The concept of buying a Porsche has changed dramatically over the decades. For years a Porsche was defined by the 911, but today you have very capable sports cars in the Cayman and Boxster range as well, while the likes of the Macan set the benchmark for dynamically capable SUVs. So the real question then, is does the iconic 911 still make sense?
Porsche creates so many different combinations of the 911 (25 that we can find at this moment) that there’s a model and variant to suit almost any taste. When you speak of a Porsche 911 it could be the base model rear-wheel-drive Carrera powered by a 3.4-litre engine (257kW/390Nm) from $208,600 plus on-road costs, or the top-spec all-wheel-drive 911 Turbo S with a 3.8-litre engine (412kW/700Nm) for $466,900.
Somewhere in that vast array of endless choices sits the car we are reviewing here, the Porsche 911 Carrera 4 GTS Coupe. Positioned between the Carrera S and Turbo, the GTS in all-wheel-drive form has a starting price of $284,100 (our review vehicle had an additional $24,100 worth of options on it).
The C4 GTS, as it’s best known, is powered by a naturally-aspirated 3.8-litre engine with 316kW of power and 440Nm of torque.
Having the GTS badge means everything is just that little bit more engaging than the Carrera S, which makes it a worthwhile choice considering the cost difference is a mere $13,000. Porsche says the GTS delivers the forward thrust of the Carrera S and the temperament of a GT. While that might be the case for some, we found it far more engaging than a regular GT.
The idea of the Carrera 4 GTS is to be an all-wheel-drive track car you can drive everyday, without having to be as hardcore as the rear-wheel-drive 911 GT3 or GT3 RS or as expensive as the Turbo and Turbo S models.
From the outside the GTS Coupe looks to mean serious business. The rear is 44mm wider than that of the 911 Carrera S and is embodied with quad-pipes and subtle GTS insignia, not to mention one of the longest model designation badges on the boot of any car we’ve ever seen. It doesn’t take a genius to work out it's not just a regular 911 (if there is such a thing).
The front spoiler has been optimised for better aero and improved air supply thanks to the large air intakes. You’ll notice the bi-xenon main headlights including the Porsche Dynamic Light System (PDLS) coloured in black as well as the SportDesign exterior mirrors.
What we love the most about the GTS’ exterior are the 20-inch 911 Turbo S wheels and the continuous tail-light strip, a GTS speciality.
Jump inside, turn the key and the six-cylinder engine bursts to life with a quick growl. Although there are other settings, basically you’d expect to have the Carrera 4 GTS in Sport mode on the road and in Sport plus mode on the track. Anything else is just a wasted opportunity.
Though many (including this writer) have at times argued that the Cayman is actually the better handling car when compared to the 911, there’s no doubt which is the better car overall.
Behind the wheel the 911 instantly feels like home, like a car that has seen generations of rapid evolution, where the unnecessary genes have been discarded in favour of more genetically modified perfection.
There’s something about a 911 that you don’t truly appreciate until you drive one. Grip and cornering ability is generally in realms bordering impossibility, add all-wheel-drive to the equation and going around corners – just that little bit faster each time – becomes addictive.
Given its naturally-aspirated heart and general preference to handling and track-worthiness rather than just outright speed, the Carrera 4 GTS is the sort of car a semi-decent wannabe race-driver can get a lot out of.
It’s not 911 Turbo quick, meaning you won’t have to scare yourself silly on track to get the most out of it and its not as manic as the GT3, which we love so dearly for its constant attempts at outright murder.
There’s some tendency to understeer when pushed in the wrong way, but around a seriously twisty road we found the Carrera 4 GTS to be almost too good. Perhaps that’s its biggest problem. The sensation of speed both in a straight line or around corners is sadly hidden.
In what can only be described as being a German thing, the Porsche Torque Vectoring (PTV) system makes driving at the limit feel too easy. An electronic rear differential lock (mechanical in the manual variants) sorts out the rear wheels when the going gets fast.
Push hard into a tight bend and the system applies moderate brake pressure to the inside rear wheel, while more drive force is then pushed to the outside rear wheel. This would make more sense if you’re a physicist but the basic idea is to create more yaw movement around the vehicle's vertical axis. This technology is by no means unique to Porsche, however the way in which it’s implemented in the 911 GTS makes for some enthralling cornering capability.
At some point we came to the realisation that the Carrera 4 GTS can almost take the fun out of driving fast. There’s no element of surprise, there’s no bite, it’s just fast, really fast. It’s so unashamedly German in its clinical approach to driving. In that sense, it’s like the (soon-to-be-replaced) Audi R8, except far more compliant in terms of ride comfort.
It’s actually somewhat hard to fathom how a sports car can sit so flat around bends at near maximum velocity yet absorb road bumps on a drive to Coles like a high-riding SUV. It doesn’t make sense. Or probably what doesn’t make sense is why Porsche can find this balance so comfortably, while others fail miserably.
Porsche charges a rather hefty $7390 for the privilege but the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (PDK) is a no-brainer. Unless you’re lost in the dark ages or still cling on to that tired mentality that manual transmissions mean more engagement, the PDK is the better choice both for better track times and convenience on the road.
Firstly, the 0-100km/h time is cut from 4.4 seconds in the manual to just 4.0 seconds flat with the PDK. It’s also better on fuel (9.1L/100km v 9.9) and can do the 80-120km/h dash in 2.5 seconds. All of that for a 20kg weight penalty.
The question you should be asking is not about the PDK, but the all-wheel-drive system. Sure, the Carrera 4 is better around bends than its two-wheel drive brother and having the four-patch acceleration points means it’s also quicker on more surfaces, but… unless setting the fastest lap time is the primary concern, the rear-wheel drive would tip the scale in favour of fun for us. Plus you’ll save $15,400.
On the practicality side, the interior is a rather pleasant place to be. The front seats are supportive and comfortable while the rear can indeed accommodate two (short or flexible) adults for short trips or – as we tried – easily fit a forward facing ISOFIX seat for young kids.
The satellite-navigation system and the whole infotainment system feels a little dated and there are far too many buttons (which is the Porsche way). The screen could also be a little bigger.
On the plus side, the clean and button-less alcantara-wrapped steering wheel is a work of art. There’s alcantara everywhere. Steering wheel rim apart, there’s also the roof lining, gear lever, door pulls, door panel armrests and centre console main storage compartment lid covered in the stuff.
At around $300,000 on-road the Porsche 911 Carrera 4 GTS is hard to beat for the level of performance, class and engineering finesse that it delivers. The soon-to-arrive new Audi R8 will provide some stiff competition, but if it’s a Porsche you’re after, the extra coin over the Carrera S shouldn’t even be a debate.