Porsche Carrera 4 Cabri-Olé!
By Jim Bray
There's nothing quite like the combination of a warm day and an open top sports car to put a smile on your face.
This is especially true when the sports car in question is one of the world's greats, a car that in one form or another has inspired automotive lust for more than forty years.
So, naturally, when I picked up a gorgeous specimen of the Porsche 911 Carrera 4 Cabriolet for a few days behind the wheel, it started raining. And didn't stop for the next three days. And there's naught more pathetic than a writer waiting to bond with a wonderful vehicle being forced to stand gazing sad-eyed out his front window at said vehicle, pining for the sun.
The rain ended eventually, fortunately, leaving just enough time to take the Cabriolet for a couple of quick jaunts along some glorious back roads in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. And we bonded.
The Carrera 4 is the all wheel drive version of the "garden variety" Carrera, if there is such a thing as a garden variety Porsche. It still features the 911's rear engine arrangement, but while the rear engine/rear wheel drive configuration of said “garden variety” 911’s has been claimed as a tad, well, twitchy in spirited cornering, the four wheel drive version tames the twitchiness: the Carrera 4 handles like it's on rails. I took it into more than one tight corner a speeds befitting such a ride and it never felt anything less than marvelously composed and controlled.
Porsche tamed the tail twitchiness via a sophisticated, intelligent all wheel drive system that features a viscous clutch that monitors the traction at each wheel and transfers from 5 to 40 percent of the engine’s power to the front axle instantly, to maximize grip.
Not that the regular Carrera is a slouch, of course, but the Carrera 4 is just that much better. And of course having all wheel drive on hand can also come in handy when road conditions deteriorate thanks to ice, snow or even rain.
Hi Yo, Silver….
The 911 has been "under development" since the early 1960's, through five mph bumpers and other government-mandated hamstringing, and in my never humble opinion has come through its various challenges and metamorphoses looking never better, inside or out.
Alas, the Cabriolet loses some of its exquisite beauty when compared with the hard top version, which has to be one of the sexiest rides on earth. Chopping and dropping the top results in a bit of a hunchback appearance that, while far from vile, makes the car look a little less graceful.
It doesn't make it look any less mean, though, nor is it less of a head turner. In fact, if my experience was any gauge, the Cabriolet is even more of a "stare magnet" than the hard top. I felt like a fraud drawing a crowd to a car that was decidedly NOT mine. So I pretended, and kept my mouth shut….
My tester featured the arctic silver metallic paint which, if the lotto Gods were to smile on me, would be my 911's color. It reminds me of the "gunmetal" gray of James Bond's Aston Martin from Goldfinger and Thunderball, except that it's better, especially when glistening in the sunlight.
The interior was finished in the optional Natural Leather Cocoa, which adds a few grand to the total price and is gorgeous and classy and comfy.
Other options on my tester included the Bi-Xenon headlamp package which helps turn the road ahead into daylight, self dimming mirrors, heated front seats (yes, there are back seats, but they're suitable only for ankle biters or quadruple amputees), special wheel caps bearing the Porsche crest, a navigation system and the Bose high end sound package.
All these add-ons brought the total bill to just over $97,000 U.S. (just over $143,000 Canadian). That's a pile of dough, but that's the price of entry to the big leagues.
And it’s easy to see why people spend such coin on such vehicles.
Fire up the engine and you're treated immediately to that wonderful Porsche snarl as the 3.6 liter, water cooled six cylinder, variable valve timing power plant leaps to attention with a snappy salute. The snarl promises that the car's 325 horses and 273 lb-ft. of torque are about to thrill you – and it's a promise kept as you let out the heavy-ish clutch and wind 'er up through the six forward gears (a Tiptronic automatic is also available). The engine growls happily as the revs rise and before you know it you're worrying about radar traps and loss of license.
According to Porsche's website, the car features a top speed of 174 mph and carves out 0-60 in 5.1 seconds. I’m sure I didn’t come anywhere close to either figure, but that didn’t’ prevent the car from putting a smile on my face anyway.
