Porsche’s new Carrera 4S Cabriolet, which will go on sale in the U.S. in late September at a price of $93,200 plus tax, offers 320 horsepower, the wide rear body styling that says performance in Porsche-speak – and the opportunity to raise or lower the top while traveling at up to 30 mph.
Other convertibles require that the car be stationary, often with the gearbox in neutral and the parking brake on, before the top can be operated. Porsche, which introduced the feature on its 2003 convertibles, sees the ability to open or close on the fly as a major selling point and reckons it will sell over 3500 of the convertible version of its most expensive four-wheel drive 911 per year. The top assembly is made by CTS (Car Top Systems), a company jointly owned by Porsche and DaimlerChrysler. CTS supplies convertible tops not only to the two parents but also to other manufacturers, so the system is likely to appear on other models in the future.
The 4S is the latest iteration of Porsche’s all-wheel-drive product line, and although it has all the classic attributes of the marque, the ability to operate the top while on the move is likely to be one of the features most appreciated by drivers. Being able to close the top when a shower comes merely by dropping the speed below 30 mph and pressing a switch is a big advantage compared with other convertibles, where it is necessary to find a suitable place to pull off the road and stop. Drivers brought up on English sports cars of thirty years ago, in which the top was made up of a canvas cover and a metal-tube frame that did not even fold but had to be assembled, like a pup tent, will view the Porsche top with incredulity.
2004 Porsche 911
Driving the car on mountain roads in Austria that were high enough to squeeze the moisture out of the clouds gave ample opportunity to test the system’s efficiency, which was excellent, both going up and down. The process takes just twenty seconds, a period comparable with other electrically-operated mechanisms, and the only drawback – and it’s a very picky one – is that the finger has to be applied to the button during the whole process, ideally making it a job for the passenger rather than the driver. The process was so easy and convenient that it was feasible to close the top on entering a mountain tunnel, to keep out exhaust fumes, and to open it again a minute or so later to benefit from the fresh air. As an additional advantage, the top can be opened or closed from the key fob or by turning the key in the door lock.
The Carrera S4 uses the same 320-hp, flat-six power unit as the rear-drive Carrera and the all-wheel drive Carrera 4, but it differs by having a body that is a couple of inches wider over the rear axle and engine compartment. The added beef gives the look Porsche fans connect with Turbo versions of the car, but if you want the Turbo look and Turbo power, the only answer is to buy a Turbo. The broader S versions of the Carrera are in fact heavier than the standard model and thus slightly slower, losing 0.1 of a second in 0-62-mph acceleration (5.1 against 5.0 seconds) and around three mph in top speed (174 mph against 177).
Reining in the power is a Porsche speciality, and the new car is among the first to be offered with the option of ceramic composite brake discs, distinguishable by yellow, rather than red, callipers. Fifty percent lighter than standard metal discs, reducing unsprung weight by 40 pounds, the new discs build up the frictional coefficient quickly and maintain it more uniformly. On the road, and particularly when climbing and descending the mountain passes, the new brakes on our test car proved particularly effective. They also lacked the squeal present on some other ceramic braking systems.
Although the S versions are actually no more powerful, they are better trimmed, and two inches on the hips does wonders for the look of the car. Of course, in performance car language its not hips but haunches. Designers of such cars love the animal allegory of haunches, which make a visual link between a powerful beast and a powerful machine. It certainly works on this Porsche, which is haunchier and raunchier than anything else on the road. Fortunately the rear-view mirrors cover enough to let drivers admire the external evidence of Porsche power every time they look back at whatever they have just overtaken.
2004 Porsche Carrera 4S Cabriolet
Base price range: $93,200
Engine: 3.6-liter flat six, 320 hp
Transmission: Six-speed manual or five-speed Tiptronic, all-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 92.5 in
Length x width x height: 174.6 x 72.0 x 51.0 in
Weight: 3451 lb manual, 3572 lb auto
Fuel consumption (Euro standards) (city/hwy): 17.3/27.6 mpg
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags w/crash sensors, side airbags, ABS, stability control, traction control, automatic actuation of roll-protection bars behind seats in rollover situation
Major standard features: Powered convertible top, Bose audio system, leather trim, power windows and locks, and cruise control
Warranty: Four years/50,000 mles