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2013 starts off lucky

PETER LOUISSON
Last updated 12:45 30/01/2013

Last year was a good one for lovers of horizontally opposed engines, as I mentioned not long ago. We praised the virtues of Toyota's 86, Porsche's new 911 and Boxster, and the limited edition WRX. Since then the 86 has been joined by its almost identical Subaru sib, the BRZ (which we have only driven in prototype STI format) and now the 911 Coupe arrives in 4wd format, known as the Carrera 4 (or 4S with the slightly larger 3.8L motor).

I'm not a great fan of uber-expensive cars, especially when they cost as much as a house (outside of Auckland). Everything's relative of course; we've just had Aston's new Vanquish through the office, at asky-high $430k, and it makes the Porsche seem a right bargain.

Porsche 911 4S

Anyway, the reason we mentioned the 4S is because we've just driven it for a few days and it kind of resets the dynamic high bar. That's just as you might expect of a car that costs $265k. Using the law of diminishing returns, the Boxster S, which is nigh on as talented but costs just over half as much, is really a better buy. But tell 911 fans that and they ask which institution's just released you.

In the past, Porsche purists used to actively discourage people from buying the 4wd 911s, saying they weren't as exciting; they simply didn't drive as well. Older versions also used to be around 100kg heavier than rear-drive Carreras, but that's no longer the case. On our four-corner scales the Porsche was just 50kg heavier than the equivalent Carrera S we had such a ball in last year.

I'm not going to spoil things too much for subscribers of the magazine - the article on the 4S has yet to go to print - but suffice to say this latest iteration of Porsche's 991 lineup does things no car I've ever driven previously could. Porsche Torque Vectoring is standard on this car - the stability system brakes an inside rear wheel when understeer is detected - so understeer is virtually eliminated from the agenda.

Performance is meant to be no different from the equivalent Carrera S, at least with the optional PDK seven-speed DSG tranny and Sports Chrono package (which includes launch control) but the particular car we drove wasn't quite as quick, probably because it had also done fewer kays. Using launch control, it wasn't as outrageous off the mark as the Carrera S, probably to save clutch(es) wear. It's still a car capable of low 4sec 0-100 acceleration times, however, and that's partly what you pay the big money for.

This 4S has done little to change my mind about the virtues of the 3.8L flat six engine; it works away feverishly from almost no revs to nigh on 8000rpm, and seems to consume fuel at an almost unbelievably reasonable rate, at least compared with the turbocharged V8 competition. The seven-speed DSG transmission remains the best I've encountered (since the last Carrera), of any self-shifting gearbox type.

About the only downside of the 4S, sticker price aside, is that it's essentially only a two-seater, and not a big one at that. It is surprisingly comfortable, however, and could conceivably be used on a daily basis. Porsche 911 fans living where it rains or snows on a regular basis, start saving now.

Porsche 911 4S

For similar money, and also a car you could commute in happily, BMW's new M6, an athletic-looking beast if ever there was one. This is essentially a rebodied M5; it uses the same power train and other mechanicals, and being around 80kg lighter is a touch quicker, at least it should be on the day. But in the molten tar conditions of high summer, we had no luck there. However, it did perform the quickest 80-120 time we've ever recorded for a non-supercar. Dynamically, its 1900kg weight counts against it, as does its "perfect" 50/50 weight distribution. Yes, it's better than 60/40 front rear, but the reverse of that, 40/60 stem to stern, unquestionably works better in conjunction with Porsche's 4wd system and torque vectoring. Carrying 350kg less overall helps too, though the M6 is a proper 2+2, in that you can actually squeeze compliant folk into the rear seats. And its plush luggage area is more generous.

Corolla GX

Also this week, and just to keep things real, we had a quick and surprisingly fun outing in the most humble Corolla, the six-speed manual GX ($33,490). Call me old-fashioned (or just old) but this is the Corolla I'd be hankering for, the only manual in the range. The slick transmission gets the most out of the 1.8L engine, which sings happily and is cooperative above about 3500rpm out of town. And the handling is sorted, secure. It feels well balanced and turns keenly. I see heaps of these around already, meaning rental and fleet companies must have been hanging out for the new model. Bet most have CVT trannys though. Unless you're part of the motorway grind in and out of town each day, buy a manual before they're gone for good.

On a finishing note, it is with great sadness that I learned recently about the untimely death of motorcycle test great Kevin Ash, who succumbed to injuries suffered during a launch ride in South Africa. His website, www.ashonbikes.com, was a fantastic source of technical information, and his reports were written in a frank, friendly, down-to-earth way. His obsession for single trackers was clearly evident, and he had a talent for putting new models in perspective. He will be missed by many.

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