As it turns out, a Porsche 911 is a brilliant GT Car.
One day, I'm going to buy a Porsche 911. In preparation for this momentous occasion, I spend way too much time browsing sites like Bring A Trailer, Cars And Bids, AutoTrader, and Porsche's own listings for used and certified pre-owned inventory. And you know what I've noticed? Too damn many Porsche owners leave their 911s sitting.
And I’m not even talking about hardcore, high-dollar variants like the GT2 and GT3 – the internet is littered with normal, low-mileage Carrera models. It's a problem even with older models, too. AutoTrader has a 2003 996 with just 31,000 miles on it, and there's a 911 Turbo with 5,200 miles. And most egregious? This 1982 911 SC with just 2,500 miles. Why?
To confirm my bias that it's not the car's fault and to contribute to a future of high-mileage 911s I can someday afford, I set out on a 400-mile drive from my home in metro Detroit to the town of Berlin, Ohio, behind the wheel of a Porsche 911 Carrera 4S with a seven-speed manual. What I found is a vehicle that's not only stunning on country roads, but also excels on the highway and is shockingly fuel efficient to boot. In other words, a perfect road-trip car that deserves regular, hard driving.
Balance, In Routing And Equipment
Porsche's PR handler described this Gentian Blue C4S as more of a grand-touring setup, although it still packs quite a few must-have performance items: the Sport Package (a lowered, performance version of Porsche Active Suspension Management and a sport exhaust), rear-axle steering, and the aforementioned manual transmission with its standard Sport Chrono package.
Those items aside, the ventilated 18-way Adaptive Sport Seats, all-leather interior, and Bose audio system – along with all the usual roster of standard equipment – present this 911 tester as a more balanced sports car. In particular, the chairs and the liberal use of cowhide make the already impressive cabin an even nicer place to spend a few hours.
The balanced approach to options mirrors the balanced route. A near-even split of highways (Interstate 75 and the Ohio Turnpike) and twisting country roads sprinkled with the occasional horse-drawn carriage makes up the 400-mile round-trip distance.
That GT Business
In the first quarter of the journey, along the rough roads of Michigan and far smoother freeways in Ohio, the 911 charms. Straight-line speed from the twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter flat-six is seemingly limitless, with a huge swell of torque permeating the rev range. But despite the ample punch, it's worth noting that this manual-trans car is actually the slowest (but not slow at all) Carrera S money can buy.
Where the C4S with the dual-clutch automatic snaps to 60 in just 3.2 seconds, asking a human to manage the gears cuts that time to a manufacturer-estimated 4.0 seconds. That's a full two-tenths behind the base Carrera and its PDK automatic (the seven-speed isn't available on the non-S model, and I suspect a 4.5 or 4.6-second sprint to 60 is the reason why).
Despite the ample punch, it's worth noting that this manual-trans car is actually the slowest (but not really slow at all) Carrera S money can buy.
Due to the lowered suspension and slim sidewalls on the Pirelli rubber – 245/35R20 up front and 305/30R21 in back – the ride remains intimately connected to the road surface, but use the Comfort drive mode and the 911 quells most of the harshness. Without potholes and expansion joints, this Porsche reveals itself as a quiet companion, with hardly any wind noise and limited tire roar. The tester's Bose audio system and a selection of podcasts, via the standard wireless Apple CarPlay, drown out any other bits of unpleasantness that may reach the cabin.
Speaking of that interior, it’s a fine place to while away the miles. The 911's standard four-way chairs do their job, but the adjustability of the 18-way adaptive sport seats makes them worth the $3,470 premium. There's a huge amount of lateral and lower-leg support and enough bolstering/lumbar adjustments to fit any body shape. The premium upholstery, meanwhile, is a pricey but worthwhile option at $4,260. Nearly $8,000 is a lot to spend on seats, but that's money well spent in the 911.
Throughout the journey, the 911s lack of active safety gear fatigued me. Yeah, call me weak or lazy if you will, but the reality is that active safety equipment makes long, dull sections of highway more digestible, and the 911's total lack of standard equipment here hurts. While you can add optional extras (in an a la carte form, rather than through a convenient safety pack), my C4S has none of it – no lane-keeping, no blind-spot monitoring, and no adaptive cruise control.
More disappointing, though, is that adaptive cruise control or Porsche's sublime InnoDrive suite (ACC with lane-keeping assist, plus GPS and other data to deliver more seamless assistance) are only available with the 911s automatic transmission. Economies of scale being what they are, I understand why Porsche made this decision, but it's not any less disappointing, especially when even the base Honda Civic bundles it with a stick-shift. Driver-assist items don't make a sports car better, but they make the idea of driving one regularly more palatable.
