Four wheels of fury
There's a good reason so many potential sports-car buyers dream of owning a 911. Actually, many reasons. You could point to its history, its racing success, its design, its everyday useability-or simply its amazingly well-rounded performance. No other sports car can claim to be as widely and universally appealing.
Nor can any other single sports car model claim to offer so many variants, so much optional equipment and as many different driving experiences. Want a turbo? Natural aspiration? Want a convertible? A targa top? A two-plus-two? A two-seater? An out-of-the-box racecar capable of performing at the highest level? Porsche 911 variants offer all of these and more.
So hot on the trail of the recently refreshed Carrera 2, the second-generation all-wheel-drive Carrera 4 is now reality. Chief on its list of updates is a brand-new all-wheel power distribution system derived from the 997 Turbo. Its Porsche Traction Management (PTM) employs an electronically controlled multi-plate clutch programmed to feed an optimum share of power and torque to the front axle. The system continually monitors and adapts to current conditions, offering split-second adjustments and intervening for wheel slip, understeer and oversteer, and taking steering angle, wheel speeds, and various dynamic signals into account.
PTM can direct up to 100 percent of current output in either direction. The system also features a standard limited-slip differential on the rear axle for dynamic at-the-limit driving. And speaking of dynamic, PTM also offers three-stage functionality, where the second stage feeds power forward less readily, or a third stage where the system is defeated entirely.
Flogging an admittedly snazzy Racing Green Metallic C4S around a fairly tight road course at Michelin's tire test facility-situated on a huge decommissioned airbase north of Berlin-really showed the multi-stage PTM's seeming clairvoyance. I've driven other all-wheel systems that claim to allow varying degrees of tail-out action, but PTM blows them all away in terms of the leeway it allows for slip, reportedly upwards of 40 degrees. The course featured a painted tarmac surface which gave up a fair amount of slip, and with PTM's second stage engaged (sport) gives the driver enviable license for sideways shenanigans before it intervenes. During one exceptionally tight lead-follow session, the guy just in front of me took one hairpin a little too wide, turned in too hard and ended up showing me the entire side of his car.
Thankfully, Porsche brakes are as impressive as ever (now with even bigger rotors) and shed sufficient speed to let Mr. Hamfist recover his composure.
The new C4 and C4S also offer all of the goodness found in the C2 re-release, along with completely new power units, current-generation PASM stability management with normal and sport modes, and the long-overdue PDK twin-clutch automated manual transmission.
Both the standard 3.6-liter flat six and the S's 3.8 have been re-tooled, offering new lightweight construction methods, along with direct fuel injection to improve both power and fuel economy. PDK is the long-awaited replacement for Tiptronic, and offers either seamless automatic shifts or full and instantaneous manual operation using either the central gear lever or wheel-mounted, push-pull paddles.
PDK customers may opt for the Sport Chrono Package, which along with that nifty dash-mounted stopwatch also features a built-in "launch mode" which can shave up to four tenths of a second off the zero-to-60 elapsed time. We were given a chance to test this too, accelerating to 160 mph, and then panic-braking to zero. Our Racing Green test car-the same one we drove in, the same one we flogged around the test tracks, and the same one we drove out-was picked randomly as the designated beater for this exercise, performing the feat a dozen or more times in rapid succession and clearly illustrating the 911's huge capacity for absorbing punishment.
Both the 911 Carrera 4 and Carrera 4S are available in either coupe or cabriolet configurations and are distinguished from their rear-drive C2 brothers with a wider rear track and overall wider rear end (one and a quarter inches wider than the C2). There's also a retro-styled red reflector strip connecting the LED-accented taillamps that may inspire wistful feelings of nostagia for the air-cooled good old days.
Don't go getting all misty-eyed on me, though. The 2009 911, whether you like to be driven by two wheels or four, really is the best 911 yet.
2009 Porsche 911 Carrera 4
Longitudinal rear engine, all-wheel drive
3.6-liter flat six, dohc, 24-valve (C4)
3.8-liter flat six, dohc, 24-valve (C4S)
Six-speed manual; optional seven-speed sequential manual
F: MacPherson spring strut front axle, independent wheel suspension on track control arms, longitudinal arms and spring struts
R: Multi-arm axle, independent wheel suspension on five track arms, cylindrical coil springs with coaxial inner-mounted dampers
Four-piston aluminum monoblock calipers, cross-drilled and ventilated rotors
Length/Width/Height (in.): 174.6/72.9/51.6
Wheelbase: 92.5 in.
Curb Weight: 3,418 lb
345 hp @ 6500 rpm (C4)
385 hp @ 6500 rpm (C4S)
287 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm (C4)
310 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm (C4S)
4.8 sec. (C4)
4.5 sec. (C4S)
176 mph (C4)
185 mph (C4S