DRIVEN: 2009 Porsche 911 Carrera 4 and Carrera 4S

By David Gluckman - August 6, 2008
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The Porsche 911 is a lot like a Coke bottle. (Follow me on this one, please.) Think about it: Both have shapely, wider-at-the-hips figures. Both have evolved over the years for purposes of weight savings and to stay fresh. And, when opened up, both provide a distinctive sensory experience.
That Coke-bottle shape is nowhere more evident than on the Carrera 4 and Carrera 4S, the all-wheel-drive variants of Porsche's iconic sports car. We recently spent some time with both models in the middle of a heat wave in Germany. We cracked open multiple bottles of the sweet brown stuff to help keep cool. And, as luck would have it, Porsche handed us the keys to a convertible.
A timeless design.
0808 08 Z+2009 Porsche 911 Carrera 4 Coupe+front Three Quarter View
You won't mistake the newest 911 for anything but a rear-engine Porsche, but there have been some styling changes to help differentiate the revised 997-series 911 from the 2005-2007 models. Headlights are now bi-xenon units and are complemented by LED daytime running lights that sit below them in the front fascia. The taillights make use of LEDs as well and dip down further into the rear fascia. Carrera 4 and 4S cars also get a red reflective band that spans the gap between the taillights - this is supposed to highlight their 1.73-inch-wider rear and is the only way to quickly discern the new all-wheel-drive cars from the old, or from any other 911 on the road for that matter.
It's got gadgets and gizmos aplenty.
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The latest version of Porsche Communication Management loses some hard buttons in favor of a larger, touchscreen display. It adds all-important iPod connectivity and can also talk to USB devices or accept an analog signal through its auxiliary jack. The menu structure is logical and easy to use - there's no special new-generation interface and controller to learn as with systems from the other German manufacturers. We like having the ability to scroll quickly through a long list of albums or artists with the swipe of a finger instead of twirling a knob repeatedly to reach the end of the alphabet. Voice control allows the driver to speak commands for the stereo as well as the optional navigation system and phone modules.
A different kind of sound system.
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But who needs a fancy audio system when there's such a nice sound coming from the rear of the car? The two new flat-six engines introduced recently in the rear-wheel-drive Carreras also find their way to the business ends of the 4 and 4S models. Their displacements - 3.6 liters for the 4, 3.8 liters for the 4S - are about all that stays the same from the last cars. Power and fuel economy are both increased thanks to the addition of direct fuel injection. The Carrera 4 engine now makes 20 hp more for a total of 345 hp, while the 4S puts down 385 hp, or 30 hp more than its predecessor. The thirstiest of the lot, the Carrera 4S cabriolet, still manages a combined 21 mpg. And the new powerplants sound as good as ever.
0808 14 Z+2009 Porsche 911 Carrera 4+pDK
The newfound power can still be fed through a six-speed manual that has been strengthened for the engines' higher outputs. The big transmission news, however, is Porsche's Doppelkupplungsgetriebe (double-clutch gearbox) that replaces the old Tiptronic S automatic. PDK has two more forward ratios - seven versus the Tiptronic's five - and cuts 0-to-62-mph times by 0.8 second compared with Tiptronic-equipped Carrera 4 and 4S predecessors. It's available as a $4080 option.
In normal mode, shifts are heard and not felt. The transmission takes into account a variety of factors to ensure that the correct gear is selected - and the appropriate subsequent gear is pre-selected by the other clutch - at all times. Drivers can also change gears manually either by using the steering wheel-mounted paddles or the console shift lever. (Some feel that the push forward for upshift, pull backward for downshift layout is backward and counterintuitive. Porsche chose to keep things consistent with the Tiptronic's layout for historical reasons, and its engineers believe owners will easily learn the system.) Regardless of how you shift it, PDK is one of the best dual-clutch gearboxes we've experienced.
0808 09 Z+2009 Porsche 911 Carrera 4 Coupe+front Three Quarter View
Cars equipped with the Sport Chrono Package Plus allow drivers to choose three different shift aggressiveness levels - Normal, Sport, and Sportplus. Pressing the Sportplus button is the first step toward initiating the launch control sequence on PDK cars; standing on the brake and stabbing the throttle to the floor tells the engine to rev to 6500 rpm, and releasing the brake sends the message to the transmission and new all-wheel-drive system to let the right things slip and grip, allowing the quickest possible launch. When Launch Control is employed, 0.2 second is knocked off of 0-to-62-mph times across the board, with the Carrera 4S coupe leading the way with a time of 4.3 seconds.