Hello Amish Country
Sandwiched between the highway sections are the country roads – from south of Sandusky, Ohio, to Berlin and back, the journey turns into blasts through tiny farming communities and fields of ready-to-harvest corn. It's those farm towns that first flummox the manual-trans 911. On the highways, the seven-speed manual is a fine partner.
But as I came to rest at the lone stoplights in some of these farming villages, managing the weighty, vague clutch or its long travel while also negotiating with the dull throttle response grew frustrating. No amount of focus allowed me to roll off the line as smoothly as I'd like, and executing comfortable changes from first to second required too much concentration.
Working this old-school transmission slows down the whole process of driving and brings it into tighter focus.
Fortunately, in between these tiny communities were an increasing number of twisting lanes, where the 911 came to life. With Sport Plus selected on the wheel-mounted dial, the entire vehicle feels more eager and responsive, but the real revelation comes with the manual gearbox's automatic rev-matching feature – it's fast and predictable, matching the engine speed as soon as the gear lever approaches a lower gate. My only annoyance is that when I wanted to heel-toe myself, I had to switch out of Sport and Sport Plus – I couldn't figure out how to maintain the more aggressive drive modes while switching off automatic rev matching.
The sharper throttle response from Sport Plus helps rolling off the line, while it also opens a butterfly valve on the dual exhausts and the 911's iconic flat-six howl takes a starring role. Backed by the whistling from both turbochargers, the sound from the rear-mounted engine is intoxicating. But equally exciting is the manual gearbox.
To be clear, the standard PDK is better. It's faster than any human could ever hope to be, while the manual transmission has a number of qualities some consider undesirable. The rubberiness of the gates is occasionally disappointing, but it's the distance from one gate to the other that surprises – shifting feels less urgent than competitive manuals.
And yet, every gear change, whether upshifting while exiting a corner in a fit of speed and exhaust noise or downshifting while grabbing the brakes, is a delight. Working this old-school transmission slows down the whole process of driving and brings it into tighter focus, amplifying the good vibes that emanate from every direction. Any 911 is going to be a great 911, but the beauty in this current car is that it can be so effortlessly quick, incredibly comfortable, and brilliantly smart while retaining, at its middle, a giant nugget of old-world motoring – the very thing that made the Carrera such an enduring classic in the first place.
The beauty is that the 911 can be so quick, comfortable, and smart while retaining, at its middle, a giant nugget of old-world motoring.
The handling, of course, is thoroughly modern. The PASM Sport suspension's adaptive dampers, when set for firmness, deliver excellent body control and the rear-axle steering gives the 911 a level of agility and responsiveness on corner entry that belies the C4S' 3,400-pound curb weight. That said, I'd find it hard to order a 911 without Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (the marketing name for active anti-roll bars), which makes the already enjoyable cornering experience feel even more composed and sporting by eliminating the modest body roll.
A Happy Bonus
With 443 hp from a twin-turbo flat-six, you might not consider the 911 C4S a very efficient car. The truth proves otherwise. Over the 400-mile journey, our tester returned a staggering 28.6 miles per gallon, over three mpg above the manual C4S' EPA-estimated 25-mpg highway figure. That's a remarkable performance, especially when you consider I spent roughly half the journey driving in a rather exuberant manner. In fact, netting that fuel economy figure felt easy – no eco trickery or hyper-miling tactics here.
The 911 is a sublime grand tourer, and an efficient one too. It's also expensive, with prices for the Carrera 4S starting at $120,600. Our well-equipped tester rings up at $143,940, and as is usually the case with Porsches, the price can get much higher. Adding the active anti-roll bars (which requires the $2,100 rear-axle steering), blind-spot monitoring, and lane-keeping assist with traffic sign recognition – the only real additions I'd make to this car – adds up to $7,500 to the total. But after 400 miles, even a $150,000 price tag feels worth it.
A 400-mile journey should have helped me understand the low-mileage 911 phenomenon, but all it's really done is left me more confused. These cars, and indeed all the other high-performance, high-dollar, low-mileage vehicles that pop up (seemingly with increased frequency), are too good to sit around collecting dust. These vehicles deserve better. They deserve to be driven. After all, how else will prices reach a point where normal folk like me will be able to afford them?
Gallery: 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S: Road-Trip Review
2020 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S