By on April 17, 2009

You may recall that TTAC commentator stephada asked TTAC’s Best and Brightest whether he should buy a Porsche Carrera S or 4S. Decisions. Decisions. He sent us a heads-up on the process, and the result.

I 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


Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

23 Comments on “Ask the Best and Brightest Follow-Up: A Tale of Two Carreras...”

  • avatar

    That’s the tail of only one Carrera.


  • avatar

    …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.

    So, a German GT-R then?

  • avatar

    I love this man, I hate this man…

    I love this man, I hate this man…

    I love this man, I hate this man…

    I love this man, I hate this man…

  • avatar

    Congrats stephada! Great choice. You really can’t go wrong with any 911. They are simply magnificent machines, and IMO the most capable, accessible all-around sports cars bar none. Nothing else really compares.

    I’m currently hot on the trail of a low-mile midnight blue ’96 993 Carrera Coupe (6 spd), for less than the price of a new Camry (albeit a loaded one). Can’t wait to re-join the 911 “gestalt”!

  • avatar

    If ever I tire of my license (or my life), it’s an air cooled targa for me.

  • avatar


    Follow on to h82w8 blanket recommendation for 911’s, TTAC viewers should read “M96: Past, Present, and Future,” (Excellence, Dec. ’08, p 161:168) follow-up letter to the editor p. 10, Feb. ’09, and “Tech Notes,” p. 16, May ’09.

    I was close to buying a used 996 911 (’04) until seeing the above. To quote the Excellence Tech Notes Editor: “When the Boxster and 996 were relatively new cars and the M96’s problems were not yet understood, rumors suggested that up to 50 percent of the cars were going to experience failure. Porsche addressed the problems and, today, I am hearing the numbers of cars that have had or will have a problem is closer to 20 percent, or one in five.”

    These M96 engine “problems” include failure of the intermediate shaft. Boom. New engine. a 1:5 negative lottery was enough to scare me away from 1999 to 2008 911’s, the lost decade. The good news is there is a new engine for 2009 and no 911 turbos were based on the M96 engine. Now, if I could just afford a used turbo….

  • avatar

    So noted bucksnort. Pays to do some pre-purchase homework. Various model 911s have indeed had specific – and in this case serious – reliability issues. Aside from these, though, 911s in general have proven to be relatively reliable and durable over time, especially compared to some other “exotic” marques.

  • avatar

    The tail of the 4 versions sure looks great from this angle, but not so much from any other angle in my opinion. Hence, I would still go for the Carrera S, and I would choose the manual gearbox, because the PDK ‘paddles’ are in the wrong place.

    Maybe you can adjust to it, but I don’t really want to. I would like to try the PDK just to see what it’s about, but there’s a very small chance I’d change my mind.

    I did drive a manual pre-facelift 997 once and I liked the gearbox in that just fine, or actually, a lot.

    Anyway, if you go with the S version you can’t go wrong unless you buy the Targa in my opinion.
    Did you go for the brown color? Or that new blue which is awesome too?

  • avatar

    What can the B&B tell me about reliability of the 997 (’05 on)? I’ve read numerous accounts about frequent rear main seal failure (Boxster too) of previous models and I’m wondering if this has been finally fixed. Our local Porsche dealer also tells me that clutches last about 60K-80K miles (ok, fine), but that they have to be replaced before damage is done to the flywheel. Yikes! That sounds pretty delicate to me for a supposedly reliable car. Are these truly trustworthy daily drivers?

  • avatar

    My friends & I drive all manner of 911s — 993, 996, 997 Carrera/Carrera S, Turbo, GT3/GT3RS, GT2 & Ruf Rt12. Thus, cars which include RWD & AWD, 6-speed gearbox, Tiptronic & lately 7-speed PDK, with power ranging from 260-650 HP. We drive them on a very technical 2.5 mile track (130 mph on straights; 40 mph on tight turns) as well as VMax runs on a sparsely used highway (217 mph in the Ruf, GPS measured). Following are our observations concerning RWD vs. AWD 911s.

