By on January 27, 2009

A TTAC reader writes: “Hi Robert I re-read your article on the Porsche Carrera 4. I’m looking for more info to help me decide if I should get a Carrera S or Carrera 4S later this year. I took a 1/2 day Porsche Driving Experience a couple months back with the Carrera S, and the handling was awesome plus the PSM seems to handle a lot of the ‘saving you from yourself’. Do you have any other input that could help me decide if it’s worth the extra $6k? I do not live in an icy part of the country, but down the road I don’t want to regret not getting it.” My take: if you drive like your hair’s on fire, the 4S is well worth the extra money. The only way to kill yourself is to aim at something. If you’re not Mr. 10/10ths, you might as well get a Boxster S or Cayman S. They’re more fun to drive at sane speeds, and a lot less money. Alternatively, why not consider the Panamera? You see how wrong that is? OK, B&B, what’s your advice?

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58 Comments on “Ask the Best and Brightest: Porsche Carrera S or Carrera 4S?...”

  • avatar

    I would get the Carrera S. Nice handling. Of course, the glue-like handling of the 4S is also cool. But the S is awesome.

  • avatar

    4S all the way, as it is the most useable road rocket ever. Won’t ever fear rain, snow, gravel, or anything really!

  • avatar
    The Anam Cara

    how long do you plan to keep the car? imho, that may also play into your decision. a carrera 4s will have higher operating costs. obviously this may not be an issue for you.

    otherwise, between the carrera s and the 4s, i think the s is just fine, and can certainly be driven like your hair’s on fire, too, especially since you’ve already been schooled in one.

    however, i agree with rf on the cayman s simply being an all-around much more usable car.

  • avatar

    GT-R? (Sorry – had to say it).

  • avatar

    I’m the OP. Thanks for the comments. Man what a decision to make.. poor me. I was very impressed by the power of the Carrera S at the 1/2 day PDE… 385 hp… I would hang onto the steering wheel for dear life, because it felt like the car was pulling away from me… incredible

  • avatar

    Another vote for the Cayman S. It’s my favorite Porsche.

  • avatar

    I really, really, wish I was in the position have such a difficult decision!

    If I had to choose, it would be the S. For some reason, the purist in me just can’t abide a AWD 911. It’s just not a 911 if there wasn’t SOME chance of that infamous snap oversteer.

    Also, the S has the advantage of being lighter, and, as a consequence slightly faster. There’s also enough price difference between the two to buy a beater or a few of Porsche’s overpriced options.

  • avatar

    Or you could have the handling of both

  • avatar

    Is the PDK trans available in the 4S?
    I tend toward conservative so I’d vote Boxter or Caymen S but there is something about the 911

  • avatar

    Cayman S. It looks better, is less expensive, is lighter, has a close power-to-weight ratio, and has the engine in the best possible location.

    Please, anyone tell my why to buy a 911 instead of a Cayman? Other than the Turbo, and GT versions, which are only better than the Cayman because Porsche won’t offer those engines in the Cayman.

    If you need your car to be ass engined don’t get a knockoff, get the real thing:

    • 0 avatar

      The one main reason that I personally chose the new 911 over the Cayman is because of leg room. I’m over 6 ft. tall and the comfort level is supreme in the new 911’s over the Cayman. If this isn’t an issue than I probably would look at a Cayman S just to at least compare the 2 up close.
      Your question about why choose a 911 over the Cayman intrigued me. Room and comfort was the main reason for me. Which ever way you go, it is still a Porsche….and that is all that really matters…

  • avatar

    Whatever you do, get the cabriolet. A sports car is always better topless.

  • avatar

    Someone made a comment the other day about the number of folks buying Suburbans because they planned – at some point in the future – to also get a boat (obviously a teeny-weenie one) or horsies or some such nonsense.

    Well not many of them ever did obtain those desired lifestyle bangles and were still feeding Suburbans, albeit, ultimately unnecessarily.

    Based on that, get the S.

