Porsche 911 C4S; eight generations in and still going strong
Known within Porsche as the ‘Typ 992’, highlights Iain Robertson, and revised consistently through eight generations since 1963, the signature 911 Coupe is one of the most recognised sports cars in the world and is by far the most favoured example.
When Ferdinand Porsche created his first 911, it was air-cooled, rear-engined and Bauhaus-inspired. It had been developed from the 356 line-up to satisfy demands for more cabin space and greater potency. It established a new standard for the German firm, from which it has veered only marginally for the past 56 years. Interestingly, it was to be called ‘901’ but Peugeot intervened, stating that it had registered all model numbers with a middle-zero, so a disgruntled Porsche renamed the car 911.
It is a model that has instilled both fear and respect among its followers. As long as the driver had a modicum of knowledge about the Laws of Physics and could understand the pendulum effect attached to slinging an engine out back, the 911’s handling was never a problem. Yet, there are more stories of lurid and hard-to-control tail-slides and equally scary frontal ploughing abounding among testers and fans alike that have kept potential buyers at bay.
Just because a diamond has a flaw can either increase its appeal, or turn off the buyer majorly. The Porsche 911 has endured its rear-engined flaws that have added to its character, yet it is a ‘Marmite’ model among its peers. With an all-alloy, water-cooled ‘boxer’ (six horizontally opposed cylinders) engine slung out defiantly behind the rear axle line and eight generations’ worth of re-engineering required to cure its natural imbalance; it could be stated that Porsche has finally got it right in the latest iterations.
From a strictly personal viewpoint, I have always enjoyed the handling ‘edge’ provided by the 911. I can still recall being tutored by German rallying legend, Walter Rohrl, who advised me to ‘keep the throttle in’, when cornering a 911. He was right. The weight transfer could lift an outside front wheel, as a result of the immense levels of grip arising from placing the engine weight at the rear of the car. It was the throttle-lift that would create an imbalance, from which recovery could be troublesome.
Intriguingly, although control balance was always the key, this method worked almost equally well in the wet, as in the dry…perhaps with a smidgen of opposite steering lock also being applied. Given the choice, my 911 would be the rear-driven Carrera2S, because I feel that the all-wheel drive C4S is just a bit too safe, too predictable, too benign, these days. Yet, there is no surer means of transmitting 444bhp, through an 8-speed automated-manual gearbox, to terra firma, and it is a means to attract the confirmed mid-engine brigade to Porsche and its other ownership benefits.
In its latest ‘wide-body’ form (by 44mm), the current 911 outline is immensely handsome. Just as quantum science is related to small things, Porsche has employed quantum improvements throughout the history of its model. It has been an unceasing exercise over the 42 years since I first drove a 911. The latest interior detailing is outstanding, with the highest quality introduced everywhere, from switchgear to dashboard leather and improved seating making it even more accommodating and comfortable too.
Where the earliest models were compromised in many ways, with illogically scattered switchgear, compromised seat positions and the aforementioned handling ‘issues’, those cars were tiny, by comparison with the latest 911s, and they felt it too. Yet, the five-dial instrument layout still places the rev-counter amidships, even though the dials are now digital and reprogrammable to driver needs. As 911 has been developed, it has become roomier, more technologically advanced and more luxurious.
Yet, it is the delivery of the 3.0-litre turbocharged engine that is the mystical prize, not merely in its wide-band accessibility but in its hard-edged bark and lack of Italianate histrionics. It underscores that flat-six power plant to muscled perfection and provides a warranty of glitch-free progress at all times, despite the fact that it is now more revvy than ever, capable of reaching well into the high-7000s with ease. Flicking the paddles in the transmission’s ‘manual’ mode merely adds to the operatic and omnipresent basso profundo drama.
The test car is equipped with around £12,000’s worth of extra-cost items, including the optional active antiroll-bars, a four-wheel steering system and lowered suspension, which combine with the 4WD to make its handling surprisingly responsive, without a whiff of electronic intervention, even in trying weather conditions. In fact, attempting to find its limits at normal road speeds, even in torrential rain, was almost impossible. It would need a test track, or racing circuit, to discover where they were. Yet, it still features the characteristic nose ‘bob’, despite the composed and surgical precision of its deliciously alive steering (still the best of any road car that I have ever driven). Okay. I know that this is a near £100,000 sports coupe and, therefore, somewhat closer to fantasyland than my wallet can manage but I would defy you to round-up a better rival.
Tipping the scales at 1.5 tonnes, capable of blitzing the 0-60mph benchmark in just 3.3s, with a top speed of 190mph, while returning 27mpg on average, the Porsche 911 remains the best-rounded, most prodigious and yet most practical of supercars, capable of daily driver status, as well as long-distance cruising, with a small boot up-front and a roomy ledge behind the front seats. It is real. It is tactile. It is tangible. It can cover ground faster than ever and is as tough as old boots, when you need it to be. In my book, there is no finer example of broad brush, sporting on-road prowess than a Porsche 911.
Conclusion: Still capable of turning heads after 56 years, the 911 represents both design icon and performance leader in all respects. Its investment potential is in-built and its place in the sportscar arena is sacrosanct. My personal vote goes to the C2S version but, in terms of dynamic safety, the C4S is the all-seasons champion, without any doubt.