It’s always nice when somebody agrees with you. The Porsche 968 Club Sport was one of the best-handling cars I ever drove. Last week Autocar concurred. Deciding that 1994 was a high point in automotive history it tested Honda NSX, Ferrari F355, TVR, Peugeot and Porsche, selecting the same exemplary virtues of the 968 Club Sport I discovered in October 1993. It was a pity Autocar chose a slothful automatic Honda; a manual one would have been more of a match for the Porsche. I remain unconvinced about the TVR or even the Ferrari and the other Porsche, a 993, I agree was more controllable than old 911s but no Porsche with the engine at the wrong end ever had the exquisite equilibrium of the 968.
PORSCHE 968 Club Sport Sunday Times Motoring
Porsche AG has gone through a crisis of confidence. It hiked its prices to a point where Porsches came to be regarded as something of a rip-off. Sales collapsed, production was halved, the workforce cut, and it now assembles special-edition cars for Mercedes-Benz and Audi.
But Porsche quality never wavered. The firm may have had to take in lodgers to pay its way, but the essential ingredients of the 968 Club Sport I have been testing are everlasating - the elegant engineering, the eager acceleration, the responsive handling. A certain amount of whimsy remains, such as the scatter-gun facia layout, and the out-of-reach boot release.
Road noise is bad. Corrugated concrete surfaces make the car resonate like a cheap van. After a thousand miles in four days, the thump of the wheels on catseyes was very tiresome.
The 968 Club Sport is an adroit piece of marketing. At £28,975 it is cheaper here than in Germany, and Porsche likes to think of it as a car that can be used on the track. It is lower and 50Kg lighter than the standard 968 and there is a “sports pack” suspension for racing.
It is arguable how much cash is saved by manual window winders, and there is not much weight in central door locks. Yet marketing ploy or not, this is a sports Porsche in the best sporting tradition and one of the best Porsches ever.
The seats are thinly upholstered lightweight racing shells, and tricky to get into. You bend double, and fall backwards into a sort of hard-edged hammock, ducking to avoid the low roof, and swinging your legs in afterwards. Climbing out is worse - you can finish up sitting on the kerb with your legs still inside.
There is no central locking, and no rear seats. There are blanked-off spaces where other Porsches have accessory switches. Drivers are expected to adjust their own mirrors, and tall seat-backs make the interior inconvenient.
Yet the result is not far short of perfection. Once in the form-hugging seats you feel part of the car. When you move, it moves. It is like a well-tailored suit. You do not so much get into this Porsche as put it on.
I sat in the car for twelve hours one day, mostly on the driving side, and emerged uncreased, without backache, without cramp, still fresh, still alert. Who needs upholstery ?
Porsche academics at its Weissach engineering centre designed the cockpit of the Airbus, but you would never guess it. Porsche instrument binnacles have looked much the same for thirty years and the switches are placed seemingly at random or, like the trip meter reset button, cunningly hidden in the outflow grille from the ventilator.
The 968CS has the exquisite balance of the front-engined Porsches and the charisma of the rear-engined ones. It is refined (save for the body noise) at slow speeds, and never raucous going fast. The steering is precise and accurate, the ride smoother at high speed than it is going slowly, and there are reserves of cornering grip impossible to exploit on the public road. Strong brakes provide reserves of safety which offset the car's natural easy fast gait.
Top speed is 156mph and it accelerates to 60mph in about 6.5sec. The engine is an energetic 3.0-litre four-cylinder with twin balancer shafts, and the six-speed gearbox has the swift precision of a racing car.
Competition from worthy Japanese sports cars has stimulated Porsche. Its spiralling prices have been stemmed, and Porsches like the 968 are once again good value.
Autocar’s compiler Colin Goodwin (born 1962) was lyrical about how manageable the Porsche was. Experienced on road and track he found it was, “easy to slide and recover”, describing an acid test not easy in day to day driving. Testers invoke it to reveal how cars behave under stress. However I challenge Goodwin’s assertion that what he calls “drifting” hadn’t been coined “back then”. Stirling Moss and Laurence Pomeroy wrote books about it. Anyway he turned to a younger colleague Simon Davis for a nostalgic last word. “Compared to cars of today (the Porsche) felt like a far more characterful organic and engaging machine. Cars don’t feel like this any more.”