Porsche built its first all-wheel-drive car 113 years ago, and the newest 4WD 911C4S flaunts every moment of that heritage
CHANGE is critical to success, we are told. Businesses which don’t react to changing conditions are, wisdom says, doomed to fail – the only variable is how long it takes. But of course, there are always exceptions.
Coca-Cola for example showed that when something works well you change it at your peril. Its new recipe ‘New Coke’ in 1985 was a colossal miscalculation, still taught to business and marketing MBAs to this day: focus groups said New Coke was better and tastier, but the buying public reacted with outrage that ‘their’ drink, a part of their lives since childhood, had been corrupted. Sometimes, change is bad.
Coca-Cola badly misjudged the depth and nature of the relationship between product and consumer: it assumed it was just about taste. Just 11 weeks after New Coke launched, the firm executed one of the most humiliating U-turns in business history and withdrew it in favour of ‘Classic Coke’ – the old formula.
Lessons were learned far and wide, including at Porsche.
Porsche realise the 911 is more than ‘just’ a car which rolls off production lines by the thousand. Like Coke, the relationship with the consumer is far more complex than simply miles per hour and emissions: it is interlinked with deep-rooted memories of childhood yearnings, of youthful promises, of rash pledges and the hope of “one day…”. It’s much more than just a car, and changing it comes with significant risk. Doubtless this legacy weighs heavily on design teams: who wants to be remembered as the engineers that ruined the 911?
Historically the safe tactic is to develop the preceding car bit by bit, without losing that emotional kernel. They perhaps foresaw their own ‘New Coke moment’ and potential to outrage the purists in 1989, with the launch of the initial Carrera 4, the first mass-produced 911 to get 4WD and an auto box. But by this time Porsche had built the race-inspired Porsche 959, with 4WD and laden with gadgetry. On launch in ‘86 it was the fastest car in the world and most desirable 911 yet. Come the Carrera 4, and people were by then eager for a mass-made 4WD 911.
Since then the range has widened enormously, so we have the Carrera 2, the Carrera 4, ‘S’ versions of both, convertible models of all of them, the GT3, the GT3 RS, the Turbo, the Turbo S, and… you get the idea. It really is remarkable how much choice there is within just the 911 range let alone the whole Porsche range.
This is a wonderful thing, as it means there is not far off being a 911 for every occasion. If you want a stripped out lightweight version then go GT3. If you want one of the fastest cars on the planet, go Turbo S. And and if you really want a car that works every day in every walk of life, is as sure-footed as a mountain goat, but doesn’t look like something out of Thunderbirds then go for the Carrera 4S.
AN OLD FRIEND MADE BETTER
The multi-model tailor-your-own-suit approach has evolved enormously, but crucially at the heart of it all is still that recognisable and emotionally-resonant 911 style and feel. This is central to allowing Porsche to make their supercar the least flashy of the breed: for all their reputation, speed, and ability, they look pretty unfussy, no tinselly chariot add-ons to wow the bystanders. As much as a supercar can be, 911s are quite discrete (well, maybe not our lime gold one…). That distinctive shape does all the ‘impact’ work, and the engineers and designers get to focus on what makes it better.
And what a job they have done. The all-wheel-drive version accounted for 34% of all 911’s sold in the last 997-designated series (confusingly, this is the 991 series, by the way), largely because they were fantastically good, 4WD adding to typical 911 everyday use a hefty dose of safety and a big chunk of extra speed. It was a masterpiece car that set standards which, in driving, you’d believe would be hard if indeed possible to eclipse.
The newest C4S is noticeably more capable in the ways that matter, with more power, wider arches, better comfort, better grip, better handling, better economy, and somehow even weighing 65kg less. Even with the theoretical power drain of four-wheel drive, the C4S posts identical 4.3s 0-60mph as the two-wheel-drive C2S – showing the balance of grip gained is perfect. Do it in the wet, and it will be well ahead.
Once again it’s down to those engineers, changing a bit here, shaving a bit there, tweaking an existing technology, and trying things completely new. Porsche have gone to incredible lengths to improve every single element of the last model and if you’ve driven the 997 then you’ll notice the changes immediately. Weight is a major reason, despite the current car being physically more expansive: wings, doors, boot, and hood are fashioned from aluminium and Porsche boast the lightest 4WD system of any car. The firm can claim impressive expertise in this area of course, having made their first 4WD car in 1900.
Ferdinand Porsche’s ideas from 1900 seem advanced even now, so it’s apt that the newest 911 features the latest Porsche Traction Management (PTM) system. It’s an incredibly sophisticated bit of technology which can switch power to where it’s needed – and crucially, prevent it being directed where wasted – via a multi-plate clutch that can react within 100 milliseconds. So, in cruise it’s a standard fuel efficient rear-wheel drive car, but in a fraction of the time it takes to press the throttle, it can be have power at all wheels. Great for safety, performance, and efficiency.
As with most modern cars, let alone a bona fide flag carrier for technological leaps of progress, there is simply way too much tech to detail. And we’re happy with that: the day a car’s technology outweighs its value as a driving machine, or emotional experience, is the day the car is fundamentally dull. And you don’t buy a Porsche for dull. That’s what Porsche have always understood.
What it boils down to is a car that stands atop its predecessor, and does justice to every memory held dear of “what a 911 should be”. This new generation 991 model is still in its infancy, and a superb starting point for the next few model updates.
While marketing tries to exerts its influence over the engineers, we can rest assured that while ‘interesting’ new models will continue to feature in the marque’s range for years to come, the archetypal Porsche which for so many defines the idea of what a sportscar is, is in the safest of hands. New 911 is classic 911.
Porsche 911 Carrera 4S
Top speed 185mph
Engine 3.8 litre 6-cylinder
Max power 400hp @ 7400rpm
Max torque 440Nm @ 5600rpm
– City: 19mpg
– Highway: 26mpg
Price (Basic) $105,630