Porsche 911, 964 Carrera 4 and 996 Carrera 4

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Porsche 911, 964 Carrera 4 and 996 Carrera 4


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The arrival of the Porsche 911 Carrera 4 signalled a new era for Porsche. Not only did it set the company on the road to recovery, but allowed the Porsche 911 to lay claim to the

The arrival of the Porsche 911 Carrera 4 signalled a new era for Porsche. Not only did it set the company on the road to recovery, but allowed the Porsche 911 to lay claim to the greatest sports car crown.

It was a simple formula to follow. Hot hatches were front-wheel drive, and powered by either a rev-happy, four-cylinder 16-valve motor, or turbocharged four-pot with more delay in the blowers delivery than a Connex South Central train. Sport saloons were rear drive, 200bhp Touring Cars with a set of number plates. And a sports car, such as the Porsche 911, was even simpler. At least six tuneful cylinders, aggressive-without-the-threat looks, the odd quirk and, of course, rear-wheel drive. Not today, not in the ‘Noughties' – or whatever it's been coined. Today's best Golf GTi is powered by a diesel engine, and a sports saloon daren't show its face unless it is fresh from a World Rally Championship stage, has at least 250bhp, four-wheel drive, brakes the size of an original Mini's wheel, and so many spoilers, wings, scoops and ducts that even the owner thinks it's ugly. And what of the Porsche 911? The sports car that will outlive all of us. The Porsche that, just when you think it's come to the end of its useful life, reinvents itself and kicks the competition just where it hurts.

The late Eighties – 1989 to be exact – and Porsche is on the back foot. The Yuppies have downed their last glass of Bolly, had their braces repossessed, vacated the riverside apartment and left the keys for the Porsche 911 with security for the finance company to collect. Times, you could say, were hard, and Porsche was feeling the worst. Faced with options: shut up shop, throw in the towel and get as much as possible for the remaining stock. Or tackle the problem head-on, and launch a new Porsche 911 – well, an '87 per cent all-new' Porsche 911. With the technology learnt from the Porsche 959 supercar project of the mid-Eighties, Porsche's Weissach engineers set about bringing the Porsche 911 to a new generation.

Core to these improvements was the introduction of a simplified version of the Porsche 959's four-wheel drive transmission (see p56), and with this, the Porsche 911 started on its course to become one of, if not the, most accomplished sports cars money can buy.

To express just how important this new generation Porsche 911 was to Porsche, the four-wheel drive variant – the Porsche Carrera 4 – was launched in 1989 ahead of the Porsche Carrera 2. Powered by a 3.6- litre flat-six, the new Porsche 911 developed 250bhp at 6100rpm and 228lb-ft of torque at 4800rpm, the new car could reach 60mph from a standstill in 5.7 seconds and reach a more than healthy 162mph maximum. This combined with new brakes (albeit derived from the Porsche 928 S4), which included bigger discs and four-pot calipers fitted front and rear and, more significantly, new suspension. McPherson struts up front marked the end of the Porsche 911's traditional Torsion bar setup, while at the rear the Turbo's cast aluminium semitrailing arms were employed. Sitting on its new, seven-spoke design 16-inch alloy wheels, and wearing its smoother, cleaner set of clothes the future success of Porsche was thrust upon the shoulders of this new-generation Porsche 911.

Slip into the Porsche Carrera 4 and it's pretty obvious where the ‘87 per cent all-new' ends with the Porsche 964. Unsightly four-spoke steering wheel, dials splattered across the flat-fronted dash, and half a dozen hidden switches for afterthought items such as the electric sunroof (it's under the instrument binnacle, above the heater in case you're wondering). You sit low in the Porsche 964's narrow seats, but although gathering the vital data from the assortment of instruments takes a degree of neck craning, the major controls all fall naturally to hand – and feet of course.

The air-cooled six barks into life with a firm twist of the key, and instantly you feel part of the car. The large, red rev needle chases around the dial the instant you blip the throttle, as if your foot is connected to the back of the dial. Dip the clutch and it's as if you're pulling the cables with your hands, slip it into first and you could be positioning the ratios yourself. The Porsche 964 feels heavy. At low speed, the steering, despite its power assistance, needs a determined shove, the clutch a strong left leg to bring in gently to achieve a kangaroo-free getaway. Pick up the speed though, and the original Porsche C4 melds into a cohesive driver's dream. The transmission rewards you when the actions are positive and precise – quick clutch action, decisive gear change, the steering reacting to accurate inputs to carry you through the tightest, or most open, of curves without the need of unsettling corrections.

Even before the Porsche Carrera 4 first appeared for the 1989 model year, four-wheel drive had been seen on an admittedly select few Porsches. In 1981 at the Frankfurt Show, an extraordinarily rare beast, a Porsche Turbo cabriolet, was displayed, complete with power running through each corner, although a production model did not immediately follow. That pioneering accolade was reserved for the Porsche 959, whose complex technology meant the Weissach engineers decided against using it on the Porsche 911.

