1989 Porsche 944S2

Porsche 944S2 convertible front view
The Porsche 944S2 was offered as a coupe and in this Cabriolet body style.

The S2 was something else. It, too, had the new standard goodies of the base and Turbo models, but it looked like a Turbo and was almost as strong, thanks to a 16-valve engine stroked to 88 mm (on the 2.7’s 104-mm bore) for no less than 3.0 liters, making it the world’s largest four-cylinder in regular production.

Despite mounting corporate troubles, the S2 showed no less engineering care than any other Porsche. For example, the new 3.0-liter actually weighed 15 percent less than the old 2.5, thanks to joined cylinder sleeves without water jacketing, shallower jackets elsewhere, and thinner block walls. Switching from cast to forged aluminum pistons didn’t save weight but did wonders for high-speed durability.

A revised intake system gave a “pulse charge” effect for more high-end power (it was noticed above 4,000 rpm) and a catalytic converter moved closer to the engine to shorten warm-up time for reduced emissions. An adaptive knock sensor and the addition of an on-board diagnostic system to allow tracing any intermittent faults in the Bosch Motronic engine computer rounded out the improvements. With all this, the big four now delivered 208 horsepower at 5,800 rpm in U.S. tune and 207 pounds/feet of torque peaking at a usefully low 4,100. And that was on regular gas, despite tight 10.9:1 compression.

Porsche 944S2 convertible rear view
The Porsche 944S2 had a rear body underpan, similar to the 944 Turbo's.

Motor Trend judged the S2 a fine piece of work. After testing a coupe in little-changed 1990 form, editor Jeff Karr enthused that the 3.0-liter “acts like a strong-running six instead of a hard-working four.” And it did. At 6.62 seconds to 60 mph by MT’s clock, the S2 was a mere 0.05-second slower than the previous Turbo S and right up there with such vaunted performers as the latest Corvette and Mazda’s turbo-rotary RX-7. What’s more, said Karr, the S2 beat those rivals in the standing quarter-mile, logging 14.85 seconds at 95.2 mph. “Even though the [944] Turbo makes 247 hp at its peak, the S2 is quicker in the real world in all but the most demanding circumstances.”

Price was definitely demanding at an ’89 U.S. base list of $45,285, way above most every other car with similar performance. But Karr had an answer to that, too: “Porsche-ness.” The S2’s price premium, he said, “buys something that can’t be found for less money . . . an intangible too tough to label and impossible to measure with a stopwatch. Call it quality, call it elegance, but something there that makes the driving experience somehow more satisfying in the Porsche.” High praise for a car whose basic design was over 10 years old.

But Porsche had prepared another dose of youthfulness in the form of its first front-engine convertible. Admittedly, the new S2 Cabriolet was a long time coming, announced in late 1987 but not genuinely available until early ’89. Nevertheless, it charmed the most jaded critics despite an initial U.S. sticker of $52,650.

That price partly reflected a convoluted conversion process again involving Audi in Neckarsulm but also a new factory that had been set up by American Sunroof Corporation (ASC) in nearby Heilbronn. As Car and Driver’s John Phillips III described the process, unfinished coupe bodies “are shipped from Audi to ASC, where the tops are torched off. . . . The rocker sills and doorjambs are buttressed, and a pair of crossmembers are sandwiched by a second floorpan. In this half-finished condition, the S2 Cabrio goes back to Audi for its Porsche-built engine and drivetrain. And then it is shipped again to ASC, where it is fitted with a unique windscreen -- 2.4 inches shorter than the coupe’s, which accounts in large part for the Cabrio’s charming [911] ‘Speedster-esque’ appearance. At the same time, ASC installs plastic caps atop the rear fenders (for aesthetic reasons only) and fashions an entirely new rear deck, making this the first 944 with a trunk.”

Unfortunately, there was scarcely room in that trunk for a deep-dish pizza. The coupe’s token rear seats were omitted to make stowage space for the top, though that did leave a useful package shelf with a couple of lidded “gloveboxes” below. The top itself was rather vexing. As on 911 Cabrios, it was a multi-layered canvas affair, fully insulated and powered, but it folded into a bulky lump and only after being released from the windshield header with a rather clumsy little Allen-type wrench.

On the other hand, the droptop S2 was surprisingly draft-free at speed, even with the side windows down (also recalling 911 Cabrios). Porsche managed to hold the expected weight increase to just 123 pounds while preserving about 98 percent of the coupe’s rock-solid structural feel. As a result, the new open S2 felt and acted much like its closed companion on straight and curved roads alike.

Porsche 944 S2 convertible with top up
The Porsche 944S2 came with seven-spoke alloy wheels. This is a 1990 model.

Check out the complete story of Porsche cars, including these fabulous models:

Porsche 356

Porsche 911

Porsche 914

Porsche 924, 944, 968

Porsche 928

Porsche 959

Porsche Boxster

Porsche Cayenne

Porsche Cayman

For Porsche prices and reviews from the auto editors of Consumer Guide, see: