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First drive: 911 Carrera 4, 4S

2008-08-14 14:59
Porsche, 911

Egmont Sippel

What to say of a company where the boss drew a paid salary last year, of anything between 60 and a 100 million euro?

If the upper estimate is correct, it works out to a thousand euro per Porsche sold in 2007, for CEO Wendelin Wiedeking.

Not all of this money comes from car sales, of course. Two years ago Volkswagen AG shares traded for 30 euro each. Today, with Porsche having taken control of VW, those shares have rocketed to 200 euro each.

That’s brand cachet for you. And we’re a mere15 years beyond Porsche’s infamous early-’90s peek into the abyss.

Eventually the company was saved from bankruptcy, of course.

By Wiedeking.

How did he do it? How was Porsche turned around from down-and-out to the world’s most profitable car company in the blink of an eye?

Second generation 997

Zuffenhausen’s latest are good examples of why Wendelin Wiedeking had been so spectacularly successful.

We’re talking second generation 997, as Porsche calls it, or the face-lifted 911 range that hit European markets a month ago in rear-wheel drive form and has just been expanded with all-wheel drive Carrera 4 and Carrera 4S derivatives, plus their soft-top twins – the 4 with passive and the 4S with active suspension.

Merely calling them face-lifted models might not do the cars justice, though, for they are, in many respects, virtually new.

It’s hard to tell from the outside, of course. Nip-and-tuck cosmetics have been limited to new bumpers, reshaped air intakes, daylight running lights, new wheels and mirrors, edgily shaped LED tail lights and – on 4S models – a reflector strip straddling the rear, as of yore.

That’s in keeping with Porsche’s classically understated evolutionary ethos for 911 development over the last 45 years – a stretch handing the longest surviving production car run in the world to Neunelfer.

So, what makes the latest incarnation – and in particular C4 and C4S models – so special?

Under the skin

Well, where other car companies mostly leave mechanicals untouched to concentrate on a fresh look for face-lifted cars, Porsche has inverted the process.

At a glance, second generation 997 C4 and C4S iterations might look quite similar to first generation derivatives, including a 44 mm wider-at-the-rear Turbo body.

But boy, have they been revamped under the skin!

Not in terms of fundamentals, of course.

Structure, architecture, platform and hard points are all taken from first generation 997. Even the chassis and electronically controlled PASM (Porsche Active Stability Management) have only been mildly retuned, whilst bigger and better brakes dish out stronger doses of velocity valium.

Yet, the living nucleus of the car – from power source to the point of all-wheel delivery – has evolved quite dramatically.

It starts with such a complete redesign and rebuild of Porsche’s iconic flat-six that both the 3.6 and 3.8-liter versions could for all intents and purposes be called brand new.

New engines and technologies

A complete technical update on the new 911 will follow in a separate article. But the engines are both 6 kg lighter, to begin with. They’re also fed with direct petrol injection (DFI) with a homogenous mix allowing comfortably higher compression ratios (12.5:1).

This now, for more power and fewer emissions from less fuel.

The new 911’s second big hardware improvement is the optionally available 7-speed PDK – Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe, consisting of two wet clutches, one inside the other – for electro-hydraulic shifts with zero drive interruption.

C4 and C4S models add electronically controlled all-wheel drive PTM (Porsche Traction Management, similar to the 911 Turbo’s) as a third new technology. The old viscous coupling could, at best, push 40% of engine power upstream; mechatronic power distribution increases that to a 100%.

Henceforth, all-wheel drive models also get a mechanical limited slip diff as standard on the rear axle.

Less significant updates incorporate hill-assist, enhanced tyre pressure control, bi-xenon headlights, LEDs at the back, daytime running lights, optional cornering lights and seat ventilation, simplified touch-screen infotainment and all the modern-day paraphenalia for voice control, Bluetooth, USB and iPod freaks.

Where they find the space in an already tightly packaged car for all of this remains a Zuffenhausen secret.

But here’s a clue: the easy-to-use infotainment interface is hooked up to antennas in the front window, antenna amplifiers in the A-pillars, a sound amplifier under the passenger seat and a myriad of components hidden in the nose of the car, behind the luggage trunk and on top of the petrol tank.

The only space not exploited is the empty volume of that very tank, as it runs empty – which is at a 13% slower rate than before.

On the road

At the same time, power has been upped to 254 kW on the 3.6-liter and 283 kW on the 3.8-liter.

The question is whether all of this translates into a tangible difference on the road?

Indeed it does.

At start-up, both flat-6s – now slightly quieter and definitely smoother than before – still whirr with a busy metallic buzz, still bark when you prod the pedal, still hum sonorously at 80 km/h in third, still scowl when you whip past 4 000 r/min and still scream all the way from 6 000 r/min to the red line.

That’s where the C4 and C4S lived, of course, during international launch runs in the German countryside outside Berlin: close to the red line and furiously fast through apexes, yet with great stability into corners and a magnificent spread of traction out of it.

