Porsche has now made the 911 for 50 years. Think about that. The 911 has seen 10 US presidents, the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War, and the fall of Must See TV. It's been around the block. And somehow it just keeps getting better.
(Full Disclosure: Porsche wanted me to drive the 911 Carrera 4S so bad that they brought it by and encouraged me to drive it. I gave every single person I've ever known a ride. Yes, that means I drove you around also, dear reader. You just don't remember it.)
When a new Porsche 911 debuts, there is always one guarantee: There are going to be about 600 variants. At the start, you get rear-wheel drive. Then you'll get all-wheel drive. The all-wheel drive 911 has always been something of a conundrum.
In its regular, rear-engined form, the 911 is plenty capable in slick conditions. All that weight over the drive wheels means that it has a hard time getting stuck. It could also detract from the 911-ness of the 911 experience. By all accounts, the 911 does not need to be all-wheel drive.
But people keep buying them, so Porsche keeps making them. In really slick conditions, like snow, then yes, the AWD and a set of snow tires will be a big help. For the 991 generation 911, all-wheel drive is back. Like the past, it's full time and variable, with a continually changing torque split.
Other than the addition of all-wheel drive, the 911 I got to drive had a surprise up its sleeve: Porsche's seven-speed manual transmission. Every Porsche I've driven in the past year has either had PDK or, in the case of the Cayenne, a traditional automatic.
PDK is great, but does that mean Porsche forgot how to make a manual gearbox? They have not. This car rocks.
When I drove the 911 Carrera S Cabrio last year, I said I liked the styling. But I didn't think that it felt special. I also feel there is something a touch awkward about the cabs. When the top is down, the cars have a weird hump over the engine that I just don't dig. The C4S rectifies those little niggles about the C2S, and then some.
It has wider haunches and larger air intakes in the front. There is also a thin LED light bar across the back to connect the lights. These are small differences, but it's the difference between Bar Rafaeli not wearing makeup and Bar Rafaeli wearing just a little bit of makeup.
Both of them are incredibly hot, but the C4S has a few small tweaks that appear insignificant and work to really bring the whole thing together. Next to a 997, the 991 C4S is lower and wider. A lot wider. I think that does a lot to make it look truly fantastic.
I tend to think 911s are common. So common that I don't give many of them a second look anymore. But people couldn't stop staring at this C4S, and neither could I. The proportions are just right. It looks ridiculously good. Damn. It's hotness.
The last 911 I drove had the same interior, but it was this really boring shade of grey. This C4S was resplendent in natural red leather, which really made everything pop.
I wouldn't buy the 18 way seats for my own car, because I'd want to save weight (and money, more on that later), but I did find them quite comfortable.
Other than that, it's standard Porsche in here. That means there are a lot of buttons, great feeling leather everywhere, and cupholders that are beautifully over-engineered and totally useless.
The 3.8 liter flat six under the hood is the same as the C2S. That means you have 400 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. This time, the power is routed through a seven-speed manual gearbox to all four wheels. As you set off, almost all of the power is directed to the rear wheels, with a nominal amount to the front. As you accelerate, power is actively transferred to the front, making wheel spin nearly non-existent.
It won't bog down off the line if you give it the business, and power is linear. It's really damn fast. But I'm not shocked by the speed. For some reason, it doesn't feel as quick as it is. I see the revs rise, I see the speed shoot to heights that would barely even be legal in Germany, yet I don't feel like I got there that quickly.
I did get there quickly, but there's just something I can't put my finger on. It might be how stable and well built the car is. There is basically zero drama while you're accelerating, which masks just how fast this car is.
Porsche offers its carbon ceramic brakes as an option. An $8,520 option. That is not a typo. And unless you're a brake nerd or super fanatic about unsprung weight, you really don't need them.
Steel brakes are all you need for the road. I love the steel brakes on this car.
They grab hard, and repeated hard stops show no signs of fade. I like the progressive feel of the pedal. It could probably stand to bite a little harder initially, but that's being pedantic.
Hot damn, this car is so well sorted it's ridiculous. Ride quality is some of the finest you'll experience of any car. I'm going to say something shocking: Porsche just knows what they're doing.
The C4S is solid. Without playing with the adjustable damping at all, the 911 is pretty much spot-on. The ride is stiff, but not harsh. Compliant, but not soft. It's the perfect mix.
Put it in Sport or Sport Plus, and it gets stiffer and less compliant. But you only use that setting for really aggressive driving or if you just like having a suspension be too stiff for no reason. It gets harsher and less compliant. It's not uncomfortable, but I do prefer it without the dampers stiffened up.
To make the 911 turn, you turn the large circle that's in front of you, known as a "steering wheel," like every other car on the road. But this isn't a car that's turned from the front. That sounds strange, so let me explain.
