Car reviews - Porsche - 911 - Carrera 4S coupe
Styling, performance, handling, grip, design, quality
Room for improvement
Driveline snatch, automatic transmission, weight, price
9 Aug 2002
YOU'VE got to hand it to Porsche. Despite having just two models - for the moment at least - the dedicated German sports car factory has managed to churn out a seemingly endless procession of new products from its Zuffenhausen factory in recent years.
The latest is the Carrera 4S, one of eight 911 models sold in Australia from a total range of nine models available worldwide.
Taking its name from the standard 911 coupe - Carrera being the Spanish word for race, 4 representing its use of a four-wheel drivetrain and S standing for Sport - the C4S is based on the wide-bodied 911 Turbo, with which it also shares its beefy brakes, big wheels and much of its standard equipment list.
Replacing the Carrera 4 as the only four-wheel drive in the local 911 line-up (apart from the Turbo) when the 911 range was facelifted in August 2001, C4S therefore benefits from the many changes designed to keep the current, 996-series 911 fresh in the middle of its model life.
As such, it gets the latest iteration of Porsche's trademark horizontally opposed six-cylinder boxer engine - a configuration that has been a Porsche institution since the original 911 began production in 1964. In fact, the rear-mounted air-cooled boxer engine concept can be traced back to the first Volkswagen - a car designed by Ferry Porsche prior to World War II.
In its 2002 guise, the standard 911 boxer engine continues with the liquid-cooled flat six introduced with the current model in 1998, but increases its capacity to 3.6 litres and adds the 911 Turbo's VarioCam Plus variable valve timing technology.
In addition to VarioCam's variable exhaust camshaft timing, the Plus part of the equation adds variable inlet camshaft timing and makes the flat six even more flexible than before. Raw figures are 235kW at 6800rpm and peak torque of 370Nm at just 4250rpm, but the numbers discount the V8-like tractability with which the new engine delivers them.
BMW's sublime E46 M3 - the world's other great six-cylinder coupe - still betters the 911 for specific power output by extracting 252kW from just 3.2 litres, and the Porsche loses out in power-to-weight terms too, despite carrying less weight.
But there's not much in it, and the 911 Turbo takes six-cylinder performance to new heights. Put simply, if there's a better six-cylinder in production, we haven't driven it.
The new flat six has allowed Porsche to claim a new 0-100km/h acceleration time of just five seconds for the standard 911 - which puts it squarely in the M3's ballpark - but herein lies the rub.
The C4S might look the goods with its 18-inch Turbo-look alloys, huge red brake callipers and wide, low-slung Turbo body, but the lack of twin turbochargers (and side intake scoops to feed them) actually makes the four-wheel drive C4S one of the heaviest and slowest 911s available.
At 1470kg in manual form, C4S is overweight by 911 standards, weighing in at some 125kg more than garden variety 911s thanks to its all-wheel powertrain - and some 65kg more than the outgoing C4, thanks to the higher standard specs list, bigger brakes and fatter, more rigid bodyshell.
Porsche says the C4S is just one-tenth slower to 100km/h and has a 5km/h slower top speed of 280km/h. While that may not seem a high price to pay for Turbo styling and the confidence of four-wheel drive, the Tiptronic S version we drove felt particularly lethargic and very un-911-like.
In fact, after wondering what kind of buyer would be attracted to the C4S, first impressions left us thinking of cashed-up extroverts who value image and safety more than performance.
But much of our disappointment can be blamed on the five-speed semi-automatic transmission that's now optional on most 911s. A popular choice among 911 buyers, the auto is quick and smooth shifting, but still dilutes even the potent new flat six.
What's more, it defaults to second gear when coming to a halt, meaning that unless you manually downshift to first at every set of traffic lights, slow and laboured take-offs are the order of the day.
This is inexcusable in any sports car, let alone a Porsche - as is the fact the engine will die if the throttle and brakes are applied at once, preventing the ability to left-foot brake safely.
Another automatic transmission bugbear is the lack of a manual shift gate for the gear lever (meaning you can't lock and leave the transmission in, say, fourth gear all day), leaving only steering wheel buttons with which to change gears manually.
Once in the groove, on the right road and provided you don't want to brake with your left foot, a Tiptronic S 911 can be a delight to punt quickly, and the fact the steering wheel toggles can be used momentarily even in auto mode is appreciated. But around town it's best left in full auto mode, provided one can put up with second-gear starts and braking with one's right foot.
Of course, one can always opt for the bespoke six-speed manual transmission, which is available across all 911s, and is easily the best such device we've sampled. Falling naturally to hand, well gated and with perfect ratios, the six-speeder is a pleasure to use and makes a mockery of the auto.
One last gripe was a particularly loud thud that emanated from the driveline of our test car when the transmission changed down as the car came to halt. Apparently a result of the auto/all-wheel drive combination, the agricultural sound seemed at odds with the refinement of the rest of the package.
But while the C4S isn't the fastest 911, it's certainly no slouch. Acceleration is brisk, even in auto models, with a muscular torque wave from extremely low revs turning into a howling horsepower hit as the revs approach the 7000rpm redline.
And the C4S has the handling to match. For all intents and purposes the C4S is a rear-wheel drive, transmitting a maximum of just 40 per cent of engine torque to the front wheels when the massive rear wheels lose traction, which takes a big dose of provocation.
Combined with perfectly weighted steering that transmits only the slightest of torque steer under extreme conditions and remains a benchmark even for many rear-wheel drive cars, the C4S feels as agile as any Carrera we've driven - with the added bonus of superior roadholding via its wider stance and massive rubber footprint.
The interior update across all 911s makes C4S a more pleasant place to be as well, the changes answering claims too much plastic had found its way into Porsche's top-shelf model. The leather lined dash, comprehensive, stylised instrumentation and the fact that where there's no leather there's carpet (even the roof lining is Alcantara) mean the C4S exudes quality and refinement.
It gets a few extra goodies over other 911s too, like a full leather interior, metallic paint, driver's seat memory, sunroof and a full-house sound system. Of course, the first-class ergonomics are the same, combining day-to-day practicality with supercar performance.
Already offering staggering levels of chassis rigidity (you could hang an engine off a 911's door without so much as a creak), the C4S goes even further with its use of the wider, stiffer and tougher looking Turbo body.
Throw in huge, staggered alloy wheels and touring car-style brakes straight off the Turbo, and the C4S is a recipe for supercar grip, handling and braking.
Of course, as with all Porsches, you also get the knowledge that your new C4S will probably out-perform its owner when it comes to durability, reliability and longevity.
But why pay extra? Being slightly heavier, slightly slower and a fair degree more expensive than a regular 911, we'd settle for the standard, undiluted and even more rewarding 911 Carerra - and spend what's leftover on a weekday runabout.
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