If you know me personally, you know I’m a Porsche guy. I can go on for hours about them, driving most people around me nuts. If my wife ever has trouble falling asleep, she asks me how I feel about Porsches. She’s out like a light as I drone on into the early morning hours. Actually, even if you don’t know me, but you’ve read my breathless review of the Carrera coupe, you’d know all this already too.
So obviously when Porsche told me another Carrera was headed my way, I was excited. Of course, I try to remain objective when reviewing cars, but when it’s one of my dream cars, that gets a bit difficult. Which Carrera is it, I asked. The Carrera 4S Cabriolet.
What ho?! The one Carrera I’ve never quite understood. I get each of the different components that make up this car. I get why someone would buy the “S” – its significantly more powerful and flexible engine is easily worth the coin. I also get why someone would buy the “4” – its all-wheel drive system has always been an answer to prayer for this, the last rear-engined car being produced. If I have to explain the benefits of having all four wheels driven when there’s a huge lump of weight behind the rear axle, you don’t need to keep reading. And even in this 6-7 months of winter city I live in, I get why someone would buy a convertible. Of course it makes sense in more temperate climates, but even here in Edmonton – if you’ve got the money, a convertible is a lovely thing during the summer. But I never did understand why someone would put all of those together into one car. But here it was – coming my way for a week long review.
Pricing: 2014 Porsche Carrera
Base price (4S Cabriolet trim): $134,100
Options: $820 anthracite brown metallic; $4710 Umber leather interior; $4660 PDK transmission; $310 steering wheel heating; $960 front seat ventilation; $440 front and rear park assist; $2710 Sport Chrono package; $710 multi-function steering wheel; $2650 power sport seats; $710 premium package; $5720 Burmester sound system; $560 5mm wheel spacers
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $160,245
The latest iteration of the fabled 911 is the best-looking one in my opinion. Lines flow perfectly, intakes make their performance intentions clear and the S-body’s wide stance looks brutish and downright sexy. It’s long, low, wide and beautiful. My review car’s anthracite brown colour looks great and surprisingly got 100% positive feedback from the throngs of onlookers.
The Cabriolet looks fantastic with the top up or down – a feat that isn’t managed nearly as well by many other convertibles out there. And the 20″ rims are stunning, filling the wheel wells and fitted with massive rubber front and back. Look under the back of the car, and you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking it’s a steam roller.
Yes, the car gets a lot of looks – it is an icon, after all, and people simply can’t help but stare. You never quite know what’s behind the stare – admiration, jealousy or something else – but they’re staring regardless.
Under the Hood
It’s not just a Porsche’s shape that gets my blood pumping. I have had a torrid love affair with the boxer engine since I was a little boy, lusting after every air-cooled 911 that snarled by me. Today’s 911s have modernized flat-six engines – in the Carrera S’s case, it’s a direct-injection 3.8-litre flat-6 boxer and it still sits aft of the rear axle as Dr. Ferdinand Porsche intended. It sings lustily to the tune of 400 horsepower at 7400 RPM and 325 lb.ft of torque at 5600 RPM.
All that hot sauce makes its way through the 7-speed dual clutch PDK automatic transmission and on to all four corners via an active all-wheel drive system. The convertible top adds some weight and the whole package adds up to a still-reasonable 1535 kg (3384 pounds).
As has always been the case, 911s offer magnificent performance without sacrificing efficiency. This particular one is rated at 11.2 L/100 km (21 mpg) in the city and 7.6 L/100 km (31 mpg) on the highway. It has a 68 litre tank and requires premium fuel. I averaged 16.8 L/100 km (14 mpg) throughout my week with it – I’ll admit, with no shame, that I drove it with a heavy foot through several snowfalls in addition to my normal, slow commute. Not bad for a 400 horsepower, all-wheel drive beast being driven hard.
The 4S is powerful, and noticeably more so at lower RPMs than the base Carrera. While puttering around town, it’s a completely docile puppy, and you can’t help but marvel at how easy it is to drive this car. At some point, however, you realize that you’re never really getting above 2500 RPM and there are another 5000 RPM that you’ve been leaving untapped. And baby, when you tap that, hoooo boy – it’s grinnin’ time. As easy as it is to drive around town, I can say it’s just as easy to drive the Carrera 4S fast. I mean really fast.
If you need to know, it’ll do 0-60 (0-100 km/h) in 4.5 seconds.
From a red light, or from already illegal highway speeds, the Carrera 4S is able to build forward momentum at an alarming rate, yet always feels completely in control and stable.
