Porsche enthusiasts are some of the most dreadfully conservative people you’ll find when it comes to their favorite cars. Any change to the 911, large or small, gets heavily scrutinized to the n’th degree. All too often, they let their nit picking blind them, and they often wind up missing all of the new 911’s great aspects. The evolution of new models is a necessary fact of life, and it usually makes the car better overall, otherwise Porsche wouldn’t do it. The new 911, the 991, has followed this same trend, being criticized every which way against older Porsche models. I chose a more positive approach. Not, “how is the 991 worse than its predecessors?”, but “how does the 991 faire as a modern 911?”
I am of the opinion that Porsche has never really made a bad car. Sure some have surely been better than others, but all of them will still manage to put a smile on your face. Hell, even the V6 Cayenne is much more fun than any of its competition. Because of this, I tend to trust Porsche’s judgement on most things, and certainly their ability to execute them properly.
This 991 Carrera 4S Cabriolet may well be the furthest 911 from a purist’s tastes, being all wheel drive, having no roof for structural rigidity, and lacking a clutch pedal. If there were a compromised 911 to complain about, this would surely be the one. But that would be ignoring all of its great aspects, examples of fantastic execution that far outnumber any of the car’s comparative, evolutionary shortcomings. So let us examine this new Carrera 4S Cabriolet in the whole sense, and not through some narrow lens.
This C4S Cabrio is clearly a Porsche, and that’s all it is. What I mean by this is that its image is not being undersold like it would be with a 911 Turbo. With the Turbo, you will find yourself constantly having to explain how yours is actually better than “just a Porsche”, and that is irritating. With the basic Carrera models, when someone says “Hey, nice Porsche”, you just reply “Thanks”, and you both can go happily about your day. The C4S displays the proper image for what it is.
The 991 looks like a happy, excited car. Its styling is not imposing or aggressive like many fast cars out there. Its shape clearly shows its sporting appeal, but its design is also clean and elegant. It will get you some attention, but usually in a positive way. The C4S is a very tasteful car, especially compared to some of its more imposing competition, and it sends a good message about you as the driver. In short, it looks good, and it will make you look good.
Porsche’s build quality is really at the top of the market right now. It’s not that they use the “finest” woods, or “most supple” leather around. It’s the fact that everything just feels so well put together. All the materials are high quality for what they are, and the cabin design seems very well thought out. The 991 actually has a very simple looking cabin compared to many more flamboyant designs out there, but the clarity, and sense of purpose in the 991’s interior is preferable in my mind. Everything is there, and does what it should do well. There is an art to such simplicity.
The front seats are great, nice and supportive during corners, but supple enough to get comfortable. The driving position is also fantastic, and everything is fully adjustable to make it so for anyone. The rear seat is useable for an adult, but will only be comfortable for a child. I saw the Porsche representative who rode with me climb back there on the drive after mine, and I cringed a bit. He did fit, but it sure wasn’t pretty. Rear seats in 911s have traditionally been used for keeping insurance rates down, as well as for storage. The same holds true in the new 991.
Practicality wise, the trunk in the front is a lot bigger than you might think. As sports cars go, a 911 is among the more sensible options to pick if you intend to use it every day. Grocery store runs, and other errands, can be done just as easily in this 911 as in most smaller sedans. You might want to consider just how much space you typically need before opting for a sedan, because a 911 may work just fine for you. This is a sports car you can easily use everyday.
The dynamic experience is central to any Porsche product, but especially to a 911. Without phenomenal performance, and driving dynamics, this car would just be a VW Beetle. Naturally Porsche has not failed to deliver this with the 991, but there are some interesting aspects to note about this most modern of 911s.
The big thing people have criticized about the 991 is its electric steering, and how it feels “numb”. For those unfamiliar with the way previous 911s were, the steering wheel used to tremble in your hands, providing you with wonderful details of the road surface beneath you. My Dad’s 996 does this well, and I will go ahead and say that it is something that makes the car feel quite special to drive. That fine tactile experience has been greatly muted by the 991’s electric steering. Some feedback of the road still makes it through, but its not something you can visualize to the same degree in your mind. That said, electric steering is the way of the world now because has many advantages over the old hydraulic system; namely better fuel economy because it doesn’t draw power from the engine, and little or no need for expensive maintenance.
When you’re on the move the 991’s steering feels quite sharp. The car responds to inputs instantly, and you know right where the front wheels are pointed, making it easy to place accurately in corners. This liveliness from the steering makes the 991 feel very nimble and energetic on the road, like it wants to be thrown around hard. If you ask me, there is nothing wrong with the steering at all, sure it is different, but it still suits the nature of the 911 experience quite well.
Handling wise, the 991 is definitely the most approachable 911 to date. Some of the older cars were downright dangerous, with their spin-happy rear-engined nature, and Porsche has been working to remedy this without changing the fundamental design of the car. The engine is still in the rear with the 991, as it always should be, but it feels like Porsche has put more weight over the front wheels in this car’s new, larger design. It is good thing that they did this on the same car they switched to electric steering on because in previous 911s, it was through the steering wheel than you could sense the front end of the car going light, letting you know grip from the front tires was waining. This new car feels much more conventional, even when powering out of a hard corner. I’m sure if you push far enough, it will still behave like a rear-engine car should, but at the speeds I was able to do on public roads, it felt quite easy to handle.