    Before all else, let me focus principally on comparing 911 Carrera/S vs. their AWD variants. We should exclude the GT3/RS & GT2 cars here, as they’re far more demanding than the average 911 driver would like his car to be.

    AWD is clearly quicker under conditions of limited traction, ie wet or very dusty surfaces. Even with the current traction control systems which are clearly superior to those on earlier models, there simply isn’t fighting physics. When the driven wheels on RWD lose traction on slippery surfaces, there isn’t much PASM can do besides possibly even slowing you down if you’re clumsy enough to approach the point of terminal oversteer. With AWD and traction control, power is distributed to the wheels with the greatest traction, and you take that slippery curve quicker than with RWD (while feeling rather more secure).

    Not the same under dry conditions. Driven skillfully, the RWD 911 can actually be quicker (& more fun) than AWD. This is specially true of the current models with PASM & PDK. For one thing, they understeer less (on standard suspension settings) than the AWD cars. Then as mentioned, the current PASM keeps/gets you out of trouble at meaningfully higher speeds than past versions, so the safety net provided by AWD is for most practical situations, superfluous. And not to forget, AWD adds something like twenty pounds unsprung weight to the car, plus some friction loss, all of which can’t help its speed and handling (& ride).

    These things show up in the numbers. On the track, we find our RWD 911s lapping as much as two seconds quicker than the AWDs. Similarly on VMax runs, the lighter weight, narrower body and who knows, possibly less friction in the drive train of the RWDs give them a slight but noticeable edge.

    VMax ought not be confused with drag races which start from 0 mph, ending a quarter mile down the road. AWD will be better under those conditions, simply because they launch better, again because of the distribution of power to all four wheels. VMax runs are typically done with a rolling start at 50 mph, and will stretch for several miles so the cars achieve or approach their respective maximum speeds.

    Other observations: AWD 911s, specially those prior to the current 997 series, feel relatively ponderous to haul around at slow to normal road speeds. This is specially true of the 993/996 Turbo models, which feel sharp and are really exciting at high speed, but feel almost a bit like a light truck otherwise.

    I’d say that the current Carreras with PDK feel marginally more fun in RWD form than AWD. There’s a subtle sweetness about the steering of a RWD 911 that becomes more evident the more you drive it, as compared with the 4/4S. Not that the the AWD ones are clumsy; certainly not the current ones.

    In fact, I’ll conclude by saying that unless you expect to drive a lot in the rain, the current Carreras are best in RWD form. This does not apply to the Turbo, whose substantially greater power (& torque) does call for AWD if only to help PASM save the average driver from himself. All you need do is to drive a Turbo and a GT2 successively. Unless you’re highly skilled & plan to track your car a lot, you’ll enjoy the Turbo a lot better. And probably be safer & more comfortable in the bargain.

  • avatar

    bucksnort -“I am hearing the numbers of cars that have had or will have a problem is closer to 20 percent, or one in five.”

    I have had three 911’s from your purported “lost decade”, a ’99, ’03 and ’05. No problems whatsoever. I guess the key is to avoid that troublesome fifth.

  • avatar

    Autopassion: the RMS issue was fixed several years ago; by 2000 or 2001 I believe, but someone correct me if I’m wrong.

    From 1997 until then, Porsche replaced a number of motors in warranty claims for RMS failures. If you’re looking for a used example in the earlier years, be sure to do a thorough enquiry into the car’s/motor’s history. If it was replaced, this is actually a good thing, and it’s something you can use as a buyer to extract better pricing from the seller (the sellers–unless an informed enthusiast–will often assume this is a liability, when in fact, it means the likelihood of the motor failing is mostly eliminated).

    Moreover, most water-cooled Porsche drivers who bother to think about these things tend to feel that if the motor made it past 40k miles, it’s probably a good one. I know for sure that buyers looking for donors for BSR/BSX racing cars have no objections to looking for higher mile cars. Still, proceed with caution, do your research, and you can find some really great cars at very good prices. 996s are now routinely available below $30k, and many are now dropping below 993s, and even rivalling some 964s in price. Good early Boxsters can be had for $15k-ish.

