2020 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S review: Impeccable performance
The Porsche 911 is right up there with death and taxes in life's guarantees. For nearly six decades, Porsche's venerable sports car has persisted, continually improving as it makes its way through revision upon revision. Yet, despite all these adjustments, the 911 has remained true to itself, whether that's through its rear-engine layout or just how rewarding it is to drive.
You'll be happy to learn, then, that the fresh-as-a-daisy 992 generation keeps that same winning formula at the forefront. In Carrera 4S form, it makes such a strong case that you might wonder whether any trim above it is even necessary for anyone but those addicted to overkill.
Same silhouette, now with silly door handles
Porsche will never not err toward evolution versus revolution when it comes to its bread-and-butter sports coupe. Squint hard enough, and you'd be hard-pressed to find any differences between the 992 and its progenitors, but there are a few major changes that deserve to be called out -- in both good and bad ways.
From the front, it's harder to pick up on the changes, because that nose is a guaranteed constant through each generation. The most notable updates are found aft, where the taillights adopt a single LED bar spanning the width of the car, its nighttime look bearing more than a passing resemblance to the new Taycan EV. The engine's air inlets are now more cleanly integrated into the design, with the center-mounted brake light standing out in the middle. My tester features two absolute cannons for exhaust outlets, but don't let them fool you -- they're fake, with the real (and smaller) outlets hidden deep in the bumper's recesses. There's probably a metaphor here.
The 911 has never been a size queen when it comes to interior space, and the story's much the same with the 992. Things are traditionally tight, with the rear "seat" offering little utility when it comes to actually housing human beings -- consider them for children or child seats alone, although they do offer some extra utility by folding the seatbacks into parcel shelves. That extra storage space is all but necessary, as the front trunk only has enough room for a few people's worth of groceries or a pair of weekend bags.
My Carrera 4S tester packs a pair of optional 18-way sport seats ($3,470), which look similar to the standard chairs but offer additional axes of adjustment. They're plenty comfortable, and while they're snug enough to hold me in place during spirited driving, they're not so tight that larger passengers will feel uncomfortable. Visibility remains good, with just a hint of hood peeking out over the dashboard cowl, while the rear glass lets me see everything I need to when reversing or preparing to change lanes.
I have two major gripes about the 911's design that are unique to the 992. The first is the door handles, which are now electrically operated, popping out a slight bit when the car is unlocked. Not only are they unnecessarily complex, they feel like they're always on the verge of breaking when I use them. The second issue can be found inside, where the old shifter has been replaced with this weird-ass popsicle that no longer lets me change gears without using the shift paddles -- themselves being slightly frustrating, as they're smaller and located closer to the steering column than I'd prefer.
A familiar (but faster) friend
Furthering the don't-change-what-you-don't-need-to mantra, the 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S utilizes the same engine as the previous generation: a 3.0-liter, twin-turbocharged flat-six. However, thanks to a raft of changes that includes new turbochargers, electric wastegates, new injectors and other fresh bits and baubles, output rises 13 horsepower to 443 and 22 pound-feet of torque to 390.
When combined with Porsche's Sport Chrono Package (part of my tester's $5,460 Sport Package upgrade), the C4S will utilize all four driven wheels to reach 60 mph in just 3.2 seconds. That's not just quick on paper -- acceleration arrives with a firm push into the seat, hurtling the car forward with so much gusto that it could easily be confused for a more powerful variant. Things feel especially violent when using the simple launch control, initiated by jamming my left foot on the brake and my right on the gas. Hold it for a second, wait for a prompt on the screen, release the brake and feel your organs rearrange in real time. It's a blast.
The flat-six's note is present at just about every opportunity, thanks in part to my tester's active sport exhaust system. The default setting is a little quieter, with things getting truly raucous upon opening the electric valves hidden in the pipes, but there's no getting away from that sound at any time. Working in conjunction with a symposer that pumps intake noise into the cabin, the Carrera 4S provides spectacle 24/7, with the off-throttle pops, burps and crackles that everyone expects from a fancy set of pipes these days.
The Carrera 4S is obviously about more than just straight-line performance, though. It can take turns with the best of 'em, providing barely any rolling or pitching as I throw it into corner after corner, the car clawing at the ground with all four wheels (by way of Michelin Pilot Alpin winter tires) and pulling itself through with barely any drama. Extra agility comes thanks to the $2,090 rear-axle steering upgrade, which also makes around-town turns even easier.
