A.J. MuellerCar and Driver
Christopher Bullock couldn’t have known his thought was incomplete when, in 1716, he wrote, “‘Tis impossible to be sure of anything but death and taxes.” Back then, the invention of the automobile was still 170 years off, and it would take another eight decades after that for the horseless carriage to evolve into the Porsche 911. In 2020, however, we know with as much certainty as death and taxes that Porsches are very, very expensive.
We realize this is not a novel observation. Porsches have always worn high prices. But occasionally a car comes along and sticks a thumb squarely in our eye with a price that we can’t ignore. The 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S is one of those, although it wasn’t the $121,850 base price or even the $140,730 as-tested price that captured our attention.
Here’s what got us: Stepping up from a 911 Carrera S to the all-wheel-drive Carrera 4S costs $7300. That extra outlay buys you all-wheel drive and, well, that’s it. There is no standard-equipment difference between the S and the 4S beyond the all-wheel-drive hardware and a gas tank that holds an extra 0.7 gallon. Elsewhere in the auto industry, both mainstream and luxury brands usually charge between $1000 and $2500 to upgrade from a two-wheel-drive vehicle to the all-wheel-drive model.
In the last 911 generation, spending the extra money for an all-wheel-drive 911 also bought wider fenders. This so-called widebody gave a 4S model wider hips than the standard 911, but not quite as expansive as those on the Porsche 911 Turbo and GT3 RS. That was then. For the 992 generation, there’s only a single width, at least until the new 911 Turbo comes along.
So, you don’t get a different body, which makes traction-based performance the sole reason to buy a modern Carrera 4S. Thankfully, Porsche abides. The electronically controlled clutch-pack coupling can send as much as 40 percent of the torque to the front axle. Helped by the extra front grip, the original four-season sports car doesn’t have to withdraw into a winter hibernation. With the right tires, it will continue to accelerate hard in any weather, provided the snow doesn’t stack too high. (The rear-drive models fare just fine in winter as well with the correct rubber.)
Mostly, though, the experience of driving the Carrera 4S is the same as driving a rear-wheel-drive 911. It accelerates hard, stops short, corners sharply, and generally does everything with the same precision. Get behind the wheel of a 911, and its imperturbable competence worms its way into your brain, feasting on rational thought. Instead of asking, “How much does it cost?” you’ll start thinking, “How can I afford it?” Sell your family’s fourth-generation vacation home. Siphon off your kid’s college fund. Steal from the collection plate. All of these are sane ideas after some quality time in a 911.
There is one tangible benefit to buying the 4S, too, even if it is remarkably small. Porsche is always minding the pecking order of the more than 20 911 variants in its lineup, and so your extra $7300 earns you the bragging rights of a 4S badge on the back instead of a mere S. Despite a 139-pound weight penalty, the 4S neatly trims a tenth of a second off the rear-wheel-drive S’s sprints to 60 mph, 100 mph, and through the quarter-mile, and that advantage only increases on wet or snow-covered roads. The 443-hp twin-turbo flat-six, eight-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, and all-wheel-drive system all feed a ruthless launch-control program that turns air and gasoline into effortless and repeatable performance. Is 2.8 seconds to 60 mph better than 2.9 seconds? Objectively, yes. Is it worth $7300? We’re uncertain about that one.