Porsche 911 Carrera 4S is driving perfection

The iconic silhouette of the 911 is unmistakably Porsche.The Carrera 4S pushes that image to the limit.
The iconic silhouette of the 911 is unmistakably Porsche.The Carrera 4S pushes that image to the limit.
George Kennedy for The Boston Globe

All great performers have their hallmarks. Phish has its 23-minute-long jam sessions, M. Night Shyamalan has his plot twists, and Bob Hope always sang “Thanks for the Memories.” With the Porsche 911, the hallmarks consist of unique styling, unconventional engine placement, and a commitment to acceleration and handling. The 2013 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S highlights handling with an advanced all-wheel-drive setup that makes it the perfect year-round daily driver.

It just so happens that my time with the 911 coincided with the film debut of “The Fast and the Furious 6,” which was a good thing and a bad thing. Bad because every knucklehead in a Pontiac Grand Prix or Honda Civic Si who pulled up alongside the Porsche tried to race it. Good because, like the 911, “The Fast and the Furious” is known for epic car chases, jokes that don’t land, and enough oiled up muscles to start a Turkish bath. Meanwhile, the Porsche is marked by an engine that hangs out over the rear axle and a now-iconic silhouette.

And what a shape it is. Ask someone to explain what a 911 looks like, and you may either get a long-winded explanation or complete silence. A 911 looks like a 911—the way an iPod looks like an iPod. Though the car has evolved through the decades and been at the forefront of the performance spectrum time and again, its shape remains the same.

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To accommodate wider tires and a larger engine, the rear body of the Carrera 4S is 44 millimeters wider than its standard counterpart. Within these curvaceous haunches resides a rear-mounted, flat-six engine. Once again, things are bigger with the Carrera 4S. While the standard 911 features a 3.6-liter engine, the power plant in the 4S generates 400 horsepower and 325 pound feet of torque sent to a live-transferring, all-wheel-drive system. Power is biased toward the rear wheels, but can transfer more power to the front wheels when needed.

The beauty of this all-wheel-drive system is that it can send power to all four wheels at the instant of traction loss in any wheel. Such responsiveness is terrific in winter driving, though we recommend all-season tires or swapping out summer treads for winter tires.

In summer driving conditions, the AWD is helpful. The familiar feel of accelerating through a turn in a rear-wheel-drive car is not present, replaced by a feeling of added confidence, though in a Porsche that can be a red herring. With the engine over the rear axle, a lot of weight resides in the derriere. As such, 911s in the past have been quite unruly in turns, especially if the driver were to lay off the throttle. The AWD system alleviates that, but if you were to downshift in a turn, there is quite a lean coming from the rear. Just accelerate through that turn, and you’ll be fine.

Porsche loves to tout its PDK direct-shift gearbox, with its steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, but for anyone proficient with a manual transmission, there is no substitute for a stick-shift and three-pedals. This is the first model to feature Porsche’s new, seven-speed, manual gearbox, which allows for lower RPM at cruising, resulting in improved fuel economy. This rearrangement of ratios is not particularly noticeable in gears one through four, but at highway speeds, the 911 asks for upshifts more quickly via its throaty exhaust whine.

The 911 has more standard and optional luxuries than we can mention here, but if you are in the market for a Carrera 4S, you will also have the means to select from the extremely long list of options. A non-negotiable standard feature is the exhilarating rush of the 911’s straight-line acceleration. It is not the neck-snapping thrust of a supercharged V8; it’s more of a controlled rush, as peak output of 400 horsepower is reached at 7,500 RPM. That is just south of the 7,800 RPM redline, which means if you want to wring the most out of the 911 4S, its flat-six engine will be singing quite a tune.

That engine note is sent into the cabin through a sound symposer, which is just the tip of the tech iceberg. While the manual transmission is the ultimate expression of choosing your own adventure in sports car ownership, there are other ways to tailor your driving experience. Sport and Sport Plus buttons in the center console result in quicker throttle response and the firming up of the Porsche Active Suspension Management. All of this tech simply means having less to worry about and more time to focus on driving back roads with enthusiasm.

Passersby may understand the Porsche 911 in shape, sound, and reputation, but owners have a deeper understanding of what makes this rear-engine coupe the icon that it has become. It is the most livable and drivable world-class sports car that $135K can buy. For many, it is the end-game; the car that you wait your entire life to purchase. If you find yourself in this position and the 911 is in your sights, prepare to be satisfied and your expectations surpassed.