First Impressions

911 3.2 vs. 944 S2 1
911 3.2 vs. 944 S2 2
911 3.2 vs. 944 S2 3
911 3.2 vs. 944 S2 4
911 3.2 vs. 944 S2 5
911 3.2 vs. 944 S2 6
911 3.2 vs. 944 S2 7

“The thing I like about the Carrera is that it has that ‘original 911’ feel to it,” says the 944 owner. “The car and the power come alive in the higher revs. The steering is heavier than the S2’s, but it’s precise and turn-in is razor sharp.” He also noticed the Carrera’s firmer ride. We’re in the same camp when it comes to the Turbo-Look’s lines. “The lines, the flares, the wing… (It is) by far one of the best looking designs to ever come out of the factory.”

Getting into the 944, the first thing I notice is another cockpit from another era. This cabin, while on the austere side — think liberating negative space to the 911’s busy, cozy interior — has aged well, thanks to its wraparound gauge cluster and less-is-more ethos. The driving position is low and laid back, similar to a 928’s, and the shifter falls to hand nicely.

So far, few disappointments. But turning the ignition key leads to a letdown. The 944’s big inline four comes off as decidedly agricultural — at least at idle. That’s not so much an insult as a commentary on inline fours with rare exception (Alfa Romeo twin-cams come to mind) and no exceptions when they get this large. There is no denying that the S2’s 3.0-liter four is an impressive piece of engineering, however. The 16-valve, DOHC four offers 208 hp and 207 lb-ft of torque, beating the 911’s larger flat six on both counts.

Once underway, it’s obvious that the S2 has decent sprinting ability. It feels quicker than the 6.2-second 0–60-mph dash Por­sche claimed when this model was new, and the engine makes a smooth, mechanical growl throughout the rev range. While it doesn’t rev as cleanly as the Carrera’s flat six, it picks up revs enthusiastically.

Stringing a few fast corners together brings a vivid reminder of why 944s generated rave reviews in their heyday and why they continue to be so widely appreciated for their handling. There’s a little roll on turn-in, but once the car takes a set, it rotates beautifully around its center, turning in precisely with its tail following obediently. The S2’s on-road behavior feels more akin to that of the 2010 Boxster S I arrived in than the 911 it’s here to face.

With more familiarization, I feel comfortable to drive right up the adhesion limits and keep the 944 there, manipulating its throttle, steering, and brakes to finely adjust its attitude anyway I want or need to –– something I didn’t feel comfortable doing in the 911. Out of turns, the normally-aspirated 3.0 has low-end immediacy lacking in its 944 Turbo sibling. Where the Turbo suffers from old-school lag, the S2’s 16-valve four gives up useable power and torque sooner, then builds from there. It may lack the smoothness of the 3.2-liter Carrera, but it revs quickly and enthusiastically, and the gearing is absolutely perfect. Shifting up in the heart of the powerband always puts the engine back in its sweet-spot, so acceleration is always progressive, always constant. Overall, the S2 feels light on its feet and good to go.

Ricci, a 944 newbie, is as impressed as I am by the S2’s talents. “Never having driven a 944, I was quite surprised at the balance of the car,” he says. “And I particularly liked the fact that you always had plenty of torque. The gearing was always right.” It’s no surprise that, today, the 944 S2 has a cult following that’s probably as ardent as the M491 Carrera’s.

Choosing between the two comes down to how you like your Porsche experience. It’s undeniable that the Carrera offers more of a sense of occasion. It feels handmade, thoroughly infused with Por­sche DNA, and steeped in competition history. Compared to the 944, however, it feels like something of a throwback. The S2’s feisty four-banger, perfect gearing, transaxle chassis, and un­real balance represented another era for the company — and did so beautifully.

Also from Issue 186

  • First Drive in 2010 GT2 RS
  • Rare one-off 1953 Phoenix-Porsche
  • Driving a 1974 RSR in the last Historics
  • How the 911 won Le Mans in 2010
  • Real 1973 RS 2.7, Hot-rodded
  • Sebring Winner Kees Nierop
  • 911 Turbo Buyers Guide
  • Early 911: Affordable Fun
  • 2011 Panamera V6 Driven
  • The Cashmere Cliff Part 3 (911 SC)
  • Porsche's Latest Parts Emporium
  • Porsche Batteries and Electrical Systems
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