996 TWO V FOUR

The ba­sic two-wheel drive Car­rera is ar­guably the purest 996 you can pur­chase. The C4S is al­most cer­tainly the pret­ti­est. Let bat­tle com­mence

911 Porsche World - - Contents - Words: Jeremy Laird Photography: Antony Fraser

Base 996 Car­rera 2 or full on 996 Car­rera 4S? Time to find out with a back-to-back test

Is that really what it all comes down to? Is the choice be­tween the sub­tle, slim-hipped 996 Car­rera 2 and the wide­bod­ied, all-wheel-drive beast that is the Car­rera 4S merely a mat­ter of sub­stance ver­sus style? Or is this com­par­i­son of modern clas­sics rather more com­plex?

To find out, it takes a back-to-back drive on the same roads and on the same day. Only then can the true con­trast in char­ac­ters emerge. And so it is that we find our­selves nav­i­gat­ing tight and twist­ing roads of the Cotswolds aboard fight­ing-fit, fac­tory-spec (well, very nearly) and en­thu­si­ast-owned ex­am­ples of th­ese beau­ti­ful and be­guil­ing driver’s cars.

As it hap­pens, the 996 gen­er­a­tion as a whole is cur­rently ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some­thing of a re­nais­sance. Prices of all vari­ants are on the up as Porschep­hile pun­ters in­creas­ingly wake up to the 996’s com­pelling over­all propo­si­tion. Nowhere else in the 911’s ex­ten­sive and il­lus­tri­ous back cat­a­logue can you achieve quite the same com­pro­mise be­tween modern ca­pa­bil­ity and us­abil­ity, on the one hand, and un­fil­tered ana­logue in­volve­ment on the other. What a treat this is go­ing to be. Truly, what an hon­our.

But be­fore we slide back be­hind the wheel, let’s re­call what sep­a­rates th­ese two early-2000s Teu­tons on pa­per. The C4S fa­mously sports a wider body cour­tesy of an ad­di­tional 60mm across its volup­tuous rear hips. With that comes what Porsche’s orig­i­nal press re­lease char­ac­terised as, “run­ning gear and the brakes that cor­re­spond to those in the Turbo.” In other words, firmer and lower sus­pen­sion plus big­ger brakes than the Car­rera.

In terms of en­gine power, how­ever, the dif­fer­ence is pre­cisely nowt. Both the re­vised sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion 996 Car­rera 2 and its up­mar­ket Car­rera 4S sib­ling run ex­actly the same 3.6-litre M96 flat-six mo­tor pro­duc­ing 320 met­ric horse­power at 6800rpm along­side 273lb ft of torque at 4250rpm. It’s this shared pow­er­plant that’s prob­a­bly the source of much of the scep­ti­cism that some­times ap­plies to the C4S.

With no more power than the stan­dard Car­rera but ad­di­tional kerb weight of around 100kg, not to men­tion the the­o­ret­i­cal pow­er­train losses of all-wheel drive ver­sus rear-wheel drive, the re­sult is that the C4S is ac­tu­ally slower than the Car­rera. It’s hard to imag­ine that hap­pen­ing to­day, Porsche sell­ing a pre­mium model that isn’t un­am­bigu­ously faster, such is the pre­ci­sion with which it mi­cro­man­ages its cur­rent prod­uct range. Car­rera S is slightly but un­am­bigu­ously faster than Car­rera. Car­rera GTS

marginally quicker than Car­rera S. GT3 in­cre­men­tally trumps GTS. And so on.

Th­ese 996s are not new cars, of course, so pre­vail­ing prod­uct hi­er­ar­chies don’t ap­ply. Thus, the C4S is slightly slower de­spite com­mand­ing more money on the open mar­ket than the Car­rera. Really good C4S ex­am­ples are now knock­ing on £30,000 while a de­cent Car­rera can still be bought for just un­der £20k. That ei­ther would blow the doors off a £500,000 1973 2.7 RS in a straight line only un­der­scores the dis­con­nect be­tween out­right per­for­mance and per­ceived value in the wider clas­sic and modern clas­sic mar­ket. More to the point, both are very quick cars by any sane met­ric. The Car­rera will hit 62mph from stand­still in five sec­onds dead and is good for 177mph while the C4S is just one tenth be­hind in the sprint and only 3mph off the Car­rera’s ul­ti­mate pace. What mat­ters, then, is the ex­pe­ri­ence each of­fers, not the numbers.

Of course, said ex­pe­ri­ence re­flects the numbers at least in part. That’s ob­vi­ous the mo­ment you step aboard owner Jonathan La­gan’s de­light­fully clean Car­rera. If the two-wheel drive model is the purist’s choice, then sil­ver paint over a black leather in­te­rior is the per­fect min­i­mal­ist ex­pres­sion of that pur­suit. Com­bine the thin-rimmed steer­ing wheel with the rel­a­tively sim­ple cabin architecture and the im­me­di­ate am­bi­ence is that of a no-non­sense driv­ing ma­chine. The im­me­di­ate dy­namic sense, mean­while, is of a very quick car in­deed.