With all of the weight out over the back, you tend to feel the steering more with your ass. Everything feels like it pivots off the rear, like the rear is glued and it's guiding the front. It's interesting to get used to. And once you do, it's fast. I did find that the all-wheel drive setup neutered the feel of the front end a bit. I didn't drive super hard on public roads, but you could also make this one push more than the C2, which was a bit more tail happy.
This is my second time in a 911 with electrically assisted steering, and this time I did feel like a hydraulic setup would be beneficial. It's not totally numb, but there's a certain bit of magic missing, a little wobble at speed, some character, something. That's not to say the steering is bad. You'd have to be insane to say that. It's direct, nicely weighted, and you can feel what the road is doing.
This is the first time I ever gotten a test car, saw it was a manual, and was a little disappointed. I love PDK, and there's a damn good reason why Porsche is making it the only gearbox you can get in the 911 GT3 and Turbo: It's better than the manual.
Porsche's new seven speed manual matches quite nicely with the new 911. Clutch take-up is smooth and progressive. I think it feels great. Shifts are direct with medium length throws. They are notchy throws with a tight little snick snick into each gear. That's what I tend to like. On it's own, it's a fantastic modern manual gearbox. I enjoyed it a lot.
But I did have three issues. First, and this is just a personal thing, seven gears are too many gears for a manual. Getting off the highway and doing about 25 downshifts (give or take eight), is hard to get used to and I think it's overkill. There are seven for efficiency, and we should be thankful that they're still offering a three pedal setup at all. If we have to get seven gears to get a manual, so be it. It's not my choice, but it's also not the end of the world.
Here are the real problems. The problems that make PDK the far better choice.
The clutch is great on flat ground. But the car also has a hill hold function. For an experienced manual driver, a hill start involves taking your foot off the brake as you seamlessly release the clutch, feel it engage, and then get totally off the brakes and onto the gas. With the hill hold, somehow the clutch feel disappears, actually making hill starts harder. I had to forget what I'd learned over years of driving stick in order to launch correctly on a hill. Hill assist is just awful. If you buy a Porsche with a manual and can't launch it without assistance on a hill, you shouldn't have bought a manual Porsche. End of story.
And for the final annoyance: In Sport Plus, the C4S will rev match on downshifts for you. So if you're on a track (or the road) and put the car in Sport Plus, you don't need to rev match or heel toe. I think it's really cool, but it inherently works against the romance of the manual transmission. The reason why people buy a car with a manual is that they don't want that computer interaction. When I drive a car with a manual I want to do everything on my own. I want to blip the throttle during a downshift and get it right… or wrong. I don't want help. It's basically Porsche trying to make the manual into a PDK. If you offer a manual, don't get involved in my shifting. Let me do it on my own. I'm a big boy!
Glorious. Open up the sport exhaust and your world will be filled with mellifluous sounds that you thought only existed in the London Philharmonic. A warbling bass note that is then accompanied by a tenor and some small appearances by an alto at higher revs. It's gorgeous to behold.
The Burmester stereo, another pricey option, just adds to the lovely notes. If you like Bonnie Tyler's Total Eclipse of the Heart, you'll love this stereo. Every note is crystal clear. Not that I listened to that song in the 911. I heard this. Second hand. From someone else.
It has all the toys you'd expect. Parking sensors, cruise control, sport modes, auto lights and wipers, satellite radio, adjustable heated/cooled seats, a key shaped like the car, and various other bibs and bobs.
It's a well equipped piece of kit.
And now we come to value. The C4S stickers for $105,000. Here's the rub. Nobody buys a base Porsche. As far as I know, there is no such thing.
This wasn't a base C4S. This was a $143,445 C4S. That means this car has a WRX STI in options on board. Everything is extra. The seats. The paint. The wheels. The rear wiper. The glass roof. It's tough to justify for many, especially with the superb new Cayman right below it.
Here's how you do: When you buy a 911, you not only buy a Porsche, but you buy the Porsche. This is the car that Porsche has been engineering since 1963. The car they've constantly tweaked and improved. You're buying 50 years of heritage, 50 years of race wins, 50 years of development, 50 years of defying physics, 50 years of rear-engined excellence. If you just say the word "Porsche" to someone, they'll imagine a 911, not a Cayman or a Boxster.
The 911 is worth it.
Engine: 3.8L H6
Power: 400 HP at 7,400 RPM/ 325 LB-FT at 5,600 RPM
Transmission: Seven-Speed Manual or Seven-Speed Dual Clutch
0-60 Time: 4.3 seconds (4.1 with PDK, 3.9 with PDK in Sport Plus)
Top Speed: 185 mph
Drivetrain: All-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight: 3,186 LBS (3,230 with PDK)
Seating: 4 people* (The two people in the rear seats better not have legs, or be contortionists)
MPG: 18 City/26 Highway/21 Combined (19 City with PDK)
MSRP: $105,000 ($143,445 As Tested)