MEMPHIS — When Porsche AG introduced its fourth-generation 911 sports car for MY '99, it represented the first time in nearly 35 years that the venerable coupe got a complete redesign.

So it's understandable that the changes to the 911 for '02 are incremental: a redesigned front end, lockable glove box, interior refinements, new cupholders, reshaped front-wheel arches, availability of Bi-Xenon headlamps and wider rear quarter panels.

Designers want the 911 to look more like the high-performance 911 Turbo and less like the lower-priced, entry-level Boxster (which gets a facelift for '03). And buttons may seem minor, but the gloss finish of instrument-panel buttons that had been common to the Boxster and the fourth-generation 911 looked cheap and gaudy to some Porsche customers. So the buttons now have a matte finish, which makes for a more uniform and supposedly more-upscale cockpit appearance.

The 6-cyl. boxer engine in the back end of the 911 gets a new crankshaft, pistons and connecting rods to fit the boost in displacement from 3.4 to 3.6L that provides a 20-hp boost to 320 hp. Torque goes up to 273 lb.-ft. (370 Nm) at 4,250 rpm from 258 lb.-ft. (350 Nm) at 4,600 rpm.

The Carrera engine also gets the innovative VarioCam Plus valve timing and lift system (first offered in the 911 Turbo) for better emissions and a fatter, smoother torque curve. It qualifies the 911 for Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) certification for the first time, too.

A significant interior improvement is the optional Bose audio system, which is available in the 911 coupe and cabriolet (see Pipeline, p. 57) and now becomes standard in the 911 Turbo. Porsche will show a new version of the all-wheel drive 911 Carrera 4 at the Detroit and Los Angeles auto shows early next month. It goes on sale after the first of the year.

Meanwhile, a Porsche official at the recent media launch of the 911 here says the company remains on schedule to launch its Cayenne sport/utility vehicle for '03. The company expects at least half of the vehicles Porsche sells in North America to be SUVs.

In calendar year 2000, Porsche sold 9,242 911s in the U.S., up from 8,194 in 1999, according to Ward's data. Likewise, U.S. sales of the 2-seat Boxster were up from 12,681 units in 1999 to 13,509 in 2000.

The unusual move for the storied sports car producer to develop an SUV is meant to combat “volatile and cyclical” buying trends, the spokesman says. When sports car sales are down, perhaps SUV sales will be up, and vice versa.

The German auto-maker will produce Cayenne in Leipzig, Germany, although Porsche estimates that 70% of them will sell in North America. The spokesman concedes that North America already is saturated with SUVs, but he says the luxury market for unibody car-based SUVs — such as Cayenne — remains open.