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2010 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S (Porsche)
2010 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S (Porsche)

Porsche 911 Carrera 4S

Cream of the Porsche crop Add to ...

Porsche sells 13 different versions of the 911 in Canada - coupes, convertibles (Cabriolet) and Targas (essentially a 911 with an extra-large sunroof) starting at $96,700, before the "currency credits" the company recently introduced to offset the loonie's rise to parity with the U.S. greenback.

But the one I'd own is the all-wheel-drive 911 Carrera 4S coupe: 385 horsepower; 0-100 km/h in 4.7 seconds; top track speed of 297 km/h; $118,385, freight included.

But the numbers tell only a small part of the story. Even if you've been in a cave for the last decade, you'd be able to recognize a 911 Porsche on sight. The essentials of the design, the shape, have never changed.

And you do not need to drive a 911 to know this is a fast, balanced and sexy car. It's obvious at a mere glance. In fact, the 911 - and specifically the 911 Carrera 4S - is arguably one of the very best sports car money can buy, dollar for dollar. You probably know that, even if you've been in that proverbial cave.

The 911 is an icon and has been since it first hit the market in one form or another in 1964. And at least for now, the corporate soap opera that has consumed Porsche and Volkswagen for the better part of 18 months has done nothing to diminish the 911's lustre.

The soap opera in a nutshell: Porsche tried to take control of VW, but failed. Left with a mountain of debt in global recession marked by tight credit markets, Porsche ran up the white flag and surrendered into the arms of its once-target, VW. By next year, VW will have fully absorbed Porsche into its coven of many brands - from Bentley to SEAT to Skoda to Audi and beyond.

In any case, the rank-and-file engineers at Porsche spend very little time worrying about boardroom power plays. And that's ultimately why the Carrera 4S is such a phenomenal machine. This particular model is the non-turbo but more powerful version of the AWD coupe. Sure, the turbo is 500 hp, and it's ultra-fast, but I prefer the normally aspirated model.

The engine in the "S" is a 3.8-litre horizontally opposed or flat-six-cylinder rated at 386 hp, versus the 3.6-litre, 345-hp six in lesser models. Both use direct fuel injection, which boosts power while also reducing emissions and fuel consumption. This is excellent technology, but expensive, naturally.

The one big question you must ask with this car is this: Should I spend $5,500 on Porsche's seven-speed automatic transmission (known as the PDK, short for Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe, which is German for double-clutch transmission)? The answer is yes, at least if I'm spending your money.

The seven-speed PDK is fast and smooth, and no human can shift Porsche's six-speed manual transmission as quickly as the PDK shifts for you. That's why the 911 now accelerates from 0-100 km/h slightly faster with an automatic (4.5 seconds) than with a stick (4.7).

The power here comes on quickly and smoothly, so it's a good thing the 911 handles so well. You're going fast in a blink. And the faster you're moving, the more grateful you are for steering that is incredibly precise and responsive. Moreover, the turning radius is tight - so tight you might be able to flip a U-turn in your driveway if your space at home is only slightly above average.

Being a 911, the engine is in back, which certainly does make the car tail-heavy. But the suspension design is smart enough here to manage the pendulum effect in most cases, as long as you are a reasonably competent driver.

Just in case, the Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) system adds incredible grip. In sport mode, the push of a button lowers the ride by 20 mm and hardens the suspension. If you're serious about driving, PASM is just the ticket to make you feel like a hero.

Speaking of driving heroics, a few words about blazingly fast starts: whichever transmission, manual or PDK, Porsche's "launch control" is standard. This allows you to hold down the brake with your left foot and rev up the engine with your right. As the revs zoom to 6,600 rpm, off goes your brake foot and way you go.

With PDK, you have a choice: shift on your own using the shift lever or steering-wheel-mounted paddles; or leave things in automatic mode. If you choose the latter, this lets the transmission's electronic brain figure things out based on what you've done in the past. The software here is that sophisticated. Oh, and when you're in a mellow mood, the gearbox keeps the engine revs low and fuel efficient.

As for the cabin, Porsche has slowly and steadily spent the last decade moving away from austere and easing towards luxurious. My tester had plush carpets and stitched leather - leather available in all manner of colours, from red to sand beige to sea blue. For accents you can choose from wood, aluminum or carbon.

Gadgets? Porsche has a communications management system that allows for iPod connectivity ($600), Bluetooth ($950), an optional hard-drive-based navigation system ($2,880) and XM satellite radio ($1,030).

The cabin is very roomy up front, but those little jump seats in the rear are only for tiny people or gym bags. The trunk in front has space for only two modest-size pieces of luggage, at best.

This is a wonderful car in many ways, but buying one can be tricky. Putting together your order will take time as you navigate through an options list that is extraordinarily long. By now you've surely noticed that a buyer can pile on options worth thousands and thousands. Porsche even offers a variable volume exhaust system ($3,830) which makes the engine growl more aggressively at the push of a button.

You might growl a bit as the numbers climb, but there is a payoff - this Porsche is a delight to drive.

jcato@globeandmail.com

2010 PORSCHE 911 CARRERA 4S

Type: Premium sports car

Price: $118,385

Engine: 3.8-litre, horizontally opposed six

Horsepower/torque: 385 hp/310 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed manual

Drive: All-wheel drive

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.8 city/8.0 highway; premium gas

Alternatives: Chevrolet Corvette Z06, BMW M3 Coupe

Follow on Twitter: @catocarguy

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