    If you really, really think you might move to some place more temperate before you become disgusted with having to belt your golf clubs into the passenger seat and off the 911 altogether, get an STi and save the change for the down payment on said temperate locale’s abode.

    Otherwise, Cayman S.

  • avatar

    Whatever you do, don’t get the cabriolet. If you drive fast, there’s a decent chance you’ll go off the road (or track, as I did a few years back, at a PCA event) and end up on your head. You need a roof.

    If you buy a cabrio you tell the world you’re just for show. Get a gold chain and complete the total wanker look.

  • avatar

    Honestly, if the choice is between these two only I would say it depends on driver skill level. The 4s is likely what I would go for because I’m pretty sure the Carrera S is much more likely to end up as an expensive paperweight if I decided to push it. As Clarkson once said of the 911…it is sitting somewhere plotting how to kill you right now. That said, if you’re just out to enjoy backroads I believe the Cayman S is the better car. My unqualified $0.02.

  • avatar

    @ readingthetape: Life is too short to drive closed cars. But then, I’m a Miata guy. With a convertible, you don’t need to stop to smell the roses.

  • avatar

    I’m going to side with those suggesting the Boxster or Cayman. If you don’t need the marginally useful back seat of the 911, its mid-engined siblings deliver a lot more bang for the buck (and some would say superior handling). And even the “S” badge isn’t necessary–I have plenty of fun with a base model.

  • avatar

    I’d chose a 4S simply so I could drive it during a Canadian winter. I’m dead serious. You have no idea how many Turbos I see in Montreal with ice tyres.

  • avatar

    @Theodore: Porsche is one step ahead of you. The Targa body style is the perfect answer (and what saved my neck when I rolled it.)

  • avatar

    turbo beetle in reverse and have done with it.


  • avatar

    I’m the OP and I already have a Boxster, so I have top-down and mid-engine covered.

    But I cannot have a collection with just one.

    So I’m looking at a Carrera for the power, and a coupe to reduce wind noise on the highway. I was leaning toward a Targa; however, the salesman at the dealership pointed out that summertimes in Texas don’t go well with an all-glass roof, that the car gets too hot. The sunroof on the Carrera seems pretty nice, at least.

    So if the Turbo is out of my price range it comes down to the Carrera S or the Carrera 4S. It rarely ices up here in Texas (except that as I type this freezing rain is coming down), so it comes down to driving “fun” in-town, and road trips out west where the roads are twisty. And I don’t know the AWD is really necessary — y’all see the Top Gear episode on YouTube comparing the C2 and the C4? it was a wash

  • avatar

    Cayman S.

    Any mid-engined/rear-engined car will have decent traction in winter. Won’t be able to steer, but at least it’ll go forward. :D

    Or, Cayman S. And spend the change on a shiny new Forester. They’re both boxsters, right? And you’re getting more cylinders for your money.

  • avatar

    @ readingthetape: I wasn’t aware of the Targa. Interesting. To me it’s not an acceptable convertible substitute – accept no substitute, right? ;-) But I do know somebody who’d love it – she’d have an all-glass roof if she could. Dislikes wind, loves windows. I don’t get the cabriolet = poser thing, but I’m not a Porsche guy.

  • avatar

    @ stepheda

    No love for the GT-R?

  • avatar

    Balls. It doesn’t even get icy!

    Carrera S.

    If you drive it hard enough to stuff it on public roads you’ve got a problem! Not to mention having to shut off PASM/whatnot. Keep the money, save the weight.

    JMHO, based on my current dream car status. Or is it the GT3 I want?

  • avatar

    Depends on if you plan to drive it year round or only take it out of the garage on sunny days. Me, I’d have to drive a 4S year round AND live in it, because I’d have to both re-mortgage and rent out the house.

