1985 Porsche 944 Quick Drive: Driving my first P-car
When is a car more than a car? A brand more than a brand? Over the last few years-- let’s call it the last decade-- Porsche has become the fixation and fascination of the automotive media and enthusiasts alike. Yes, even more so than it was prior. With journalists praising nearly every vehicle the German manufacturer builds, those of us not in the position to drive each new model are left to wonder from afar. Are there merits in the bowing down to Porsche’s automobiles, and legacy? Desperate to find out for myself and without access to a press car, I went to the internet to find out. And that led me to a local 1985 Porsche 944.
In full disclosure, this car for this “review” (in serious air quotes as the duration of my time behind the wheel was less than fifteen minutes) was provided via a local classified ad. I saw the price and thought it was a mistake, immediately considering it for my next toy and project. A few messages later and I was at the (extremely kind) owner’s house, looking over every inch of the brown Porsche. Soon after I was behind the wheel. Did it live up to the hype?
Let’s be clear: The 944 isn’t the definitive Porsche. Far from it. The engine is in the wrong place for a car of this make. But it is a Porsche. And that carries weight in of itself. Up until the moment I let out the desperately-in-need-of-adjustment clutch, I had never driven a Porsche. I had sat behind the wheel of a few at auto shows, but never actually piloted one. This was a big moment for me and my automotive journey. The 944 might physically share little more than a badge with the GT3 RS 4.0 and other P-car greats, but it shares the heritage. I had to find out if that inherent good-ness was present. And if the brand everyone fawns over is justified in its allure.
If the 944 isn’t the definitive Porsche, the example here is even further from it. To start, it was in good condition overall, but the clutch was in absolutely dire need of adjustment. And the car’s bones weren’t the best, either: This is a non-turbo car. It didn’t exactly set the world on fire when it was new, with a zero-to-sixty of eight to nine seconds (depending on source). Make no mistake, this particular example certainly didn’t feel fast. Not in the least. But oh, did it feel good.
Onto a tight Connecticut back road I pointed the 944. Right out of the gate I was struck by the age of this thirty-six year-old car. Not by how old it felt, but rather by how new. Porsche famously builds cars to a very high standard. It is extremely apparent here. Even three-plus decades on, the build quality is remarkable. The ergonomics (short of the steering wheel), fantastic. Great seating position, great view of the road. And the view out the front, gorgeous. The interior is spacious, the trunk huge. The sunroof opens and comes out! All while not feeling like an overly large car on the road. Overall the 944 feels like the “right amount” of car.
It goes further: On the road, the 944 feels much heavier than its 2778 lbs (as per the factory owner’s manual) would lead you to believe. In a good way. It feels buttoned down. Substantial. Like it carries the substantial feeling of a much bigger car. The controls agree, with a fair amount of weight to the steering. There’s far more weight to the controls than say my Miata, but everything tells you exactly what it is doing, and to what degree. I really enjoyed that. It could be aged parts making things the way they are in this specific car, but this also allows everything to transmit through the wheel to your fingers. A beautiful thing.
Fortunately, the low curb weight is apparent once you turn the wheel. The 944 is a light car by modern standards and that can be felt in the lack of body roll and body motions. Full disclosure: I did not drive this car hard. Not even 5/10 aside from going through a series of corners fairly quickly. In this sequence I got to really feel the 944 more than just putting along.
There’s a dialed-in sensation to everything the 944 offers. Each of your own motions are mimicked directly by the car. Even back in 1985, Porsche got this right. You tell the car what to do and it just does it. It cooperates with everything you ask of it, plays into what you request. More power and steering angle and it just hunkers down and plants itself on the outer side, and just goes. It doesn’t shrink around you, but it doesn’t need to. The 944 is small enough to easily place within a lane, and even at slow-ish speeds you feel the sensation of speed. And you feel it build very linearly as the numbers on the dash increase. It’s a joy to drive at low speeds and even at a moderate pace. I imagine it would be even more so when turning up the wick.
Far too soon we returned to the owner’s driveway. Was the 944 the perfect Porsche? No. Was it the perfect Porsche for my first drive of a car under one of the world’s most famous and praised marques? Absolutely. It set the bar at a reasonable height-- not too high, not too low. Just right. As I look on to what P-car I’ll drive next, I’ll always reflect fondly on the 944 as a good starting point or baseline on which to set my standards for Porsches. This exact car wasn’t for me, but it was fantastic.
I went to this test-drive expecting to say “Yeah, that was about what I was ready for.” And that was a high bar, based on what I’ve learned and heard about these cars from the Everyday Driver hosts and Discord group. To my shock, the 944 surpassed my expectations. I get it now. There really is something special to these cars. Now I need to find my way into a Boxster, Cayman, and 911. Speaking of, anyone near Connecticut have one I can drive? Must… scratch… the… itch...
Hi, my name is Ross. I write primarily for Hooniverse.com and co-host the Off the Road Again Podcast. As you can guess, I’m an off-road enthusiast/self-proclaimed expert and an amateur autocrosser. I currently own an NC3 Miata Club PRHT and a 2005 4Runner Limited V8 (my third 4Runner in five years; yes, I have a problem).