There were no icy roads to test the all-wheel-drive Porsche 911, but the new Carrera 4 certainly feels at home on a track...
A Porsche 911 Carrera 4 that works as well in the Austrian alps as it does on Australian race tracks is new business.
All-wheel-drive versions of the Porsche 911 Carrera have long made sense if the model was turbocharged and super-fast (and the new-generation 911 Turbo is arriving soon). But previously in the regular non-turbo 911 models, sending drive to all four wheels meant adding weight and cost, reducing performance and compromising handling when compared with the rear-wheel-drive 911 icons.
Today’s all-new generation of Porsche 911 Carrera 4 and 4S Coupe and Cabriolet add about 70kg, and cost $26,000 more than their rear-wheel-drive siblings. But the added traction-enhancing hardware now has precious little effect on the way this sublime sports car handles.
Like the rear-drive models, the Carrera 4 is available with a 3.4-litre flat six-cylinder producing 257kW or power and 390Nm of torque, while the Carrera 4S gets a 3.8-litre flat six-cylinder making 297kW and 440Nm.
The base Carrera 4 Coupe costs $255,400, while the Cabriolet model costs $280,900. It’s another $34,100 to stretch to the bigger engine – $289,400 4S Coupe and $315,000 4S Cabriolet.
A seven-speed manual transmission is standard, but the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic (dubbed PDK by Porsche) adds a further $5950 to the quartet of models.
The 1450kg 911 Carrera 4 Coupe manual does 0-100km/h in a claimed 4.9 seconds. Choosing the PDK reduces that time to 4.7 seconds, while optioning the Sport Chrono pack featuring launch control ($4790 – for PDK only) trims the time again to 4.5 seconds.
The 1465kg 911 Carrera 4S Coupe manual covers 0-100km/h in 4.5 seconds, while the PDK requires 4.3 seconds, and the PDK with Sport Chrono just 4.1 seconds.
In each case the 70kg-heavier Cabriolet adds 0.2 seconds to each of those figures.
When they’re not being driven for maximum acceleration times, the 911 Carrera 4 Coupe PDK delivers a claimed 8.6L/100km combined (manual: 9.3L/100km) and the 911 Carrera 4S PDK a claimed 9.1L/100km (manual: 9.9L/100km).
In each case, the Cabriolet uses an inconsequential millilitre or two more 98 RON unleaded than the Coupe.
By way of reference, the performance times of the all-wheel-drive models figure barely a tenth slower than the rear-drive models, while likewise using a couple of millilitres more fuel for every 100 kilometres.
In addition to offering extra power, the Carrera 4S gets standard Porsche Vectoring Control (PVC) including a mechanical rear differential lock (electronic in the PDK), 6-piston front/4-piston rear fixed calipers, 20-inch alloys (up from 19s), Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) with lower ride height, and twin-split exhausts – all of which are optional on the base Carrera 4.
Spec spotters will pick the all-wheel-drive models by the 44mm-wider body – Porsche says “it’s all about the hips”, referring to the bulged wheelarches of the Carrera 4 – the modified air intake grilles, and the traditional gloss-red applique stretching between the rear tail-lights, which for the first time illuminates when the lights are switched on.
Ultra-keen spotters will pick the 4S from 4 by its silver rev counter, red brake calipers and larger wheels.
Code for the manufacturer’s sophisticated all-wheel-drive system, Porsche Traction Management (PTM) is part of the reason the 911 Carrera 4 models feel as sublime as their rear-driven counterparts.
That is because, in normal conditions, PTM now sends an overwhelming 97 per cent of drive to the back wheels. Torque is distributed via a multi-plate clutch and within 100 milliseconds can apportion drive to around 31 per cent front/69 per cent rear, or up to 54 per cent front/46 per cent rear in really slippery conditions. The system is now quicker to juggle torque than the previous model, according to Porsche, with drive between the axles “infinitely variable”.
For the first time, all-wheel-drive Porsche 911 Carrera models get a colour display beside the tachometer to show how much drive is being sent to the front and rear wheels.
On the track – the 911 Carrera 4 national media launch was held at Phillip Island Raceway, in south-east Victoria – in perfectly dry conditions, the display almost always showed the car was in rear-wheel-drive mode.
That’s exactly how it felt after barreling through the ultra fast turn three, then heading into ultra-tight turn four – on corner exit, the all-drive 911 can still slide its tail out.
The test cars were all Carrera 4S models with PDK transmission, so the standard locking rear differential and traction management systems – which subtly brake a wheel here and there to help progress – no doubt helped with the handling, but their presence is never felt.
In Sport Plus mode – which relaxes the stability control system and turns the automatic transmission into near-perfection, with aggressive downshifting under brakes and crisp upshifts – the 911 reinforced why it is one of the world’s truly epic sports cars. It matters little now whether the badge on the rump says ‘S’ or ‘4S’.
The 3.8-litre flat six wails past 8000rpm, and without a turbocharger, it provides a direct link from engine to throttle to driver’s foot without confidence-sapping delay.
The Coupe feels genuinely fast, and with launch control sprints off the line with nought delay. Swapping to the Cabriolet, the slight reduction in performance is felt perhaps more than the two-tenths 0-100km/h may suggest.
Much has been said of Porsche’s decision to ditch the previous model’s hydraulic power steering system – one of the world’s best – for a new electro-mechanical set-up that saves 0.1L/100km, according to Porsche.
Out on the track, however, the steering is one of this 991-generation model’s absolute highlights. The perfect mid-weighting and astonishing consistency across the full arc of the wheel – neither too sharp nor too relaxed – makes this one of the great electro-mechanical steering systems on the market.
From past experience with the new 911 rear-drivers, it’s actually around town that the steering system is at its worst, with a slightly vague feeling right on the centre position. But during hard driving, the steering is near-faultless.
Where previous-generation models required the front end to be properly turned in to a corner before the driver goes near the throttle, this 991-series 911 leans much harder on its front end.
It is never sterile, however, and still unmistakably Porsche 911. As throttle is applied, it’s still possible to feel the car squat on its rear axle, six-cylinder engine hanging large over it and ensuring maximum power-down.
Back to back testing is required to feel the nuances of difference between the rear-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive models these days, and that is testimony to the brilliance of the 911 Carrera 4C to have stepped up that far. Perhaps the front-end turn-in is slightly more blunt than remembered of the rear-driver, but it figures like squinting into the sun to make clear of the difference.
Finally, the Porsche 911 Carrera 4 has appeal for people other than those who live in snow-clad countries.
In fact, it could be said that the all-wheel-drive models are now the most versatile in the range, offering exquisite rear-drive dynamics in the dry and reserve levels of traction for the odd excursion to Perisher or Mount Hotham.
Drivers focused on pure tarmac driving, however, will still default to the cheaper and lighter, five-star-perfect rear-wheel-drive models.