  • avatar

    the C4S has always been my favourite, and the best looking with the widebody and no side vents, although i haven’t looked at a 997 in so long i’m not sure if the 4S is still wider like the 996 was

  • avatar

    No question: the C2. Lighter. Less mechanicals to maintain (meaning, lower Porsche tax!), and something closer to the essence of what a 911 is, or was, or should be, or, err…

    Although non-GT 997s are in my opinion too heavy and soft, relative light weight is still the truest advantage a 911 has had at any time in its 40 plus years, and even in today’s world of massive bloat, the 997 is still among the lightest there is. It’s why they consistently managed to punch above their weight in the 60s and 70s. Given that that’s the DNA of a 911, why go with a heavier version that will confer no real advantage to you, given that you–nor I–aren’t Hurley Haywood or Mark Donahue, and will never wring every last 100/th out of the car?

    As for driving RWD sports cars in bad weather, I had a ball driving my short wheel base 911 in the rain this past weekend in Los Angeles. AWD is nice too–I’ve owned and/or driven several of the leading lights in most conditions, but they simply do not compare to a RWD 911 in terms of pure fun, regardless of conditions.

  • avatar

    Carrera S by far.

    I like less mechanicals between me and the road.

  • avatar

    Get the two-wheel-drive version. It just isn’t a 911 if it doesn’t always threaten to throw the rear end out, and living in Texas means that you won’t really ever have to worry about snow. It ices over in north Texas for maybe a week out of the year, but that just lets you practice driving at the limit at legal speeds.

  • avatar

    Unless the 4S is wearing all-weather or climate-specific tires, I doubt it’ll do much better than an S in the same situation. Given that, and Top Gear finding out it was a wash, I’d be inclined to pocket the 6k, KISS (keep it simple) and go for the Carrera S. Maybe the difference can be poured into the new “power package” option?

  • avatar

    370Z > CaymanS =$35k saved.

  • avatar

    @PeteMoran :

    (Just had to say it.)


  • avatar

    @ Kurt

    They’re perfect! I’ll take one of each.

    (Thanks for the link!)

  • avatar
    Rev Junkie

    If you have that kind of money, get a Corvette and order the Lingenfelter 520hp package. Z06 performance for a Z51 price, not a bad deal, eh?

  • avatar

    I would say Carrera S.

    The handling is a bit more fun in the C2S, more driver-oriented, plus I think it looks better than the C4S. I love the reflector of the C4 and it looks great from the rear with the big hips, but not so much so if you look at it from the side/front or combination of the two.

    The AWD isn’t going to do much for you unless you are in conditions where you aren’t going to push the limits anyway. The weight penalty is acceptable but the weight balance means the C4 is still a little understeering (although in the review I posted below they say the C2S has more turn-in understeer initially, but you can correct that by pushing the throttle in the RWD car).

    Here is a link to a comparo between the two from Auto Motor und Sport. The text isn’t much use to you unless you can read German (I can read it ok, but I’m from the Netherlands so that helps), but there is an extensive gallery that explains the differences (handling/looks) between the C2S and C4S which is quite useful since they are both yellow.

    On the Hockenheim track (German GP venue) the C2S was .5s faster than the C4S, but the C4S was faster on slalom (probably because in the C2 the rear steps out). The review also said that the average driver can probably go faster in the C4S, which to me would be a reason to take the C2. When it comes to driving, why take the easy route if you can go the hard way…Especially when in the end you can go quicker.

  • avatar

    I traded a 1991 C4 for a 2007 Cayman S so there was no relevant direct comparison – the 16 years newer car was simply better. I traded because thinking about the cost of fixing what might go wrong with the elderly AWD system was making driving it less enjoyable. If you are the type to buy and hold, then less mechanical bits might be a plus. If you flip it while still under warranty, maybe not. Regardless, I’d vote for the C2S – less is more.

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    C4S, C2, either way, you’re buying a 997 that’s going to depreciated tens of thousands during your first three years of ownership, and then you’ll be jonesing for the nextest, newest, bestest Porsche. Welcome to the sucker cycle.

    Since you’ve been to a Porsche Experience, perhaps you’re intending to drive a Porsche as it was intended…Track Days, Driver Education and the whole lot (depending on your local club’s activity level).

    Good for you!

