GROSS DÖLLN, Germany – While much of Porsche AG’s highlight reel for the 911 is dominated by clips of Le Mans victories and Nurburgring laps, it’s easy to forget how wonderfully drivable the iconic German sports car can be away from the track.
Through 45 years of fiddling and tuning, Porsche has honed the Turbo’s force-fed punch, infused luxury-car levels of refinement and ironed out the tendency for the car’s tail to lead it through corners when lifting off the throttle.
For ’09, Porsche continues the rear-engined 911’s march of continuous improvement with more-efficient, flat-6 powerplants and a raft of drivetrain and electronic updates aimed at further enhancing all-around livability.
In continuing the auto maker’s recent charge of boosting power and fuel economy with Direct Fuel Injection, the Carrera 4 and Carrera 4S (C4) coupe and cabriolet now feature new 3.6L (345 hp) and 3.8L (385 hp) DOHC 6-cyl. boxer engines, respectively, aided by the added security of electronic all-wheel-drive.
The new models, which have all the presence of the Turbo minus the whale-tail spoiler, are distinguished by 1.7-in. (4-cm) wider rumps vs. rear-wheel-drive variants, and reflective red bars between the new LED taillight clusters. LED running lights and signal markers also grace the noses of all ’09 models, as do bi-xenon headlamps that can be optioned to swivel around bends at night.
Most of our time outside Berlin here was spent in a Carrera 4, exploring the concrete playground of a decommissioned, Communist-era military base now used as a proving grounds by Michelin SA.
The venue’s wide-open runways and service roads proved ideal for experimenting with the 911’s improved traction aids, as well as probing limits otherwise unreachable on country roads and the congested Autobahn.
The biggest news for this mid-cycle freshening of the 997-edition 911 is the long-awaited 7-speed dual-clutch transmission in place of the previous 5-speed Tiptronic automatic.
Short for Porsche-Doppelkupplungsgetriebe, PDK works much like other DCTs, with automatic and manual-shift modes both allowing runs through the gearsets with lightning-fast precision. Toggling the chassis’ sport buttons can alter the aggression of the shifts, but most impressive is its ability to waft through the ratios on its own better than some of the best conventional automatics.
The PDK also is lighter and more efficient than the Tiptronic, allowing DCT-equipped 911s to achieve not only faster acceleration but better fuel economy than those fitted with the standard 6-speed manual.
After a long day, only the steering wheel shift buttons left us reluctant to fully embrace the new gearbox. The push/upshift, pull/downshift action feels unnatural in the heat of the moment, while their placement leaves them vulnerable to upshift-triggering swipes of the thumb during fast steering corrections.
Porsche says it just takes getting accostomed to, but the level of concentration feels more rewarding working the already-slick manual.
Where the PDK does excel, however, is the drag race. Using the launch control and SportPlus mode provided by the Sports Chrono Package Plus, engage Drive, depress the brake and floor the throttle. Once the engine freewheels to 6,500 rpm, release the brake and enjoy the slight chirp of AWD traction and 60 mph (97 km/h) being dispatched in 4.3 seconds (C4S).
Several 0-158-mph (255 km/h) sprints on the nearby airstrip reveal the S model to be a little deeper in tone and better endowed with top-end grunt than the standard car. The huge, 4-wheel disc brakes (slightly larger and with red calipers on S models) proved equally as capable from the lofty velocity, eliciting groan-inducing negative g’s as repeated panic stops halted the car in about 430 ft. (131 m) with zero fade.
|Vehicle type||Rear-engine, all-wheel-drive, 4-passenger coupe and convertible|
|Engine||3.6L/3.8L DOHC H-6|
|Power (SAE net)||345 hp/385 hp @ 6,500 rpm|
|Torque||287 lb.-ft./310 lb.-ft (390 Nm/410 Nm) @ 4,400 rpm|
|Transmission||7-speed dual-clutch automated manual or 6-speed manual|
|Wheelbase||92.5 ins. (235 cm)|
|Overall length||174.6 ins. (444 cm)|
|Overall width||72.9 ins. (185 cm)|
|Overall height||51.6 ins. (131 cm)|
|Curb weight||3,241 lbs.-3,450 lbs. (1,470 kg-1,565 kg)|
|Fuel economy||18/26 mpg (13/9 L/100 km)|
|Competition||Audi S5,GT-R, 400-hp Swiss Army Knife|
|Slick 7-speed DCT||Awkward shiftgear|
|More power, less fuel||Still quite expensive|
|Better infotainment||Not much else|
Other notables for the C4 have trickled down from high-end 911s, including the AWD system, which is nearly identical to the Turbo’s electro-mechanical setup.
The new arrangement reacts quicker and takes into account more dynamic variables than the Carrera’s previous viscous-coupling unit, Porsche says, while also allowing 100% of the power to be directed fore or aft, if needed.
The PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management) suspension, which integrates with the Porsche Stability Management system, also incorporates active-damping traits cribbed from the Turbo, GT3 and GT2, and can be further enhanced via a lowered and more-aggressive sports package.
Combined with the standard limited-slip rear differential and 3-stage PASM adjustability, the C4 claws at the pavement with aplomb, yet doesn’t feel burdened by the extra set of drive wheels. The PSM stability control is very progressive and offers welcome assistance in the wet without completely sidelining the fun of sliding around.
Another welcome improvement for ’09 is the latest version of the Porsche Communication Management infotaiment system in what is already a practical and usable interior.
Centered around a 6.5-in. (17-cm) touchscreen, the third-generation of PCM is vastly superior to past versions, with fewer, larger buttons and an intuitive layout incorporating a booming Bose audio system option, XM satellite radio and traffic updates, 3-D navigation, voice control, digital TV tuner and compatibility with nearly all personal electronics.
Because of Porsche’s extensive, á la Carte options list, both the standard and S models can be configured about the same without any two being completely identical, provided buyers can stomach being nickel-and-dimed well into six-figure territory with add-ons. Along with about 200 lbs. (91 kg) of extra weight, a convertible top will tack on about $10,000 to the coupes’ stickers.
Once acquainted with the 911’s quirks, however, the Carrera 4 seems worth the price of admission.
In an era of sports cars overwhelmed by the sheer intelligence of their circuit boards, Porsche’s new C4 is a refreshingly genuine driving experience – very analog in feel, despite the electronics, with about all the speed that can be used on public roads.
Add snow tires and it would be the ultimate antidote for a dreary Midwest winter.