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The point of spine compression should the tarmac be anything less than glass smooth. I could take Sport in small doses only – staying in that mode for too long proved tiresome.

What is far from tiresome is the cabin, specifically its high level of comfort for those occupying the front seats. (Yes, there are back seats, but they are of little use except as another place to stash the groceries.) The dominant material in the interior is black Alcantara, found in the centre sections of the sports seats, steering wheel rim, gear and hand-brake levers, door handles and door storage compartments. It feels almost ticklish to the touch at first, but it’s a unique alternative to leather.

Equally unique is the centre console, the same Carrara white colour as the tester’s exterior, as well as the bright red seatbelts, the same shade as the piston calipers hiding behind the stunning black-spoke rims.

What isn’t so cool is the way Porsche jams it to its dedicated fan base, and I’m not just talking about the price discrepancy between Canada and the United States. Come on, $600 for heated front seats on a car with a $117,600 sticker? Ridiculous! How about $2,410 for the navigation system? Shameful.

That beef aside, the GTS is otherwise one sweet ride – a driver’s car that is docile when need be, ferocious when unleashed and eminently controllable. It’s a modern muscle car from the other side of the pond and a tonic for those of us with long, fond memories of performance past.

THE SPECS

TYPE OF VEHICLE: Rear-wheel-drive sports coupe

ENGINE: 3.8L DOHC boxer six-cylinder

POWER: 408 hp 7,300 rpm, 310 lb-ft of torque 4,200 rpm

TRANSMISSION: Six-speed manual

BRAKES: Four-wheel disc with ABS

TIRES: P235/35ZR19 front, P305/30ZR19 rear

 

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Ferrari 550 Maranello

The 550 Maranello is your basic front-engine, rear-drive, two-seat sports coupe -NOT! While the formula and styling seem traditional and North End Garden City Maples Used Truck Dealership, there’s lots about this Ferrari that’s over-the-top and/or futurama. Like the 456M 2+2 it’s based on, the Maranello has an aluminum body welded to an alloy steel frame.

The long front hood harbours an even more potent rendition (485 hp at 7,000 rpm, 419 lb.ft at 5,000 rpm) of the 5.5-litre, 48-valve, V12. The 6-speed manual is mounted as a unit with the final drive in the rear. There’s traction control so things don’t get out of hand, but no, Sheldon, you can’t have an automatic.

With the exception of the baulky shifter, this Ferrari is as user-friendly as a Corolla. But unlike the Toyota, this thing’s geared for 320 km/h and can get there in an awfully big hurry.

Prelude

RATING: Recommended. A totally revamped, reliable sporty compact.

GENERAL COMMENTS: Having undergone a major redesign for 1992 – the fourth since its debut in 1979, the Prelude has always been a bookkeeper’s sports coupe: it’s complete,functional and rational without any hint of aggression in its styling or performance components. The 92 model carries on this tradition but adds a few body styling tweaks that make the car shorter, lower and wider, giving it the air of a sensual and sporty Integra in front and Legend in the rear. Other refinements this year are improved engine balance shafts that reduce vibration and noise, an innovative, electronically controlled four-wheel steering system that improves high-speed response and decreases the turning radius, and a 20 percent increase in fuel economy with the addition of twenty more horses. Two engines are offered: A sixteen-valve SOHC 2.2L and a sixteen-valve DOHC 2.3L that is 100 cc larger (through bigger bores) and produces twenty-five extra horsepower. The Prelude’s four-wheel steering (4WS) system, an option with the Si, allows the rear wheels to turn slightly along with the front. This is meant to improve both highway handling and parking ability in town. This year, the 4WS steering goes completely electronic. Nevertheless, the Prelude handles so well that it’s hard to justify the addition of 4WS. Most driver’s wouldn’t notice a substantial improvement on the highway. Parking is easier, of course, but the Prelude is small and nimble enough to make parking easy anyway. Four-wheel steering is an expensive proposition: it adds about $2000 to the price of the car, increases electronic complexity and produces little benefit.

The Prelude should be considered among the better buys in the sporty car class. The standard warranty is one of the best. Used Preludes command high prices on the used car market.

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Enveloping dash and large centre console make for an intimate environment. The front seats are large and comfortable. The rear seat offers reasonable space for a sports coupe. The coupe’s trunk is adequate.

Powered by the same engine found in the old Cirrus, the Sebring four-cylinder is a tame performer. The 2.7L 200-hp Chrylser engine is lacklustre from a stop, but has good mid-range power and works well with the smooth automatic. Despite premium specifications like twin-overhead-camshafts and 24 valves, the Sebring V6 sounds rough at high revs, and doesn’t deliver the kind of grunt 200-rated horsepower would lead you to expect. The Sebring sedan’s structure feels quite stout, and few bumps upset the car. The car rides well, and feels very composed for a conservative family sedan. Braking is effective. The convertible drives much like the sedan. The 3.0L Mitsubishi V6 in the Sebring Coupe is smoother, quieter and better off the line than Chrysler’s 2.7L, and works well with either transmission. Ride, handling and steering are all nicely balanced for a luxury sport coupe.

Those seeking a used Sebring sedan will be happy to learn that they are worth half of less of their original value by the time they are three years old. The V6 sells in far bigger numbers, and is more in demand used. As with many domestic used cars, luxury comes cheap. The price gap of $3000 between a plain LX and a loaded LXi when they were new shrinks to about $1500 after three years. The convertibles lose their value more slowly, and can sell for up to $10,000 more than a sedan of the same year. In good condition, a coupe will appeal to the right buyer, but that person is rare.

Reliability: Predicted weak points include the automatic transmission and A/C. Some reports of water infiltrating into the cabin because of missed welds where the firewall meets the floorpan. Some reports of head gasket failures and valvetrain problems starting between 100,000 km and 130,000 km on the 2.7L V6. Chrysler added a 5 year/100,000 km powertrain warranty to the basic 3/60 coverage for the 2001 model year.

Rust: Insufficient data. Brake lines and the ABS junction box located under the car appear vulnerable to corrosion.

Safety: Standard dual front airbags, optional side airbags. The sedan earned five-star ratings for the driver and front passenger in the NHTSA’s frontal crash test and a three-star rating for outboard occupants in the NHTSA’s side impact test. Initially rated “good” by the IIHS, the Sebring sedan was reclassified as “acceptable”. Optional ABS.

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