Porsche has always been the savior of sports car fans living in northern climates where the need for foul-weather traction typically eliminates many standard go-fast options from the panoply of pricy performance vehicles available to the well-heeled shopper. With a strong history of offering all-wheel drive in some of its quickest models, it was with bated breath the Porsche fans have been awaiting the debut of the 2013 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S after having been teased with the rear-wheel drive Carrera going on sale earlier this year.
I was recently given the chance to put the 2013 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S through its paces on a test track composed almost entirely of solid ice - an appropriate proving ground for the all-wheel drive terror. I came away suitable impressed with just how competent Porsche's 911 formula remains when facing down the slickest possible road surfaces.
With 400 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque on tap from a 3.8-liter six-cylinder engine, it's clear that any all-wheel drive system charged with handling this amount of output needs to be ready to swap torque from one axle to the other at a moment's notice. The Porsche Traction Management system (the German brand's name for its all-wheel drive feature) can do exactly that, responding to requests from its computer-controlled brain in just 100 milliseconds. This allows the system to switch from 100 percent of torque driving the rear wheels (thus preserving traditional sports car driving dynamics) to a maximum of a 54 percent rear / 46 percent front split when dealing with extreme low-traction situations. A digital display just to the right of the tachometer keeps track of how much power is being sent where, although it's difficult to keep an eye on this small screen while the car is completely sideways.
'Extreme low traction' is an excellent term to apply to the courses set-up for us by the Porsche Driving Experience crew at the Mecaglisse rally school roughly one hour north of Montreal, Quebec. Making use of the same grounds as the Porsche Camp4 driving school, we were treated to an ice-coated skid pad, a tight, technical course, and a shorter drift course complete with dramatic elevation changes. Although we were given expert instruction just before each element, during the actual driving I was paired up with another journalist and essentially told to have as much fun as possible while keeping the 911 between snowbanks.
Each of the 2013 Porsche Carrera 911 4S examples provided for us at Mecaglisse were riding on Nokian tires outfitted with 3-mm steel studs, ideal rubber for negotiating ice-slicked surfaces. My first stop was at the tight, winding course that had been set up to demonstrated the differences in the Carrera's handling when the Porsche Stability Management System was switched on versus being switched off.
Setting the PDK seven-speed automated manual transmission to second gear, I launched the Carrera 4S down the sloped, long right-hand turn that marked the beginning of the track. Immediately noticeable was the extra weight of the 4S model's steering versus that of the two-wheel drive Carrera, a characteristic not just of the extra power shuttled to the front wheels but also the Getrag front differential outfitted to the car. The additional steering effort needed to pilot the 4S was easier to pick out given that I was driving the car back-to-back against the standard Carrera, but it did seem to dilute the directness of the 911's road feedback.
The Porsche PSM system did an excellent job of keeping me out of harm's way while slithering the Carrera 4S around the ice track, but it might as well have been labeled the 'No Fun Police' for what it did to the coupe's driving experience. The NFP intervened abruptly to not only add braking when negotiating slipper corners but it also negated much of the advantage of all-wheel drive in terms of being able to power our of a skid, as throttle response dropped to near zero when the steering angle was detected as being at odds with the actual trajectory of the car. Turning on Sport Plus (a nice feature associated with the test car's optional Sport Chrono package) backed off the system's intervention threshold, but it was still a game of keep-away with engine power when I needed it most.
Holding down on the PSM / NFP button for a couple of seconds so as to completely deactivate it, however, revealed the true nature of the beast. With the 3.8-liter mill roaring through the sport exhaust just behind my head, the 2013 Porsche Carrera 4S was more than willing to fling itself completely sideways through the corners, using the additional mass of the engine located in back of the rear axle to maintain a sustained drift and then claw its way back onto the straight and narrow through the judicious application of both the right foot and opposite lock. The studs, of course, made an important contribution to the 911's ability to handle the icy track, but the confidence offered by its four-wheel drive system was impressive. In fact, swapping from Sport Plus to regular Sport mode offered more predictable drifting due to the softer suspension settings and less immediate throttle response.
At the end of the day two of the courses were combined into one, giving me the chance to sample the all-wheel drive system at a higher speed than it had been possible to achieve on the initial track. At this point I was able to appreciate the stability that the Carrera 4S all-wheel drive system adds to the 911 equation, especially when approaching an ice-slalom at speeds of 45 to 50-mph - an obstacle that the coupe was all to happy to snake through based on its momentum alone, with no need for driver intervention via the brake or the accelerator.
An Important Model For Porsche
Roughly 40 percent of Porsche 911 models have been ordered with all-wheel drive since the feature was first introduced more than 20 years ago, which indicates just how crucial it is for the German automaker to continue to refine the four-wheel prowess of its lineup. Although the 2013 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S doesn't handle with the same immediacy as its two-wheel drive sibling, there is no doubt that in daily driving, with PSM in effect, it is much safer to be behind the wheel of the all-wheel drive model should road conditions turn nasty.
The same is true even on dry pavement, as the four-wheel traction of the Carrera 4S makes for smoother acceleration from a standing start as well as the ability to power out of a corner without too much concern that the tail-heavy car will switch ends (witness standard all-wheel drive on the 911 Turbo). Not as pure as the traditional Carrera, I'll give you that. But whereas one needs significant miles in the left seat of a rear-engine car to maximize the performance of the base Carrera S, the 4S makes the vehicles limits reachable in a far more friendly fashion.