All the systems on the Carrera 4S feel like they're constantly working in harmony. The steering has a sufficient weight to it, and it feels more direct thanks to some generational tweaks in the body. Despite not packing one of Porsche's fancy braking systems, the C4S' stock iron rotors stop with authority over and over, and they should be more than enough unless you live at the track. The eight-speed dual-clutch is smooth at all speeds, whether you're swapping your own cogs or letting the computers handle it.
The ride is stiff at all times, but not annoyingly so -- things are likely a smidge smoother with the stock suspension, but my tester packs the optional PASM sport suspension, part of the aforementioned Sport Package. It lowers the car about 0.4 inches, but my steep driveway is hardly an issue, thanks to the $2,770 front axle lift option that raises the nose in record time. Wind and road noise are on the higher side, the former likely due to the car's frameless windows.
Fuel costs are likely the least of a 911 owner's concerns, which is probably for the best. The EPA rates the 2020 Carrera 4S at 18 miles per gallon city and 23 mpg highway, numbers that are achievable when I make a determined effort to not have fun. When the going gets quick (and loud), though, those numbers are but mere hopes and dreams.
Screens, screens and more screens
Until this new generation, the 911 was technologically lacking compared to fresher Porsches elsewhere in the lineup. That's been remedied with the 2020 model, which picks up the latest iteration of Porsche's PCM infotainment system. It didn't take long for me to be enamored with this system after first experiencing it on the Cayenne , and I'm happy to report that it's just as great on the 911.
The 10.9-inch touchscreen looks right-sized for the dashboard. The system is fast, taking just a few seconds to boot upon a cold start and responding to touches quickly. Embedded navigation is included, and its search function (combined with a built-in 4G LTE connection) can find pretty much anything you're looking for. Apple CarPlay is included, and it can run wirelessly, but my favorite part is the smartphone integration doesn't take up the whole screen, allowing me to quickly access other PCM functions. Android Auto is still notably and annoyingly absent.
In addition to the infotainment screen, there are two smaller screens on either side of the gauge cluster's large, centrally mounted tachometer. These guys offer some versatility, letting me call up a full map, music information or vehicle specs using the scroller on the steering wheel. The extreme ends of either screen contain the least pertinent information, which is good, because the steering wheel rim blocks them from view most of the time.
Like many other new Porsches, safety systems are available, but not standard. Sure, your money does net you parking sensors and automatic emergency braking, in addition to a backup camera with mediocre resolution, but that's it. If you want anything else -- adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keeping assist, you name it -- you'll have to shell out a few hundred bucks at the absolute minimum.
How I'd spec it
My 2020 Carrera 4S tester is very lightly optioned. Its $120,600 base price is augmented with a lovely shade of blue paint ($830), a leather interior ($4,260), rear-axle steering ($2,090), 18-way sport seats ($3,470), a front-axle lift ($2,770) and a sport package featuring both Sport Chrono and the sport suspension ($5,460), for a post-destination price of $140,830.
Porsche offers a wealth of customization options for its cars. My personal Carrera 4S would wear the excellent Chalk paint ($3,270), in addition to the $2,540 RS Spyder Design wheels. I'll drop another $3,830 on a black leather interior, as well as the same $3,470 sport seats as my tester. It costs $0 to swap to a seven-speed manual transmission with the Sport Chrono package, but I'll shell out $2,090 for rear-axle steering and $2,950 for the sport exhaust. With my driveway, the $2,770 front-axle lift system is a necessity, too.
That leaves creature comforts. Here, I'll plunk down $1,430 for surround-view cameras and $550 for keyless entry, and that's it. That leaves me with a price tag of $144,850, which isn't that much higher than my tester, but it shows just how quickly the window sticker can reach the roof.
Down to brass tacks
The 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S has some interesting competition. The Mercedes-AMG GT is probably its closest rival, offering similar on-road performance and plenty of style, but the interior is even tighter. The BMW M850i has a lower starting price, and it's plenty fun, but it lacks the historical gravitas of the Porsche. The Audi R8 is a possible competitor, too, if you don't mind spending more money.
Porsche might be spreading its enthusiasm far and wide across multiple segments, but it's clear that the 911 is still its favorite child. The latest generation affords a number of improvements to an already capable sports car, turning it into an even more compelling machine.