2009 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S
I know this isn't the first thing I should be commenting on after my first-ever drive in a Porsche 911, but, wow, what a gorgeous interior. The no-nonsense, leather-swathed cabin says "expensive and fast" better than our Audi R8, with all of its carbon fiber trim, or our Nissan GT-R, with its multiple electronic display screens.
Otherwise, it's difficult to draw any comparison between the 911 and other performance cars. Everything about it, from the ignition on the left side of the steering column to the decidedly unconventional pitter-patter of the 3.8-liter flat six, tells you this is not like any other car. Oh, and the engine is behind you. My more experienced coworkers tell me Porsche has tamed the 911 a great deal from its tail-spinning days, but you can still tell this is not your typical vehicle the first time you turn into a corner and realize you've automatically compensated for understeer that, in this case, doesn't exist. The 4S holds the road tenaciously, which, frankly, scares the hell out of me because I'm not sure when all that grip will translate into a catastrophic loss of grip. I'm sure I'd overcome that fear after a day or so, though.
My only regret about my first 911 experience is that it did not include a clutch pedal. Yes, the PDK dual-clutch automatic is smooth, smart, and quicker than I could ever possibly be. But the awkward shift paddles (push either side for upshift; pull for downshift) require you to focus rather hard on the act of changing gears - not a good thing when you're going fast - or let the transmission think for itself. More to the point, if fast vehicles were simply a matter of going as quickly as possible, there'd be no reason to pick a 911 over a GT-R, a Chevrolet Corvette Z06, or for that matter, plane tickets. Since we celebrate the experience of driving, and driving a 911 is all about the experience, I hope my next 911 has three pedals.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
The Porsche 911 has always been one of my favorite cars, and after driving the C4S, I can safely say that I haven't changed my mind. At $110,000 as tested, this is a very expensive car, but when you're behind the wheel, the pleasure you get from driving the 911 is priceless. Fire up the engine, and you can tell just from the sound that you're in a Porsche. The steering is precise, the brakes are very responsive, and the chassis tuning is just about perfect - the sport suspension in the S model, while set up for aggressive driving, isn't harsh or punishing during daily driving.
Porsche's PDK automatic transmission is among the best dual-clutch units on the market. A touch of the steering wheel buttons--push from behind for a downshift, from the front for an upshift--brings about what seems like an instantaneous gear change. I still prefer the satisfaction of shifting for myself, however, and it would shave a little more than $4000 off the price if a buyer opted for the standard six-speed manual.
Porsche has been developing the 911 for more than forty years, to the point where it is now among the best sports cars on the planet. No doubt the company still has a few tricks up its sleeve for upcoming models, but it's going to be hard to improve on what is one of the most dynamic and satisfying cars to drive on the market.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
We have been blessed this week by a surfeit of wonderful, exhilarating sports cars, every one newer, fresher, more modern than this 911 Carerra. Still, a 911 (in any form) is most welcome. The tapered shape, and even the newest 911 cabin design, is instantly recognizable and comforting. Slipping into the familiar cocoon is like coming home. The perfect heft of the short-throw shifter - or in this case, the PDK manumatic - should be copied more often by other manufacturers. The PDK is so flawless that you won't mind leaving it in full automatic mode, though the aluminum thumbrest buttons are fairly instamatic and natural, too.
The shape of the steering wheel, the wrap of the seat, the boldness of the instruments, the stupendous 3.8-liter flat-six roaring into your back - it is all there, and a strong reminder why the 911 remains in the pantheon of the greatest cars of all time.
Jean Jennings, President & Editor-in-Chief
As I sit here and attempt to collect my thoughts on the 2009 Porsche 911 C4S, I'm kicking myself for not going to a friend's house and demonstrating the awesomeness of the 911 to him. Just a few weeks ago my friend Pat told me all 911s were overrated and he didn't get it. Surely, giving him a ride around the block in this C4S would have done more to further the cause of the 911 than anything I could ever hope to write here. Journalists and enthusiasts have written millions of words about the 911, but this is a car that must be experienced to really be understood.
