There is no such thing as the perfect car. Or is there?
Words by: Adam Allen
You guys are so predictable.
Wait- allow us to explain. Anyone who spends a week in Porsche’s iconic 911- die hard enthusiast or otherwise- will reluctantly come to the same conclusion, and that is that despite the 911’s flaws, it is as near perfect as a car can get. Perfection does not come cheap, as we will see, but darned if the 911 doesn’t cause you to quietly tally of your bank accounts wondering if you have the financial fortitude to put one in your driveway. As a sports car, it is almost peerless- there really ins’t anything else quite like it on sale today, resolutely sticking to the rear engine architecture since it debuted in 1963. As an automotive experience, it’s transcendent.
(Sigh) OK, we’ll bite. Tell us what makes the 911 so good.
We can start by telling you that driving the 911- a car that is well out of our means yet caused us to contemplate liquidating what assets we have to own one. After returning the keys we came to a harsh realization- that the 911 Carrera is so good and provides such an incredible experience if you value driving but one iota it kind of ruins you for other cars. Cars that once felt fast and lithe begin to feel ponderous and slow- we drove a colleague’s brand new Audi S4 not long after parting ways with the Porsche and thought that there might be a few hundred excess pounds in the trunk or that maybe we’d left the parking brake on; in either case all was completely normal. The alert, precise and expertly honed nature of the 911 really is next level. The steering embodies these characteristics too, which is rare for an electrically assisted rack. The feedback and chatters coming through the steering wheel are so vivid and talkative that it feels like you are lightly dragging the tips of your fingers along the road’s surface. Meanwhile, the drivetrain serves up some magic of its own. The flat six engine- twin turbocharged and displacing a nice, even 3.0 litres- has a soundtrack that fires every pleasure synapse in your brain, reaching a glorious crescendo as you approach the 7,500 rpm redline. Nowadays, the trademark raspy thrum of the Carrera is augmented by the wheeze-puff of the turbos. Do we miss the naturally aspirated versions of this engine? Yes. But it should be noted that turbocharged engines that respond as quickly as the flat six does when you twitch your throttle foot are in truly short supply. If you want a study in quick response, you should look no further than the PDK gearbox. We love this hardware in any Porsche we have sampled so equipped, but in the 911 it somehow feels even more alert. As easily as it will shuffle through ratios when you are asking it to dance, so too will it leisurely melt one gear into another around town. The transmission’s overall goodness is such that we began to feel guilty about not using the paddle shifters because if we left it to its own device it never let us down, banging down through the gears expertly as we’d approach a corner the very same way Patrick Long would do with his own hands and feet at Mosport. We wondered why other manufacturers aren’t trying harder to reverse engineer the 911’s PDK, and while they are at it, they might want to take a look at the braking system- never fade performance combined with pedal feel that is nigh on perfect.
All that stuff is great, but during our week of relishing our near supercar experience we were reminded that life is not all apex storming and redline blitzing; it’s easy to overlook how well the Porsche handles the real life stuff. Kids need to be transported to the local splash pad, and the occasional stop into the grocery store is always top of mind. The 911 happily did all that it was asked, and it occurred to us that if you were to do such things in say, a Ferrari, it would be a miserable trip. For one thing, the 911 has it soundly beat on outward visibility, and the interior trim panels will remain in place. When the Italian Stallion has to stop for gas (again?) the 911 will keep on truckin’ because if you aren’t asking the turbos to blow with all their might it can be amazingly efficient- on one trip we saw an average of 9.9L/100km! Oh, and if the skies should open as they tend to do during the summer’s heat, the 911 will politely suggest to you that you might want to consider engaging Wet Mode, which alters the throttle sensitivity and the PDK’s behaviour to suit the conditions. This happens because there are small microphones in the wheel wells listening for the telltale sizzle of tires meeting tarmac through a sheen of water. Did we mention that you can easily use it throughout all four seasons? Your move, Ferrari.
It’s almost like you ignored the interior.
We didn’t ignore it; we were just so enamoured by driving the 911 that the interiors brilliance was kind of an afterthought. After looking through all the images we took, we recalled that our Porsche sported some pretty classy digs. The Truffle Brown leather was a gorgeous contrast to the Aventurine Green Metallic paint, and it covers every single surface you see and touch. The console has been scrubbed clean of all buttons, so now nearly every function is controlled by the touchscreen infotainment system. It is by no means flashy, but it easily gets the job done- we had no complaints about weirdly laid out menus or response times that might leave us frustrated. The Burmester stereo was worth the $4,500 it costs and despite the sports car genes that underpin this machine it proved to be a rather excellent highway companion. See, we didn’t ignore it.
What might go wrong?
While the 911 Carrera 4S and the word perfection get used often in the same sentence around these parts, it is just shy of it. Let us start with the door handles. Why, Porsche, did you choose to use these finicky electrically actuated handles instead of the tried and true design you have stuck with for all these years? They are complicated and fussy for the sake of being complicated and fussy. Next, skip the Adaptive Sport Seats ($3,960). They are great for the 5% of the time you’re in Maximum Attack mode, but far too stiff and unyielding the rest of the 95%, so unless you live near a track save yourself the four grand. The last bit that had us mildly bent out of shape was once we found a comfortable driving position the steering wheel’s rim obscured the gauge cluster.
Should I buy a Porsche 911 4S?
No, you should not. Kidding. Of course you should! We get, the price for admission is, um, aspirational for most of us but trust us when we say you want this car. This is still at its core a machine- albeit one obsessively honed and updated since 1963- but it felt like much more than that. The 911 is one of the exceedingly rare cars that elevates your heart rate in anticipation and then allows for a silly grin to be plastered across one’s face, even on such mundane drives as commuting to work. Friends and neighbors would emerge after a spin around the block and you could see not only unbridled joy but the lightbulbs going off on top of their heads- this is consistent with the behaviour typical of someone who has recently discovered the excellence of Porsche’s iconic model. And isn't that what it's all about folks? Who cares about horsepower, handling g's and braking distances if a car can put a big old smile on your face every time you drive it alone or with passengers? Forgive us if as you read this you are questioning the unblinking, unbiased eye of the automotive expert and whether it has been compromised. We admit that the 911 Carrera 4S is a car that worms its way into your psyche and that it can cause momentary lapses in usurping our resolve towards objectivity- we blame the car for that. Oh, who are we kidding 911, we can’t stay mad at you!
2020 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S – Specifications
- Price as tested: $187,800
- Body Type: 2+2 4 passenger coupe
- Powertrain Layout: Rear engine/all-wheel drive
- Engine: 3.0 litre twin turbo horizontally opposed 6-cylinder, DOHC, 24 valves
- Horsepower: 443 @ 6,500 rpm
- Torque (lb-ft.): 390 @ 2,300 rpm
- Transmission: 8-speed PDK automatic
- Curb weight: 1,596 kg (3,518 lbs)
- Observed Fuel Economy: 13.1/100km (18 mpg)