The four in C4S stands for all wheel drive, and it really helps the performance of the car in the hands of average drivers. Most of the time it sends all of its power to the rear wheels, but when needed for traction, this 991 can become entirely front wheel drive. Rear engine cars are tricky when the back end starts to slide, and having the front wheels helping to pull you out can be a god-send in many situations. I know this from my track experience in the 997 Turbo S where the front wheels helped to save me from a sure spin. The fun roads people like to drive Porsches on usually aren’t all that smoothly paved. I know most of my favorite roads have bumps, dips, and crests, with varying pavement quality, and animals who love to jump out at you from nowhere. In a place like this, having all wheel drive in a 911 is optimal because it will help the car stay composed on the varying road surfaces, and it makes it easier to control in rapidly changing situations. For fast driving on public roads, the C4S is the way to go in my book.
I was able attack a few corners with some decent speed during my drive, and the car took it all entirely in stride. 911s have always been able to hold an unbelievable pace, both on road and track, and this 991 is surely still one of the fastest point-to-point cars on the market. 911s have always had great traction coming out of corners, but the all wheel drive in this C4S helps slingshot you onto the next straight that much harder. This is a car that wants you to grab it by the scruff of the neck, and give it all you’ve got. If you do, you will find it keeps its composure well as the speed piles on, and the chassis lets you know what is happening at the tires. Confident is how I would describe the C4S’s cornering ability, it’s not really going to be phased by anything except blatant stupidity, and no car in the world can help you there.
Another fantastic feature of this C4S was its lack of a roof. The weather on Amelia Island that weekend was 70’s and sunny, perfect for a drop top. The wind in your hair, and the warmth of the sun make for a sublime experience, but the real money factor of losing the roof is being able to hear the sound of that engine… my God! Every time you get on the gas, there is this wonderful howl that erupts from behind you, and echoes back to your ears off of the surrounding trees. It is enough to send chills down your spine, and make you feel giddy with excitement.
Add the C4S’s unrelenting acceleration into the mix, and the whole experience of this car gives you a grin from ear to ear. The 911’s linear sense of speed, all the way through the car’s 7600rpm redline remains in tact, except now there is a bit of a step in the power curve because the 991 has variable valve timing (V-TEC kicks in, yo). So you get good acceleration up to around 4500rpm, then the hot cam engages, and the car leaps forward with even more ferocity, accompanied by a deeper hum from the flat six. Basically, the car seems fast already, and then you suddenly make the jump into hyperspace.
The C4S’s 400hp comes from a naturally aspirated 3.8L flat six engine that responds crisply to fine throttle inputs (while in sport mode). From the options fitted, I also suspect that the car I was driving may have had the “Carrera S Powerkit”, which adds $17,000 to the price tag, and gets you all of 430hp. Either way there is no denying that this Porsche is supremely fast, the way it throws you back in your seat is addictive, and the rate at which the speed piles on is incredible. When you look at the spec sheet, you’ll find it is just as fast as it feels. I’ve seen tests achieve 0-60mph in 3.6 sec, 0-100mph in 8.7 sec, the 1/4 mile in 11.9 sec @ 117mph, and a top speed of 185mph. Its handling also proves remarkable, with a 74mph slalom speed, and 1.04g on the skidpad. Lets face it, this is basically full on supercar performance. Acceleration like this matches many far more expensive cars. I can personally vouch that it feels right on par with a Ferrari California in speed, and that costs $200 grand. Something like an SLS AMG will beat a C4S top end, but in the 40-120mph range that is typically useable on the street, there is not much difference at all.
Much of the C4S’s astonishing performance is thanks to Porsche’s PDK dual clutch transmission. In my opinion, this is the best dual clutch box on the market. It feels solid and crisp when going flat out in Sport mode, but is also able to be entirely smooth and supple at low speeds in Drive. It doesn’t feel jerky at all, like many other DCTs do, yet it is also not spongy feeling, like a torque converter automatic, either. The balance of smooth action with the abrupt, mechanical feel of the clutch engagement is sublime, and other manufacturers need to take some notes from Porsche. Once again, their manner of execution is perfect.
One problem I did have, though, was that this car wasn’t equipped with paddle shifters. Instead it had these two-way button things placed on either side of the steering wheel (see photo in interior). With either of them, you push forward to up-shift and pull backward to down-shift, similar to a rally car I’m told. Me being used to paddle shift, where you pull the right paddle to up shift, and pull the left paddle to downshift, I found things got confusing at speed. My instincts told me to pull with my right hand when I wanted to upshift, so I kept doing it, and in this car, that was telling it to downshift. Now, thankfully the Porsche has programmed well, so it wont let you hurt it by shifting like a moron, but it did confuse the computer a good bit on the move. If you ask me, this is a needless ergonomic issue, and Porsche needs to just make paddle shifters standard on all PDK models. At the very least they should make the right button upshift only and the left button downshift only.
