A finely honed engine -- for a price

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A Porsche automobile, to some drivers, is like a superb meal to an epicure: something to be savored and enjoyed. But is the Porsche 928-S worth the cost? Only if you can appreciate the finely honed machinery that churns beneath the hood. For $50,000, you can buy two Chevrolet Corvettes, two Mercedes 190s, or a Maserati Biturbo and have more than $20,000 in change. Not to mention how many lower-priced cars you could buy for that amount of money.

That said, the 1985 version of the Porsche 928-S is the best yet.

When the car first hit the pavement in 1978, it didn't generate the excitement the producer was looking for. The new 16-valve, twin-cam V-8, however, makes all the difference in how the car performs. Handling is absolutely first rate. Even though the car weighs some 3,400 pounds, it has a top speed of more than 150 m.p.h.

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Beyond the speed, it's the finely honed handling characteristics, excellent balance, stability, and first-rate braking that are worth writing home about. In short, it's a car for the driver who enjoys and appreciates German engineering at its best and has the ability to pay for it. It certainly isn't a car for most drivers, the writer included.

To some people, moving the engine to the front and cooling it with water instead of air makes the car not quite a ``true'' Porsche. To the old-time Porsche buff, the rear-engine, air-cooled 911 is Ferdinand Porsche's car, even though it's moving toward the sunset fast. But the 928-S shows that even at Porsche AG, things ultimately have to change.

The Porsche factory near Stuttgart, Germany, maintains a test track and one of the world's preeminent engineering facilities at Weissach. Not just a car builder in its own right, it does work for other automakers all over the world. The new high-torque engine is a result of its painstaking research.

The 928-S engine has a compression ratio of 10-1, which means it needs higher-cost premium unleaded fuel. Power output is consistent at all r.p.m., but with mileage around 18 on the highway, the 928-S is a long way from what one might call an economy car.

As for the design, it may please some people and turn off others. The headlights look rather silly as they face the sky when not in use, but when you turn on the lights, they roll forward like a pair of frog's eyes.

Front space isn't too bad, but it's clearly an endangered commodity in the rear and a lot like climbing into a cocoon. The new seats, however, provide a lot of lateral and thigh support. The headroom seems better, too.

The Porsche 928-S is for only a few motorists, of course, but it shows what some of the most curious and preeminent engineers in the world are up to.

And if you think the 928-S is a pricey car, Porsche sells its top-of-the-line 959 at (are you ready?) $124,000.

Charles E. Dole is the Monitor's automotive editor.

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