All systems go.
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We got the chance to experience the techno-wizardry that is Launch Control on a former Russian airstrip (now part of the Michelin Drive Center in Groß Dölln, Germany) where we reached a speed of 255.1 km/h (158.5 mph) over a distance of 1.7 km (1.1 miles) before hitting the brakes for a full emergency stop. The launch was impressive, to say the least, and we appreciated the simple launch procedure. We were also impressed that the same car went up and down the strip about ten times in a row without breaking a sweat.
Aiding Launch Control in its task of catapulting the 911 out of the gate is the new electronically controlled all-wheel-drive system. Porsche Traction Management was taken directly from the 911 Turbo and replaces the viscous coupling that was in the previous Carrera 4 and 4S. The system can vary the torque split front-to-rear in any ratio within 0.1 second and is only limited by the front axle's 295-lb-ft maximum. It uses lots of signals - like steering angle, wheel slip, and lateral and longitudinal acceleration - and, as we discovered on a special low-mu track, does a superb job of shuttling power around to make any driver look like a hero, even on a slippery surface. As long as the driver stays in the throttle, the car will also avoid the need for the stability program to intervene by way of the brakes.
As stable as ever.
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Porsche continues to offer two suspensions on the 911, and both have been retuned for this update. A passive suspension is standard on the Carrera 4, while the Porsche Active Suspension Management system is included on Carrera 4S and optional on the base car. New for 2009 is a PASM sport suspension that offers stiffer springs and lowers ride height by 0.8 inch.
Big, fade-free brakes are still part of the package as well. Brake discs on both the 4 and 4S now measure 13 inches in diameter at all four corners, while the optional carbon-ceramic discs measure 13.8 inches across. The carbon ceramics weigh about half as much as their metal counterparts and wear less, which helps reduce brake dust. And their four- and six-piston calipers are painted mustard yellow. Our best test of the brakes came when it was time to haul a Carrera 4S coupe from 158 mph to zero after the aforementioned Launch Control run.
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Porsche Stability Management communicates with some of the other P-acronyms, including PTM and PASM, to help keep the 911 going down the road. We saw this partnership in action on a wet slalom where we first went through with everything on, then again with PSM turned off (not recommended unless you've got plenty of room to spin). PSM certainly did its job, letting us get through the slippery slalom with confidence and decent speed.
Can't beat the real thing.
Accept no imitators. The 911, in its latest iteration, is the real thing. If all-wheel-drive performance is what you want, there aren't too many options this side of an Audi R8 or Lamborghini Gallardo. And that's like replacing a Coke with a Red Bull or an espresso; the 4 and 4S are just much more livable. We'd rather have a 911 and a smile.
0808 02 Z+2009 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet+side View
2009 Porsche 911 Carrera 4 Coupe and Cabriolet
Base Price (coupe/cabriolet): $82,650/$93,250
Powertrain
Engine: 3.6-liter DOHC 24-valve flat-six
Horsepower: 345 hp @ 6500 rpm
Torque: 287 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual, 7-speed automated manual
Drive: All-wheel
Measurements
L x W x H: 174.6/72.9/51.6 in
Cargo capacity: 3.7 cu ft
Curb Weight (coupe/cabriolet): 3241/3418 lb
EPA Rating (city/highway): 19/28 mpg (est.)
2009 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S Coupe and Cabriolet
Base Price (coupe/cabriolet): $93,250/$103,850
Powertrain
Engine: 3.8-liter DOHC 24-valve flat-six
Horsepower: 385 hp @ 6500 rpm
Torque: 310 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual, 7-speed automated manual
Drive: All-wheel
Measurements
L x W x H: 174.6/72.9/51.6 in
Cargo capacity: 3.7 cu ft
Curb Weight (coupe.cabriolet): 3263/3450 lb
EPA Rating (city/highway): 18/27 mpg (est.)

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