Porsche 911 Carrera 4 and 4S

Porsche 911 Carrera 4 and 4S Porsche 911 Carrera 4 and 4S
First Drive Review

Press introductions of Porsche 911s are a bit like earthquakes. Everyone knows there's another one coming, but not exactly when. So it's always something of a surprise. And then, when a new generation has made its debut, there will follow a series of aftershocks as the more powerful S model joins the lineup, then a cabriolet, then the all-wheel-drive version, then the Turbo. And so on.

The earthshaking launch of the latest Carrera 4 and its larger-engined, higher-performing Carrera 4S sibling was in Monaco. Or more accurately, in the French town of Roquebrune overlooking Monaco, in a small hotel perched at the edge of the cliffs. This was not a place you'd want to be in a real earthquake.

But it is a place you'd want to be during a Porsche 911 introduction, with narrow, winding mountain roads heading off in every direction. Indeed, the prescribed driving routes traversed the Col de Turini, home of the Monte Carlo Rally, as well as some mountain roads in Italy near Romolo, used as stages in the Rally San Remo. No danger of temblors here (although the earth may move for you if you adore 911s), but bring Dramamine. Nearly everyone on this launch got carsick.

The Carrera 4 (C4) version of Porsche's venerable 911 is-as you may be aware-an all-wheel-drive model commanding about a $7000 premium over the cost of the rear-wheel-drive 911. In this latest iteration of the 997 generation, the rear wheel arches are flared about 0.9 inch to accommodate 295/35ZR-18 tires on the C4 and 305/30ZR-19 doughnuts on the 4S. You can spot a ridge alongside the taillight housings that is not present on rear-drive cars. Despite the more muscular haunches, the two models claim good aerodynamic performance, with drag coefficients of 0.30 and 0.29 for the C4 and C4S, respectively.

Power to the axles is doled out by a multiple-plate viscous coupling that supplies between 5 and 40 percent of the available torque to the front end, depending on surface conditions. To fit the front-drive system, the front bulkhead of the body was moved forward and the fuel tank was redesigned to hang over the driveshaft at both sides, requiring a separate fuel pump for each chamber. The spare tire was ditched and the luggage compartment enlarged. A tire-repair kit is supplied instead.

Other than that, it's mostly a matter of different badges. Like all new-generation 911s, the C4 comes in two flavors: a 321-hp, 3.6-liter base car and the 350-hp, 3.8-liter S. Both engines can be had with a six-speed manual or five-speed Tiptronic automatic, and both offer the option of Porsche's ceramic composite brakes. But only the C4S has Porsche's active suspension system (PASM) as standard equipment.

PASM varies damper settings according to speed and driving style and also lowers the car's ride height by 0.4 inch. An optional sport suspension, which lowers the base ride height by 0.8 inch, will not be available in the States because of bumper height regulations; nor will the locking rear differential that is bundled with it.

Let's not worry about that, because the cars have considerable grip and traction as they come, with a chassis so well sorted that any hint of oversteer is quelled before it can start. The latest generation of Porsche's stability control felt smooth and unobtrusive during our drive, and it now boasts "prefilling" of the brakes, which eliminates the air gap between pads and rotors to anticipate heavy use.

Otherwise, the cars feel pretty much like the other 997-generation cars, with good power, smooth-shifting transmissions, precise steering action, and stirring sounds. The 3.8-liter C4S, in particular, now has so much torque at low revs that it pulls away like a Detroit V-8, with a curious big-bore snuffling issuing from its model-specific four tailpipes (the base C4 has two oval pipes). The cars still sing their familiar song to the 7200-rpm redline, though, so Porsche fans need not worry about that.

The car's basic appeal remains undiluted, too, at about 6.5 on the Richter scale. You can fit yourself into a C4 for $77,865; the C4S will run you $87,865. Now watch out for the launch of the Turbo. That'll shake you out of your socks.