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Long-Term Update: 2003 Porsche Carrera C4S

Death Valley daze

Kerry Morse
Jun 22, 2004 SHARE
0406_01z+Porsche_Carrera_C4S+Front_Passenger_View Photo 1/3   |   Long-Term Update: 2003 Porsche Carrera C4S

It's still a 911, isn't it? It may be as large as a whale (killer), and like a whale, this one needs water to live, but with the exception of the crest, there isn't one carryover component from the days when all real Porsches were windsuckers. Still, this is a real 911 and worthy of the lineage, Okay, that last line was a bit of a stretch. Let's call ec's long-termer what it really is and mess with Porsche marketing. A 2003 Porsche 996 Carrera 4S. As the California aftermarket can testify, body modifications to garden-variety 911s have always been in vogue. The availability of turbo flares, spoilers, etc. turned many an early 911 and 912 into some nightmarish semblance of a fire-belching beast.

Note the word semblance, because that's all there was to it. The factory eventually caught on and, anxious not to miss out on the money, made its own versions of turbo-look models. Purists tended to scoff at the existence of such poseur Porsches, but the factory made huge steps in development, too. That extra width was needed for the power and handling.

Now there's the Carrera 4S, with its turbo-look panels and scoops. Is it a poseur. No. If this is the direction next-generation's 911 is headed, it is the Turbo that should be labeled as a C4S lookalike, this car is that rewarding. Living with a car as opposed to driving a car for only a day is like the difference between being on vacation and choosing a place to live. Any 911 Turbo is a thrill ride, but is it the car to go pick up bread and milk? I have always found the 911 Turbo, regardless of year, to require more effort to get in and enjoy on a daily basis.

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The C4S offers all the plus factors of the more expensive Turbo but without the added hassles of the auspuffer. The 3.6 liter's power output of 320 ponies is more than sufficient to merge in any kind of traffic, and three-digit cruising on the right roads is where a thoroughbred like the C4S feels most at home. The main selling point of the C4S comes down to one simple point: The handling characteristics are nothing short of phenomenal. For a car the size and weight of the C4S to perform in the manner of a Lotus 7, and do it in comfort, is a huge achievement. After all, we live in a world where all-wheel drive is more of a catchy sales slogan and falls empty with what it promises. Not the C4S. The all-wheel drive makes a strong case that all 911 variants should send power through all four wheels.

Our long-term C4S has been part of the ec family for some time now. My time behind the wheel had been limited to weekends, the occasional trip to L.A. and a few beach drives. I didn't press the issue of more seat time until late fall, because our C4S was due to get the factory Ceramic Composite Brakes (PCCB) installed.

My patience was rewarded. I had the car for a week and hit the road for a run that included Las Vegas and a loop of Death Valley. Leaving the Los Angeles area on any late afternoon and hoping for an average speed of anything over 35 mph is an exercise in futility. In most cases, you want an automatic trans to avoid the hassle of pressing in the clutch pedal a couple of thousand times.

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And this is just one of the areas that the C4S is preferable to the Turbo. The ease of using the clutch and selection of the manual six-speed's gears is particularly civilized in the 3.6-liter's low range. It's a great creeper. The boredom of moving so slowly gave me time to look around the interior and remind myself of the objectionable. The dash still has a cheesy feel and look to it, and the plastic trim simply is not up to the standard it should be. The sunroof developed an annoying rattle that was taken care of by stuffing an empty matchbook in the crease. (It was fixed at McKenna Porsche under warranty.) Small items, to be sure, but ones that Porsche needs to address.

The rest of the drive to Vegas was on cruise at a sedate 80, and I went through the CDs I'd selected for the trip.

The staff at the Hard Rock Hotel found the C4S to be an attention-getter, and I was honored with a prime valet parking spot a few steps from the front door during my stay. A nice change from the 200 yards or so where I have had to park during past visits.

The driving experience truly began in earnest when I left town and got off I-15 and headed through Pahrump and the back way into Death Valley. The driving time to the Furnace Creek Inn is estimated to be 2 hours under good conditions. I lopped 45 minutes off that time, including a quick visit to Zabriskie Point (a must for fans of film director Antonioni). The junction at Death Valley is one of the most surreal meetings of the roads in America. A solo Porsche among the ghostly structures of a past that wondered aloud about the future.

It was in this setting that the C4S and my emotions became one. In the absence of traffic, the solo ballet began, and the opera of high revs harmonized with the low tenor of the composite brakes. The ghost of the 20-mule team factored by an additional 100 wild horses. Like the wind and the rain going force nine through the depths of the valley.

The composite brakes are worth the price. Late braking takes on a whole new meaning of being on the threshold. The upgraded Bosch ABS 5.7 system, aided by the Porsche Stability Management system, kept it all under control. Did I succeed in safely getting the C4S to break loose without risking a big and expensive off? Let's just say that the C4S returned safely to ec world headquarters as planned on Monday morning. The extended session of covering Death Valley in minutes, aboard an all-wheel-drive covered wagon, versus a journey that once took days in a horse-drawn version confirmed that Porsche has built the best way to go west...and south and north and east.

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By Kerry Morse
42 Articles

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