Porsche leads from the rear

PAUL OWEN
Last updated 10:20 25/02/2013
Porsche 911 Carrera C4S
Fairfax NZ

SILVER BULLET: Timeless elegance combined with state of the art technology distinguish the Porsche 911 Carrera C4S.

Porsche 911 Carrera 4S.
Fairfax NZ
INSIDE STORY: Cabin changes are a vast improvement.

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My much more-esteemed colleague Clarkson once tut-tutted at the choice of a Porsche 911 as the daily drive of one of his celebrity guests on Top Gear, pointing out to him that ''the engine is in the wrong place''.

PORSCHE 911 CARRERA 4S
Drivetrain: Longitudinal, rear-mounted rear-wheel-drive with seven-speed PDK twin-clutch transmission.
Output: 3800cc DOHC direct-injection boxer-six producing 294kW at 7400rpm, 440Nm at 5600rpm.
Performance: Maximum speed 297kmh, 0-100kmh 4.3 seconds, 9.1L/100km, 215g CO2/km.
Chassis: Front MacPherson struts, rear multilink. Electro-mechanical power steering. Vented disc brakes front and rear. 20-inch alloy rims with 245/35 front tyres and 305/30 rear tyres.
Dimensions: L 4491mm, H 1296mm, W 1852mm, W/base 2450mm, Fuel 68L, Weight 1465kg.
Pricing: $273,000 (7-speed manual: $265,000)

The guest quickly responded with a denial, and the honourable TV show host had to call upon live audience support to convince the celeb that the engine was indeed located all the way behind the rear axles.

This exchange made you wonder where that guest stashed his luggage or his supermarket shopping (the boot's in the front, stupid), and worryingly offered proof that many 911 buyers couldn't feel the pendulum effects that the rearward location of the engine mass had on the car's handling.

Porsche has been progressively camouflaging that unusual choice of engine site for years ever since they crudely filled the front bumpers with lead on earlier versions of the 911.

They've done such a great job of this on the new 991-generation version of the four-wheel-drive Carrera C4S that even supposedly sensitive drivers like me can now only use the engine's inspiring intake howl as a guide to its location.

This is yet another victory of electronic intelligence over physics. Stealth bombers can now fly without radar-revealing tails because their electric brains prevent them from inverting and auguring into terra firma.

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MotoGP racing bikes can transmit 300bhp into a rear tyre contact patch the size of a postage stamp and not send their riders high-siding into orbit because of all the onboard computer power.

Porsche 911s can now handle like supersports cars with more logical engine locations because the existence of the laser-etched computer chip allows clever software to overcome the physical limitations of the hardware.

It's about time that we gave that innovative Kiwi, Bill Buckley, the man who supplies the complex magnetic machines that precisely guide the chip-making lasers to the world, a knighthood. For his contributions to the state of the art stretch far beyond the realm of fast cars and bikes, and lethal aerial assault weapons.

In the latest Carrera C4S, the electronics oversee the operations of a multi-plate clutch that can evidently send up to 100 per cent of the engine's torque output to either the front or rear wheels. The latter distribution is easy to experience as the Porsche will instantly adopt it in steady-state driving to save fuel use and front tyre wear.

However, no matter how hard I tried within the social limitations of driving a stupendously quick car on public roads, I never saw more than 50 per cent of the torque reach the front wheels on the handy reference display located within the 911's artfully designed instrument array.

This happened during the spirited negotiation of a tight hairpin bend in a low gear, and the increased drive sent to front wheels helped pull the nose of the Porsche around the corner.

At the same time, the 50 per cent of torque output sent to the rear wheels was all directed into the outside tyre by the new auto-locking rear diff that the C4 models share with their rear-drive C2 brethren, and this gave the car an appreciable push in the desired direction.

Having these effects arrive in tandem felt like having some potent electronic god take over the wheel and drive the car around the corner.

They should name the computer unit responsible, Seb, as in Sebastien Vettel.

So the 911 no longer pays any price in cornering dynamics for its romantic looks and frankly silly engine location. Said normally aspirated boxer-six is also the most potent yet in S model format, producing a healthy 400bhp (294kW) from just 3.8 litres of capacity. It goes hard enough to ask questions about Porsche's forthcoming release of a 991-generation 911 Turbo.

Personally, I'd be reticent to lose the ability of the C4S to rev sonorously to 8000rpm just for a bit of extra puff that would be absolutely superfluous to my needs.

Yet, much as I loved this incredibly-easy-to-drive $273,000 supersports car, I began to miss the combative nature of older 911s. You formed a strong bond with those cars as you learned how to drive around their supposedly flawed handling characteristics, and how to use them to your advantage.

The 991-era C4S is a technological tour-de-force, and a great example of what is possible in our digital world, but I'd rather spend the money on something that asked more of me as a driver. Colour me old-school when it comes to arse-about-face Porsches.

- Sunday Star Times

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