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Porsche 911 C4S

Driven December 2001

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Porsche's designers and engineers have been pilfering from the 911 Turbo parts bin, making off with the Turbo's front and rear ends, wider track and wheel arches, suspension, brakes and wheels, to produce a sort of lookalike which comes with four-wheel drive but does away with Turbo-tastic performance and, of course, the Turbo-tastic price too.

But it's not just the looks which have been addressed. Benefiting from the tweakery which went on across the 911 range earler in 2001, the C4S starts up and makes a noise from its twin tail pipes akin to a horse snorting, with a flatulent 'brap', which basically means that compared to the pre-facelift water-cooled models, it now sounds like a proper Porsche.

Take the time to look around and there isn't much evidence that this is anything out of the ordinary. It's only when you belt up that any visible attempt at marking out the C4S makes its presence felt - namely by a set of bright-yellow, colour-coded seatbelts, which wouldn't look out of place holding up the pinstripes of a champagne guzzling, wad-flashing 1980s yuppie stockbroker type.

Still, set aside such fashion faux pas for a moment and this could well lay claim to being the most rounded Stuttgart powerhouse yet. With 320bhp at 6,800rpm and 273lb ft ready to roll from 4,250rpm, you're talking the kind of thrust, which really does need four-wheel drive, especially when the roads turn wet or snowy or icy.

Unfortunately, Porsche's PR department had neglected to arrange such a test drive for us. However, on the bone-dry roads around Lake Garda, Italy, I felt confident enough to really get stuck into the turns without fear of ending up backwards. The C4S has the feeling of being pure 911 - with alive steering that wriggles slightly, that light front end which is wonderfully sensitive to camber and pitch, and the feeling that, with all the weight over the back axle, the rear is perfectly planted as you power through a bend and the inside front wheel lifts just a smidgen.

It's all hugely enjoyable stuff. But the clever bit is that - on dry roads at least - you don't really feel as if you're in a four-wheel-drive car. The C4S still feels driven from the rear, probably because that's where the bias lies.

A constant minimum of five per cent of grunt is sent to the front, but that can change to up to 40 per cent should the nose lose traction. As if to prove the point, when punted out of a T-junction on a healthy dose of gas, it's perfectly possible to set the C4S into a tailslide (with the stability management turned off) before the power is sent forwards.

The penalty for having a car with proper 911 hips, more traction when the weather turns nasty and monstrous stopping power (as if the standard 911 anchors weren't up to the job in the first place), is a bit more weight and a fraction less performance on paper than a Carrera 2. But across country, you can guess which one you'd feel more confident getting from A to B quickly in.

The C4S makes all the right noises, all the right moves and all at the right price - especially weighed up against the regular Carrera 4 and the Turbo. As an all-rounder, it's pretty much perfect.

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