    Even better, it’s becoming apparent that a DIY/enthusiast culture, club racing, and aftermarket support are beginning to emerge around the water-cooled cars, now that they’re affordable enough to be able to take risks with engine tuning and so forth for those who are not racing or tuning on the level of say some of our local mil/billionaires for whom cost is irrelevant. The above-mentioned Excellence article is proof that these motors are starting to get split and worked.

  • avatar

    I think the most troubling thing about the intermediate shaft part of this issue is Porsche did not design a fix. There is a new rms design in later M96’s, but if your intermediate shaft grenades under warranty, they just replace the engine and you get another draw at the 1:5 lottery. If it grenades out of warranty your only hope is probably one of those firms mentioned in the Excellence article. Porsche’s “fix” is the new engine for 2009.

    It would seem logical for the factory engineers to have done more to take care of their customer base.


  • avatar

    A Porsche that drives for you is a technical marvel, a Nissan that drives for you is soul-less.

    Truth must’ve been born in Germany.

  • avatar

    NoSubstitute, Ferrygeist, bucksnort: thanks for the input – really appreciated. Want something sporty but need a backseat for our 5-year old and a 911 seemed like a possible choice but I hate that 1 in 5 thing. A well off neighbor just got a new Turbo and he noted that when he traded in ’04 996 Turbo it too had RMS failure, in spite of my understanding that the Turbo’s seals were machined rather than cast and supposedly immune to this problem.

    The irony is that I’ve owned two 356’s (a ’56 and a ’59) and those cars were both fun and reliable. Now I want something safer. I know the SC’s are bulletproof but drive like clunkers. What’s the word on reliability for the 993’s?

  • avatar

    Autopassion: SCs are hardly clunkers! I’m guessing your impression of that comes from SCs that have tired suspensions–of which there are many. But, a suspension refresh with factory rubber, new front shock inserts, rear struts, possibly somewhat larger torsion bars, front brace, upgraded ARBs, turbo tie rods, new pads, rebuilt steering rack, new wheel bearings, and a few other fixes, will give you a formidable handler, and something that blows away just about anything made today in terms of road feel, feedback, and, a kind of unfiltered purity in the driving experience.

    Drop a little more money, and you can get into some serious aftermarket bushing/bearing/suspension packages that will transform an SC (or any 911 for that matter) into something really tremendous. And this is all without touching the drivetrain. Assuming the interior is clean, the chassis is straight, rust-free and you’re happy with the overall package, you’ll have a tremendously rewarding car that will just keep on giving and giving–and going and going.

    And good examples of SCs can be had for well under $20k.

  • avatar

    I want to have this problem!

  • avatar

    And btw, thanks for sharing your experience with us. I am actually surprised, as I always felt that the S would be a more fun drive.

    I stand educated.

  • avatar
    Usta Bee

    It’s amazing what happens after 40 years when you take a group of engineers and have them work on an inherent design flaw like the rear engine location of the 911’s. You can actually have a good handling car if you pour enough talent and money into the problem !.

    My favorite quote about Porsches was about one of the racing cars from the 50’s….”It has the weight distribution of a short-handled sledge hammer”.

    I agree with the abouve comments about 4wd Porsche=GTR

  • avatar

    The only thing that keeps the AWD Porsches from suffering a full case of “GT-Ritis” is the lump in the tail. An AWD Cayman would be a very fast but not super-exciting way to get around.

    I am a 993 and 986S owner, looking at a 996 GT3 as my next one. I don’t sell my Porsches. Evar.

  • avatar

    As an owner of two AWD 911s (both of which I drive regularly), I must say they are not like the Nissan GTR. I’ve driven my friend’s GTR and it’s really very different.

    Inspite of the Nissan weighing 600 lbs. more, it has an uncanny ability to feel like it’s finding its way ’round a bend by itself. Furthermore, the numbers show that it accelerates better than expected, given its power/weight ratio.

