The navigation system, standard in the 911 Carrera 4S, doesn't mar the cabin look. Its plastic buttons are nicely designed while the maps look good, with bright colors and decent resolution. However, it's far from a cutting-edge system, with a limited points-of-interest database and no special features such as traffic reporting. We found its destination entry method unintuitive and tedious, as you have to spin a small dial from letter to letter, then push it to select. Route guidance worked reasonably well, with a voice prompt and arrows in the speedometer display to indicate upcoming turns.
We were more pleased with the Bose audio system, which uses nine speakers, including two tweeters and a center fill on the dashboard, a midrange and a woofer in each door, and two wide-band speakers behind the front seats. (There are, ostensibly, rear seats, but they seem built for interrogation.) Even though this system doesn't use a subwoofer, the bass was still very strong, while the highs were crystal clear and the midranges came through with a robust sound. This audio system made our music sound clear and strong.
We ended up listening to our test CD repeatedly, as there aren't a lot of music source options in the 911 Carrera 4S. The only modern sources are Satellite radio (inactive on our car) and a single-disc player that can read MP3 CDs. The car doesn't have a hard drive, a disc changer, or even an auxiliary audio input. At least navigating MP3 CD folders is easy with this system. As a feature we hadn't seen before, the system lets you name standard Red Book CDs. We put in our Covert Operations CD, entered in that name, then every time we put the CD in the system, it would show the proper name. It's an interesting feature, but we're not sure who would sit around programming in the names of all their CDs.
As for hands-free calling, instead of using a standard Bluetooth system, the PCM has a little drawer in which you are supposed to put a GSM SIM card. With a SIM card in place, the system promises all sorts of features, such as the capability to receive text messages. However, we tried multiple cards and couldn't get it to work. We don't particularly like this paradigm anyway, as you would either have to pull your SIM card out whenever you got in the car, which would be tedious, or get a separate SIM card for the car, meaning your car would have its own phone number.
One final note on the cabin tech: we had the Sport Chrono Package, which puts a smart-looking timer dead-center on top of the dashboard. This package lets you keep lap times, something you might very well want to do with this car, as it would be extraordinarily fun to drive on the track.
Under the hood
Porsche maintains its tradition by using a 3.8-liter, boxer-style six-cylinder engine that's mounted in back on the 2008 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet. This engine produces 355 horsepower at 6,600rpm and 295 foot-pounds of torque at 4,600rpm, rocketing the lightweight 911 to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds, according to Porsche. We found ample available acceleration in just about any gear, at just about any speed. Although, because of the smaller torque figure, we had to give it significantly more gas when climbing hills, unlike some cars that walk right up inclines.
Porsche refined this engine nicely and built it perfectly for this car. While other sports car manufacturers add cylinders, the 911's six cylinders give the right kind of power when you keep the rpm's between 4,000rpm and 6,000rpm and use the gearbox to power the car through corners. One advantage of the engine, particularly relevant these days, is its fuel economy. The EPA rates the 911 Carrera 4S at 16 mpg city and 24 mpg highway, similar to what you get from Nissan's 3.5-liter V-6 in the Infiniti G35. During our driving, we saw real-world numbers better than the Infiniti, pulling an average of 20.3 mpg. However, there's nothing special about the 911's emissions, as it merely earns the minimum LEV II rating from the California Air Resources Board.
Although a five-speed Tiptronic automatic transmission is available for the 911 Carrera 4S, we were happy to have the six-speed manual. The aluminum shifter felt good as we rowed the car through its gears, running it up to sixth on the freeway while keeping it in second and third gears, with occasional dashes up to fourth, while in Sport driving mode. We covered some of the handling above, but it can't be emphasized enough that the 911 Carrera 4S takes corners beautifully. On our approach to corners we would hit the brakes, which slowed the car smoothly, downshift if needed, then put on the gas into the turn. Each corner gave us more confidence in this car's capabilities, as the car showed little stress. The steering is well-balanced, seeming neutral on over- or understeer. This 911 would be a fantastic car on the track, where you could really let it run.
A couple of other technologies help the 911 Carrera 4S perform. Two buttons, one marked with a shock absorber and the other labeled Sport, change the car's dynamics substantially. This is the Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM), which lowers the car 0.4 inch in Sport mode. We tried some corners with the system in normal driving mode, and felt some bounce. In Sport mode, that type of bounce was dampened considerably. However, if we didn't put it in Sport mode, PASM would have noticed the type of driving we were doing, and adjusted the car's suspension on its own. Porsche Stability Management is also included on the 911 Carrera 4S; it's a traction control system that lets the car slip 5 percent to 7 percent before it intervenes. PSM can be turned off, but as we were driving on public roads, we left it on. Finally, an automatic spoiler in back rises when you hit 75 mph, then drops back down at 37 mph.
The base price of the 2008 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet is an even $100,000, which includes standard equipment such as the navigation system, PASM, and PAS. Among the $15,390 worth of options on our car was the Bose high-end audio system, which accounted for $1,390. With its $860 destination charge, the total came out to $116,250.
We can't help but give this car a top score for performance. It handles extremely well, and we're impressed that Porsche wrings this kind of power and efficiency out of a six-cylinder engine. Our design score is on the high side because the car looks good without being gaudy, although we question the practicality of the rear seats. We were also quite happy with the way the top lowered and raised at the touch of a button, latching itself into place. The only area where the 911 Carrera 4S takes a hit is in the cabin electronics. The navigation system works and it looks good, but you can get more features from a portable unit. The phone system seems as if it would be great, if it worked with any of our GSM SIM cards. Also, the radio lacks audio sources, without even offering an auxiliary audio input, something that has become standard on most cars.