We went rogue during the drive of the 2013 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S in Austria. By dumb luck, we veered off the prescribed route and found ourselves smack in the middle of a winter storm while ascending a twisty mountain road. The white stuff was turning everything outside our windows into a frozen forest of white.
A little scary when you're behind the wheel of a 400-horsepower sports car. So did we turn back? Uh, no. We had Porsche's latest all-wheel-drive system to work with, not to mention a set of 19-inch Pirelli snow tires in place of the stock 20-inch summer rubber.
So we channeled our inner Ferry Porsche, the man who moved the family business to a farm in Gmund, Austria, after WWII, and got moving. We could picture him slipping and sliding a prototype 356 around these very same turns, so that's what we did, too.
It was a quick reminder why the 2013 Porsche 911 Carrera 4 exists. And it's why nearly 100 percent of all 911s sold in Austria and neighboring Switzerland are AWD models. There's just enough power to the front wheels to get up that slippery hill, but more than enough power rearward for giddy, tail-out fun.
All-Wheel Wonder The Carrera 4 is the all-wheel-drive version of the new 991-series Porsche 911. Its version of the Porsche Traction Management (PTM) system continuously transfers power between the front and rear axles via a multiplate clutch. It's basically the same system found on the 997 911 Turbo with a new emphasis placed on efficiency and fuel economy, partially through a "coasting" function when equipped with the PDK gearbox.
A new readout within the instrument cluster allows you to see exactly how the torque is being transferred front to rear. Porsche tells us that in theory as much as 100 percent of the power can be sent to either the front or rear wheels within 100 milliseconds. We never saw higher than 55 percent to the front, so don't mistake this 911 for a Snowcat. We like that it's an enthusiast-oriented rear-biased system, though, since it allows for plenty of tail-out, snow-spraying good fun.
How rear-biased? If we tried really hard (that's code for mashing the throttle while turning) we could do complete 360s in a snowy parking lot. And that's with the car's stability system turned on. It was even more interesting with the stability turned off, but given the conditions we didn't push too hard.
More Power, Less Fuel, More Quickness In keeping with Porsche's apparent goal to offer no fewer than 400 different 911 models for you to choose from, the Carrera 4 can be had with two different engines, two body styles (coupe and cabrio) and two transmissions.
While the base engine has been downsized from 3.6 liters to 3.4 liters in the interest of fuel economy, don't be fooled. Porsche massaged another 5 horsepower (from 345 hp to 350) out of the direct-injected and variable-valve-timing-equipped flat-6. It's a bit more revvy than before, peak power coming at 7,400 rpm (up from 6,500) and torque is down 1 pound-foot to 287 at 5,600.
Put your foot into it and it's no slug, 0-60 arriving in a claimed 4.7 seconds with the standard seven-speed manual, or 4.5 seconds with the seven-speed dual-clutch PDK (Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe — go ahead and admit that it's just fun to say).
As fast as the standard model may be, Porsche says the take rate on the more powerful Carrera S is far higher, at least in the U.S. Forget the fact that it's $14,600 more expensive; it has a 400-hp 3.8-liter flat-6 and that's all that matters. Turns out folks who buy $100,000 sports cars don't seem to mind the premium.
More Wail Than Ever Before Porsche's flat-6 has never sounded special at low revs. Direct injection doesn't help. But wick the C4S up over 4,500 rpm and it ignites with a delectable wail. Yes, that infamous Porsche wail you've read about since you were a kid. It's not a myth. Then again, it's not quite as raw as it used to be either.
Turns out all 911s now come with something called a Sound Symposer. It's operated via the Sport button on the center console and it directs more of the boxer engine's sound into the cabin via an acoustic channel. So the sound is real; it's just getting to your ears in a slightly more artificial manner. A bit odd maybe, but at least it's not synthetic like on the BMW M5.
With standard auto stop-start (which can be turned off if you find it annoying) along with more efficient engines and a "coasting" function in conjunction with PDK, both the Carrera 4 and Carrera 4S models get slightly better fuel economy than the outgoing models. The C4 has an EPA rating of 20 city/28 highway/23 combined, while the C4S achieves 19 city/26 highway/22 combined, both with PDK.
Same Sweet Balance It's when you encounter a rain-soaked road that the 2013 Porsche 911 Carrera 4's balance, precision and true meaning for existence become utterly obvious. It's all about the confidence to go to the throttle at corner apex earlier and harder than you could in a C2. What's great about PTM's rear bias is that you can still get power-on oversteer. But with the constant switching of power front/rear and torque vectoring at the rear wheels, there's an extra bit of grip and unflappability that keeps things from getting too out of shape.
Since Porsche's AWD system adds just 110 pounds, hardly any suspension changes were needed to maintain the 911's fantastic handling. In fact, the springs and dampers remain identical to those on the rear-wheel-drive Carrera. Only the antiroll bars were altered to compensate for the C4's slightly more front-heavy weight balance, which still leaves 61 percent over the rear axle.
The electric-assist steering doesn't quite have the precision of the 997's hydraulic setup (snow tires don't help the cause), but it's still very intuitive. As with all 911s, the steering can feel overly light at times with that lump of an engine hanging so far off the back, but the faster you drive, the better it feels.
The adjustable two-mode dampers rarely seem too stiff. Then again, they never feel overly soft either. There needs to be more differentiation between their settings to make the system feel worthwhile.
The driving position, as always, is near-perfect. Fairly upright, good views out the front and a low hood; not much has changed. The new center console is very Panamera-ish with its long, slim profile and overabundance of small buttons. The car is put together superbly and there's fine leather throughout. Yet the 911 still has the two silliest fold-out cupholders in existence.
If You Can't Heel-and-Toe... Although the large majority of 911 owners opt for the PDK, Porsche hasn't given up on its ultra-precise yet easy-shifting seven-speed manual. Far from it. In fact, there's a new rev-match downshift feature now similar to the one used on the Nissan 370Z.
Part of the $1,850 Sport Chrono package, the system is activated by pressing the Sport Plus button on the center console. It's a curious setup since you would think more aggressive drivers — like the ones who switch Sport Plus on for ultimate performance — would prefer to do the heel-and-toe throttle blips on their own.
Winter, Zen and the 911 When they go on sale in January in the U.S. the 2013 Porsche 911 Carrera 4 will start at $91,980 (including $950 destination) while the 4S will run $106,580. The C4 Cabrio follows in March at $103,880. Our Carrera 4S test car, which had several pricey options including the $8,520 ceramic-composite brakes and $5,010 Burmester sound system (plus $4,080 for PDK), would command some $127,000. That's more than a base Turbo.
So, is a naturally aspirated all-wheel-drive 911 worth that kind of money? Depends on the weather. Hard to put a price on the ability to carve up a mountain road during a snowstorm, but when you're lost and everything around you is white, seeing power going to the front wheels sure is comforting. And fun. Really fun.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.