    So lemme propose an entirely different proposition. One that possibly makes you money and increases your grin-per-gallon ratio…

    New Porsches are magnificent. No argument: PSM, PDK, these things are modern engineering at its best. However, most of the seat-of-the-pants thrill is gone. If you’re intend on tracking, you’ll be fast. But, sadly, it won’t be your driving skill squeezing out those mph’s.

    Try this: a 964 RS. Yeah, from the 90s. Yep, air cooled. But it’s a road scalpel. Sharp enough to cut you, too. You’ll be plenty quick. And the best part is — it’s all you. No electric nanny saving your bacon.

    From a financial standpoint, your 964 RS doesn’t depreciate. You can drive it, maintain it well, and smile as people-in-the-know come up to you and offer thousands more than you paid. Year after year.

    Oh, but what about commuting? Fine. Drive it on the road. No problem. It’s not going to be luxurious. It’ll be a loud, pure, radio-delete, no A/C proposition.

    Too spartan? Since you’re already contemplated 09 C4S bank, go out and get yourself a 911 SC for commuting in addition to the RS. Now you’ve got two for the price of one, and unless this economy takes us back to the stone age, you’ve also made a second nice asset investment for yourself.

    Best of all, a classic is a classic. It doesn’t get old like a new car. A classic gets more desireable as time passes.

    Now go get yourself the last year’s worth of Excellence, GTPorsche, 911&Porsche World, and Total 911.

    And welcome to the club.

  • avatar

    Couldn’t agree more with Domestic Hearse. If you think you might track your car, definitely go w/ the S. However, I strongly recommend the used car route – especially since you can get a 996 GT3 for the same money. You’ll never look back.

  • avatar

    OffCamber et. al. –

    +1 on the 996 GT3

    $20 grand less than a new Carrera S, more powerful, better to drive, and way lower depreciation.

  • avatar
    Domestic Hearse

    If a modern 911 is the only consideration for this potential owner…

    +2 the 996 GT3

    Approached by cash outlay, depreciation, potential appreciation over long-term ownership, and track-potential, the used GT3 spanks the new C4S or CS.

    Some say the older GT3 is even better than the new GT3 from track perspective. More alive, connected.

    But still, consideration for even earlier factory track-dedicated 911s from the air cooled era as I suggested above wouldn’t be a bad thing.

    Our buyer will be all the wiser, whichever way he chooses.

  • avatar

    Domestic Hearse, as an owner of a track prepped 88 Carrera, I definitely agree :)

    As you said, our buyer can’t go wrong either way.

  • avatar

    Sounds like a pretty poor salesman. The Targas have a tinted suncover that you can retract to keep the car comfortable. So things work.

  • avatar

    I suspect I’m one of the few triple-Porsche owners on TTAC, but feel free to ignore my advice in favor of advice from somebody who read about the Corvette or GT-R on the intarweb :)

    My advice: Carrera 3.6, two-wheel-drive.

    Anything you can get in a 2S or 4S, convenience-and-bauble-wise, can be had in the 3.6. It’s eleven grand cheaper, it has about the same pace as the non-direct-injected 2008-model 3.8, and it has the advantage of being the “base” 911, which is always nice because that’s the most authentic 911 available at any given time.

    There’s some well-intentioned advice about buying used Porsches above, but an out-of-warranty Porker can be extremely expensive to run at times, and you never know exactly when it’s going to happen. Those of us who run 993s know that it’s like having a $25,000 pistol pointed at your head at all times. Porsche engines are finicky and can require massive amounts of money without warning.

    I don’t think you want a GT3, unless you are a National Solo competitor. Porsche “trackday cars” are faintly ridiculous, and that includes the various PSS9-equipped “DE rats” that people build. A stock 986S or 987S on Hoosiers should be capable of lapping the PCA Instructor field in their 964RSA this and 996GT3 that. If you want to race, go racing. If you don’t, there’s no sense in pretending.

    As for the “Corvette/Nissan/1988 Fox-Body-with-nitrous-fed-460” crowd… When it comes to a Porsh, there really is no substitute. And a Cayman isn’t what this fellow needs. He has a Boxster. The Boxster is a better car than the Cayman. Everybody knows this but the Internet.

