Published on Sunday 20 April 2014 09:15
Ten Second Review
It's a staple cliche for car journalists. The best Porsche 911 is an entry-level normally-aspirated Carrera 2. Purity of essence etc. If you can look beyond that hackneyed view, you'll find a hugely attractive model in the latest Carrera 4. Whisper it, but this might be the best 911 Porsche currently builds.
One of the questions you dread as a motoring writer is being asked what's the best car you've driven. It's like being asked what your favourite food is. You probably wouldn't want a lobster thermidor for breakfast for example. I have, however, settled on an answer and it's the latest Porsche 911, the so-called '991 series' in Porsche speak. It is, by any stretch of the imagination, a brilliant car. Some have accused it of going a bit soft in its dotage, but that's part of this model's appeal. Drive it gently and it rides better than a lot of executive saloons. It feels like a GT car. It feels as if it has indeed sold out and become a GT car. But drive it harder and it responds in kind. It's still a 911.
A 911 is, at its best, a rear wheel drive car. Everybody knows that, right? It's like some immutable motoring law. The Porsche purist hankers for a manual Carrera 2 coupe in entry-level trim before graduating to a GT3. Four wheel drive, turbochargers and soft tops are for people who manifestly don't get it. That might have been the case once. In this latest 911? I'm not so sure.
The Carrera 4 comes in two specific guises. The entry-level model is powered by a 3.4-litre flat-six engine, developing some 350PS. In seven-speed manual form, it's quick enough for most, getting to 62mph in just 4.9 seconds before reaching a top speed of 177mph. Go for the optional seven-speed twin-clutch PDK transmission and you'll knock a couple of tenths off the sprint time but miss out on the perfection of that 911 clutch and gearshift combination. The Carrera 4S gets a 3.8-litre engine that adds a further 50PS and drops the 0-62mph time to 4.5 seconds in manual form, or 4.3 seconds with the PDK transmission. Choose the optional Sport Chrono package and the acceleration times are improved further, with a Launch Control setting available on PDK-equipped models.
The Porsche Traction Management (PTM) has been largely carried over from the previous generation 997 and for the most part you won't notice that this 911 has front driveshafts. Your steering feel won't be notably corrupted by front tyres scrabbling for grip. The electrically-assisted steering set-up has come in for a lot of discussion but it's one of the best such systems I've ever driven. Do I prefer it to the old hydraulic pump in the 997? No. But I can see why it's necessary in this day and age.
In normal driving, 100% of torque goes to the rear wheels. It's only when you overwhelm the rear boots that the front wheels are tasked with traction duties. The system reacts within 100 milliseconds, with an indicator on the dashboard showing where the power is being directed at any given time. If you've spent any time in the latest 911, you'll know that ride quality is excellent although one option I would certainly tick is the sports exhaust which lends the 911 the sporting personality it so richly deserves.
Design and Build
The ethos of this car is defined by that Porsche Traction Management system, an active all-wheel drive with electronically controlled multiplate clutch and including an automatic brake differential (ABD) and anti-slip regulation (ASR). But do you know what most people will notice? That little red band of LED lights across the back end. The red strip across the rear has become a bit of a Carrera 4 motif and it's one that Porsche has cleverly updated for the 991 generation, creating a distinctive visual signature, especially at night.
Forty-four millimetres might sound inconsequential in a car as broad in the beam as this latest 911, but that's how much wider the Carrera 4 models are than their two-wheel drive siblings. And it shows. The curvier hips give the 991 shape a real presence and sexier stance than the narrow body. That alone will sell it to many. Although the coupe models are, despite being much bigger cars, 65kg lighter than their 997-series predecessors, the all-wheel drive 911 carries a 50kg penalty for its extra hardware. You're looking at 1445kg vs 1395kg for the Carrera 2S which, for most, will be a price they're willing to pay.
Market and Model
Here's something for those of you who consider an all-wheel drive 911 to be a heresy. Almost two thirds of 997s sold were four-wheel drive. The purist market can't keep Porsche afloat. What's more, the latest 991 generation car has evolved in a way that now suits all-wheel drive better. I can see that an old 993 series model was probably at its best with rear-wheel drive, the 996 series maybe and the 997 possibly, but the 991? As it stands, it looks better, it works better in our wet and increasingly snowy country and it will undoubtedly increase its market share as a result.
It's offered as a coupe or a sleek Cabriolet. Standard equipment on all models comprises leather interior, sports seats, automatic climate control, bi-xenon headlights, 7-inch colour touch-screen Porsche Communication Management with satellite navigation, a universal audio interface offering MP3 connectivity and Porsche Stability Management (PSM). Opt for the Carrera S and you'll get 20-inch alloy wheels and Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM). The PDK gearbox will be a more popular choice than the manual amongst Carrera 4 owners and adds just under £2,400 to the car's price.
Cost of Ownership
Economy and emissions are notably good, with Porsche claiming a 16 per cent improvement over the old 997. With a modest right boot, you might be able to replicate Porsche's 32.8mpg published figure for the PDK-equipped Carrera 4 or the 31mpg for the Carrera 4S with the same transmission. I recommend you don't though. Sacrifice a few of those miles per gallon and let your Porsche do what Porsches do best. Okay, so you won't be emitting 203g/km of CO2 in the process or a miserly 215g/km in the 4S but you probably won't care.
Drive it as designed and you might need to bear in mind that the Carraer 4 wears rear tyres which are ten millimetres wider than the Carrera 2 - with 235/40 ZR 19 front and 295/35 ZR 19 rear on the 3.4-litre C4 and 245/35 ZR 20 front and 305/30 ZR 20 rear on the 3.8-litre C4S. These cost a fair bit to replace, but given that you're in one of the slowest-depreciating supercars available at any price, you can take the cost of new rubber in your stride.
You only need to look at the Porsche 911's direct rivals to see that all-wheel drive is the preferred engineering solution in this class. Cars like Audi's R8 and Nissan's GT-R are so-equipped and changed the rules when they were introduced. If Porsche is to respond in kind, it needs a vehicle that's not at a significant traction disadvantage as soon as there's a hint of moisture on the road surface.
The latest Carrera 4 models might just have become the 911s to have. There are precious few disadvantages to them and a whole lot of customer benefits. If you're never going to take your Porsche on track, I'd unhesitatingly recommend the Carrera 4. The purists will still prefer rear-wheel drive, and good luck to them. The Porsche 911 has changed and, personally speaking, if I wanted that more raw, rear wheel drive feel, I'd buy a Cayman S. In other words, the 911 has matured into four-wheel drive guise almost organically. I'm looking forward to a drive in the next GT3 to see if I'm wrong about that.