“LESS is more,” goes the saying, and this is especially applicable to performance cars. Whether it’s weight, electronics or even price, the recipe for ultimate driver’s fun is simple: cut the flab and avoid complexity. It’s hard to argue against this formula as a browse through any listing of history’s greatest driver’s cars shows.
But where does this leave the latest version of what is widely regarded as the ultimate driver’s car, the Porsche 911? In the past, showing enthusiasm for the marque’s Carrera 4 and 4S models was met mostly with derision, as if these all-wheel-drive derivatives weren’t true to the ethos of a 911 or Porsche.
In truth, all-wheel drive is very much part of the company’s DNA. In the mid-1940s, Piero Dusio paid a large sum of money to free Ferdinand Porsche from a French prison. Dusio wanted Herr Porsche to build him a very special racecar. The outcome of the project, the ground-breaking 360 Cisitalia, was the first to carry the Porsche name. It featured on/off all-wheel drive and a sequential gearshift. Consider this relatively unknown creation the fountainhead of the modern-day 911 Carrera 4S. Whether on-road, the racing circuit or at Dakar (remember the 959?), all-wheel drive has been part of the Porsche story ever since.
And how could it be any different? Porsche, after all, started its rise to the top of the world’s sportscar pile from a small Austrian town called Gmünd, located near some of the most challenging mountain passes in the world, including the iconic Grossglockner High Alpine Road. It is to these roads that Porsche’s chassis engineers often turned for chassis tuning. Mixed quality surfaces. Snow and sleet in winter. Hairpin bends. These are the ideal conditions for a powerful, all-wheel-drive performance car to shine. For these reasons, and these conditions, Carrera 4 and 4S models are popular in Europe and elsewhere. Porsche claims that 34 per cent of all second-generation 997 models sold sported AWD.
But what about South Africa? Is the new 911 Carrera 4S worth the extra R164 000 above the brilliant 2S (tested in the July 2012 issue of CAR)? While the initial consensus among the team was a definite “no”, the answer to that question became increasingly muddled the more time we spent with the 4S.
It starts with the looks. With its 36 mm wider rear track, the 4S gets slightly more pronounced hips that emphasise the 911’s classically curvaceous lines. Eagle-eyed observers will notice a red LED strip running between the rear lamps. Inside, you’ll have to be far more of a Porschephile to find the changes compared with the 2S. In fact, there’s only one: a display in the instrument cluster tells you where the Porsche Traction Management system (Stuttgart-speak for active all-wheel drive) is directing power between the axles.
Otherwise, the 4S’s cabin is identical to the 2S’s, and that’s no bad thing. The 991-generation has a superbly crafted facia, impressive space and a perfect driving position. The only com-plaint concerns ergonomics; it’s a pity that Porsche is not able to add remote audio controls to its optional Sport Design Steering Wheel (R5 850).
For interest’s sake, you also pay extra for the all-leather interior (R45 330), front and rear park assist (R13 170), Sport Chrono Package (R28 320), Bose surround-sound system (R19 480) and sat-nav (R44 060).
But these can be considered mere fripperies. More importantly, what you get as standard with the 4S is an item that theoretically gives this 911 the ability to turn with the agility of a two-wheel-drive car but grip like one with all-wheel drive: PTV Plus, short for Porsche Torque Vectoring for PDK. This system features an electronically controlled, fully variable differential lock and uses brake interventions at the inside rear wheel to improve agility and steering precision. The differential lock, in turn, improves acceleration out of corners.
Does it work? Importantly, does it work in SA? To find out, we trundled to a famous, scribbly and bumpy stretch of tar in the shadow of an equally famous mountain. Early on a damp autumn morning, this is the closest South Africans are likely to get to the likes of the Grossglockner. With sport+ selected and the optional Sports Exhaust system (R36 500) activated, the 4S blasts from a standstill with ferocity and aural assault, but nevertheless is a bit slower to 100 km/h than the 2S. Still, 4,6 seconds is plenty fast enough, and the overtaking acceleration times are only fractionally slower, too.
Approaching the first, very tight bend, a quick dab of the brakes (optional ceramic items at R119 100) is needed to shed speed before committing to the corner. And then an interesting thing happens. The steering – a controversial topic with the 991 because it is electrically assisted – feels different to that of the 2S. It feels … better. It’s not that the tiller in the 2S is inaccurate or vague, but there are moments when its artificiality can be sensed. In the 4S, there is a more satisfying weighting to the helm and a sense that it faithfully conveys what the front wheels are doing. Of course, in addition to gripping and steering the front wheels also put power onto the road. Combined with the excellent grip at the nose of the 991, this extra bit of bite at the front makes it feel unflappable.
You quickly build a fast rhythm with the 4S, even in slippery conditions. The seven-speed PDK remains the best double-clutch transmission in the business, helping the driver to unlock the full potential of that magnificent, howling 294 kW 3,8-litre flat-six. Theoretically, all the power could go to the front wheels when needed. But, in reality, the maximum that’s likely to go forward is 54 per cent. Importantly, power shifting happens in 1/100th of a second… This means that the power is always where it’s needed most. And that, in turn, means the 911 4S is one of the most neutral, balanced and confidence-inspiring cars we’ve ever tested.
Is the C4S too safe? Boring, perhaps? Purists may not agree, but what Porsche has done with the 4S is serve up the quintessential 911 driving experience, but make it more accessible to the average driver.
To experienced drivers, the on-the-edge adjustability that makes the 2S so enthralling is slightly blunted in the 4S, but owners of the latter will be able to delve deeper into their cars’ capabilities and extract more enjoyment. Depending on the driver and the conditions, more may in fact turn out to be, well, more.