The Porsche 944 answered criticism that the 924 wasn't a "real" Porsche.
The 944 engine was distinct in two more important respects. First, the 928's relatively simple Bosch L-Jetronic fuel injection gave way to the same firm's new state-of-the-art Digital Motor Electronics (DME) system with integrated computer management of injection and electronic ignition. Second, the 944 block employed twin counter-weighted balance shafts. These spun at twice crankshaft speed and in the opposite direction to dampen the vibrations (technically termed "coupling forces") inherent in inline fours of more than 2.0-liter displacement. (A Gilmer-type cogged belt drove the camshaft; a second belt, with teeth on each side, drove the balance shafts.)
The balancer idea was novel but hardly new, dating from 1911 and Frederick W. Lanchester in England. Moreover, Mitsubishi of Japan had recently resurrected it -- with a patent. Porsche tried to avoid infringement by running its balancers in three bearings each instead of Mitsubishi's two but ultimately decided to pay a royalty estimated at $8 per car. As one Porsche executive said at the time, "There's no need to reinvent the motorcar."
On 9.5:1 compression, the U.S. 944 bowed with 143 horsepower (SAE net) at 5,500 rpm and 137 pounds/ feet peak torque at 3,000 rpm. The Euro version had 153 (160 DIN) on a tighter 10.6:1 squeeze. The factory claimed the American model would do 0-60 in 8.3 seconds, slightly slower than its transatlantic cousin. However, both would outsprint a 924 Turbo and were nearly as fast all-out (130 versus 134 mph) -- yet without the blower's complexity. Strict weight control helped. The 944 engine weighed just 340 pounds dry, while the initial curb weight of 2,778 pounds was just slightly higher than the Turbo's.
Porsche claimed no sweeping chassis alterations in turning 924 into 944 -- just the usual honing of spring/shock rates and anti-roll-bar sizes, plus attention to steering and transaxle mounts. The aforementioned beefier wheels and tires were standard equipment, as were the 924 Turbo's all-disc brakes. An optional sport package offered even stiffer shocks, limited-slip diff, and 7 ´16 alloy rims with 205/55VR16 Pirelli P7s.
The cockpit was much the same, too, though instrument markings went from white to yellow for easier reading, and a nice new tweed-cloth upholstery option made for a less sterile ambience. No-cost amenities were abundant, running to A/C, removeable sunroof, tinted glass, three-spoke leather-rim steering wheel, electric door windows, and heated power-remote side door mirrors.
A discouraging word was seldom seen in early road tests. The late Dean Batchelor remarked that a number of publications wrote about the 944 "as if employed by Porsche's advertising agency," and Road & Track was typical in judging the new "budget" model "worthy of the marque."
Predictably, perhaps, the engine earned the highest and most frequent praise. R&T found that "it fires up immediately and runs smoothly, even when cold. And Lordy, does it rev -- right up to redline in every gear except 5th. There are no stumbles, flat spots, or resonance points. Furthermore, there's low- and mid-range flexibility that allows you to drop the revs as low as 1,000 rpm in top gear and the engine pulls without protest."
The 944's handling was simply "terrific," according to Car and Driver: "You can drive like a hero without sweat popping out on your brow. The 944 is great because it responds crisply and decisively to every command, and it builds up to its limit in perfectly linear fashion. You won't find killer understeer here. And you won't find any nervousness at the limit." With standard tires, the 944 rounded C/D's skidpad at an excellent 0.81 g. R&T's like-shod car did 0.818 g.
Interestingly, R&T said the junior Porsche was now more than a match for the rival Datsun and Alfa. In fact, in a 1983 comparison test, the magazine picked it over that year's all-new Corvette, the Ferrari 308GTBi Quattrovalvole, and even the 928S. "...The 944 won simply by having so few weak points [and] the fewest complaints while being fun to drive and proving itself a useful, fine-handling, well built all-around car." In "sibling competition," the 944 "more than holds it own with the 924 and even the 911SC."
At just under $20,000 in the United States, the 944 looked like another bargain in Porsche performance, was praised because of it, and proved well-nigh irresistible. Sales were strong from the start, and the good folk in Zuffenhausen began breathing easier.
But they didn't rest, for the usual yearly refinements -- and some significant evolutions -- were on the way. The first appeared for 1984, when the original welded A-arms gave way to stronger alloy castings. Mid-1985 brought a handsome new 928-style instrument panel with more readable instruments, plus a smaller, round steering wheel to replace the never-liked oval helm. Also that year, the fuel tank grew to 21.1 gallons.
The 944 had 2+2 seating, like the 924, but substituted a genuine Porsche engine.
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