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First drive: Carrera 4 raises 911 bar – again!

Unflappable: Carrera 4 offers limpet-like traction from its viscous centre diff.

All-paw traction added to Porsche sports flagship in shape of 911 Carrera 4

16 Jun 2005

TENACIOUS all-wheel drive traction and a wider, more aggressive rear-end draped over a much larger footprint are the catch cries of Porsche’s new 911 Carrera 4, launched this week in Europe exactly 12 months after the current 997-series Porsche super-coupe appeared.

Due on sale in Australia in November following their October 22 European release, the 911 C4 and C4S coupe pairing constitutes the third derivative of the latest 911 flagship, on sale here in coupe guise since October and in cabriolet form since March.

Following the revered Stuttgart brand’s traditional model-variant rollout, Carrera 4 and 4S iterations of the 911 Cabriolet will be next to appear, followed by GT3, GT2, Targa and, finally, the top-shelf Turbo version of the 997-series 911.

Though exact pricing and specifications are yet to be finalised, expect the C4 and C4S to again attract a premium of at least $20,000 over their rear-drive Carrera and Carrera S donor cars, meaning a price of at least $220,000 and $228,000 respectively.

In Europe, the new C4/S is priced around 2000 Euros higher than its predecessor, but Porsche says this is more than compensated for by the significant value increase offered by the 997-series 911’s extra performance and equipment, including larger wheels and tyres.

At the heart of the 997 C4’s permanent all-wheel drive system lies Porsche’s proven viscous multi-plate coupling, which is basically carried over from the 996-series and continues to direct between five and 40 per cent of engine torque to the front wheels.

The only change is a different transmission ratio to account for the larger wheels/tyres compared with the previous C4, which has not been available Down Under for more than six months.

New or not, the AWD system lives up to Porsche’s claim that C4 offers more traction, wet-road security and high-speed stability than the standard, rear-drive 911 Carrera and Carrera S.

Along with rear engine compartment badging, the most obvious giveaway to what lurks beneath the C4 is its 44mm-wider rear wheel-arches, which at a W-I-D-E 1852mm overall gives this 911 a far more aggressive rear-end stance and accommodates a much more serious wheel and tyre package.

In the base C4, that means 18-inch alloys as standard - 8.0 inches wide with 235/40 ZR18 tyres at front and 11 inches wide at rear with 295/35 ZR18 tyres at rear.

C4S, meantime, offers 19-inch alloys – also 8.0 inches wide at front but with lower-profile 235/35 ZR19 tyres and also 11 inches wide at rear but with massive 305/30 ZR19s.

Accordingly, wheel tracks increase to 1488mm front and a wide 1548mm at rear.

Like its regular rear-drive Carrera sibling, the standard C4 is powered by a 3.596-litre DOHC flat six, offering the same 239kW at 6800rpm and 370Nm of torque at 4250rpm.

However, the AWD system’s 55kg weight penalty – the C4 manual’s kerb weight is 1450kg, C4S weighs in at 1475kg and auto adds a big 40kg to both - drops a tenth of a second from its claimed 0-100km/h acceleration time, which for 911 C4 still stands at a respectable 5.1 seconds.

Similarly, it has a 5km/h lower claimed top speed of ‘only’ 280km/h, but given Porsche’s tradition of issuing conservative performance claims, expect it to be both quicker and faster.

While the previous 996-generation 911 Carrera 4S was essentially a Turbo bodykitted C4 with no extra performance, all that has changed with the new 911 C4S, which shares its engine with the new-for-997, bored and stroked 3.824-litre flat six, which produces 261kW at 6600rpm and 400Nm at 4600rpm.

Interestingly, while the Carrera 4S is also claimed to be 5km/h slower than Carrera S with a 288km/h top speed, Porsche says it’s good for the same blistering 4.8-second 0-100km/h acceleration. Go figure.

These figures apply to six-speed manual variants, while the five-speed Tiptronic S auto versions take 0.5 seconds more to reach 100km/h and are around 5km/h slower in top speed terms.

Of course, fuel consumption for both all-wheel drive models is also up on their C2 stablemates. Representing a 0.3L/100km increase in EU composite (urban and highway combined) figures, the C4 returns 11.3L/100km and the C4S a still-frugal 11.8L/100km.

For auto versions, the C4 is claimed to be three points thirstier at 11.6L/100km, while the C4S is only marginally more expensive at the pumps, at 11.9L/100km.

While the new C4 and C4S deliver all of the other improvements offered in the regular 997 911 - including six airbags and the MP3-compatible Porsche Communications Management system (PCM) as standard – there are a number of additions for the new C4.

25 center image Optional in C4 and standard in C4S is Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), offering two-stage active damping, while Porsche’s Tyre Pressure Control system (TPC) and Sports Chrono Package Plus (linked to PSM and PASM and comprising sportier engine control mapping, lap counter, stop watch, etc) is optional on both C4s.

As with the 997-series 911 C2 and C2S, Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes (PCCB) are also available, as is a 20mm-lower sports suspension option as part of a package that includes a rear differential lock.

Finally, the Porsche Stability Management (PSM) stability control system is standard on both C4 variants and comprises two new brake functions.

First is a "pre-filling" feature that closes the air gap between the brake pads and discs when sudden accelerator pedal lift-off is detected, thereby improving initial brake performance and shortening stopping distances.

The other new brake feature, which delivers extra brake assistance to increase braking power into the ABS activation range, is activated when brake pedal pressure is applied quickly but not with full force.

Porsche Cars Australia says all-wheel drive variants – including the range-topping Turbo when it arrives – will play an important incremental role in local 911 sales, which are expected to continue to average between 350 and 375 annually.