In fact, the Porsche 964 Carrera 4 traced its origins to the much simpler transmission of the Paris-Dakar-winning Porsche 911 of 1984. Using the G50-derived G64 five-speed gearbox, the roadgoing car split engine torque by 31/69 per cent front to rear respectively via a series of differentials. If any one of the wheels lost grip, the ABS sensors detected it and the differential would be electronically corrected to re-route torque to the appropriate axle or wheel.

The sophisticated system was actually quite simple in principle, if complex in its execution. Drive was fed through the gearbox's secondary shaft to an epicyclic gear differential at the front of its housing that split the engine's total torque output. Drive was then supplied to the rear axle via a rod in the hollow secondary shaft and differential, and to the front diff by means of a propeller shaft housed in a hollow tube. Both front and rear differentials' slip was governed by multi-plate clutches.

With three diffs, the system offered a sure-footed drive whatever the road or weather conditions. Should a loss of traction be detected, the clutches in the centre diff were actuated, diverting more torque to the axle offering the best grip. A button in the centre console also provided a manual override, locking the differentials for optimum traction in extreme conditions until 25mph was reached when it would de-activate. The system would also automatically ignore any wheel speed differences caused by such mundane occurrences as normal cornering or one tyre being slightly flatter than the others.

As with conventional limited slip differentials, the Porsche C4's rear assembly dealt with wheelspin but having an electronically controlled clutch allowed for an additional driving aid. Should the driver lift off in the middle of a bend, the system would correct the Porsche 911's natural tendency to oversteer, promote understeer and thus, hopefully, see you safely out the other side. However, when combined with 31 per cent of power running to the front, the Porsche 964 C4 seemed to oversteer too much when pushed really hard, leading to the introduction of a stiffer anti-roll bar a year after its launch.

That didn't undermine the Porsche C4 experience altogether, after all (and despite its 100kg weight penalty over the Porsche Carrera 2) it was just as quick as its two-wheel drive sibling in the 0-62mph sprint (5.7sec) and flat out (162mph). But, as you'd expect, Porsche found ways to improve on it for the next generation Porsche 911, the Porsche 993 series. The most significant of these was the proportion of drive being fed to the front wheels. Fast road and track experience had made it clear that the Porsche 964's supply of 31 per cent of torque to the front wheels was excessive. As a consequence, the link between gearbox and front wheels was revised with drive now carried by a viscous coupling. For it to carry any drive to the front wheels though, meant they had to rotate slower than the rears, meaning they required a slightly larger rolling radius. The net result of all this was between five and 15 per cent of drive passing through the front wheels under normal circumstances, but that figure could climb to nearly 100 per cent if the rear wheels were experiencing no grip at all.

That seemed an unlikely eventuality when you consider the amount of attention rear-end traction was given. Not only did the 993 have a 25/40 differential (under load/overrun), it was also equipped with Automatically Braked Differential (ABD). The latter's inclusion meant that should the diff not be able to cope with the amount of slippage, it would step in and, via the ABS system, apply the relevant brake to improve grip. It also helped to control lift-off oversteer into the bargain. The drop in power running to the front wheels also had weight-saving implications. Shafts and the differential were pared down with the removal of the central units controlling the front end contributing to the drop in the system's weight from 100kg to just 50kg. So, despite the Porsche 993 having an extra forward gear, the six-speed newcomer weighed 30kg less than its predecessor at 1420kg, just 50kg more than the Porsche 993 Carrera 2.

While a minor detail changes occurred between the Porsche 993 and Porsche 996, the most significant addition to the Porsche 911's transmission came with the advent of Porsche Stability Management. In effect, it is a continuation of the ABD technology, in that PSM electronically monitors and controls wheel spin and automated braking of the wheels under extreme conditions, but it is the way in which it does it that marks it out as different. In addition to the wheel sensors, PSM-equipped Porsche 911s incorporate a steering angle sensor, a transverse acceleration sensor, and a yaw angle sensor to detect any drift or swerve. Evaluated constantly, the data is used by the computer to either apply the brakes or adjust engine outputs, thereby reducing the possibilities to lose control. Its inclusion has played a part in the Porsche Carrera 4's 60kg weight disadvantage compared with the Porsche C2, and once again, official figures show it to be as quick, not quicker, in the 0-60 dash. But, the Porsche Carrera 4 is the model of choice for the majority of buyers and its sure-footed, high-tech abilities are undoubtedly the reason.

Although weighing in at 100kg over its two-wheel drive cousin, the Porsche Carrera 2, the four-wheel drive coupe is far from a slouch. The flat-six is keen to rev, with a noticeable shove from 3000rpm bringing with it an octave change in the engine's chorus. Keep the throttle open and stretch the engine to its limits and you are in for not only a glorious orchestral performance from the howling engine over your shoulder, but also a level of performance that does the 250bhp power figure huge credit. Neatly stacked ratios help get the very best from the flat-six, and combined with a healthy spread of torque, keeping younger, fresher, similar-paced machinery behind our 11-year-old, 113,000-mile example takes little effort.

