I’ve awoken to a winter wonderland. The clouds have opened overnight and the black tarred roads I went to sleep with are now dusted in white.
Normally this is a cue for crisis at an international Porsche launch – especially one where the car concerned is of a sporting variety and the heavy pendulum of an engine mounted above its rear axle is ready and willing to spin a journalist into snowy oblivion at the first icy bend. But this is no ordinary 911.
This is the new Carrera 4, and it’s as if Porsche has rung ahead and specially ordered the slippery surface to demonstrate its all-wheel drive system on.
The Carrera 4 by name is not new. In fact, it’s around 23 years old. Even older is the ambiguous origin of a four-wheel-driven 911. While Porsche was fitting special drivetrains into Dakar Rally entries as far back as 1984, the technically correct answer, as far as I’m concerned anyway, is 1985, when the legendary 959 was put into limited production.
The Carrera 4, or C4, launched in frosty Austria last week, however, is built on the current 991 generation platform that debuted early this year.
This means it’s the all-new, sleeker-bodied and cosier-interiored version of the 911 that’s been on sale in South Africa since March, but with the latest Porsche Traction Management (PTM) system that can direct power between rear and front wheels as needed.
On the outside, the C4 is almost identical to the two-wheel drive Carrera.
Trained eyes will notice slightly different air intakes in the bumper, black side sills and a set of rear-wheel arches widened by 22mm on each side to accommodate wider rubber, but the easiest way to spot the difference is between the C4’s tail lights, which are connected with a red panel just as in all previous Carrera 4 derivatives. For the first time, this panel is lighted.
On dry roads, the new C4’s driving characteristics are virtually indistinguishable from its rear-wheel drive counterpart. The 991’s new electric power steering still twirls as easily and directly, the suspension still translates with finesse what the road beneath is saying, and the cabin is still dominated by the rasp of the flat six at the back.
EATS THE ICE
But, when ice and snow (or rain in our market) interfere with grip, the PTM system shines. At the highest part of our test route, where the Austrian snowplows had not yet been, the C4 kept a pace that would make Porsche-driving 1984 Dakar winner René Metge proud.
With traction control on, the 911 Carrera 4 tracks straight and true as if the road was dry and clear. That is so long as you don’t stupidly stomp the brakes and yank the wheel – these are the basics of snow driving, people – but even if you do, the ABS system will grab and release individual wheels as best it can to keep all in order. Turn the traction off and the car will four-wheel drift nice and controllably, up until the PTM system sends drive to the front, dragging the rear back in line.
As with normal Carreras, the new 4 will be offered in 3.4- or 3.8-litre S versions, meaning power outputs range from either 257kW and 390Nm, or 294 and 440 respectively. Both will also be available in hard-roofed coupé or soft-top convertible guise as well. All four models will be launched in South Africa during the first quarter of 2013.
As usual Porsche’s 7-speed PDK automatic is offered as standard equipment, with a novel 7-speed manual available as an option. Interestingly, Porsche South Africa has so far only sold one manual 991.
Other new features now available in all 991s include radar cruise control, a new sliding glass roof, and an automatic heel-toe downshift on manual versions.
Is the extra cost of an all-wheel drive ranging from R154 000 and R172 000 (depending on model) worth it in our market? Probably not. But if the Carrera 4 can handle snowy Austrian Alps as well as it does, it can handle sunny (and sometimes rainy) South Africa with ease. -Star Motoring
Porsche 911 Carrera 4 Coupé - R1 193 000
Porsche 911 Carrera 4 Cabriolet - R1 322 000
Porsche 911 Carrera 4S Coupé - R 1 347 000
Porsche 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet - R1 481 000
- All models include Porsche’s 5-year/90 000km drive plan