And the sound. Oh my. Whenever you take off from a standstill or jab the throttle while you’re on the go, there’s a delicious sonorous snarl as the boxer sucks in air. That’s delightful, to be sure, but not nearly as intoxicating as the frantic clattery mechanical symphony that you’ll summon when you rev this engine up. Send it flying to its redline and it will make your hair stand on end – in a very good way. I’ve always loved Porsche sounds, and though the air-cooled days are long gone, they’ve managed to continue engineering the cars’ sounds to evoke a true emotional response in me. Long live the boxer!
I have always found Porsche’s PDK transmission to be tremendous. I go on at length about the PDK in my review of the Cayman S – if you want more on this transmission, check it out. Reader’s Digest version: it’s incredibly fast, incredibly smooth and most importantly, it’s incredibly smart in terms of its programming and accuracy. I’ve never driven a better automatic transmission.
The handling of this car is truly majestic. Purists doubted it, but the electronic steering is bang-on accurate, turn-in is perfect, and the car remains completely unflappable in any kind of driving situation. Of course, you can count on the car to stay completely flat through any cornering exercise you toss it into. On top of it all, the firm ride is quite comfortable – the active suspension management allows you to dial it up a notch, and things can get a bit uncomfortable (though never harsh) over uneven road surfaces – but I never really found a need for the sportier suspension setting as the normal mode was perfectly capable.
Porsche’s all-wheel drive system has an electronically variable map-controlled multi-plate clutch – the rear axle is permanently driven, and the system figures out when it makes sense to drive the front wheels as well, constantly varying the amount of torque it sends to the front – as a matter of fact, you can monitor the system’s activity on the driver information screen where it shows you how much of the power is going to the rear and the front wheels. It’s fascinating to see how it changes – the torque is transferring constantly front to back, back to front – the entire time you’re driving, based on an infinite number of variables.
All the tech talk in the world doesn’t mean much when you get out on the road but I can say without question, this is possibly the most capable and intelligent all-wheel drive system I’ve ever driven. A lot of superlatives in this review, I know. Whatever, I’m not ashamed. The all-wheel drive is invisible when it’s not needed and extremely competent the millisecond its intervention is required. It allows you to gain traction on skating rink surfaces that you’ve got no right to have traction on, and it lets you kick out the rear end any time you want to. You just have to press the right buttons to let the car know you want to play. How do you beat that combination?
The 4S’s brakes are immensely powerful and simple to modulate – easy around town, and will haul the car down from extreme speeds with the same lack of drama.
Visibility of the road ahead of you borders on perfect, but you’ll pay the price trying to look the other way. Rear visibility is limited to a gun-slit out the back, and shoulder checking the passenger side is an exercise in futility. Of course, when the weather’s nice and the top is down, those two become non-issues.
True to form, the Carrera’s interior is lovingly crafted (in Umber leather in this case) out of gorgeous materials, boasting the best fit and finish the industry has to offer. Everything is perfectly stitched, upholstered and put together. No squeaks, no rattles, nothing. It’s like sitting down and driving in a vault of awesome.
As you drop into the low-slung seating position, the seats’ comfort and ultra supportive nature will reinforce that you’re in a different class of car. The beautiful leather front seats are highly adjustable (with driver’s side memory), heated and cooled.
This Carrera had the multi-function steering wheel, which has controls for audio, phone and the driver information screen on it. It’s a lovely steering wheel, heated and power adjustable, but the manual shifting “paddles” on it are just horrifying. I’ve driven 911s with these before, and frankly, the thumb-push/trigger-pull nature of these buttons was enough to convince me to manually shift exclusively with the gear selector if I need to do the shifting. Why they don’t just give up on these and replace them with real shift paddles (which Porsche does do very well on other steering wheels) is beyond me.
Behind the wheel are five gauges – a nod to tradition but not as practical as the three gauge cluster in the Cayman S – the steering wheel cuts off your view of the outside gauges. One of the “gauges” is a round driver information screen which provides amazingly complete suite of information – the driver can cycle through what’s playing on the audio system, phone information, a navigation map, navigation directions, trip meters including fuel range, consumption, driving time, etc., tire pressure, all-wheel drive monitor, sport chrono lap timer, g-force meter and a set of digital temperature gauges. Phew!
There’s a full-featured infotainment system with a touchscreen front and centre. The user interface isn’t the greatest, but once you get over the slightly confusing way of doing things, it functions well. The system encompasses media (feeding off a wealth of sources), phone functions, navigation, settings and your front and rear parking sensor display. Speaking of media, this Carrera was equipped with the astronomically-expensive Burmester sound system. Whilst seeming prohibitive to the average consumer, it’s worth every penny as it qualifies as one of the most effortless, clean-sounding and impressive audio systems I’ve heard in a car. The argument against it, of course, comes when you’re driving – because the real music is coming from the boxer engine behind you.