Through fast, open, sweeping corners, the Porsche C4 is perfectly balanced, sticking to its line and sending detailed communications back to the helm, telling you exactly what is happening beneath the driver. Find yourself on a tighter, slower set of corners and it's a similar story. The Porsche C4's nose diving for the apex, sniffing it out with the enthusiasm of a greyhound chasing the elusive hare. The extra weight over the front axle gives the Porsche C4 an advantage of its rear-drive cousin when it comes to slower, more technical stuff, if only because the nose feels more securely planted to the road, turning in sharper and with a touch more conviction.

In dry conditions, only Kamikaze antics will push you beyond the Porsche C4's limits; even in the wet, switching your brain into neutral and having a total disregard for insurance premiums will have the Porsche 964 deviating from your chosen line.

At a time when the competition consisted of either a piece of mid-engined, Italian exotica that would throw you into the nearest hedge at the slightest hint of too much speed/steering lock/braking/chest wigs (delete as applicable), or German super coupe's with four-speed slush 'boxes and the emphasis firmly on comfort, the Porsche 964 Carrera 4 couldn't have arrived at a better time.

After the Porsche 964, todays Porsche Carrera 4 could be from a different manufacturer. All new in 1997, the Porsche 996 generation 911 was a revelation, and when the Porsche Carrera 4 variant arrived a year later, complete with Porsche's sophisticated Porsche Stability Management (PSM), which applies gentle braking pressure when under- or oversteer is detected during cornering, as well as deploying the ABS, anti-slip control and automatic brake differential under hard acceleration and braking. In total, the watercooled Porsche 911 Carrera 4 moved the goalposts even further, not only for driver involvement and rewards, but also in allowing the less experienced to learn and discover in a machine as capable as a Porsche 911.

Thanks to the fitment of a factory sports exhaust, our canary yellow (or Speed yellow if you are looking for it in the colour chart) Porsche Carrera 4 test car sounds a little fruitier, with its harder-edged bark and deeper, bass-filled burble, it sounds like a V8 has been slipped under the engine cover.

Get underway though, and there is no mistaking that flat-six, water-cooled power delivery that has become as much a part of the Porsche 996 range as the name Porsche 911 itself. Revving with the eagerness and smoothness of a Honda VTEC, yet with the linear delivery that couldn't be mistaken for anything but a flat-six, the current Porsche C4 starts laying in with the jabs as low down as 2000rpm, before getting into its power-mixed-with-torque body blowing stride up to 5000rpm, where the knockout punch is delivered. Hooked up to six-speed manual gearbox, the Porsche Carrera 4 is as capable slicing through the countryside as it is gliding across continents in a day.

For the ultimate, normally aspirated all-wheel drive experience, the newer Porsche Carrera 4S has the edge (see GT PP, Issue 7), but in standard guise – no turbo brakes or re-tuned suspension – the regular Porsche C4 is hard to beat. Grip, both wet and dry, is vice-like, its poise, feel, sharpness and body control is little short of perfection. Just as the Porsche 993-generation 911 moved the game on from the original Porsche 964, the current incarnation moves the marker even further. As accomplished and rewarding as any Porsche Carrera 2 is, there is something in a Porsche Carrera 4 that rewards still further, takes you to another level, and ultimately, delivers the purer Porsche 911 experience .


Power-unit: Flat-six, air-cooled
Capacity: 3600cc
Location: Rear
Valves: Two valves per cylinder
Block: Aluminium
Head: Aluminium
Bore x Stroke: 100mm x 76.4mm
Compression Ratio: 11.3:1
Power: 250bhp@6100rpm
Torque: 228lb/ft@4800rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual, four-wheel drive

Front: McPherson Stuts, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Rear: Semi-trailing arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar

Front: 298mm ventilated discs, four-pot
calipers, ABS
Rear: 299mm ventilated discs, four-pot
calipers, ABS

Front: 6J x 16” (7.5J x17” fitted to test car)
Rear: 8J x 16” (9J x 17” fitted to test car)

Front: 205/55 ZR16” (205/50 ZR17” on test car)
Rear: 225/50 ZR16” (255/40 ZR17” on test car)

Length: 4250mm
Wheelbase: 2271mm
Width: 1651mm
Weight: 1450kg

Max Speed: 162mph
0-62mph: 5.7 seconds
1989: £50,563


Power-unit: Flat-six, water-cooled
Capacity: 3600cc
Location: Rear
Valves: Four valves per cylinder
Block: Aluminium
Head: Aluminium
Bore x Stroke: 96mm x 82.8mm
Compression Ratio: 11.3:1
Power: 320bhp@6800rpm
Torque: 273lb/ft@4250rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, four-wheel drive

Front: McPherson Stuts, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Rear: Multi-link, coil springs, anti-roll bar

Front: Cross-drilled and ventilated discs, four-pot
calipers, ABS
Rear: Cross-drilled and ventilated discs, four-pot
calipers, ABS

Front: 7J x 17” (8J x18” fitted to test car)
Rear: 9J x 16” (10J x 18” fitted to test car)

Front: 205/50 ZR17” (225/40 ZR18” on test car)
Rear: 255/40 ZR17” (285/30 ZR18” on test car)

Length: 4430mm
Wheelbase: 2350mm
Width: 1770mm
Weight: 1405kg

Max Speed: 177mph
0-62mph: 5.0 seconds
2002: £59,650

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