PORTLAND, Ore. - A kinder, gentler sports car was one of Porsche's main goals in developing the first all-new 911 in the model's 34-year history.
The 1999 911 - or 996 as it is code-named - is larger in nearly every dimension, more comfortable, easier to drive and less expensive to manufacture and maintain thanks to extensive parts sharing with its sister car, the Porsche Boxster.
The car went on sale in North America in April, and was shown to reporters here three weeks ago. Porsche figures that giving it broader appeal, particularly to an aging customer base, will help boost 911 sales in the United States to 7,000 this year and total company sales past 20,000 for the first time since 1987. Last year, the company sold 12,972 vehicles.
The 911 model has long been distinguished from other sports cars by the race-ready simplicity and raspy sound of its air-cooled engine, a vestige of Porsche's historical ties to Volkswagen. But new emissions regulations expected in Porsche's two key markets, the United States and Europe, have forced a break with tradition.
Engineers believe the air-cooled 3.6-liter flat six in the old 911, which was code-named the 993, would struggle to meet the new tailpipe standards expected under Euro III and Federal Tier II.
They needed to gain more control over the combustion process, which meant switching to double overhead cams and multiple valves.
Water cooling makes possible the extra complexity and heat and allows better regulation of the engine's internal temperatures. It also makes the engine quieter.
The new 911's 3.4-liter, 296-hp flat six makes 14 more horsepower than the old car, and the engine weighs 110 pounds less. Peak torque of 258 pounds-feet occurs at 4,600 rpm.
The engine, which technically remains dry sump although the remote oil reservoir has been relocated to the crankcase, uses Porsche's VarioCam variable valve timing system.
It electronically adjusts the tension on the chains between the intake and exhaust camshafts to advance the intake valve opening.
To keep things compact, the timing chains for the left and right cylinder heads run off opposite ends of the crankshaft. The twin radiators ride in the nose, which was stretched to accommodate them.
About the only thing Porsche did not change in the 911's body is the engine's traditional rear-end location. Porsche added inches to every exterior dimension except height and increased interior space for passengers, including 0.5 inch more headroom and 2 inches more front-seat travel.
Last year, Porsche revealed a glimpse of the future with the water-cooled Boxster roadster. It and the new 911 have more than just a family resemblance; they were engineered at the same time and share 42 percent of their parts.
Virtually all of the components between the nose and the A-pillar are common to both the Boxster and the 911. The crossover extends to the interior, where the gauge cluster, seat frames and center switch pod are identical.
Porsche says this 'simultaneous engineering' was needed to hold down sticker prices on both models. The base price increase for the new 911 was held to 2 percent over the previous model.
The 1999 Carrera Coupe's base prices are $65,795 for models equipped with the six-speed manual transmission and $69,215 for cars with Porsche's five-speed Tiptronic S semi-automatic transmission. Prices start at $75,225 and $78,645 for the Cabriolet, which has a power top that can be dropped at the turn of the door key. All prices include a $765 destination charge.