Below the screen at the top of the elevated console sits a dual-zone automatic climate control system, and as your eyes drop lower, you’ll find yourself heading for migraine country as your brain tries to process the dizzying array of identically-sized, shaped and coloured buttons on the console. I’ve yodelled about this before, and I’ll say it here again. Porsche’s ergonomics are terrifying in some aspects, like the one I just talked about, and perfect in others, like the seating, steering wheel and pedal positions. Take it or leave it.
The convertible top is finished perfectly inside, leaving the driver with serious doubts that this is actually a ragtop. It was so cold during parts my review week that I saw a few teenagers with their pants pulled up, but thankfully the car’s top is insulated against weather and wind better than I could have ever imagined. It raises and lowers very quietly, with little drama. And it’s quick too. For topless driving, there’s also an electronically activated windscreen that pops up and sits behind the front seats to cut down on some of the turbulence. Did I drive it with the top down? You bet I did. In -21 C. Did I get a few looks? Only from people who were wondering why they couldn’t be as awesome as I was.
Here you’ll find two seats flanking a massive central tunnel. Each seat has a seat belt, but no head rest. They’re obviously not meant to carry adults in comfort – frankly any normal-sized adult would probably rather remove their own kidneys with a spoon than sit back there for any length of time.
Of course, we tried out our kids back there. There are LATCH anchors for child seats, and small child seats will fit, but we found the barrel-shaped seats to be too tight to fit booster seats. Not sure how much this matters to most buyers, but it matters to us – so there you go. That said, two of our kids can ride without boosters, and they were immensely happy back there. “Do more donuts, dad!” Of course I have no idea what they’re talking about.
Much like the rear seats, I’m really not sure a 911’s storage capacity is a matter of importance to many buyers, but as my readers know, I put a lot of value into a car’s ability to swallow up our stuff. The Carrera is woefully short on space – there’s a glove compartment, tiny flip-out door bins and a center console “bin” under the armrest that could hold a half dozen pencils if you’re lucky. Luckily the rear seatbacks fold down to make a highly useful (and sizeable) parcel shelf and there’s the old 125 litre trunk under the front hood – it’ll hold a number of soft bags or a large suitcase. Or your sexy custom fitted Porsche Design luggage.
Everyone has heard of all-season tires. I propose the all-season super-car category.
In my opinion, the Carrera 4S is a super-car. It’s so capable, so competent and so comfortable, that it still manages to surprise me every time. Add to that list the fact that you would be owning an icon in the sports car world, not to mention the unbelievably ridiculous resale value retention, and a Carrera 4S is actually a smart investment. You could easily live with this car all year long – absolutely no need to park it – ever! You’ve got an amazing winter car, and a stunning summer car – convertible top included!
I give the Carrera 4S Cabriolet an easy 9 out of 10.
WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was a dichotomous affair. Overall, my girl thought the Carrera 4S Cabriolet was “spectacular” and really enjoyed driving it. She was confident in the snow, loved the styling and the obvious cachet. She’s not a convertible girl though – the time she spends on her coiffure is negated instantly when the top is down. Also, her daily shopping habits found their foil in the Carrera’s blessedly small storage capacity and I was thanking my lucky stars when she took it out shopping.
If you’re shopping for a Carrera, there’s no way you haven’t considered making it an “S”. At that point, it’s not a huge jump to make it a 4S – the all-wheel drive just makes sense, especially if you drive it in the rain or the snow. I propose you lay it all on the line and make it a 4S Cabriolet and be one of the chosen few that understand the meaning of “all-season super-car”. I bow to you, intelligent consumer, and I grovel at your feet – please, I beg you, let me drive your car!
This car is awesome. I don’t even care that the cupholders are the stupidest things I’ve ever seen, and will spill your coffee directly on your electronics. I don’t care that I’d have to leave one of my children at home, or snuggle him into the front trunk with some pillows for padding. I don’t care that I would have to mortgage a couple of kidneys for this car. I’m not even ashamed to admit I’d consider leasing out one of my kids to pay for it. None of that changes the fact that this car checks off every box on my “awesome” list and then some.
Do I want one? Is a polar bear’s skin black?
(The answer is yes, by the way.)
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by Porsche Canada.
Big thanks to my friend and fellow car enthusiast Dennis Seib, who snapped the rolling shot of the Carrera.
If you enjoyed this review, feel free to check out my other vehicle reviews under the car reviews tab at the top of my blog.