Image of classic red Porsche 944 driving on road

Porsche 944

BUYER’S GUIDE

Porsche 944 Review

Once under-appreciated, the 944’s unashamedly ’80s looks and beautifully balanced handling are finally getting the recognition they deserve…

What Is It?

After too long in the wilderness the Porsche 944, along with the other ‘transaxle’ models like the 924, 928 and 968, is finally getting the recognition it merits, and is maturing into a desirable modern classic. Developed from the 924, the 944 arrived in 1981 with an all-aluminium four-cylinder developed from the V8 in the 928 to silence criticisms of the previous, VW-derived motor. This, and the wider, squared-off arches gave the new model a much more muscular look while the extra power complemented the natural balance of the engine up front, gearbox in the back layout.

That was further enhanced with extra power, both from a 16-valve head and then turbocharging, which the 944 lapped up. Snootier types may have never got over the lack of cylinders but appreciation of the predictable handling, strong performance, decent practicality and ‘80s looks has grown in recent years, and these ‘baby Porsches’ are now looking much more grown-up propositions.

Corrosive Areas

Sill trailing edges

Rear trailing arm mounts

Front arches, inner and outer

Checklist

  • Engines range from naturally aspirated 2.5 and 2.7-litre eight-valves and a 16-valve 2.5 for the original S; this was later increased in size to 3.0-litres for the S2
  • Turbo models are based on the eight-valve 2.5-litre motor, and arrived with 220PS (162kW) or 250PS (184kW) according to model and age; all S2 Turbo models have the full 250PS (184kW)
  • The 944 was upgraded constantly throughout its life but key changes to consider include the 1985 model year switch to a more modern ‘oval’ dashboard design and new aluminium suspension arms, a revised front suspension and geometry in 1987 and the 1989 arrival of the S2 with one-piece bumpers previously introduced on the Turbo and the 3.0-litre naturally-aspirated engine
  • While the looks remain fundamentally similar wheels, bumpers, spoilers and other trim vary according to the year, model and options; the slotted rear valance available on early cars, distinctive underbody spoiler from the original Turbo and S model and Fuchs wheels were all popular and can add desirability
  • Earlier 944s have a 924-style two-piece front bumper incorporated into a slot in the front bodywork; on Turbos and S2s this is replaced by an arguably neater one-piece moulding with bigger indicator and sidelight lenses
  • The five-speed manual gearbox is mounted in the rear and on Turbos gains an oil cooler and, in some cases, a limited-slip differential; it’s generally tough and light whining is characteristic while vague shifting can be cured by replacing the shifter bushings; anything more serious can require a rebuild; this and clutch changes are expensive
  • A three-speed automatic was also available but wasn’t popular at the time and doesn’t really suit the 944’s character so won’t be desirable now
  • Engines can rack up huge mileages with the right care; regular oil changes are a must and a four-year timetable for new belts for the cam(s) and balancer shafts should be adhered to; every other belt change service should also include a new water pump, tensioners and pulleys
  • Poor maintenance can result in scoring of the aluminium bores; check compression and for persistent smoke along with all the usual inspections for coolant in the oil
  • 944s were well made with galvanised bodies but corrosion can still be an issue, especially at the rear of the sills and around the rear suspension mounts, on the front wings, around the sunroof and in the engine bay
  • Handling should be precise and rattle free – if it’s not check bushings, dampers and mounts, bearing in mind the ball joints on the front suspension arms are integrated so you’ll need to replace the whole unit if worn

How Does It Drive?

A well-sorted 944 of any type should quickly silence the fears you’re missing out on the true Porsche experience by not having six air-cooled cylinders hanging behind the rear axle. For some people the fact there are only four under the bonnet of the 944 will always be an emotional barrier but, in truth, it’s a cut above the average thanks to twin balancer shafts and the ability to feel both torquey and revvy in one.

The modest 165PS (121kW) or so of the eight-valve 2.5 and short-lived 2.7-litre engines is just about enough but things get a lot more exciting with the 16-valve versions, the 211PS (155kW) of the S2’s 3.0-litre not far off the original Turbo while also more exploitable and flexible. The more powerful Turbo S and S2 Turbo versions have a decisive kick and a different character but, in all cases, the natural balance of the 944 is a delight.

True, the vibe is more junior GT than on-the-ragged-edge sports car thanks to relatively leisurely steering and weighty controls. But it’s still a Porsche, and one that can carve a twisty road or track more confidently (and, whisper it, probably faster) than a 911 of similar vintage.

What’s Good?

The 944’s looks are maturing very nicely indeed, the pop-up lights cementing its ‘80s icon status but the distinctive shape and discreetly muscular arches all holding up well. It’s also very practical, the two seats in the back perhaps a little snug for all but smaller kids but the huge load space under the bubble-like rear hatch capable of carrying all your kit for a road trip away with space to spare.

Like many cars of its era, the size and performance also feel increasingly relevant on modern roads than many newer fast cars, meaning you can enjoy more of its talents more of the time. Expectations on running costs need to be grounded in reality and won’t be the cheapest but, properly looked after, a 944 should prove a reliable and relatively affordable car to run.

What’s Bad?

Not a lot, in truth. With values rising there’s more incentive for owners to invest in proper restorations and upkeep, though many cars will have lived through times where that wasn’t necessarily the case and may have scrimped by on bodged bodywork fixes and less than diligent care. As ever, it will cost more in time and faff to bring one of these back to standard than simply start with a good one.

The risk is, of course, you get hoodwinked by one that presents well but turns out to be hiding all manner of horrors. So, pay due diligence to known corrosion traps like the rear of the sills, the rear trailing arm mounts and – in particular – the void in the rear arches between them. Milky windscreens can be a sign of water ingress and rust can also form in front chassis legs and on the strut towers.

History will be everything, and a high-mileage car with a folder full of receipts and signs of proper upkeep will serve you better than one with apparently low miles but no provenance to back that up.

Which Model To Chose?

Much will be dictated by your budget, with especially desirable models like the early ‘Silver Rose’ Turbos and others with the ‘right’ specification now reaching quite serious heights. If you like the idea of the additional performance, the beefier looks and the old-school boosty power delivery a Turbo of some sort or other may be worth the extra cost but naturally-aspirated versions shouldn’t be ruled out. In truth a 16-valve S or later S2 isn’t that far behind in usable performance, after all. In terms of vintage most buyers favour the later oval dash interior while opinions vary on whether the earlier front end is more faithful to the original design than the modernised Turbo/S2 look. Each will have their fans but a pre-facelift S with the quirky underslung rear spoiler seems a nice balance of pace and timelessly attractive looks, while an eight-valve 2.5 or 2.7 could save you a bit of cash. The convertible – launched with the S2 – is another option and has its fans but, for most, the coupe remains the more appealing option.

Specifications – Porsche 944 S2

 

Engine

3.0-litre four-cylinder, petrol

Power

211PS (155kW) @ 5,800rpm

Torque

280Nm (206lb ft) @ 4,100rpm

Transmission

Five-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Kerb weight

1,310kg

0-62mph

7.1 seconds

Top speed

149mph

Production dates

1981-1992 (total model production)

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