The new Carrera 4 and Carrera 4S will make their public debuts at the Frankfurt motor show in September, where Porsche’s new Boxster-based Cayman coupe will also premiere.

Drive impressions:

IN an automotive world that’s seen all-wheel drive become flavour of the month for even the most pedestrian of family sedans, it may surprise some to learn that Porsche’s legendary 911 super-coupe has offered the benefits of all-paw traction for almost 20 years.

Yes, the Carrera 4, as the AWD version of Porsche’s flagship is known, has long been regarded as the thinking man’s 911 because it combines all the driving fun and involvement of a high-performance rear-drive sports car with the superior level of safety and security afforded by AWD.

Thanks to a state-of-the-art viscous-coupled centre differential that sends a minimum of five per cent of engine torque to the front wheels (and a maximum of 40 per cent), the rear-biased system is almost impossible to detect in normal conditions.

Indeed, it’s only when the going gets ambitious, or on loose or wet surfaces, that the front wheels really come into play, pulling the car out of trouble with consistent efficiency. Up until which point all of the oversteering fun of a powerful rear-drive coupe is available – once the stability control is turned off, of course. No, most people will never know it's there until they need it.

Standard in the range-topping 911 Turbo express by necessity, Porsche’s AWD system is popular in Europe, where slippery alpine roads make it the logical choice for more than half of all 911 buyers.

In Australia, however, AWD take-up has traditionally been low among 911 aficionados, with many Porsche ‘purists’ insisting any ‘proper’, self-respecting sports car should be rear-drive.

And I was one of them - until I drove the latest 997-series 911 Carrera 4 coupe.

It’s AWD system may well be carried over from the previous 996 series – and indeed the 993-series in which it first appeared – but when it understeers less than most all-wheel drive performance cars (including the most renowned, Subaru’s WRX), that’s no bad thing.

But it took a 250km drive on Monte Carlo Rally roads in the alps overlooking the French Riviera – and a closed-circuit loop with four-times winner Walter Rohrl – to really underline the advances delivered in the newest Carrera 4.

Porsche said it deliberately chose some of the bumpiest mountain passes in Europe to highlight the C4’s traction and compliance advantages, and it certainly succeeded.

The new C4 was impressive on the many wet, broken and tightening hairpin bends, obliging with all the oversteering antics available in its rear-drive donor car (plus steering that’s equally communicative and responsive) but instilling more confidence by offering a higher level of control, composure and road-holding.

In fact, while a bigger footprint noticeably improves mid-corner grip over the 911 C2, the way in which the C4 could drive so hard – and so early, perceptibly transferring torque to the wheels that can use it - out of greasy, off-camber turns with amazing poise was truly faith-inspiring.

With 44mm-fatter rear haunches, which appear seriously threatening in the wing mirrors and from behind, wrapped around 295/35-section tyres on 18 x 11-inch rims, even the base C4’s wheels and tyres are as wide as the current 911 Turbo’s. The Carrera C4S, meantime, runs 19s with F1-like 305/30 liquorice-strip rear hoops.

And that’s where the 2005 C4 stands apart from a long line of impressive forebears. Based on the 911 Carrera S, which appeared for the first time alongside the standard Carrera in the new 997 generation, the new Carrera 4S is now much more than the Turbo-look C4 its forebear constituted.

With a 261kW 3.8-litre boxer and all of the other 911 Carrera S upgrades, the new C4S is the ultimate 911 until the 997 Turbo appears. As Walter Rohrl says, it’s as good as any competition rally car was just ten years ago.

Of course, no car is perfect and the trade-off for the C4’s magnet-like traction is extra front tyre wear (those on many launch cars were well past their use-by dates), 55kg of extra weight which means slightly higher fuel consumption and, in the standard C4 only, slightly slower acceleration. Oh, and a pricetag that’s up to $25,000 higher.

But if you’re already spending the best part of $200,000 for a 911, that’s a small price to pay for the ability to safely extract every ounce of performance from the top-shelf Porsche – without diluting one of the world’s most inspirational driving experiences.

The hallowed all-paw history of Porsche

WHILE the new 911 C4’s viscous-coupled AWD system dates back to that of the 993-series 911, the first all-wheel drive 911 was the 964-series in 1989 and the first series-produced all-wheel drive Porsche was the 959 of 1987.

But the first all-paw Porsche preceded all of these models by almost a century.

The honour goes to the Lohner-Porsche, which debuted at the 1900 World Exhibition in Paris, weighed 1800kg and delivered 2.5 horsepower from each of its wheel-mounted electric motors and batteries.

Two years later Professor Ferdinand Porsche equipped the Lohner racing car with four electric hub motors to boost performance.

Porsche-developed four-wheel drive technology continued to find its way into vehicles over the decades that followed, including the Jagdwagen – or "Hunting Car" – and the Cisitalia race car that never appeared on the racetrack.

But the development of all-wheel drive technology as we know it was accelerated by motorsport, with the 1984 and 1986 Paris-Dakar Rally-winning Porsches paving the way for series-production AWD models.

First came the groundbreaking 959 in 1987, and when the first 911 Carrera 4 appeared two years later in 1989, Ferry Porsche said of the car: "The advantages of our proven rear-engine concept are further enhanced by four-wheel drive in the Carrera 4. I see this car as the most advanced successor to the Porsche 356, the car which started the history of our brand." All-wheel drive technology continues to play a pivotal role at Porsche, with all-paw versions – including the flagship Turbo – accounting for more than half of all 911 sales globally last year, the AWD Cayenne SUV doubling global sales since 2003 and the yet-to-appear range-topping Panamera sedan also likely to offer AWD traction.

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