In the­ory, just 200ccs and 20 horse­power sep­a­rate early 3.4-litre 996 Car­reras from this facelifted 3.6. But that doesn’t fully cap­ture the manly mus­cu­lar­ity of the up­graded en­gine. Crit­i­cally, how­ever, the 3.6 isn’t all about torque. Yes, it is tan­gi­bly more force­ful in the mid-range. But it spins to the 7300rpm cut out with free­dom and vigour. In fact, the 3.6 achieves a very slightly higher spe­cific out­put than the 3.4. Lazy it most def­i­nitely ain’t as it flings the slim and com­pact Car­rera across the Cotswolds. For a blast on your favourite B road, you ab­so­lutely, pos­i­tively do not need any more per­for­mance.

It’s a mu­si­cal and im­pec­ca­bly re­fined mo­tor, in me­chan­i­cal terms, too. There’s no sense of strain, no harsh­ness or vi­bra­tion, just silky smooth­ness and that sig­na­ture flat-six howl as you chase the red­line. Say what you want about the M96 mo­tor’s me­chan­i­cal dura­bil­ity, but it’s a fab­u­lous en­gine to ac­tu­ally use. But what of the rest of the car? In iso­la­tion, the sec­ond gen 996

“What mat­ters is the ” ex­pe­ri­ence each of­fers, not the numbers

Car­rera ma­jors on com­pe­tence. Yes, you sense that rear-bi­ased weight dis­tri­bu­tion. Lumps, bumps and other sharp in­tru­sions can ex­pose the lim­its of the stan­dard Car­rera’s ver­ti­cal body con­trol. The mass trans­fers in and out of cor­ners are also tele­graphed pretty clearly. This isn’t a car you tip non­cha­lantly into turns like a late model Cay­man. It needs a lit­tle more thought than that to set it up, to get the nose work­ing on cor­ner en­try.

What it doesn’t feel, at least not in iso­la­tion, is con­spic­u­ously clumsy. The Car­rera is fun­da­men­tally grippy and to­gether on first im­pres­sion. As Jonathan says, “it’s a very bal­anced car and a great way to learn how to drive a 911.” As for the steer­ing, it’s a de­light. Vir­tu­ally un­cor­rupted and yet pre­cise and full of feel, it’s an ab­so­lute high­light and it makes the steer­ing in ev­ery 911 that fol­lows seem at least a lit­tle ar­ti­fi­cial, a tiny bit con­trived, start­ing with the vari­able-ra­tio rack Porsche fit­ted to the 997.

We’ll re­turn to those thoughts and Jonathan’s Car­rera in a mo­ment. First, let’s jump into Si­mon Ghent’s stel­lar C4S. No ques­tion the C4S has huge kerb ap­peal, it’s a much more ex­otic beast to eye­ball. Re­mark­able, the dif­fer­ence those mere 60mm across the hips can make. In­side, it’s more or less iden­ti­cal bar a few flour­ishes Si­mon has added in the form of the neatly stitched and freshly cov­ered steer­ing wheel, gear shift and hand brake.

As soon as you pull away, how­ever, the con­trasts come flood­ing in. The first thing you no­tice is just how much more solid and sorted the C4S feels. Sub­jec­tively, it’s as if the whole car has had a build qual­ity up­grade. Dy­nam­i­cally, it’s that lit­tle bit tighter and more modern than the stan­dard Car­rera. Ul­ti­mately, that im­pres­sion trans­lates into nearly ev­ery­thing the C4S does. Take the chas­sis bal­ance. Com­pared to the Car­rera, the C4S is sig­nif­i­cantly more planted and com­posed. Vir­tu­ally noth­ing up­sets its stride. In fact, it al­most feels mi­dengined. Un­like the Car­rera, then, which comes with some­thing of a learn­ing curve, the C4S is a car you can jump straight into and drive hard. The com­par­a­tively neu­tral bal­ance and the su­per pre­cise but less chatty steer­ing give im­me­di­ate con­fi­dence.

“The C4S is a car you ” can jump straight into and drive hard

What’s more, this car’s short shift gear se­lec­tor, along with some slightly fruity back boxes and the nicely set up pedal box that all 996’s en­joy com­bine for a really pre­cise and re­ward­ing down­shift ex­pe­ri­ence. Straight away, you feel com­fort­able heel and toe­ing rel­a­tively late into cor­ners, im­pro­vis­ing rather than plan­ning ahead. This is a car that makes you feel on top of your game right from the get go. Like­wise, the small tweaks Si­mon has made add up to far more than sum of their parts. The pre­ci­sion of the short shift and the glo­ri­ous noise from those back­boxes make for a very mem­o­rable drive. As Si­mon says, “the more than ad­e­quate power and in­cred­i­ble han­dling make the 996 C4S a per­fectly bal­anced but prac­ti­cal sports car for the road.” This is an aw­fully pleas­ant car to pedal. The feel­good fac­tor is high, that’s for sure.

