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Really driven: New Porsche Carrera 4S

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Copy of mo 911 ice

Because Porsches lack a certain styling pizzazz compared to the likes of Ferrari and Lamborghini, non-Porsche owners could be forgiven for thinking them somewhat conservative.

Until you drive one, that is, and discover that beneath the business suit resides a party animal that can rock the world of a driving purist.

So it is with the iconic 911, which Porsche has been honing into the world’s most accomplished sports car over the past five decades, culminating in the inspired 991-series Carrera introduced in 2012. Initially available in rear-wheel drive, it was recently joined by the all-wheel drive Carrera 4 which comes with the same two normally-aspirated flat-six engine variants: the 3.4 Carrera 4 with 270kW and 390Nm outputs, and the 3.8 Carrera 4S - the subject of this test – with 294kW and 440Nm of huff and puff.

PUFFED-OUT WHEEL ARCHES

The Carrera 4 is recognisable by its more puffed-out wheel arches accommodating wider tyres. The extra width is accentuated by an illuminated strip linking the two tail lights, a traditional Carrera 4S styling trait which gives the car a particularly stand-out look at night.

Under that buffed body there’s a Porsche Traction Management all-wheel drive system that employs a multi-plate clutch to vary the torque between the front and rear wheels for changing grip conditions.

Copy of mo carrera 4S

For those worried that all-wheel drive might create an understeering 911, fear not; it’s a rear-biased system that resists nose-heaviness and allows the car to hug corners like an affectionate cat rubbing against your legs. The all-wheel drive workings are displayed in real-time by a digital graph in the instrument cluster - a first-time feature in a Carrera 4.

CLINGING TO THE CURVES

I was surprised to learn that 40 percent of South African buyers opt for the all-wheel drive Carrera, which is pricier than the rear-wheel drive version. Unless you’re driving on dirt or ice, neither of which a 911 is likely to be subjected to in this country, the 4S doesn’t give any noticeable traction benefit over the two-wheel drive Carrera. On tar – whether wet or dry – there’s very little to tell the two cars apart in terms of grip and handling feel; they both cling to curves like a swimsuit to a Miss Universe contestant. The rear-wheel drive Carrera’s electronic stability control ensures all the traction you’d ever need at this mild-weathered latitude, and the Carrera 4 is really made for countries with icy winter climes, where drive to both axles is truly an advantage.

The rear wheel drive Carrera’s admittedly more tail-happy in extreme driving – even on tar – when the stability control’s switched off, but this is a trait likely preferred by the kind of driver who would choose to drive without the electronic nanny.

SEVEN-SPEED GEARBOX

The new 911 range is available with the world’s first seven-speed manual gearbox, but most customers opt for the PDK dual-clutch automatic – for good reason. Not only does it whip through gearshifts with the swiftness of a hurricane through a house of cards, but it gets to 100km/h 0.2 seconds quicker than the manual. Equipped with PDK and an optional Sports Chrono package with launch control, our Carrera 4S test car zoomed to 100 in 5.4 seconds at Gauteng altitude – those lucky enough to live at sea level can expect 4.1 seconds.

Copy of mo 4S clocks

Drive is very rear biased in dry conditions.

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The Porsche displays train-like directional stability as it hauls ass to its 297km/h top speed, its perfectly weighted steering composed in your hands as the scenery blurs past. The standout trait of a 911 – whichever model you drive – is how it fuses corner-clinging competence with real-world ride comfort. One minute it can be smoothly commuting through urban traffic, the next it can be setting bad-ass laptimes around a racetrack, howling like a banshee (especially if you choose the optional sports exhaust).

This dual character comes into even sharper focus if you choose the aforementioned Sports Chrono optional package, whereby the suspension, steering and gearshifts can be set into full track-attack mode.

The 991-series Carrera is lighter than the previous-generation 997, with commensurate fuel savings. Our test car averaged 13 litres per 100km, which is impressively economical for a sports car.

VERDICT

There are faster and more outlandish sports cars, but few offer a more rewarding drive than a Porsche 911. After 50 years of development it’s the closest thing you get to a perfect driving experience. It’s the thinking-person’s sports car, laying on thrills without a spine-crushing ride and impossibly low ride height.

As to whether the R1 347 000 Carrera 4S is worth 105 grand more than its two-wheel drive counterpart, my answer would be probably not (even if 40 percent of Porsche buyers disagree with me), as South Africa doesn’t have the conditions to really justify it. Personally, I’d go for a rear-wheel drive Carrera S with a R22 420 Sports Chrono package and a R36 650 sports exhaust. The rest would be spent on track days and tyres. - Star Motoring

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