Cohort Classic: Porsche 928 – Design Dead-End

(first posted 7/11/2017)        I wouldn’t say no to a Porsche, but I would think it for a bit before saying yes to this one.

You know, one of the most frightening things about writing for CC is just how thoroughly we have covered the automotive landscape. The Porsche 928 has been covered no less than three times on these virtual pages. But when I saw these pictures on the Cohort by William Rubano I decided that I simply had to have a go at ti as well. I’ve never made any illusions about being unbiased on my articles and today I do not intend petty things like objectivity get in the way today either. So do keep in mind that while the images are good, I am not so sure about the car itself.

Most of it has to do with its styling. I’ve been told by the several piles of self-help books that I have been forced to read over the years that things usually go smoother if you begin with the positives. And on that front, I can say that the 928’s styling was certainly unique and futuristic. To my eyes, it definitely doesn’t look like a product of the same decade that brought us Sister Sledge and Avocado green shag carpeting. 218 horsepower from a 4.5-liter fuel-injected V8 are also rather un-malaise era numbers. So it certainly had the muscles to back up its grand-touring claims. It was certainly enough to shame the Corvette’s decidedly malaise 180-horsepower small-block (The optional L82 narrowed the gap by offering 210 ponies.) By the time this revision came around the engine had gotten an extra half-liter and now had 292 horsepower. As a fun bit of trivia, the throaty burble you hear whenever the DeLorean time machine spurs to live on Back to the Future is provided by a 928.

By the time the 928 bowed goodbye, 18 years after being introduced, the engine had gone up to 5.4 liters and 345 horsepower. The early attempt at passive rear-wheel steering was also very impressive and successful at improving stability. Important on those last few miles of mountain roads before you enter Monaco. Couple those with the extensive use of aluminum on the bodywork and instruments that moved with the steering wheel and lower insurance premiums because you owned a “2+2” rather than a coupe and you ended up with one of the best ways to make long travels comfortable and fast this side of pre-TSA first class.

Unfortunately, while I can praise it for having futuristic styling and bleeding-edge features; I can’t really say that styling is very pretty, or even attractive. Regardless of its competency as a grand tourer and how cool it looked in Risky Business being chased by a Cadillac that should have been left on the dust the second young Tom Cruise decided to cut through Narrow Alleys, it just isn’t my bag when it comes to styling. Those recessed headlights make it look dopey; and with the lights on it looks as if I can just pry the bulbs right out of the bodywork. Then, on or off, that sleek aero end is completely at odds with the bulbousness of everything behind it.

It kinda reminds me of one of those honeypot ants. It’s as though Tony Lapine and Wolfgang Möbius took their original angular ideas for the design and rounded them off under protest until it ended up as blobby and featureless as possible. And instead of the people at Porsche going “Okay, we get it” they just went “Brilliant, we’ll get the molds done by the end of the month.”

Porsche didn’t do any favors to itself on my eyes when they decided that front end was good enough to graft it onto a 944 body, a design I actually do like very much, to create the 968. Jeremy Clarkson pushing one off a cliff while praising the beauty that was the Jaguar XJ-S was one of the few things he was right about on that particular review. His comment about saying goodbye to the mobile phone and Ray-Ban sunglasses was perhaps less accurate. Blissfully, our featured model is an S4, which means that it gets, among other styling tweaks to bring the styling somewhere closed to the word “cohesive”, new tailights which have the distinction of actually being molded into the bodywork instead of looking like someone at Porsche had to browse the “rear light clusters” section of an aftermarket catalog and then call to ask if he could get a discount by buying in bulk. Which reminds me…

Not a fan of the interior on those early cars, it seems too dated when compared to the exterior of the car. Though that’s more of a compliment to the exterior than a detriment of the interior. See the NSU Ro80 for a similar effect. Design that wouldn’t look out of place in a new-car showroom 25 years after it was built; interior that looks every bit as dated as the registration document makes it to be.

Over the years, Porsche has been accused of questionable design choices. Lest we forget, the Porsche Panamericana is something that actually exists and someone got paid to design. The 2003 Cayenne Turbo has questionable styling on darker colors and is nigtmare-inducing on lighter ones; making it the ugliest SUV of all time, or at least until the 2006 Subaru Tribeca jumped in shouting “Hold my beer!” I think the 928 deserves a spot amongst these. Curiously enough, Porsche did fix it…once.

This is the H50. It was a one-off gifted to ‘ol Freddy porsche back in 1984 fixes most of the problems to my eyes. Apart from it having all the styling upgrades that the S4 would have a couple of years afterwards; the stretched body and more squared-off rear end make for a much better design. Or at least, one that is more consistent and aesthetically pleasing…to my eyes anyway. Am I the only one that really really dislikes the 928’s styling? Leave me a comment below, I am really curious.