When you have a chance to grab the keys to a Porsche and disappear into the Arizona desert for a few hours, you take it. It doesn't matter if it's the iconic 911, a spunky 914, a Boxster, or even (shudder) a Panamera, those few hours are a precious gift. Unlike the mean streets of Brooklyn, on which it's nearly impossible to find the limits of, say, a bicycle, the vast, smooth ribbons of asphalt across the scorched desert outside Phoenix beckon you to turn the radio off and mind-meld with the machine. I had such an opportunity to drive the capable, quick, and controversial 996 cabriolet. Can this Porsche help me find inner peace in the desert?

Go to the right internet forums (or nearly any Cars and Coffee) and you'll find the guys wearing Porsche-branded polo shirts who like to say things like "air-cooled," and "ring times," and who can probably recite word for word the best man's speech at Ferdinand Porsche's wedding. These people are sometimes called "Porschefiles" and they generally do not like the 996 generation of the 911. Introduced in 1998, this was a blank sheet, brand new car that shared exactly zero components with the previous 911 model, the 993. They say the 996 is a middle finger to the Porsche faithful, that it messed with the recipe. For decades the 911 meant an air-cooled flat six hanging over the rear wheels. The 996 kept the flat six out back but was water cooled. The car got bigger, quieter, and more comfortable. But the 996 was also a better performer in most measurable ways than the outgoing car. It was faster and safer and just as efficient, and Porsche sold a ton of them.

The owner of this Midnight Blue Metallic 2002 Carrera convertible is a life long Porsche owner who has owned multiple 911s (and a 912) since the late '60s. You won't find him wearing a Porsche polo shirt obsessively polishing the paint as if the car lives in the Smithsonian, or arguing with you about what a "real" Porsche is. He's too busy still driving this 996 every single day for any of that.

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And now it's my turn. The door felt light as I opened it and I stepped in and slid down into a satisfyingly low seating position. I looked for the ignition to the right of the steering wheel. Nope... Hmm.... Ah, there! I pushed in the clutch and took a deep breath, inserted the key, and opened a storage compartment on the center console. Dammit.

Read the rest of the shakedown of the 996 on puppyknuckles.com