Neither the new S2s nor the “value-priced” standard 944 were enough to spark four-cylinder sales, and world production for the ’89 series was a disappointing 8036. With Porsche’s cash starting to run low, product efforts were increasingly focused on the more profitable 911 family, so it was no real surprise that the S2 coupe and Cabrio were the only 944s to return to U.S. showrooms for 1990. Both were virtually unchanged except for still lower prices. In reductions that came midway through the 1989 sales season, the coupe fell to $41,900, the convertible to $48,600.
The Porsche 968 bowed for 1992 as the final evolution of the 924/944 design.
It was a timely thing to do. Road & Track’s Peter Egan still thought the 944 “a true driver’s car, with excellent (50/50) balance, superb brakes and responsive, linear steering with good feedback. . . . More than most of its competition, the 944 manages to feel both sophisticated and tough at the same time. And the current S2 is the best 944 yet. . . . Whether [the cabrio] is a good value . . . depends, I suppose, upon the ease or difficulty with which the buyer acquires this amount of money.” Car and Driver’s John Phillips was less equivocal, calling the 1990 Cabrio “a real deutsch treat. But who will reach for his checkbook first?”
The answer wasn’t long in coming, and it wasn’t the one Porsche wanted, as four-cylinder production hit a new low of just 4,104 units for calendar-year 1990. But there was nothing to do except carry on, so the S2 coupe continued into ’91 with only a wing-type spoiler and a window sticker reading $1,450 higher; the Cabrio was untouched, but its price rose by $1,750.
Sales turned up a little in 1992, and the reason was called 968. On the surface it looked like little more than a 944S2 restyled with 928 cues. (The restyle is credited to Harm Lagaay, by now in charge of Porsche’s design studios.) There were even the same sort of exposed, laid-back headlamps that flipped up to vertical when switched on and 928-type tail styling. But although Porsche was running low on money, it didn’t show, for the 968 was no less thorough a makeover than the 944 had been a decade earlier.
Improvements began under the hood, where the big twincam four was treated to a revised cylinder head with higher 11.0:1 compression, smoother intake passages, freer-flow exhaust, and a new wrinkle called VarioCam -- Porsche’s answer to the power-boosting variable-valve-timing systems on newer models from BMW and several Japanese makes. Car and Driver’s Pat Bedard thought VarioCam “at best inelegant -- it amounts to a plastic rubbing block, controlled by the engine computer, that adjusts the length of the drive chain between the intake and exhaust cams.” Maybe so, but the idea behind it was sound. Below 1500 rpm, VarioCam allowed only a small amount of valve overlap for a smooth idle and low emissions. Between 1,500 and 5,500 rpm it retarded timing to promote better cylinder filling for more torque. Above 5,500, timing was advanced for maximum power. With all this, the 3.0 muscled up to 236 horsepower at 6,200 rpm in U.S. trim and 225 pounds/feet of torque peaking at 4,100 -- the highest torque output in the world for a non-turbo engine of this size.
Like the 944, the 968 transmission still sat near the rear axle, but the manual gearbox now had six forward ratios instead of five. And for the first time since 1989 buyers could have a four-cylinder Porsche with an automatic transmission. It was a good one, too, an adaptation of the 911’s sophisticated four-speed Tiptronic, priced here at $3,150. (See Chapter 3 for operating details.) Chassis-wise, the 968 was a tweaked carryover of the 944, but 17-inch wheels and tires were newly optional (at $1,352). Rim widths were unchanged from the last S2s (7.5 inches fore, 8 inches aft), but the wheels looked like they’d come from the all-conquering 959, and the tires were run-flat Bridgestone Expedias, similar to those on the latest 911 Carrera 2. Continued for the coupe only was an optional sport suspension package with larger front brakes and firmer shocks with adjustable rebound damping.
There was little new inside, so the 968 inherited all the old 944 ergonomic quirks -- but then, Porsche had only so much money to spend. Speaking of which, the four-cylinder line had been adding “boutique” options over the years, just like 911s. The 968 continued the practice, listing items like “partial leather” front seats (hide on wearing surfaces only, a stiff $668), heated seats, a CD player or changer ($1,347 for the latter), headlight washers, and the beloved “paint and upholstery to sample” (price variable with outrageousness). More mainstream extras included a limited-slip differential ($895) and metallic paint ($803).
Happily, buyers didn’t pay more up front, at least for the coupe. Because economizing measures in Zuffenhausen were starting to bear fruit, Porsche could price the closed 968 a whopping $4,000 below the previous S2 model: $39,350 in the United States. That was a bit deceptive, however, because luxury tax and a few options would lift take-home prices to the mid-forties. And the 968 Cabrio was $3,300 more than its S2 predecessor, a hefty $51,900. With that, Car and Driver predicted “price [is] the trip line where the 968 may fall on its face.”
The Porsche 968 had a 236-horsepower four-cylinder. Cabrios started at $51,900.
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