Road Test: New turbo engines lift the iconic Porsche 911’s game
Performance and fuel efficiency improved in sports car as it goes turbo
Date Reviewed: April 4, 2016
Yes. It really is a new Porsche 911. I know, I know – the design department phoned it in, right? Actually, perhaps not. Get up close and personal with the iconic Porsche and actually you start to see the finer detail.
The jewel effects in the various headlamp options (yes, this is a car with headlamp options), the dainty lip that runs around the bodywork just above the slimline tail-lights, the way light runs across the top of the doors and wings. It’s subtle, sure, but there’s no doubting the effect. More than 50 years on, the 911 still looks sharp.
Underneath though, we’ve got one of the biggest changes ever in the 911’s long and storied history. Now, if you want a rear-engined Porsche that breathes at atmospheric pressure, you’ll have to pony up extra for one of the specialist GT models – for the rest of it, it’s now all turbo. That’s turbo with a small “t” though.
The range-topping big-banger 911 Turbo (capital T) is still the hardest hitting 911 of all (more on which anon) but for the standard Carrera and Carrera S models there’s an entirely new 3.0-litre flat-six engine with twin turbochargers and intercoolers. The result is a boost in power of 20hp for this Carrera S, bringing the total to a weapons-grade 420hp. The standard Carrera gets a boost of the same 20hp, bringing its total to 370hp.
Torque is also up, by a colossal 60Nm to 500Nm, while efficiency has also risen to a very pleasing claimed combined fuel economy figure of 32mpg, with CO2 emissions of 199g/km. If that seems a little steep, ditch the seven-speed manual gearbox of this Carrera 4S model and go for the more efficient PDK dual-clutch transmission to trim the carbon emissions.
A Carrera 2 with PDK drops to 169g/km, which equates to €570 a year in motor tax. Not bad for something with this kind of performance.
The C4S has significantly more performance though. It might be somewhat churlish to describe a Carrera as a bit flat in its performance but once you’ve experienced the delights of the C4S’s extra 50hp, you would find it very hard to go back. It’s not that it’s bonkers quick or anything, but performance is never anything less than distinctly muscular.
Performance is almost entirely linear and if there is any hesitation in throttle responsiveness then my flat feet and ham-fists were unable to detect it. It still sounds good too, although you will need to gather the extra funds for both the sports exhaust and the Chrono Sport pack with its switchable Normal, Sport and Sport + modes.
In Normal, the engine burbles away inoffensively, even quietly (although tyre roar intrudes on refinement at a cruise).
There’s a new rotary switch mounted to the lower right of the steering wheel hub which allows you to switch between Normal, Sport and Sport +. Sport should be sufficient for most purposes and it sharpens up the throttle and the dampers of the Porsche Active Suspension Management – now standard on all 911 models – as well as, crucially, allowing more exhaust and engine howl.
The howl really is still there – Porsche has somehow found a way around the muffling effect of the turbos. It’s a car you’re going to want to drive at 5,000rpm . . . a lot.
The manual gearbox is both a blessing and curse. The shift action is precise and “snicky” as you’d expect but frankly the addition of a seventh speed is unnecessary and makes the selector gate just too crowded. It’s too easy to hook fourth when you’re looking for sixth and vice versa, so I think the PDK gearbox (which cuts the 0-100km/h time to a phenomenal 3.9secs, as well as saving fuel and emissions) is the one to go for.
Thankfully, the chassis will keep up with that demand, even if your legal circumstances may not. The steering is light, direct and accurate but
just slightly lacking in feel and feedback at times. The four-wheel drive system of the C4S helps here, adding a little extra weight, a faint touch of beef at times which gives you at least a little reassurance the car will go where you point it.
The 911’s once unassailable rear-wheel traction is something of a moot point in the age of electronic traction and stability control, but the old days of the heavy tail-wagging the rest of the car and spinning you off backwards are long gone – the 911 now has incredibly high limits and an astonishing tolerance for provocation.
Even with the electronic assistants all switched off, and driving on a wet, plastic surface designed to mimic the effects of sheet ice, the C4S would come back reliably into line with a little determined wheel-twirling.
The cabin could be considered a weak point – it’s a little under-designed at times, and while the new touchscreen (with integral Apple Car Play) is slick and quick, the overall effect is still a touch old fashioned. Still, there are bonuses – quality and build are unimpeachable and there is still just about enough space in the rear seats to fit some small children.
There’s soft bag space in the front boot too, so the 911 remains arguably the most practical car with this kind of performance.
The purists will doubtless howl with ire at the fact that Porsche has switched to turbocharging, but frankly I couldn’t care less what the purists say.
The only howl I have time for is that classic flat-six thrashing as the rev counter passes 4,500rpm, allied to the way the steering wheel wriggles gently in your fingers and the unmistakable way the 911 squats on its outside rear wheel and flings you forward down the road.
That’s what makes the 911 great. Turbos (small “t”) on top? Yes, it really is.
The lowdown: Porsche 911 Carrera 4S Manual
Price: €163,491 as tested; range starts at €132,295
Top speed: 308km/h
Claimed economy: 8.7l/100km. (32.5mpg)
CO2 emissions: 199g/km
Motor tax: €1,200