Tested: 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S Manual Fills a Narrow Niche

Eric Tingwall
·4 mins read
Photo credit: Michael Simari - Car and Driver
Photo credit: Michael Simari - Car and Driver

From Car and Driver

In a model lineup that will ultimately spawn more than 20 variants, the manual-transmission Porsche 911 Carrera 4S is one of the more peculiar 911 build configurations. Drivers that buy a 911 like this one are presumably sports-car purists, since they're choosing the seven-speed manual transmission over Porsche's very good, very quick, and more popular PDK eight-speed dual-clutch automatic. But they're not so principled that they pick the rear-wheel-drive Carrera S over the 180-pound-heavier all-wheel-drive Carrera 4S.

Those two seeming contradictions lead us to one conclusion: The owners of these particular 911s would rather be driving a McLaren F1 or a Ferrari 360 Modena or a Porsche 911 GT3—if it weren't 28 degrees outside and dumping snow. This is the 911 for the hard-core driving enthusiast who buys a $121,950 sports car as a winter beater. Either that, or someone just bought whatever the salesman was pushing.

Photo credit: Michael Simari - Car and Driver
Photo credit: Michael Simari - Car and Driver

No matter how they end up behind the wheel, Carrera 4S coupe and cabriolet drivers are rewarded with a 443-hp flat-six that combines the best attributes of naturally aspirated and turbocharged engines. The 4S's 3.0-liter engine accelerates from idle with the instant and linear responses of an unboosted powerplant. Yet the engine also pulls with the unmistakably low-end brawn of a turbo—there are two of them flanking the six-cylinder.

While the PDK-equipped 4S just barely outruns the S, the straight-line results are flipped with the manual transmission. Porsche activates a 3500-rpm rev limiter whenever the stick-shift cars are stopped, and as a result, there's no traction advantage when launching the all-wheel-drive car on dry pavement. Instead, the 4S is held back by its extra weight. Shooting to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds, the manual Carrera 4S coupe is 0.2 second slower than the comparable rear-driver. The 4S's quarter-mile run takes 0.3 second longer than the S. With ginger accelerator inputs, we managed a remarkable 31 mpg in our 75-mph highway fuel-economy test, beating the EPA's estimate by 7 mpg.

Photo credit: Michael Simari - Car and Driver
Photo credit: Michael Simari - Car and Driver

Spend some time in the manual-transmission 911 and you'll come to understand why Porsche designed the 992-generation 911's automatic gearbox with a tiny nub of a shifter. The manual's tall stick blocks your view of several climate and infotainment controls at the front of the center console, although they're easy to manipulate by feel once you know what's where. You'll also learn to tuck your elbow in before you powershift from first gear to second, so you don't slam it into your Voss bottled water in the center-console cupholder.

These are minor inconveniences for the increasingly rare privilege of rowing your own gears. Porsche uses a clever mechanical linkage to repurpose its dual-clutch gearbox into this manual transmission. It translates the shifter's standard gear pattern into movements that slide the appropriate shifting forks of a gearbox originally designed to be actuated by electronics and hydraulics. The stick shift slots into each gear with precise action and solid engagement, all the while masking the complexity of what's happening behind you. However, it doesn't exactly feel like there's a direct mechanical connection between your hand and the transmission's shifting forks and collars.

Photo credit: Michael Simari - Car and Driver
Photo credit: Michael Simari - Car and Driver

Even without that direct feel, there's a strong visceral reward whenever you activate more neurons and muscles to control a car. We're not just talking about the transmission, either. The 4S steers and brakes and goes as fluidly, and with the same urgency, as any other 911. With standard adaptive dampers, the $2090 rear-wheel steering, the $3390 lowered sport suspension, and Pirelli P Zero PZ4 summer tires, the 4S corners with equal parts agility and stability. It is predictable in corners even when the road surface is unpredictable. And its massive capability pulls you into the experience until you're driving the car using all of your skills. In a testament to the consistency of Porsche performance (and our testing procedures), the 4S rounds the skidpad at the same 1.06 g's as the 911 Carrera S. Its stopping distance was bang-on consistent, too, stopping from 70 mph in 137 feet (just one foot further), and from 100 mph in 274 feet (just four feet longer).

Delve into the options, and Porsche's 911 lineup offers more flavors than a Baskin-Robbins store. While each variant carves out its own niche, they all share the same core competencies and basic dynamic attributes. Other than a few imperceptible tenths of a second at the test track, the 911 Carrera 4S delivers the experience of driving a rear-drive 911 with the bad-weather capability of an all-wheel-drive vehicle. That's a narrow niche, but with few immediate competitors, the manual-transmission Carrera 4S is a wonderful spot of weirdness in a car market where most automakers too often stick to the obvious.

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