It would be foolish to say that a driver can notice the torque being shifted to and fro. When power is needed upstream, PTM closes the electromagnetic multi-plate Borg-Warner centre-clutch (with its neat little ball-ramp booster) in a mere 100 milliseconds or less.

Power and drive, in other words, are simply there – already there, fore and aft –at the requisite moment and in the correct split, courtesy of a system analysing driving conditions through several control maps running in parallel, rather than in series.

It’s like having your road feast prepared in advance.

Simply fantastic!

Tail-heavy traction

Yet, the 911 remains a tail-heavy car, something that can – and should – never be engineered into oblivion.

Even in all-wheel drive 911s such a mass behind the rear axle extracts a lovely little wiggle, very early in the run out of the apex, in response to throttle exuberance.

At the same moment the front – and therefore the steering – goes light.

Yet, so pure and complete is all-wheel traction that the wiggle and airiness last just long enough to reconfirm C4 and C4S as classic 911s.

After that, the ever-vigilant Borg-Warner helps to pull the nose from corners like a cork from a bottle, as the back squats on pretty wide rubber (305 mm in the C4S’s case) to squelch tons of grip and traction out of a couple of contact patches.

And that’s what boggles the mind: the traction.

It’s pure, it’s heavy, it’s relentless, it’s demonic.

PDK (in combo with a Sports Chrono Package) will give you a good taste of how insane it is once you’ve engaged launch control, an exciting little gimmick that Porsche has repeated 2 000 times on a single clutch without harming a single component, just to prove how ferociously fast Zuffenhausen’s all-wheel driven cars can catapult off the line and how doggedly reliable their hardware is.

Make no mistake: you can still get the tail out if you’re silly. And the nose will still push wide if entry lines and speeds are woefully wrong.

But here’s the good news: you got to be less than talented as a driver to get it all so terribly wrong, in the first place.

And if you do, PTM all-wheel drive and the rear axle’s LSD will give you every chance of handling over- and understeer successfully.


The new double-clutch gearbox will also help, of course; it’s very fast and smooth.

That’s in normal mode.

Engage Sports Plus and cog swapping is lightning fast, yet not so seamless. With the right foot planted, we elicited a number of jerky shifts between first and second, especially when the upshift was initiated at 6 000 revs or later.

Running into the red should thus be avoided by shifting well before the fast-rising tacho needle sweeps past 5 600 r/min. Even in the higher gears shift kick can be quite vigorous, no doubt to reinforce a sense of rapid propulsion.

When, conversely, you need to arrest speed at a frantic rate, the results are equally fantastic; new C4 and C4S boasts equally-sized 330 mm discs all-round – or optionally available 350 mm PCCB.

Ensuring stable control, PTM will also open the longitudinal all-wheel drive clutch, thus preventing front-wheel lock-up being transferred rearwards.

In town, aggressively tuned Sport Plus settings will kick down a gear all by itself, and quite regularly, at low speeds.

And yes, PDK can shift straight from seventh to second, if need be. Top gear, incidentally, is purely an overdrive for better open-road consumption; Vmax is achieved in sixth.


Apart from a leisurely 20 seconds for the folding roof (compared to the Audi A3 Convertible’s 9 down and 11 up), the new 911 is pure Porsche dynamite once again.

Whereas 996 to 997 was all about an improved manual 'box, new variable-ratio steering and much better suspension, first to second generation 997 is all about the spine of the car: new engines, a robotised 'box and electronic all-wheel drive plus a limited slip diff at the rear.

The new engines are as rock solid and sonorous as ever, but now – with Direct Injection – even stronger, smoother and especially more fuel efficient than before; one is at all times aware of extra grunt.

Electronic all-wheel drive invariably delivers copious traction in double-quick time, making new C4 and C4S even more agile.

And PDK is a noticeable improvement on Tiptronic, being up to 60% quicker.

But there is a snag: PDK’s ‘up’ and ‘down’ buttons work the wrong way around! ‘Up’ should be hooked from behind the steering wheel and ‘down’ should be pushed on by the thumbs from above as the weight of the car tips forward under braking.

The rest is well-nigh perfect. Even Porsche will have a hard time improving on new 911, although they will, of course. Engineering-wise, nothing is beyond Zuffenhausen.

Not for nothing is Porsche a company that can afford to pay its CEO in the region of 60-100 million euro a year!

* The new 911 range debuts in South Africa as from October. The 3.6-liter Carrera 4 delivers 254 kW and 390 Nm; the 3.8-liter 4S delivers 283 kW and 420 Nm. Top speeds are 284 and 297 km/h respectively; 0-100 comes up in 5.2 and 4.9 secs (but subtract 0.2 secs for the PDK gearbox, and another 0.2 secs for PDK with Sports Plus activated). That’s for Coupé’s; add 0.2 secs again for Cabriolets. Prices are yet to be announced.

Egmont Sippel is Rapport’s Motoring Editor and also South African Motoring Journalist of the Year 2007/08.

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