April 5, 2009
Tired of all the dreary news?
Then slip behind the wheel of a 2009 Porsche 911 Carrera for a little R&R.
We briefly felt guilty about enjoying a high-performance sports car at a time when some are losing sleep over conserving an ounce of fuel, until we pulled the ruby red Porsche into a mall lot as a bumblebee yellow Smart was pulling out.
It appeared the man piloting the Smart shed a tear while gazing fondly at the Porsche. At $4 a gallon for gas, his Smart looks a lot better. At the $1.79 the day our paths crossed, the Porsche won out.
Porsche offers the rear-wheel-drive Carrera and Carrera S (coupe and cabriolet), plus all-wheel-drive Carrera 4 and Carrera 4S coupe and cabrio. The 4 denotes a new AWD system borrowed from the 911 Turbo; the S a bolder 6-cylinder.
We tested the 911 Carrera 4S cabrio. AWD helps it stick to the pavement as if attached to a rail. Exceptional handling and stability, especially at high speed. And to keep you in command, stability control and traction control are standard.
The power top on the 4S cabrio opens and hides behind the rear seats in about 20 seconds. Ditto for the return trip. Though it wasn't quite 40 degrees, we went top down, turned the heat up full blast and hoped Bernie Madoff could see from his cell.
Even topless, the cabin remains quiet enough for conversation, though if the wind deflector had been behind the front seats, the talk would have been about something other than cold necks.
Just in case, reinforced windshield pillars serve as a roll bar; a second roll bar mounted behind the rear seats deploys when sensors detect an impending rollover.
The Carrera line has been upgraded for 2009 with a 3.6-liter, 345-horsepower (up from 325) 6 in the base models, and a 3.8-liter, 385-h.p. (up from 355) 6 in the S, which also gets 19-inch radials (18-inchers in the base models).
There's a choice of 6-speed manual or 7-speed automatic transmission, the latter with Doppelkupplungsgetriebe, or PDK to Porsche. The new double-clutch tranny—one for even numbered gears, one for odd—replaces Tiptronic, the clutchless manual that shifted by tapping steering-wheel paddles.
With computer technology, the transmission shifts twice, out of one gear and into another, on its own faster than a human can. Shifts are smooth and seamless. The 4S sprints from the light. Raw power. No hesitation or stumbling, just blistering quick yet exceptionally sure-footed movement.
The 4S cabriolet accelerates from zero to 60 m.p.h. in 4.7 seconds with standard 6-speed manual; 4.5 seconds with 7-speed automatic and PDK. Top speed is 183 m.p.h. Brakes are beefed up in keeping with Porsche's philosophy that quick starts deserve even quicker stops.
While 4S aims to please enthusiasts, the mileage minded are served, too, by an 18 m.p.g. city/27 m.p.g. highway rating with PDK, 2 m.p.g. better than with 6-speed manual. While no economy car, it's no guzzler either.
Where the 4S falls short is in rear-seat room, where a couple leather buckets reside to keep insurance agents from charging the two-seater rate. Likewise, the trunk upfront holds only a small duffel bag. Golf clubs? Try tennis.
Amenities atone for shortcomings. Heated seats ($500) are also ventilated ($800) to cool by circulating air through the seatback and bottom cushions. There's also Bluetooth phone as well as iPod, USB and MP3 player connections ($440).
Styling changes are minor: new covers for the headlamps, larger air inlets, larger exterior mirrors and dual, round, polished exhaust outlets on the 4S.
The 911 Carrera 4S starts at $102,900, so buyers aren't worried about $4 gas.
"But they aren't immune to what's going on with the economy," said Porsche spokesman Gary Fong, citing a 40 percent dip in December sales, though noting "only" an 11 percent decline in February.
Yet, the $102,900 is only the initiation fee. The 4S added PDK at $4,080, beige leather interior at $3,655, power comfort memory seats at $1,550 and an adjustable sport suspension package with firmer settings and programmed shifts for the track at $960, to name a few.
But at $120,000, it gets more smiles per gallon than a yellow bumblebee.
Read Jim Mateja Sunday in Rides. Contact him at email@example.com.
Copyright © 2013, Chicago Tribune