hear the sounds of Porsche and not the usual howling gale over the wipers, mirrors, drip rails etc.

Engine has a turbine like sound to it. High pitch electric motor sort of, not unpleasant, in fact really neat as you approach the 7200 red line. Reminds me a little of the NSX motor. This will please all.

Gearbox is very slick. Short throws and precise gates. Well done.

Air conditioning that works! It was hot. The A/C is finally up to US car standards. I have always been annoyed that a car as expensive as a 911 should have A/C which is inferior to a Neon. No longer.

Brakes. Feels like my 4S with its Turbo brakes except the pedal is firm like a 993 without AWD. Perfect.

Steering. Lighter than the 993. Not sure I like it. Not bad, not overassisted but less effort required than the 993 which is perfectly weighted in my book.

Wipers that really work! At last. The company that wins Le Mans has finally given us wipers that actually clean the glass efficiently. The 993 was an improvement this one got it 100 percent.

Rattles? What rattles! Well done! The specs say the 996 is about 60 percent more rigid in torsion. It shows.

Turning – a few left – right slalom transitions demonstrated that the 996 has lost none of the 993’s agility. No tire squeal as reported in one of the US magazines.

Neutral handling, it seemed as if there was less understeer than my 993 but it could be the lighter steering feel that fooled me. The car is the same or better which is just fine with me.

In summary, I like the new 911. I am delighted that Porsche has been able to refine the car without compromising the driving dynamics. The 996 begs to be taken to a rqace track like every other 911 I’ve ever owned or driven. Hearing that sultry message from a car which is quieter, faster and more all around liveable is a real pleasure. I can sum it up as follows: The 996 is a car I would not hesitate to take on a drive to Toronto even after I’d had it for a year. I wouldn’t say that about any other 911 I’ve ever owned.

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