The 911 is very easy to get in and out of, unlike our Four Seasons Audi R8. It's also incredibly narrow, and there's not much extra room around the driver. You could have your arm resting on the driver's door and still have a good grip on the steering wheel. By the time you dial in enough steering to pull out of a parking spot, you've already experienced more steering feel than a Toyota Camry owner ever will. Your next mission is to get out of town as quickly as possible and find your favorite two-lane roads. By that time you've become one with the car and there's a big grin plastered on your face.
Perhaps you'll take a few moments to examine the cabin once you're done driving for the day. Those who have spent time in previous 911s will immediately notice the new stereo interface. It looks a lot like the old one, but the interface is much nicer looking and there are a few cool options like Bluetooth phone support (which I couldn't get working with my Blackberry), XM satellite radio, and reasonably good iPod integration. One thing that hasn't changed is Porsche's fondness for leaving the NAV button on cars that do not have navigation systems. Each time I encounter this useless NAV button I get frustrated. Why does Porsche have to tease me? Why would anyone ever put that button on a car without navigation?
Every true enthusiast must experience the rush of hustling a rear-engine car through some tight turns. It simultaneously has you praising German engineering and wondering how much better the car could be if, you know, that engine was in an ideal location. We'll say in front of the rear axle, but behind the driver. Oh, that's why the Cayman doesn't get a 3.8-liter engine...
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
This was my first experience with Porsche's new PDK dual-clutch seven-speed automatic transmission. I think it's a winner. The car is incredibly docile in around-town driving when you have PDK in automatic mode, with very smooth and subtle upshifts: you're in sixth gear by 35 mph, at a low, low 1400 rpm. This, of course, also helps fuel economy, and it adds to the 911's longstanding ability to serve as a very livable daily driver. Let's face it: most 911 owners will spend most of their time commuting in urban/suburban traffic, unless their car is simply a weekend toy.
What's great about PDK is that, whenever you decide you want to break out of calm (meaning, you're in sixth or seventh gear) driving mode, all you do is hit the gas. Boom! Instantly, you're in second gear, the revs have shot up above 4000, all of the car's senses are on high alert, and you're enjoying seamless acceleration. And that's just in automatic mode. Shove the gearshifter to the left, and you're in manual mode. Here, you pull back to downshift, and you push forward to upshift. This works very well, and I much prefer it to the useless steering wheel buttons, which I can never remember how to use. (I admit, an owner will probably become accustomed to them, but they are still far inferior to paddles.) For even more sportiness, you can push the little Sport mode button or the Sport Plus mode button; these firm up suspension and steering responses and the latter quickens revs and throttle action.
Initially, I was disappointed by the 911's off-the-line throttle responses, but then I realized that the accelerator pedal provides throttle that is very much directly related to the amount of pressure you apply to it. It's a stiff pedal, unlike those in most cars. You learn to modulate it, and you are rewarded. It's when you really stomp on it that you get the wonderful PDK downshifting I mention above.
The PDK is not all that's new about the 911 for 2009, of course: the flat-six engine is all-new, as well. This 3.8-liter iteration puts out 385 hp and 310 lb-ft of torque, representing the first time that a non-turbo 911 engine has provided more than 100 hp per liter of displacement. [For more on the 2009 911, click here for West Coast Editor Jason Cammisa first-drive review.]
As much as I love this car, I do have to mention that I drove it back-to-back with our Four Seasons Nissan GT-R, which costs about $22,000 less than this fully loaded 911 C4S and has a whopping 100 additional hp and 124 additional lb-ft of torque. By comparison with the GT-R, the 911 C4S felt a little, dare I say it, slow.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
2009 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S
Base price (with destination): $93,250Price as tested: $109,310
Options:Meteor Grey metallic $710Black full leather $3,655Power comfort seats with driver memory $1,550PDK $4,080Self dimming mirrors $420Heated front seats $500Seat ventilation $800Sport chrono package plus $960Bose sound package $1,440XM radio $750Floor mats in interior color $140Multi-function steering wheel $615Universal audio interface $440
Fuel economy: (city/hwy/combined)18 / 26 / 21 mpg
Engine: Size: 3.8L 6-cylinderHorsepower: 385 hp @ 6,500 rpmTorque: 310 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch PDK automatic
Weight: 3329 lb
Wheels/Tires:19 x 8-in alloy wheels front; 19 x 11-in alloy wheels rear235/35R19 front; 295/30R19 rear tires