Story and photos by Haney Louka
I thought they were nuts.
I received the email in September: Haney, we’re sending a Carrera 4S your way from December 22 to 29.
The reason this is so strange is because I live in Winnipeg. Or, more appropriately, Winterpeg. We occasionally get enough snow here to bury a 911. Oh yeah, and it gets cold enough that even the most hardy souls stay indoors whenever possible. (Oops, that was my ear. Could you pick it up for me?).
Little did I know that after only a few minutes behind the wheel of the C4S I would come to realize how much of a truly all-weather car I was dealing with.
The Carrera 4S, after all, does have all of the credentials of a bona fide supercar: rear-mounted 315-hp flat-6, all wheel drive, 18-inch wheels with 295/30 series tires in back, four-piston brake calipers with cross-drilled rotors that measure 13 inches in diameter, and the list goes on. Throw in Porsche’s magnificent stability management system and all of those ingredients add up to a seriously capable performance car that is also as easy to drive during the daily commute as a Honda.
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But such exotica are merely fair weather friends, right? Not so with this version of the 911. Strap on a set of good winter tires (my tester was shod with slightly narrower-than-stock Dunlop SP Winter Sports) and this Porsche is transformed into a truly formidable companion when the weather turns sour.
With a base price of $119,950, the Carrera 4S is roughly $20,000 more than the base Carrera. That premium buys all wheel drive; a 60-mm-wider, Turbo-style body; larger brakes, wheels, and tires; lowered suspension; and standard Porsche Stability Management (PSM). There are also a few comfort and convenience features standard on the 4S that are optional on the ‘base’ Carrera.
Notable options on my test car included bi-xenon headlights, a rear wiper, wheel centre caps with coloured crests, heated seats, and supple leather. The most fascinating option, though, was a $4,700 Bose ‘Advanced Technic’ audio system that includes 12 speakers scattered throughout the cabin and produces some of the crispest music in the realm of car audio. All totaled, my test example wore a price tag just south of $130,000.
There are a few interesting items on the standard equipment list as well: ‘Alcantara’ roof lining, multifunction trip computer, anti-theft system, power sunroof, and a bunch more goodies. While 2002 models came with a cassette deck (the optional changer was located under the hood), all 2003 911s are thankfully equipped with a standard CD player.
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Now Porsche is at a bit of a disadvantage here because I didn’t get any track time behind the wheel of the Carrera 4S. Heck, there was hardly any dry pavement in sight. I drove the car in Winnipeg, in December, and so in addition to being a world class performer, it also had to perform the daily commute well and handle other mundane day-to-day driving situations. You know, just like a regular car.
Know what? It succeeded. Admirably. There isn’t a single other sports car that can come close to this Porsche’s all-around excellence. If BMW made an all wheel drive M3 it would come close. But they don’t.
The C4S’s naturally aspirated flat six motivates this 1,470-kg coupe with a fluid urgency normally associated with much larger engines. It pulls hard at low revs and doesn’t give up until it claws right to its 7,200-rpm redline. And with that thrust comes a sound that is a nice baritone at low revs and becomes a wailing tenor as the tach needle swings past the vertical mark.
The PSM system does exactly what it was designed to do. It senses discrepancies between driver’s inputs (steering, throttle, braking) and what is actually happening and does what it can to reconcile the two. For example, give it too much gas coming out of a corner and the tail end will attempt to step out on you. By the time you dial back the steering to compensate, the computer has already reduced the throttle and applied brakes at individual corners in an attempt to restore stability. It isn’t a foolproof system though: the rules of physics still apply. And being a high performance machine, it does allow a fair amount of limit probing before the electronic nanny reaches down to snap the car back into position.
It’s a truly valuable system for every day driving, and there’s a button on the dash that can be used to defeat the system should conditions allow even more reaching toward the 911’s handling limits.
The 4S’s suspension, lowered and stiffened from the base Carrera’s, makes for a rather firm ride that is somewhat bone-jarring on rough roads. Taken into perspective, though, it’s perfectly acceptable given the nature of this beast.
Inside the Carrera 4S is standard 911 garb, which is to say completely functional and of high quality but not particularly eye-catching. Again this is consistent with the car’s raison d’etre and it’s clear that Porsche engineers stayed focused on producing a sports car, not a pretty boulevardier.
The supple seat leather lends just a little bit of warmth to the otherwise austere surroundings, and is well worth the few hundred dollars it commands on the option list. Something to keep in mind when driving your 911 though: leave the cupholder retracted into the dash. I can’t believe that anyone would want a hot cup of coffee sloshing just above a $4,700 audio system. So just nix the coffee and drive! I’m sure that would make the 911’s designers happy
To Sum It Up
The 911 Carrera 4S is perhaps the strongest argument that you don’t need an SUV to feel safe driving in bad weather. This car’s combination of all wheel drive, proper winter tires, and stability management system rendered it competent in some pretty ghastly driving conditions. Only this car’s ground clearance limits its foul weather driveability. And when the pavement dries up, it’s one of the most capable and tractable sports cars on the road.
|2003 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S|
|Price as tested||app. $130,000|
|Type||2-door, 2+2 passenger coupe|
|Layout||longitudinal rear engine/all-wheel-drive|
|Engine||3.6 litre HO six cylinder, DOHC, 24 valves, VVT|
|Horsepower||315 @ 6,800 rpm/td>|
|Torque||273 lb-ft @ 4,250 rpm|
|Tires||245/35 ZR 18 front; 295/30 ZR 18 rear|
|Curb weight||1470 kg (3240 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||2352 mm (92.6 in.)|
|Length||4435 mm (174.6 in.)|
|Width||1830 mm (72.0 in.)|
|Height||1295 mm (51.0 in.)|
|Cargo Capacity||100 litres (3.5 cu. ft.) front trunk; 201 litres (7.1 cu. ft.) rear seats folded|
|Fuel consumption||City: 13.8 L/100 km (22 mpg)|
|Hwy: 9.1 L/100 km (31 mpg)|
|Warranty||4 yrs/80,000 km|