    As best I can tell, the NIssan engineers have managed to produce a superior traction control system, plus they have succeeded in matching the gear ratios and the engine power curve to perfection.

    Having said all that, would I replace either of my 911s for a GTR? No. At this point, I find the driving experience provided by the 911 to be still more satisfying. Don’t ask me to say exactly why that is. When I’ve figured out just what makes driving a 911 so satisfying, I’ll post it here.

  • avatar

    The Carrera 4S I ordered is midnight blue metallic, with a black/grey two-color leather interior. I once saw one of these parked at the dealership waiting for a pickup, and it was so beautiful. Some other items’ info, to help anybody else choose amongst the millions of options:

    The power seats have a lumbar support, which is nice for the road trips.

    The BOSE is, well, just awesome. It’s not some obnoxious thing like the booom-booom air pressure generators, just a really great sound system. DCD’s “Cantara” from _Toward The Within_ is just amazing with it.

    And the iPod interface is incredibly slick. All the iPod menus appear on the touch screen in the console. It doesn’t have an iPhone-like scrolling, but it’s still really slick. And it works even with my olden 3rd generation iPod.

    After a little Googling research I decided on self-dimming mirrors. My research reminded me how a low-slung car like a Porsche is forever getting beamed by SUVs, and while a manual switch for the rearview works well, the side mirrors are left out. This should be good.

    I’m a little sheepish about it, but the ventilated seats are just sooo nice. It’s like A/C in the seat. You ever have your shirt stick to the seat on a hot day? Not with ventilated seats. The downside is that the heated seats went along with it, so it was a pretty high-dollar item, but, everybody I ask who has heated seats say they love them.

    As a feedback to JJ: the ‘paddles’ are in the wrong place compared to what? I was skeptical too when I went the 1/2-day PDE last Fall, but you get used to them fast, and being on the steering wheel they’re always where your hands are no matter where you turn the steering wheel. They become really natural; you should check them out.

    Thanks to all of your who replied to my original query: Carrera S or 4S? For me, the AWD lets me do anything I want, and the 385 horsepower “S” engine gives me all the power. The PDK offers no compromise in fine control of power delivery, but when I’m stuck in an interstate traffic jam (I live near the junction of four interstate highways – midcities Dallas/Fort Worth) I can just pop it in “D” and forget about it.


    PS – Did I also mention I’m picking it up in Stuttgart on a European Delivery program? and driving it around Europe for three months?

  • avatar

    “PS – Did I also mention I’m picking it up in Stuttgart on a European Delivery program? and driving it around Europe for three months?”

    That’s great, stephada. I did that Stuttgart pick up in ’06 for my 997 GT3 and took it to, among other places, the Nurburgring. I suggest you consider that. While there, make a point of taking a peek into Olaf Manthey’s facilities. While there, I saw several Vettes that were in a No Entry building. My guess was that Chevrolet had engaged Manthey’s help to sort out the Vette’s chassis.

    There are several hotels around the Ring, including a large one which overlooks the F1 course. I liked one of the small ones better. Many of the factory test drivers stay there; they park their supposedly secret test cars right there overnight.

    Be prepared to dump all your luggage on the rear seats. The 4S has a tiny box in its nose for luggage. The AWD hardware required about two-thirds of the space that’s otherwise available (on the Carrera S). Small price to pay, I guess, if you like the things the 4S does.

    Enjoy the drive! Happy for you.

Read all comments

Recent Comments

  • probert: “Though the most contentious decision was Biden’s cancellation of the Keystone XL’s cross-border...
  • probert: It has no impact on the current situation. There would be quite some time before any oil, if found, would be...
  • ToolGuy: Dear TTAC, If the 2023 Cadillac Escalade-V with 682 horsepower uses a 10-speed transmission, and a top fuel...
  • dal20402: It was the 2002 concept that had suicide doors. The 2015 concept was nearly identical to the production...
  • Jeff S: The late night comedians do miss those late night tweets of Trump as he is sitting on the can. Never was that...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber