The 911 Carrera 4S easily lives up to the hype, writes Matt Greenop
Porsche 911s, according to some critics and one serial lurker occasionally spotted skulking around the Driven office, never change their looks and are all essentially Beetles underneath it all. This is, obviously, complete bollocks.
An interesting problem with works of pure genius is that some people simply don't get it.
The 911's track record, and its off-track record for that matter, is enviable, stretching back into a history of countless hours' pure driving enjoyment. And that's the whole point of the exercise.
The old adage that there's no point in reinventing the wheel certainly holds true with what is arguably the only real sportscar to stand the test of time.
A very gradual, very carefully considered and undoubtedly very German evolution has taken place since its introduction in the early sixties, and while it's never strayed far past its design boundaries it's always improved and has nearly always screamed the same thing: "I am a 911 and I will beat you."
It's hard to believe the hype without driving one of these - the staggering chassis' near-unfailing grip, the engines bellowing behind you and the ability to attack any bit of road and come out of it feeling all smug, fast and "race drivery".
Last week I felt race drivery indeed, with a week at the wheel of the latest step in the 911's illustrious history.
The new Porsche 911 Carrera 4S has just touched down in New Zealand.
Actually getting stunning weather and a Porsche to test at the same time is mighty unusual around Auckland, but we've been lucky of late and the gods were certainly smiling on this bloke. With most of the world heading back to work there was a big chunk of countryside to play with, and a four-wheel-drive 3.8-litre Carrera 4S coupe in the driveway. The hard work began.
Cars with pricetags like this can often have a bit too much "personality" to be able to cope with our unique blend of roading that flits from goat track to curvy brilliance and back on one stretch. But the 911's big sell has always been grip. If one of these lets go, and you lift off, there's a very high chance it'll turn into a pendulum unless you've got the skill of Craig Baird or the luck of Lotto Trev.
Actually getting to the point that this happens, outside of greasy city roads or racetracks, probably means you're breaking most of the road rules at once. It's not difficult to do in one of these, apparently, but even the rear-drive 911s can be pushed pretty hard before they push back. The four-footed Carrera 4S is even more forgiving, especially with its new ultra-wide bum.
The rear arches have grown 22mm over the two-wheel-drive Carrera, with 36mm wider track, housing massive 305/30/20s, PZero of course, and the fronts 245/20s, which are a $2550 option over the standard 19s. The whole rear has been nicely reshaped to accommodate those fatter flares. The back end looks cleaner and more refined with thinned-down rear lights tapering into a solid line right across. It's the same type of backend treatment that Porsche showed on its Panamera Gran Turismo concept shown at the Paris Motor Show, which changed Ferdinand's awkward four-door for the better.
Our test car, which also ran Porsche's optional dual clutch PDK (Porsche Doppelkupplung) seven-speed transmission, had a few boxes ticked on the order form, including the very welcome new sports exhaust system. Those boxes left alone would have seen a ticket price of $265,000. The add-ons took it to $294,620. The 4S Cabriolet starts at $280,000.
The PDK system does get through the seven gears at a cracking pace, and with well-positioned shifters which allow changing up or down on each side of the steering wheel it's easy to get into a rhythm on some of our curlier roads. The razor-sharp front end is brilliantly direct and the fully independent rear end gives as much as it needs in the standard suspension setting, although it gets a bit hard on the kidneys in the sports setting. This is best reserved for the racetrack or extremely well-sealed roads, and is far too savage for a quiet road out in the wops.
Its sheer abilities are courtesy of that German efficiency and its guidance of transactions between Pirelli and pavement - active suspension management, torque vectoring and a host of well-mated stability systems - so on long and open bends it feels just as settled as it does in tight, twisting corners despite its 4491mm length and 1852mm width. And with big four-pot calipers on drilled and ventilated rotors, it's never a problem to slow down a bit. A happy new addition is the previously mentioned sports exhaust. The 911's engine note is fairly subdued on most models although it has always sported a nicely brash bark. But push the magic button on the centre console and suddenly the whole cabin is filled with the full orchestra of six-pot boxer, direct injection, variable cam control and slick engine management software performing the delightful "294kW and 440Nm in Wa-hey minor", a personal favourite.
The peak power is made right up at 7400rpm, so does get delivered over a good 1000rpm or so, and the 400Nm of torque arrives with a bit of fanfare by 5600rpm - when the shift time on the robo-auto PDK is a fraction of a blink, it becomes a very effective package. Sprinting to the legal limit only takes 4.3 seconds, although that would have been achieved with launch control, which I wasn't too keen on applying to a car that had only recently reached triple digits on its odo. The old imperial ton still comes up in less than 10 seconds, and depending on bravery, stupidity or immunity from prosecution will carry on to a top speed of 297km/h.
The Carrera has almost always demonstrated a great ability to bridge the gap between sports and comfort, and although those numbers certainly don't put it at the top of its class, it's still a rocketship - with a booming Bose stereo, heated leather seats and a sunroof. In an era where many manufacturers are trying to minimise the number of buttons in the cockpit, Porsche has gone the other way with clear, large and numerous controls laid out across the dash, which is topped by the gorgeous analogue/digital and optional Sports Chrono stopwatch.
It might be a nod to the past, with its hint of Blaupunkt style. I image the office lurker will have his opinion. It apparently hasn't changed much since 1963.