All systems go.
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.
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.
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.