It's nearly midnight in southern France. Instead of throwing away Euros in the casinos of Monte Carlo, we're sitting on the side of the road in the new Porsche 911 Carrera 4S getting a hard lesson in the business practices of the local gas stations and the accuracy of the 911's fuel computer. The former aren't open on Sunday nights, and when the latter says you have one mile to empty you better see some pumps or you're walking.
The gas tank is dry and it's all our fault. We could have eased up back in the canyons, but this 911 wouldn't let us. With all-wheel drive, upgraded brakes and a set of 19-inch rear tires that would impress the local Viper club, the 2006 Porsche 911 C4S gives you too many reasons to keep the pedal down when the roads are right. We did and we're paying the price. We don't regret it for a second.
All-Wheel Drive and Then Some
The $87,100 Carrera 4S is essentially an all-wheel-drive version of the standard rear-drive Carrera S coupe. It uses the same tail-mounted 3.8-liter, 355-horsepower flat six, but between 5 and 40 percent of that power is sent to the front wheels via a viscous coupling and a couple of half shafts.
The rear wheels aren't any bigger, but wider tires and more offset increase the rear track by 1.26 inches. Extended bodywork stretches to cover the wider tires adding nearly 2 inches to the width of the rear end. Altogether, the new hardware adds only 121 pounds to the C4S versus the rear-wheel-drive model.
The standard Carrera already has some of best brakes in the business, but the Carrera 4S takes the system one step further with two new software functions. The first system predicts that if you abruptly lift off the throttle you're probably headed for the brake next. To give the brakes a head start, it sends fluid to the calipers so they'll squeeze down to reduce the gap between the pads and the rotors. The second system works like an emergency brake assist by applying full power during a hard stop even if you don't.
Also specific to the Carrera 4S is a set of small sill spoilers that direct air around the larger rear tires to help the C4S maintain the same 0.29 drag coefficient as the narrower standard model. There's also a redesigned underbody tray that directs air to the viscous coupling and front differential to help maintain more stable fluid temperatures.
Nothing is changed from the much improved interior of the standard model.
The Carrera 4S comes standard with Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), a long name for what are essentially adjustable shocks. In addition to lowering the car by 10mm, PASM gives you the choice of two suspension settings, Normal or Sport.
In the Normal mode, PASM keeps the settings soft for a more comfortable ride. Start to drive aggressively and the system will automatically firm the dampers up, but only to a point.
Press the Sport button on the dash and the suspension steps it up a notch. The computer still actively adjusts each damper, but does so with maximum performance as its goal. There's also an optional Sports Chrono package that takes it one step further. Its Sport mode automatically engages the most aggressive shock settings in addition to quickening the throttle response and loosening the reins of the stability control system.
Like the Carrera S, the 4S has a firm, sometimes harsh ride. Even in its Normal setting, you not only feel every bump in the road, you hear them shudder through the cabin. Dialing up Sport mode makes every jolt that much sharper. As much as the 911 has been softened over the years it's still serious about performance, so you better be, too.
Pulling Your Way Through the Turns
Accelerating through the gears, the car's extra curb weight is completely unfelt. There's no awkward feedback from the steering either. The 3.8-liter six is butter-smooth, sounds perfect and delivers so much torque you almost feel like you could spin all four tires. A hard launch will generate a strange noise or two from the all-wheel-drive system, but with so much rubber in back, the front wheels don't do much until you hit the canyons.
It's not until you lay into it around a tight bend that you begin to appreciate the Carrera 4's extra grip up front. Unlike the standard Carrera, which requires just the right amount of throttle, steering and confidence to get around a corner quickly, the 4S just yanks you around it. You never feel the power shifting between the front and rear wheels, it just goes right where you point it.
In Sport mode the C4S is about as good as a street-legal road car gets. There's no roll in turns and no dive when you hammer on the brakes. The steering couldn't get any better and even the stability control system stays out of the way. As long as you keep into the throttle it puts the power where it's needed most, making you feel like a driver three times as talented. Considering that most of us are only half as good as we think, you come out ahead.
Just keep an eye on that gas gauge.