Purists demand that Porsche 911s drive their rear wheels. Jonathan Crouch checks out the latest 4WD models and wonders whether the purists might have this one wrong.
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, now fitted with a more potent, more efficient 3.0-litre bi-turbo engine. 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, both powered by the brand's latest bi-turbo 3.0-litre engine. This powerplant offers more power than 911 Carrera 4 and Carrera 4S buyers have been used to before. In the former model, the new motor develops 370PS, while in the latter this increases to 420PS. In both cases this in an increase of 20PS over the old engine, with torque increased by 60Nm. Crucially, peak pulling power is now developed from just 1,700rpm, which should make it much easier to tap into the performance. The 0-62mph sprint now takes 4.1 seconds for the Carrera 4 and just 3.8 seconds for the 4S (using the PDK auto gearbox), with top speeds at 178 and 189mph. Those are figures a full fat 911 Turbo model would have been proud of in the not too distant past. Those worried about losing the 911's distinctive noise at high revs are promised a lofty (for a turbo motor) 7,500rpm redline and the 'typical sonorous Porsche flat-six engine sound'. An optional four wheel steering system is available on the Carrera 4S for the first time. As for the 4WD stuff, well 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 recent 911 models, you'll know that ride quality is excellent these days, although one option we 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 its Porsche Traction Management system, its active all-wheel drive system with electronically controlled multiplate clutch, its automatic brake differential (ABD) and its anti-slip regulation (ASR). Of course what most will actually notice though is the aesthetic stuff, so let's get to that. The all-wheel drive models not only include the numerous visual refinements of the current 911 Carrera generation but also have their own individual distinguishing characteristics. For instance, the light strip between the rear lights now produces an especially distinctive effect thanks to its smarter three-dimensional design. The light strip also underlines the signature look of the all-wheel drive 911, with rear wings that arch further outwards by 44-millimetres, as in previous models. Additional distinguishing features of this improved 911 generation range from the headlights with four-point daytime running lights, via door handles without recess covers, to the redesigned rear lid with vertical louvres and new rear lights - including the characteristic four-point brake lights.
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 911s are sold with 4WD. These days, it seems, the purist market can't keep Porsche afloat. What's more, this latest generation car has evolved in a way that now suits all-wheel drive better. It's offered as a coupe, a Targa model or a sleek Cabriolet. Prices start at just over £81,000 for the coupe, or just over £90,000 for the Cabriolet or Targa models. In each case, there's a premium of around £9,000 if you want the extra power of the 4S models. Standard equipment on all variants 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 4S 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
Thanks to the more efficient turbocharged engines, running costs are now a little more affordable, despite the significant uplift in performance. Consequently, fuel consumption in the 911 Carrera 4 Cabriolet with PDK rises to a combined 36mpg (previously 32.5mpg). The models with the most significant improvements are the 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet and 911 Targa 4S, each with PDK, in which average consumption rises to a combined 35mpg (previously 30.7mpg). This represents economy improvements of around 10% over the old engine. Even with petrol prices better than they were, that's a significant saving. If the money doesn't interest you, then at least you'll be visiting fewer petrol stations over your ownership period. It should be noted that the difference should you wish to change your own gears is significant. The warranty is a standard three year affair although does include three years of roadside assistance as well. Should you want further peace of mind, extended packages are available.
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, we'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 we 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. They call it progress.