Once I got a hang of the awkward shift buttons, the car drove great. Shifts were banged out in just milliseconds, so there was even more sense of uninterrupted, linear acceleration at full throttle. Engaging Sport and Sport Plus mode liven up shifts, and throttle response noticeably. Leaving the car in automatic, but in sport mode, will give you track worthy shifting from the gearbox. The versatility of PDK is just as astounding as its tangible shift action. I am a huge lover of traditional manual transmissions, but this gearbox is pretty damn impressive. It felt like it belonged in this C4S, and that is not something I would not have said about Porsche’s old Tiptronic automatic.
All in all, the 991 C4S remains a fantastic sports car. Sure it has been tamed a bit in many ways from previous 911s, but most of this taming has improved the car for the people who actually buy it. Yes the danger of old 911s was exciting, but it isn’t good for Porsche’s bottom line if their cars kill off many of their customers. The truth is this, if you want an old style 911, then go buy yourself an old 911. For less than the price of this C4S, you can have yourself a great example of any previous-gen 911, including some of the more sought after cars, such as a 993 Turbo. What you want is out there, just not brand new.
As for the 991, it still offers a fantastic driving experience, and loads of excitement. One plus of all the new technology is that its actual pace on the road has risen considerably. It has brutal acceleration, phenomenal handling, and has still got a nice connected feeling from behind the wheel. It doesn’t feel like an appliance in the same way the Nissan GTR does because you are still very much a part of the driving experience. The GTR left me feeling a bit cold afterward, but this C4S made me feel warm, like I was involved in the fun, and not merely just along for the ride.
In the market
The Carrera 4S Cabriolet starts at $117,530, but like any Porsche, options quickly add up, and you could almost buy the car twice in some cases. If you want all of the functional performance bits, Carbon ceramic brakes, Carrera S Powerkit, etc, and you can keep your fit and finish options to a minimum, then the realistic price for the C4S you want is $140k-$150k. The car I drove was in the low $140k range.
There are two ways to look at the C4S’s value for money. On one hand you are paying a lot for a “Normal Porsche”, and, in fact, the new 991 GT3 can be had without options for $130k. The C4S is a different sort of car, though, not as hardcore as a GT3. It is more of a sporty grand tourer in many respects, so its not really fair to compare it with the raw speed machines out there. If speed alone is what you want, then yes, a GT3, Nissan GTR, Corvette ZR1, etc will be better for you.
Conversely, when we do look at it in terms of similar, more sporting, GT cars, the Carrera 4S seems to dominate its competition. It will blow the doors off of the cars its direct price bracket, such as the Audi R8 V8, Aston Martin Vantage S, and Maserati Granturismo, and it will keep pace with many more expensive cars, like the Audi R8 V10, Ferrari California, Mercedes SLS AMG, and Aston Martin DB9. So, if you want a do-everything sports car, this Carrera 4S is actually a fantastic value.
Now add in the fact that Porsche’s are well known for their solid reliability, superb build quality, and even very decent fuel economy. Sure you may be able to afford a lot of gas and maintenance if you can spend $140k on a car. However, if you’re someone who has made your own money, then you will know the value of a dollar saved, and will be able to recognize that you are getting your money’s worth with this Porsche. If you are looking for a brand new car in this price range, the C4S should be a strong contender.
That said, I still hold that buying any high end car brand new is foolish for a value minded buyer. If it were me looking for a Carrera 4S, I would save myself $60k and find a nice used second-gen 997, which still has PDK available, and nearly the same power from its engine. But who are we kidding here, really? If I had that much money to spend, I wouldn’t buy a used Carrera S either, I’d be going for a 997 Turbo, which is in a different league entirely.
So, if you must have a brand new car, then this 991 C4S is a solid value for your money. However, if you are willing to look a few years old, then you can always find a way better car for a way better price. In many ways, the biggest detractor from new Porsche sales may well be the presence of quality pre-owned Porsches. Used Porsches don’t require you to tag on all of those outrageously expensive options to the price you pay, and that alone will save you a huge amount of money.
I really enjoyed driving this 991 Carrera 4S Cabriolet. Porsche is at an unbelievable level right now, in both build quality, and outright performance. The new C4S is seriously fast, and will definitely get you heart pounding. Despite conforming to all of the latest tech trends, it remains a proper 911 in the modern context.
Many Porsche purists will continue to yearn for the characteristics of the old 911s, but if Porsche kept everything the same, then the old models wouldn’t be so special. If the 991 was just a more modern copy of, say, a 964, then the 964 would have no value as an object unto itself. Each generation of Porsche 911 has changed some from its predecessor, and that is what keeps each of them desirable. The 991 has its place in the 911 lineage, the same as any of the others. If you ask me, Porsche has done one hell of a job with it.
WoM Score: 2014 Porsche 991 Carrera 4S Cabriolet
Primary Function: Performance: 2
Secondary Functions: Luxury(2) Practicality(2) MPG(2): 2
Visual Appeal: 2
Build Quality: 2
Value for Money: 1.5….. great for its type of buyer, but smarter buyers go used
Final Score: 9.5/10