BY ANDY ENRIGHT
If the 996 generation of the Porsche 911 was the period when the car matured, the 997 series saw the car develop an even more polished sheen. Where it was once quite easy to see the Volkswagen DNA in Porsche, by the time the 997 was launched in 2004, Porsche had diverged so far from its rather basic sporting car roots that the 911 had become a technical tour de force and, in Carrera 4 guise, one of the most devastatingly effective all-weather cars in existence. Used examples of the 'C4' are now starting to appear and represent a cost effective way to buy supercar capability at upmarket sports coupe prices.
Models Covered: (2 dr coupe, 2dr convertible 3.6, 3.8 petrol [Carrera, Carrera S])
The Porsche 911 Carrera 4 traces its roots directly back to the groundbreaking 959 Gruppe B design study that debuted in 1983 at the Frankfurt Motor Show. Way ahead of its time, the 959 featured twin turbochargers, active aerodynamics, automatic ride height adjustment and Porsche-Steuer Kupplung (PSK), easily the most technologically advanced all-wheel drive system of its era. Where most four-wheel drive systems such as Audi's Quattro used a fixed torque split, PSK could automatically direct the torque distribution between the rear and front wheels in both normal conditions and slip conditions. With as much as 80 per cent of available torque going to the rear wheels under hard acceleration, PSK made the most of the 959's rear-engined traction advantage. Porsche suddenly came from nowhere to being kings of all-wheel drive sports cars. The first four-wheel drive series production Porsche was the 964-generation 911 Carrera 4 which debuted in 1989. Although these models were critically acclaimed, the public still thought that rear wheel drive was the only layout for a 'proper' 911 and the 964 Carrera 4 was perceived as slightly second rate, almost a 911 for timid drivers. The 993 and 996 generation cars cemented all-wheel drive's role in the Porsche firmament, acceptance finally arriving when the Turbo version of the 993 featured drive going front and rear. Many observers felt the 996 Carrera 4S to be the finest mainstream model Porsche produced of its era. The 996 did enormously well for Porsche and survived fully seven years before the model we examine here, the 997, was launched. Where the 996 was revolutionary, the 997 is more an evolutionary finessing of the 996 theme, tidying up the styling, imbuing the car with a higher quality, more technologically dense feel and adding even more exciting models to the mix. At first, just rear wheel drive 3.6-litre Carrera and a 3.8-litre Carrera S coupes were offered, and customers wanting all-wheel drive had to wait until October 2005 when Carrera 4 Coupes and Cabriolet models arrived in dealerships. Porsche again underscored the role of four-wheel drive by making the pretty Targa version of the 997 available exclusively with this chassis. Arriving in September 2006 and again available in standard and S trims, the Targa defiantly shook off its tag as the ugly sister of the 911 range.
What You Get
The 997 took its quality cue form the Cayenne 4x4 and features a three-spoke wheel and an in-dash LCD monitor. Some aspects are pure 993, however, such as the location of the air vents and the roll top along the upper dash. Porsche know their history and so do their customers and the design of the 997's cabin pays homage to Porsches of the past. The quality of materials, however, is like no 911 built to date. Expensively slush-moulded fascia materials make a welcome change to the hard plastics seen in the 996 and it's possible to specify leather trim. The front seats are bigger, the driver sits 20mm lower and there's a choice of four different seats depending on how racy you want to feel. Another neat option to be found on some cars is the dash-top mounted Porsche Sport Chrono, a stopwatch that can time laps. The 997-series take on the 911 Carrera 4 theme is fully 44mm wider at the rear than the Carrera 2 body, which means that the rear wheels are fitted with the 295/35 ZR18 tyres and the more powerful S model can wear huge 305/30 ZR19 rubberwear. It also gives the back of the car some attitude that some would say was missing from the pure and pretty rear wheel drive Carrera. By comparison, the Carrera 4 looks hunkered down and squat.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
Porsche claims to have solved the cylinder liner problem that sporadically afflicted the 996 and has also made changes to the design of the big ends and Variocam system - other potential fault points. No significant faults have yet to develop with the 997 but it's worth seeking out a Porsche Approved car as even apparently trivial faults can be very expensive to rectify without warranty protection. The all-wheel drive system fitted to the Carrera 4 has thus far proven bulletproof. The 19-inch alloys fitted to the 997 Carrera S are very prone to kerbing damage so check these over individually. Check the bodywork, especially the bonnet, as this can easily be damaged by owners slamming them onto protruding items in the front boot. 997s are very colour sensitive and white and black cars are currently in vogue with the ubiquitous silver now starting to fall from favour. Speed Yellow attracts a select clientele.
(Estimated prices, based on a 2005 Carrera 4 S) Consumables for a 911 are almost laughably cheap. You'll pay £15 for an air filter, £4 for each spark plug, £10 for an oil filter, £16 for a alternator chain, and £15 for a fuel filter. Offset these costs by running any 911 exclusively on synthetic oil. Other parts are rather pricier. You'll need to put by £300 for a replacement tinted windscreen, £450 for a clutch kit and do try not to damage your xenon headlights as Porsche will charge you £556 each for replacements.
On the Road
The all-wheel drive system features a multi-disc viscous coupling and transfers between five and ten per cent of drive permanently to the front wheels. You'll be able to feel the benefit of this additional traction when accelerating out of corners, especially if the surface is damp. Whereas a Carrera will blink its traction control light at the driver as power is cut to the rear in an attempt to regain grip, the Carrera 4 will be able to balance power delivery to all four tyres and use more of its engine power. Power is something Carrera 4 owners will enjoy a fair slug of. This 911 still uses a flat six engine and it's still hung out at the back but Carrera 4 buyers will get a 325bhp 3.6-litre powerplant and Carrera 4 S customers will be treated to a 355bhp 3.8-litre unit. The straight line performance of the Carrera 4 is nigh-on identical to that of the Carrera, the extra 6bhp being offset by the additional weight. Both 'standard' models hit 60mph in 4.9 seconds although the Carrera has a 2mph top speed advantage at 177mph. The Carrera 4S is that little bit feistier, and takes a tenth or so out of the two-wheel drive Carrera to 60mph, recording a 4.6 second figure and loses 2mph at the top end, pegged in this instance to 180mph. These figures are recorded in bone dry conditions. Add a bit of typical British moisture to the equation and the Carrera 4's advantage would widen significantly. There's also very little performance penalty if you opt for the Cabriolet models. The chassis has been thoroughly revised in the latest car with Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) standard on the Carrera S. This system is built around specially designed Michelin Pilot sport tyres and Bilstein adaptive dampers that can be set in one of two modes, normal and sport. The sport mode also sharpens the throttle action. An optional sports chassis set up offers stiffer springs and dampers, a lower ride height and a more aggressive limited slip differential. Thus equipped and with an experienced driver behind the wheel, the 997 Carrera 4 S can run a lap of the Nurburgring in under 8 minutes, the true acid test of a supercar.
The Porsche 911 Carrera 4 just oozes capability. It's not a car that needs to shout about its abilities, instead providing the well-informed driver with a purposeful, no nonsense and pragmatic approach to tackling our often wet roads. When the heavens open, you've got a dark and unfamiliar journey ahead of you and you need all the help you can get, there aren't many sports cars that can get anywhere near a Porsche 911 Carrera 4. Used stocks are reasonably plentiful, so be as fastidious as possible and don't buy at the bottom of the market.