A quick flick of the wrists activates the variable assist power rack and pinion steering and the car heads immediately in whatever direction you've chosen – exactly in that direction, with no fooling around. Turns are tight (the turning circle is so small that you can almost do a 180 in your driveway) and when you’re behind the wheel the car never feels like anything but a thoroughbred, a sports car whose rough edges may have been tamed over the years, but not at the expense of the driving experience.
Porsche has widened the Carrera 4's bum from the regular 911's by just over a half inch and that plump but pretty buttock has been fitted with higher performing tires. The Carrera 4 Cabrio comes with 295/35 ZR 18 tires on the rear (235/40 ZR 18’s up front), and, naturally, each wheel is equipped with a big disc brake with ABS that stays out of the way unless it’s needed.
The car’s underpinnings include an independent suspension all around and the Porsche Stability Management (PSM Plus) system has been tweaked so that, among other things, it now works with the braking system by automatically increasing the pressure in the brake lines when you take your foot off the gas, to get rid of any air gaps between the pads and the discs. This supposedly makes the brakes work more quickly when you step on the binders.
I don't know about the technical stuff, but this car stops before you get to the dime. The brakes feel great, not over boosted in the slightest, or flabby; step on the pedal and she stands on her nose, but comfortably and confidently. You'll be glad you're wearing your safety belt!
And it's nice to know that if you want to drive "a cappella," you can turn off the PSM, leaving only the automatic brake differential active. Porsche admits that the PSM will stay in the background, watching you like a little Big Brother, but they say it’ll only intervene under heavy braking "where at least one front wheel requires ABS assistance."
My test Carrera 4 Cabriolet didn't have Porsche's optional PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management), which is standard on the Carrera 4S model. PASM is a push button-operated system with “Normal” and “Sport” modes and is not for the weak of heart or bladder – and, to be honest, I didn't miss it as I had no plans to race the car despite all the fresh faced kids who seemed to turn up every mile or so, determined to see how their aero kit-ruined abominations would stack up against the mighty 911.
But even without the PASM the car is wonderfully balanced, the driving position perfect, the seats comfortable and supportive, and instruments and controls that are so well laid out and positioned, that you'll marvel at what a great place the 911 is to spend some quality time. And then you’ll probably embark on some serious goal setting….
An open and shut case….
The roof goes up and/or down at the push of a button on the center console. Porsche says you can operate it at up to 30 mph, but there was no way I was going to try it at any speed faster than no speed at all: I had visions, probably unfounded, of the entire structure blowing off and landing in the next county – and I wasn't about to be the one who found out whether or not it would happen.
The opening/closing process is such that you don't need to unlock latches at the windshield top, lower the windows or anything. All is taken care of for you as you sit there, hand on the button, listening to the huzzahs coming your way from the crowd of curious and awed onlookers who’ve gathered to witness the experience.
Not surprisingly, wind noise can be intrusive at speed when the roof's down, but the wind blocker you can set up does a good job of minimizing it – at the cost of any semblance of rear seat room for anything larger than a kitten.
On the upside, you can raise the roof right over the wind blocker, so if you don't intend to haul kids back there you can just leave it in place and be done with it.
Driving with the roof up isn't nearly as nice as going topless, since you miss the world outside whizzing by you in a blur, but the roof doesn't block the view to the sides and rear as much as some soft tops do.
The optional Bose High End Sound Package offers very good sound quality from the AM/FM and CD options, depending on your source material of course, and it’s powerful enough to use with the roof down. The radio bands and CD each have their own tone adjustments, and the system features nice, tight bass and clean and crisp mids and highs. You can't play DVD-A discs, which is a shame, but most cars don't offer such capability.
Safety equipment abounds on the Carrera, though perhaps the greatest safety feature is the car's ability to avoid accidents thanks to its own nimbleness. But just in case it's the other guy's fault, you get dual front airbags, head and thorax side airbags, seat belt pretensioners and load limiters and the car is designed and built with front and rear deformation zones and beams in the doors.
Safe, fast, supremely comfortable, and a blast to drive. For what more could anyone who has the type of disposable income required to own a Carrera 4 Cabriolet ask?
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