In short, it’s a much more modern driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence all round than the vanilla Car­rera. The down­side to all that is the rel­a­tive lack of in­ter­ac­tiv­ity and in­volve­ment, some­thing you could ar­gue is a fail­ing of many a modern ma­chine. With the wider stance, the flat­ter and tighter body con­trol and the seem­ingly in­fi­nite trac­tion on of­fer from the huge tyres and all-wheel drive, there’s a some­what one di­men­sional char­ac­ter to this car. Ev­ery­thing is so com­pletely un­der con­trol, so ut­terly ‘on rails’. Even ped­alling pretty en­thu­si­as­ti­cally, in road-driv­ing terms at least, you rarely get that sense of ap­proach­ing the lim­its, of un­lock­ing the chas­sis or flirt­ing with the edge of an ad­justable en­ve­lope. The C4S takes ev­ery­thing in its stride.

If you read that and find it res­onates, then the C4S’S steer­ing may be a mi­nor prob­lem, too. It’s fan­tas­ti­cally firm and pre­cise, but it’s also marginally less trans­par­ent and del­i­cate than the Car­rera’s. It puts that lit­tle bit of dis­tance be­tween you the driver and what the car is do­ing. Sim­i­larly, you’ll reg­is­ter that the C4S’S out­right per­for­mance is less vivid in a straight line. Of course, this wide­bod­ied beauty is com­fort­ably quick enough for pub­lic roads. Lordy, one can cover ground quickly in this car. But it’s as much the sta­bil­ity with which the C4S puts power down as the very slight deficit in out­right pace that shrinks your im­pres­sion of the avail­able per­for­mance com­pared to the Car­rera. It’s that com­po­sure again and it works both for and against the C4S.

Time to step back into Jonathan’s sleek sil­ver Car­rera. Sud­denly, the rear-en­gine bias feels much more dis­tinct, the whole car nar­rower and less sta­ble, less com­posed than be­fore. The shift also feels a lit­tle long and a lit­tle loose. But crit­i­cally, the plain Car­rera is even live­lier and purer than ever. The rel­a­tive light­ness of the rear-drive car’s nose really stands out now, the mass of the en­gine and how its in­flu­ence on the

Car­rera’s bal­ance through cor­ners is con­stantly in flux all the more ob­vi­ous. Get that un­der con­trol on turn in, through the apex and out the other side and you’ll un­lock a whole new level of han­dling prow­ess.

Over­all, then, how best to char­ac­terise the dif­fer­ence be­tween th­ese modern 911 clas­sics? The C4S is un­de­ni­ably sorted. It’s the most pol­ished, the fin­ished ar­ti­cle. If you like what the C4S of­fers, you can sim­ply buy one and en­joy it. It’s su­per com­pe­tent straight out of the box and it wants for noth­ing. It doesn’t need low­er­ing to look good, its wheels are in per­fect vis­ual pro­por­tion, there’s plenty of body con­trol and chas­sis ca­pa­bil­ity on of­fer and all the per­for­mance you ac­tu­ally need. It’s a its sound, the way it makes strange noises fan­tas­tic all round pack­age. and feeds back ev­ery bump and dip in the

The plain Car­rera, on the other hand, road. You know you are sit­ting in a 911,” feels more a blank sheet of pa­per, a start­ing says Jonathan of his Car­rera. “Its feel when point rather than a fi­nal dy­namic des­ti­na­tion. loaded up and blast­ing out of a cor­ner It’s not as re­solved as the C4S as stan­dard, al­ways makes me smile. I also like the way but it’s more alive and it oozes with it looks. It was the jolt that moved the 911 un­tapped po­ten­tial to tune it to your aes­thetic for­ward. On stan­dard sus­pen­sion it’s very well be­haved and I’m look­ing for­ward to a trip to the Nür­bur­gring later in the year. This was an im­por­tant model for Porsche and I don't think peo­ple give it the credit it de­serves.”

As for Si­mon, he reck­ons his C4S, “isn't the fastest. It isn't the new­est. It isn't the most hal­lowed. And yet the noise it makes and the way it gets me down a twisty road is par­tic­u­lar taste. That’s not at all to say it’s just in­cred­i­ble. Hav­ing a 996 is like be­ing in fun­da­men­tally flawed in stan­dard a small se­cret club that I am im­mensely spec­i­fi­ca­tion. Rather that the core char­ac­ter pleased not to be miss­ing out on.” That fi­nal of the car is less con­trived. There’s more sen­ti­ment surely says it all. The most space for any given owner to cre­ate im­por­tant les­son here isn’t the com­par­a­tive some­thing dy­nam­i­cally be­spoke. pros and cons, as fas­ci­nat­ing as they

Speak­ing of own­ers, per­haps it’s the cer­tainly are. It’s about the com­mon cus­to­di­ans of th­ese in­cred­i­bly charis­matic ex­cel­lence shared by ev­ery 996. That surely cars that should have the fi­nal word. “I love won’t re­main a se­cret for long. PW

“The plain Car­rera ” feels more a blank sheet of pa­per

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