PLEASE BE ADVISED that the weather forecast for Austria is pretty poor. Snow is expected, so we’ll have the opportunity to test the all-wheel drive system to the max!’ These are the parting words from our South African liaison at Porsche as we head off to test the latest iterations of 911 – the Carrera 4 and 4S Coupe and Cabriolet. As a sunny South African, my experience of snow driving is limited to burying WRC cars into snow banks on the PlayStation. Not entirely relevant as I’m unlikely to find a reset switch amongst the Porsche’s multi-button centre stack (Note to Porsche engineers: this would be a useful invention…) In any event, this was going to be a memorable drive.
Sure enough, we were surrounded by the white stuff as we stepped out towards our 3.8-litre flat-six, 294kW, 440Nm, double-clutch 4S chariot. By contrast, the Carrera 4 makes do with 257kW and 390Nm from its smaller 3.4-litre flat-six. Wary of the treacherous conditions that lay in wait, I was quietly content that I had the paddle-shift PDK version at hand. The last thing you want when you’re mid-way through a loss-of-grip moment is to be minus one hand while fiddling for a gear change. Anyway, the PDK variant has a faster sprint time and returns slightly better fuel economy than the seven-speed manual.
The conditions for the first stint of the 200km round trip were quite agreeable, the road surface a little wet but there was no sign of the dreaded black ice. Taking the opportunity to get a feel for the 4S, I pushed the sports exhaust button and engaged Sport Plus mode (available only with the optional Sport Chrono package), thereby putting the car in full attack mode before opening the taps. Winding my way to the foothills of the Alps, the nostalgic beat of the flat-six purred away until the opportunity arose to unleash the throttle. The exhaust flaps bark into life, releasing a crisp, linear and wholly erotic rasp, egging me on to go faster.
The 4S is 44mm wider than its two-wheel drive Carrera 4 sibling and has 10mm wider wheels to boot. The 4S’s all-wheel drive is aided by Porsche’s Traction Management system, which distributes drive between the front and rear wheels (in less than a tenth of a second!) depending on where the system feels it will be most beneficial. A display within the instrument cluster shows where the drive is being apportioned in real time.
Reveling in the extra grip the all-wheel drive was giving me, I continued to push in the drier sections. The electric-assisted steering that has been a hot topic on this new 991 derivative is nicely weighted and provides direct and precise turn-in. Flicking from corner to corner is where the Porsche really excels; it feels light on its feet like a track athlete in peak physical fitness. With most of the drive sent to the rear, you get the feeling the 4S turns from the hips, the whole car darting in and out of corners. It develops a fantastic rhythm and I feel secure at the wheel, the fun factor reaching sky high.
Into the Alps where overnight snow weighs heavily on the thousands of pine trees flanking the tight mountain passes. Every so often the burden of snow proves too much for the wilting branches and a dollop would drop onto the road, seemingly deliberately landing on my chosen apex point. This is when it starts to get hair raising, even with the winter spec tyres that had been fitted. At some points I was expecting to plough straight on into a white fluffy bank, and at others to have the tail whip around and hurtle me through someone’s white-coated hedgerow. But no, not even an inkling of such a misdeed, the Porsche proving to be reassuringly sure-footed. I’ve never been so glad to return a completely dent-free and shiny Carrera 4S.
Some people may argue that all-wheel drive is more of a gimmick than it is useful in everyday applications, but in regions like this where traction is subdued by nature, I can see why 34% of buyers of the previous generation of 911 opted for all-wheel drive.
NEED TO KNOW
PORSCHE 911 CARRERA 4S COUPE
ENGINE 3800cc, flat-six petrol, 294kW @ 7400rpm, 400Nm @ 5600rpm
TRANSMISSION Seven-speed double-clutch PDK, all-wheel drive
SUSPENSION MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear, adaptive damping all round
PERFORMANCE 4.1secs 0-100kph, 297kph top speed, 9.1ℓ/100km, 234g/km
ON SALE 2013