New Car/Review

Porsche 911 Carrera 4

by Nick Hromiak

Porsche 911 Carrera 4 (5:30) 28.8, 56k or 200k

For the first time in 34 years, Porsche's famous 911 has been redesigned. The '99 model sports a more aero shape, roomier interior, a blazing 296-hp engine and a state-of-the-art stability management system.

The "4" following the Carrera name represents the all-wheel drive version of the 911. It's a superb system that is unprecedented in any sportscar, particularly when combined with Porsche's Stability Management System (PSM).

PSM combines longitudinal control systems such as anti-lock brakes, traction control and Automatic Brake Differential (ABD) with lateral control tailored specifically for Porsche's 4WD system.

Brake intervention and automatic engine power control keep the car stable. Oversteer is minimized by automatically applying the brake on the outer front wheel in a bend. Understeer is minimized by applying the brake on the inner rear wheel.

This is an amazing system which has to be driven to be appreciated. While I've driven other cars with stability systems, none were as impressive as Porsche's, particularly in a powerful performer like the 911 Carrera 4.

I had an opportunity to test the Carrera 4 with PSM at Road Atlanta, a Georgia race track that caters to sports car and open wheel racing. Porsche personnel demonstrated the effectiveness of PSM on a water coated, saucer-like track within the infield of this prestigious racetrack. Driving the Carrera 4 (C-4) in circles, gaining speed with each lap, demonstrated how well PSM worked. The rear end of the C-4 wouldn't come around in the continuous turns. Even when flooring the throttle it remained stable and instantaneously recovered despite lap speeds of 40 mph. Less speed than this would throw any other car out of control on the slick surface.

But once PSM was shut off by a dash mounted switch, the car spun 360 degrees and was uncontrollable. Similar to driving on glare ice.

The next test was a serpentine course that was partially wet from a morning rain. The C-4 hugged the sharp, tight, 90 degree turns like an Indy car. Switch off PSM and the C-4 slid off the one-lane asphalt track and onto the grassy, mushy shoulders.

It's difficult to err in this car although Porsche personnel cautioned that even PSM cannot beat the laws of gravity. The driving experience brought wide grins and words like "wow" and "incredible" from the assembled auto media testing the C-4s.

Carrera 4 is powered by a 3.4-liter six-cylinder water-cooled boxer engine that produces 296-hp at 6800 rpm. Maximum torque is rated at 258 ft/lbs at 4600 rpm. Coupled to either Porsche's slick shifting 5-speed Tiptronic S automatic transmission that allows shifting for yourself, or smooth 6-speed manual gearbox, either choice moves this sports car with zest and vigor.

As the C-4 comes in Coupe or Cabriolet (convertible), I tested the Coupe which was tight, had no squeaks, rattles or wind noise. And the full-time 4WD system assisted nicely in providing accurate, agile steering behavior in sharp turns.

Porsche points out that aside from improved traction on slick roadways, 4WD has other everyday advantages like firm directional stability at highway speeds and reduced sensitivity to cross winds.

Grip is excellent with 17-inch low-profile Pirelli tires. If you want more hold, opt for the optional 18-inchers. To supplement this traction, a sports suspension with shorter, firmer springs, reinforced safety bars and firmer gas shocks are available. Even without these extras, the Carrera 4 is thrilling to drive and exceptionally comfortable for a four seat sports coupe.

Compared to prior 911s, the wheelbase of the new 911 has been increased 3.2 inches, overall length was stretched 6.8 inches and width has grown 1.2 inches. These enlargements provide greater passenger space to include some additional cargo space behind the rear seats.

The front bucket seats are very supportive, a bit firm, but comfortable over long hauls as I discovered after a four hour jaunt through Georgia countryside and the switchback turns in the Chattahoochee National Forest. The rear seats, however, are suited mainly for two youngsters, a pet or grocery bags.

While the high-performance Carrera 4 is not for everyone, it is indeed a driving enthusiasts car. It's also one for the well-heeled with its $70,920 sticker price. But thanks to modern manufacturing, this price is $2,500 less than the coupe is replaces. Opt for two- wheel drive and you can lope off $5,600.

Porsche dealers already have a waiting list for C-4s. Better get on it as only 7,000 will be built this year.

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