Engine: 3.8 litres, six cylinders, normally aspirated
Top speed: 185mph
Power: 397bhp at 7400rpm
Fuel/CO2: 28.5mpg, 234g/km
What is it that makes people purchase a fourwheel-drive 911 in Britain? In mountainous countries where snow is a perennial problem and winter tyres are compulsory during the season, I can easily see the sense. An all-wheel-drive 911 on winter rubber is a truly formidable device for covering ground quickly in marginal conditions.
Here, the motivation is far less clear. The all-wheeldrive 911 costs £7000 more than its rear-drive sister and adds 50kg to your kerb weight. The question is, to what benefit?
To find out I drove a 911 Carrera 4S on summer tyres in conditions that included wet, damp, dry and with the lightest covering of snow. Almost all the time the car coped spectacularly well or, put another way, exactly as expected. Of course it has massive traction, but what 911 was ever lacking in this area? With a limited-slip differential and a large flatsix motor over its rear wheels, it would catapult you out of almost any corner you’d care to tackle on a public road without the need for front driveshaffs. I’ve driven 10 or more two-wheel-drive versions of the new 991-series 911 and not once found its traction inadequate.
The 4S also generates mighty cornering forces, capable according to the liffle meter on the dash of up to 1.1g in steady-state cornering on a slightly damp constant-radius curve. But is that any beffer than a two-wheel-drive 911 would manage? There is no reason to think so. And, of course, there’d be no advantage under braking either. So what does it bring?
On slush and light snow it certainly accrues speed faster effectively behaving like it was on dry Tarmac, but with no beffer cornering or braking power I leave it to you to decide if that’s a good thing or not. What it does do is compromise further the steering feel or lack thereof in a car that has already drawn substantial criticism in this area relative to its predecessor. Despite the extra nose weight the steering, while accurate and positive, feels too light when cornering forces build and is lacking in feedback.
I think its main draw is the added sense of security be it perceived or real that it brings. I suspect there remains lurking doubt about the fundamental stability of the 911 in extremis and a belief that 4WD provides a solution. Understandable though both these ideas are, neither is related to the modern-day truth.
That said, a drive in a new 911 is to remind you just how far Porsche has come with this car. Less interactive may be on the right road but the rest of the time, which is mostly, the advances in ride, refinement, stability and interior design are startling. I’m even starting to like the seven-speed manual, though I still find it astonishing that a car that came to me sufficiently loaded with options to command a sixfigure price tag can still not offer a DAB radio.
In short, the Carrera 4S shows that for all that’s changed about the newest model of 911, one thing remains as true today as it did 10, 20 and 30 years ago: among mainstream 911s (so excepting GT3 and GT2 esoterica), the cheapest is, was and I suspect will always remain the best.