  • avatar

    AWD?? Why do you need that? Get a lighter RWD car. I would also say go for that 996 GT3, I’ll pick it up and deliver it to you free of charge…

  • avatar

    S. If for no other reason; the small difference in ‘trunk’ size may actually matter when the trunk is so small to start out with. Leaky milk gallons sucks in the nice new Porsche interiors.

    Oh, and one more thing: The suckiest thing about 911’s ‘out west’ is the small tank. Any mpg improvement is nice.

  • avatar

    re: “…there really is no substitute. And a Cayman isn’t what this fellow needs. He has a Boxster. The Boxster is a better car than the Cayman. Everybody knows this but the Internet.”
    Jack Baruth / January 28th, 2009 at 11:27 am

    i’ll wholeheartedly agree with the first part of j baruth’s quoted statement, but must take issue with the remainder.

    i’ve owned a ’97 boxster since it was new, and with only 68k miles on it to date, do not plan on ever selling it.

    i’ve also owned an ’07 cayman since it was new and enjoy it even more – for all of the astute reasons others have mentioned above – but most importantly because it is, to me at least, simply so much more fun to drive. and i do not intend on selling it either, it’s the best automobile i’ve ever bought.

    if it’s a ‘collection’ you want, a pair of mid-engined porsches is a great place to start. suggest you make em both the same color, like i did.

    [and for the record, i’ve also had the pleasure of nine years with my 356c cabriolet and eleven years with my 2.2 liter 911 coupe – both sensational cars in their own right but nothing even close to a cayman]

  • avatar
    Cole Trickle

    2nd Jack Baruth. The question was which Porsche, not which sports car for $75k. My advice to the reader? Don’t listen to anyone that doesn’t actually own a Porsche. Then again, we have an A-4 and a G35, so if you take my advice, you won’t listen to me. If you don’t take my advice and you do listen to me, then you will be taking my advice, which means not listening to me, which in turn will open up the door to listening to me. You see the dilemma. Screw it. Get a Tiburon.

  • avatar

    AWD Porsche’s are for pussies.

    I’m not sorry if I piss anyone off with that statement – its the truth. You’re not getting “lots of extra grip”, you’re getting added weight and reduced steering feel. The only compelling argument for a 4S is if you plan on 4-seasoning the car during snowy winters (with snow tires of course) – because its a damned shame to garage a car half the year – but that doesn’t seem to be the case here.

    There’s a reason the GT2 and GT3, and all their race cars are RWD and not AWD.

    If you’re a housewife or a person with a heart problem, by all means, get the 4S. Maybe a base Boxster is more your flavor though.

  • avatar

    Hi philipwitak,

    Would you accept my suggestion that you might be just as happy in a 2007 Boxster? I’d agree with you that the gap between a Boxster 2.5 and Cayman 3.4 is pretty serious, but the Boxster 3.4 is a monster as well.

    The Boxster does everything the Cayman does, plus the top goes down. Add the B-K extender, as I’ve done, and you are set!

  • avatar

    Good lord why are you people complicating the question. Its a matter of rwd or awd. I am a good driver not a great driver so I would go awd.

    In my opinion if you are going to be taking your car to a track go awd unless you are a great driver. You will get more out of the car.

  • avatar

    Did I mention the Targa sucks and should never be a consideration.

    I’m not to fond of the convertible either, but the Targa…Jeez, that thing is hideous.

  • avatar

    As a 911 recidivist (I’m on number four), and someone who’s owned both a 997 S and a 996 C4, my thoughts are as follows:

    The point of the car is fun to drive; all things being equal,that means 2WD;

    If you’re thinking daily driver and will use the car in serious weather, 4WD is nice to have;

    If the car’s to be a plaything, an ’89 Carrera is way cheaper and more entertaining than anything that followed;

    If you want new, consider newish instead. There are certified ’08’s out there with 4 figure mileage at $40K off MSRP;

    Don’t believe the “you’re better off with a Boxster/Cayman” hype- they ARE “better” drivers but significantly less fun (see point 1),and less practical to boot (that supposedly useless back seat is in constant use by virtually all 911 drivers-try stuffing your teenager in the back of a Cayman);

    Bottom line: don’t worry be happy-whichever model you end up with you’re going to love. There is…well, see my username.

