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First drive: Porsche gets to grips with Carrera 4

4 to the floor: The 2013 Porsche 911 Carrera 4 will be available as a coupe or cabriolet when it arrives in local showrooms early next year.

Slicker, smoother AWD system takes new Porsche 911 Carrera 4 to new level

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Porsche logo1 Nov 2012

By RON HAMMERTON in AUSTRIA

THE new all-wheel-drive Porsche 911 Carrera 4 borrows torque-splitting technology perfected for the current-generation 911 Turbo for smoother variable power delivery to all four wheels.

Whereas the previous generation Carrera 4 was a little nervous in the transition from understeer conditions to oversteer, the new model uses new software and hardware from the hard-core Turbo to iron out a wrinkle or two for silky transition from trailing throttle to full-bore power out of corners.

According to Porsche’s 911 product director, August Achleitner, the system can detect wheel traction slip and adjust the torque split between the front and rear axles faster than the driver can perceive a problem.

He said “a good driver” in the previous 997-generation Carrera 4 could detect a certain nervousness in the car, but that had been removed from the new all-paw 911 that will begin arriving in Australia in February or March next year.

“It gives the driver enormous confidence in the handling of the car,” he told GoAuto at the global 911 Carrera 4 media launch in Austria this week.

Again available in coupe and cabriolet body styles with a choice of two normally aspirated flat-six engines – 3.4 litre and 3.8 litre – drawn from the rear-wheel-drive 911 that debuted in Australia earlier this year, the Carrera 4 and more powerful Carrera 4S are already selling steadily to a growing list of customers ahead of delivery in 2013.

Prices have been raised over the current generation, now starting at $255,400 (plus on-road costs) for the Carrera 4 Coupe – up $14,200 on the previous model – and topping out at $315,000 for the soft-topped Carrera 4S Cabriolet (up $21,400).

Late next year, the 911 range will be further expanded with the arrival of the new-generation Turbo and GT3 performance leaders.

Porsche Cars Australia again expects the Carrera 4 to make up about 25 per cent of all 911 sales, which total 192 this year to the end of September.

This means the AWD 911 could be expected to garner about 75 sales in a full year, with many of those coming from repeat buyers who would not have anything else.

Of those, about 85 per cent will go for the more powerful 294k/440Nm Carrera 4S, with 95 per cent also adopting the optional seven-speed PDK dual-clutch automatic transmission over the seven-speed manual gearbox.

Distinguished by the broad rear haunches much loved by Porsche fans, the Carrera 4 is 44mm wider in the rear than the standard 911 to take fatter tyres – up 10mm each at the rear – and gets a revised front grille with wider air openings, along with a new take on the traditional Carrera 4 car-wide tail-light design.

While the macho bodywork is a key factor in the appeal of the Carrera 4, the real news is under the all-new skin of the two-door sports car that was completely overhauled in the latest 991-generation, adopting a hybrid steel-aluminium construction technique that was largely responsible for stripping 50kg out of the car for better performance and improved fuel economy.

Our test of the Carrera 4 and Carrera 4S through the hills of southern Austria was demanding, even by sure-footed Carrera 4 standards, after the first October snowfall in a decade.

The snow had mostly melted to slush on the road shoulders, but cold and wet bitumen – made extra slick in parts with autumn leaves – made for challenging driving.

A dashboard-mounted gauge on the Carrera 4 told the tale of the traction in our sample drive, showing the torque split between the front and rear axles as the four wheels struggled for grip.

At some points, the electronic digital bars showing which axle was getting the grunt danced like a light show to accompany the sound track from the sonorous rear-mounted flat six.

For the most part, the clutch-controlled Porsche Traction Management all-wheel drive system channelled the drive through the fat rear tyres, only diverting torque to the front wheels when the rear rubber was seriously challenged.

Theoretically, up to 100 per cent of drive could go to the front wheels, but Porsche engineers say that never happens. In our experience, the gauge rarely showed more than 30-50 per cent up front.

As Mr Achleitner promised, the system instils enormous confidence, and accompanied by the latest electronic safety nannies, the chassis never felt overwhelmed when accelerating out of corners.

Only when lateral grip was seriously compromised by patches of snow dumped from overhead tree branches did the knuckles whiten a little.

Grip in these conditions was enhanced by the snow tyres that are mandatory on all cars in Austria at this time of year, but they did no favours for the car’s handling in dry and sunny conditions that we experienced in some sections at lower altitudes.

Never was that old cliché about waiting until we get the car on home turf to learn the full extent of of its qualities more appropriate.

Our first taste of the Carrera 4 came in the form of the PDK dual-clutch-auto transmission-equipped base model, armed with the same 3.4-litre 257kW/390Nm boxer engine as the standard rear-drive 911 Carrera.

Lighter than the previous Carrera 4 but about 50kg heavier than the standard two-wheel drive coupe launched in Australia earlier this year, the latest all-wheel drive 911 feels punchy rather than blistering.

Sitting typically low to the ground and with the ever-present engine sound track piped into the cabin for full hair-raising effect, the 911 Carrera S delivers full sensual bang for the buck.

In manual mode, the rorty throttle blip of the seven-speed transmission on down-changes turns the most pedestrian driver into a sportscar racing champion (in his mind), encouraging the use of this feature more than probably any other car we have driven.

This transmission (a $5950 option) has serious intent, propelling the dual-clutch Carrera 4 to 100km/h in 4.7 seconds – up to two tenths of a second quicker than the seven-speed manual (4.9 seconds).

Purists might still encourage Porsche to continue offering the manual gearbox, but the latest dual-clutch Carrera 4 provides every rational reason for making the switch to the auto shifter (including not having to put up with the heavy clutch pedal of the manual that is drudgery in urban traffic).

Traditional hydraulic steering has already been consigned to the rubbish bin of Porsche history in the latest-generation 911. The Carrera 4 joins its rear-drive stablemate with a new electric-assisted power steering system.

As one Porsche engineer put it, no one would have picked the difference if they had not been told. The front wheels behave with the obedience of an SAS soldier, turning into corners with both bite and feel, exploding another myth that such electric systems can’t cut the mustard.

This system aids fuel economy, with the Carrera 4 coupe chopping fuel consumption by 1.5 litres per 100km, to 8.6L/100km, while also adding engineering flexibility, permitting niceties such as easier manoeuvring at parking speeds.

Unlike some other EPS systems, the 911 has an active self-centring system to rid the steering of vagueness in the dead-ahead position.

Like all new 911s, the Carrera 4 has a push-button Sport setting to firm up the suspension and other settings, including engine mapping and transmission shift points, for more thrills at the expense of comfort.

The $289,400 Carrera 4S – the most popular model in the Carrera 4 line-up – takes the thrills to another level, and it is not hard to see why buyers stump up the extra $34,000 for the privilege.

When armed with the optional PDK transmission, the Carrera 4S can sprint to 100km/h in as little as 4.3 seconds.

Carrera 4 buyers can ramp up the chassis package with a range of high-tech (and expensive) additives, such as the Sport Chrono chassis system for rock-hard, track-ready driving settings via a Sports+ setting.

2013 Porsche 911 Carrera 4 pricing*
4 Coupe$255,400
4S Coupe$289,400
4 Cabriolet$280,900
4S Cabriolet$315,000
*Plus on-road costs

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