Review and photos by Michael La Fave

2006 Porsche Carrera 4
2006 Porsche Carrera 4. Click image to enlarge

Some of my fondest automotive memories are of driving one variant of Porsche or another. I’ve had the good fortune to have drifted the Cayenne at high speeds across the frozen expanses of Laplan, carved endless corners on the rough and undulating roads of northern Quebec in a Boxster, frightened myself with the awesome acceleration of the 996 GT3 on Ontario’s Highway 401, ravaged the Tuscan countryside in a 911 turbo Cabriolet, sung a melodious exhaust song in Alpine valleys in Austria piloting the last 4S Cabrio, stormed around Mosport race-track in the awe inspiring Carrera GT and on so many occasions driven these cars hard, fast and far. Of all these incredible journeys the most recent is the one I’m least likely to ever forget.

Mix equal parts fabulous hotel overlooking Monaco, thrill ride with rally legend Walter Rohrl, leisurely drive through neighbouring Italy with a memorable lunch stop, a stunning new Porsche Carrera 4 and last, but certainly not least, hours of blasting up and down the famed Col de Turini mountain road – once a part of the Monte Carlo rally circuit.

By the early afternoon most of my colleagues had long since turned green but the sheer exhilaration induced by this car on this road had me feeling delirious with joy.

2006 Porsche Carrera 4
2006 Porsche Carrera 4. Click image to enlarge

Corner after corner was met with an easily-matched heel-and-toe shift to first, roll the throttle out to the stop through first, second and sometimes third gear and then hard on the brakes, rev-matched downshifts back to second and finally first, squeal the tires through the 180-degree turns, and back on the power. Repeat as necessary.

I’m not going to exaggerate one bit here – the car’s capabilities are so high that I don’t think we ever approached its limits save for some gentle understeer on one or two tight corners we approached too fast. One thing we did come to appreciate is that the 4 prefers going fast to going slow. Driven with gusto the 4 settles into a rhythm that just feels right. At such a pace the ride is more compliant, the steering more precise (as if that’s possible), and the sound more intoxicating – it simply glides over the road with the suspension frantically working to keep the massive tires in constant contact with the pavement.

2006 Porsche Carrera 4
2006 Porsche Carrera 4. Click image to enlarge

The steering is more settled than in a Carrera 2 thanks to a bit of extra weight over the front wheels due to the AWD system. Though the grip levels are incredible the Carrera 4 still wiggles around a bit as it settles into a corner but this same fidgety nature is also what allows the car to respond to the driver’s every command.

2006 Porsche Carrera 4
2006 Porsche Carrera 4. Click image to enlarge

Well okay, maybe not MY every command but Walter had the car dancing on its tip-toes and it felt better still. For the rest of us, the cars lofty limits make outrunning speed bikes on winding roads a piece of cake and provide a wide margin of safety when making swift progress.

Not that we ever got close to truly testing them out but the optional Ceramic Composite Brakes have a subjectively better feel than the standard steel brakes once you get used to the somewhat abrupt initial bite. That, and they look damn cool especially behind the optional 19-inch multi-spoke alloys on one of our test cars. Whether that alone is worth over $10,000 is up to you.

2006 Porsche Carrera 4
2006 Porsche Carrera 4. Click image to enlarge

There are in fact two Carrera AWD models; the 4 and 4S. The S actually represents a bit of a value when you consider that it comes with the adjustable suspension, larger brakes with red-painted callipers, larger 19-inch wheels and tires in place of the base 4’s 18s not to mention 355 horsepower – 30 hp more than the standard car. All this extra goodness will cost you $122,300. The Sport Chrono package not only puts a honking big chronograph in the middle of the dash but also lets you sharpen the throttle response and changes shift characteristics if you have the optional Tiptronic transmission. You can even plot your lap times on the Navigation system screen and compare hot laps.

2006 Porsche Carrera 4

2006 Porsche Carrera 4
2006 Porsche Carrera 4. Click image to enlarge

Cars like the Porsche 911 are more than mere transportation. A 911 is dense with technology, dense with mechanical systems, dense with pedigree and rife with passion and emotion. You don’t “drive” a car like the Carrera 4, you pilot it – you allow it to become an extension of your own neuro-physiology. There’s an incredible amount of information coming back at the driver from the road and, if you understand what that information means, each input tailors the car’s behaviour. This back-and-forth isn’t possible in most cars and it is truly what sets the 911 apart from just about every other automobile ever made.

2006 Porsche Carrera 4
2006 Porsche Carrera 4. Click image to enlarge

A car like the 4 makes it easy to tell that the variability of my own skill causes the car to perform differently. To a true driving enthusiast, however, that should represent enormous appeal. Here is a car so precise and so well balanced that the novice can spend years becoming better acquainted with its nuances. Other cars can be learned quickly and the limitations of their engineering define the depth of control and performance that a driver can extract from them. I could spend the rest of my life learning the nuances of a 911 and I doubt I would ever even approach Walter Rorhl’s ability. With each track event, winding mountain road and highway on-ramp, however, the driver can deepen his relationship with a 911 and extract more enjoyment from the car with each passing year.

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