I endured no small degree of snickering from my peers after last year's review of the all-new Porsche AG 911 - a depraved litany of biased sycophancy, scatologically tempered by allusions to the religious salvation obtainable from the 911's brilliant chassis. I'm told I should be glad the local Bishop didn't get wind of that 911 critique, or I'd have joined Madonna and Sinead O'Connor on the Vatican's 10 Most Wanted poster.
I suppose I'll have to move up in the world to genuine rogue status - somebody's gotta do it, now that Salmon Rushdie's off the hook - because I'm charged with providing the skinny on the all-wheel-drive variant of the new-generation 911, the Carrera 4. And if last year's analysis of the 911 was a no-holds-barred model of biased heretic journalism, then join me on the path to total damnation, because the Carrera 4 has inspired me to new depths of amoral endorsement.
The '99 Carrera 4 is Porsche's first derivation of the all-new 911 (type 996); the gloriously torquey, 296-hp horizontally opposed 6-cyl. (now-water-cooled) is still there, as is all the other performance-at-any-price engineering that makes a 911 one of the world's most focused sports cars. What's added with the Carrera 4 is a viscous-coupled center differential to provide all-wheel drive and Porsche's first shot at stability control, a system dubbed Porsche Stability Management (PSM).
PSM, coupled with the inherent handling-stabilizing effect of all-wheel drive, makes the Carrera 4 one of the world's most confident high-speed weapons. The Carrera 4 travels with 5% of its drive torque permanently allotted to the front wheels, and the figure can shift automatically to as much as 40% - a bias that assures a neutral handling posture in most any situation.
For when things escalate outside the Carrera 4's already outlandish performance envelope, PSM (co-developed with RobertGmbH, which also supplies the C4's drive-by-wire throttle) takes control with a phenomenal subtlety. The system can brake any individual wheel to influence the car's dynamic posture in a profound fashion: get a corner wrong, PSM benignly but commandingly reels you in. On slick surfaces, it simply never allows loss of control.
This is something any number of stability control systems from other automakers can accomplish. Where Porsche trumps all others is in PSM's responsiveness. In the time only computer chips can calculate, PSM's done its thing and returned throttle control to the driver - and that's the key to high-performance application of stability control. Many other stability control systems manipulate the chassis to good effect, but often take forever to return the ability to lay down the power; Porsche's system can save you from disaster and in the next split-second permit you to work on getting in trouble all over again. Mircro-processor foregiveness of virtually any driving sin!
One must, unfortunately, pay an indulgence to Porsche Cars North America for the absolution all-wheel-drive and PSM offer: the base Carrera 4 price of $70,480. That's only about $5,000 more than the standard 911 and $2,500 less than the previous-generation Carrera 4. Not an insubstantial cost, but with the ungodly fast Carrera 4, that buys a lot of potential sinnin.'