  • avatar

    First of all, as someone who has for a long time lived in countries where snow is a serious consideration for several months a year, forget the Porsche AWD for that. While it might have some other advantages, driving on snow is not one of the major ones. A C2S will have the majority of the weight on the back axle and the only thing you need to do is fitting proper winter tyres – which costs a lot less and will do a lot more than a C4S on normal summer tyres. While a good marketing trick from Porsche (in places where there is regular snow), a C4S is simply not to be compared to a proper AWD car in this respect.

    In normal conditions? C2S will definitely be totally adequate for your knowledge level – it will be more about you actually being sufficiently capable of jusging road and traffic conditions to not drive like a berserker, where its not warranted – and the safety net will work similarly well on both. Plus you get a slightly purer and more fun experience.

  • avatar

    Done deal, get the Cayman S with the Chrono Plus Package and Limisted slip diff, cheaper than a 911, and ultimately faster, unless you want those measily back seats…. plus it fits more luggage, i think havent tried though….

    go give it a spin and let us know……

  • avatar

    I asked the question: “Porsche Carrera S or Carrera 4S?”

    I have decided to get the 4S. Greed is good, but gluttony is better, and no question: the way this thing handles is a sin. I test-drove both the S and 4S. Whereas the S has PSM step in from time to time to slow the pace and permit me to recover, the 4S has some kinda mind-meld between the AWD and the PSM, putting the driver in an otherworldly video-game reality of point-and-shoot driving: point wheels and mash the Go pedal. What an incredible machine. The mild-mannered driver becomes part of the car. A car-borg.

    For anyone else out there faced with such a terrible dilemma as mine, I strongly encourage finding out for yourself.

    I also went with the PDK. A long stick-shift driver, I loved the 6speed Carrera S and Targa 4S I also test-drove. And it felt natural in that I’m used to cranking through corners in second… I can tell I would become really good with it. But – try out the PDK. I was fortunate last Fall to go to a half-day Porsche Driving Experience with Carrera S + PDK cars, and after the first follow-the-leader lap, I began to instinctualize the paddles. The deep and sharp left turn was no problem: right hand was turned around to 10 o’clock and my left hand was left in my lap, but I was still able to pop the gear down twice with my right hand. With a stick, I’d have to pull my left hand up on wheel to free my right to reach the stick. And with the Sport Chrono, even “D” is pretty cool. Say you’re driving at 30 mph, and the “D” puts you in (I think) 4th gear. Hit the Sport button and it shifts to 3rd gear. Hit the Sport Plus button and it shifts you into 2nd. That is, the tach set point for shifting raises. None of this business I read on-line about “D” being lethargic. Not with Sport Plus.

    The first car I tested was actually a Carrera + PDK. I did multiple Launch Controls and was blown away. That’s another AWESOME feature of PDK and the Sport Chrono package: Launch Control. Hold the brake down with your left, floor it to redline with your right, and when the “Launch Control Active” message comes on, pop of the brake an ZOOM you go down the road. I cannot begin to describe how cool this is. Anyway, I then tried the Carrera S + PDK, and I tell you what, you can really appreciate the extra power. In the Launch Control, the power sometimes was very sudden, once the static friction caught up and delivered the torque. Not so with the 4S + PDK. The AWD just gobbles up the road.

    BTW: I perceived none of this ethereal “AWD feels heavier” commentary I’ve read online, or that the RWD is “more fun, more connected”. Maybe the Stig can tell, but not I. And I have a Boxster already so I know.

    And remember: you cannot have a collection with just one


  • avatar

    I would definitely go with the 4S.  it is all wheel drive and has a sport mode.  cant get any better than that.

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