2006 Porsche Carrera 4S
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Review and photos by Laurance Yap

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It’s been less than two years since Porsche launched its latest-generation “997” Carrera, but in that time it’s already managed to introduce eight variations on the theme. In addition to the 325 hp Carrera and 355 hp Carrera S that were available at the new car’s launch, the company’s also introduced convertible versions of each car, as well as a full range of all-wheel drive models, perfect for winter weather. Since the latest all-drive convertibles were not yet available at the time, I had to (uh) settle for a blood-red Carrera 4S coupe instead.

Yeah, cry me a river, you’re saying.

Unlike the previous-generation 4S, which featured the 911 Turbo’s front bumper, suspension, wheels, and tires, the new 4S is a much subtler proposition. You’d have to be a pretty dedicated Porschephile to notice the subtly flared rear fenders (they’re 40 mm wider) which stretch over even bigger 305/30 19-inch tires; it’s only when you look straight down the side of the car that you notice the extra bulge behind the rear doors, and the way the thicker rubber gives the rear end a pumped-up look. Other than that, there’s only the badge at the rear to indicate this car is something more special than a base Carrera, and even then, all 911s now have titanium-coloured badging, something that was once reserved for the all-wheel drive models.

2006 Porsche Carrera 4S
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This is a true all-weather supercar. Though its power output looks comparatively modest in an era when some pumped-up sedans are producing 500-plus horsepower, the 911 is still a very fast car, and it feels it, thanks to how light it is on its feet, and how small it is compared to other, more powerful vehicles. The engine’s throttle response is electric, and its thrust comes in three distinct waves, each a bigger aural and adrenal rush than the last. You feel confident deploying more of that power than in other cars thanks to an upright seating position that lets you see exactly what’s going on around you – and into which spots on the road you can move the car to maintain your momentum.

2006 Porsche Carrera 4S
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That confidence scarcely diminishes when the weather goes bad: the car’s HVAC system works very well, its wipers are effective even at high speeds, and Porsche offers winter tires speed-rated to 240 km/h. Not that you would.

Still, as a fan of the old narrow-bodied all-wheel drive Carreras, I’ve gotta wonder what was the point of making the rear tires even bigger when, really, the car’s front tires are doing more work than before. The answer, I suspect, is that people paying more for a 4S simply want it to look more powerful. Under normal driving conditions, the C4S diverts only five per cent of the rear-mounted 3.8-litre engine’s power to the front axle, but that proportion can increase up to 40 per cent depending on driving conditions; it happens at higher speeds on the highway to improve stability, and when you’re pulling hard out of tight corners to balance out the car’s handling.

That’s phenomenal, especially when you consider that most of the 911’s weight is still slung out behind the rear axle. On the road, pretty much nothing will faze a well-driven 911: its huge tires will grip as hard as you’ll ever need, its steering will remain inch-accurate no matter how complicated the sequence of bends you’re trying to get around, and its suspension will keep the body flat and taut no matter how bad the surface.

2006 Porsche Carrera 4S
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What you get with Carrera 4S compared to two-wheel-drive 911s is that extra bit of security in bad weather, and a reduction in the typical bobbing motion of the nose. Standard on the C4S is a switchable adaptive suspension that lets you choose between regular and sport modes; I left it in the regular setting, as it stiffens up automatically anyway when the car senses you’re driving aggressively, and it ruins the highway ride when turned on all the time.

Like a lot of expensive German cars, the 911 has fallen victim to creeping “featuritis”. It is still a fantastic driving machine – you fall in love the moment you rip the 3.8-litre flat-six up to 7000 rpm, reveling in the delicious buzz-saw sound it makes getting there – but a number of setup options have now been passed from the engineers along to you.

2006 Porsche Carrera 4S

2006 Porsche Carrera 4S

2006 Porsche Carrera 4S

2006 Porsche Carrera 4S
Click image to enlarge

In addition to the switchable suspension, for instance, you can also alter the C4S’s throttle response via a switch on the console. Used to be, you bought a Porsche (or a BMW, or a Mercedes for that matter) knowing that the engineers – who after all knew what was best for the car – would have chosen the perfect setup. Now you get options: do you want hard throttle/hard suspension? Soft and soft? Hard and soft? Soft and hard? Presented with all these choices, it takes a bit longer to form the bond with the car you would have originally cemented the moment you pulled out of the dealer lot.

Indeed, should you be lucky enough to find yourself perusing Porsche’s incredibly thick and dense order guide, you’ll know that trying to decide on a perfect 911 setup is not the work of a moment. Of all of the cars Porsche builds in a year – it sold over 33,000 cars in North America in 2004 – no two cars that leave the factory floor are identical, such are the variety of various powertrain combinations, and so extensive is the list of possible option packages, colour combinations, and trim choices. Do you want the regular steel brakes or ceramic brakes? Comfort seats or adaptive sport seats with adjustable side bolsters? Gauge faces in black, white, silver, or body colour? Nineteen-inch wheels in a multi-spoke design, or in a classic five-spoke? And if five-spoke, do you want thick spokes or thin? The possibilities are almost endless: if you count all of the available permutations, there are almost two million ways to build a 911 to suit your desires.

You will, of course, pay dearly for this level of customization. While I consider the base prices for the various Porsche models to be pretty decent value considering their performance and practicality – a 911 Turbo, for instance, is $100,000 less than a Ferrari F430 and you can drive it every day of the year – their options can be comically expensive. Metallic paint, which comes standard on any number of cheap vehicles, is a $1,150 option.

2006 Porsche Carrera 4S
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Coloured Porsche logos for your fancy wheels cost $250 extra. Full carbon-fibre trim kit for the interior? $11,000. An “X51” power upgrade for S models, boosting power to 380 hp, costs almost $15,000. Needless to say, it’s easy to get carried away with the options list – Turbo money for a Carrera, anyone? – and with a few exceptions, most of those extras don’t provide a tangible benefit in terms of performance.

Keeping it simple can be difficult, though. My tester, despite having the standard seats, no navigation system, and the stock wheel and tire combination, still had almost $20,000 worth of optional equipment added onto it. Some – the louder sports exhaust with the asymmetrical quad pipes, the short-shift kit for the transmission and the Chrono Plus pack with the dashboard stopwatch that also bundles that switchable throttle – were well worth keeping, and distinctly added to the pleasure of driving an already excellent car.

2006 Porsche Carrera 4S
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The rest – $4,700 for a “full” leather package, $2,700 for power seats, and $1,950 for a Bose “high end” sound system that didn’t sound much better than the stock stereo – seemed like luxury frippery on what’s supposed to be an iconic sports car. I’d rather spend the same money on an upgrade to ceramic brakes from the already-superb steel stoppers ($11,800).

For me anyway, the 911 isn’t about power seats or Bose stereos or leather-wrapped dashboards. It’s about the way it jumps to life the moment you turn the key. The way its steering wheel writhes sweet nothings to your fingers no matter how slow or fast you’re driving. The way its engine roars and growls up and down the rev range with every twitch of your foot. The way it stops and corners like nothing else on the planet, thanks to its rear weight bias and the ability to use those huge rear tires to their full potential. It’s much to the car’s credit that despite all of the luxury trappings you can add to a 911 – despite all the ways to, arguably, water down its personality – its essentially racy character still manages to shine through.

Hey, Porsche’s been building 911s for more than 40 years now; a few more gadgets and a bunch more options were never really going to hurt it that much.

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