The Hard Way

Driving two identical 997 Carrera 4Ss on two continents to answer a simple question: Sport PASM or regular PASM?

December 10, 2009
The Hard Way 1
The Hard Way 2

It’s been a long time coming. That goes for this test as well as the subject itself: the first sport suspension option for U.S. Carreras. Whenever I visited Stuttgart-Zuffen­hausen over the last decade, I’d see lowered “Minus 20” 996s and early 997s at Werk I, hunkered down with a purposeful stance and the promise of pin-sharp handling. That U.S. buyers were denied a chance to order one always frustrated me.

When the 997-based Carrera arrived for 2005 with Porsche’s first generation of the electronically variable PASM dam­pers, Minus 20 became even more appealing. Why? PASM — standard on the Carrera S and optional on the Carrera — lowered the car by 10 mm, but its high-tech dampers didn’t impress me quite the way many conventional Por­sche dampers had. For 2005’s 997, Minus 20 offered more than a lowered center of gravity and good looks; it paired a mechanical limited-slip differential with damper valving built on decades of 911 knowledge.

In late 2005, I expressed my dismay to Michael Bartsch, Executive Vice Presi­dent of Porsche Cars North America. I noted that American Porsche drivers are as sporting as any, with a higher percentage of U.S. 996 buyers opting for a manual than their German counterparts. Bartsch, a keen Porsche enthusiast, listened intently but promised nothing.

There’s no telling what changed Por­sche’s mind, but the introduction of the 2009 Carrera brought with it a welcome announcement: Sport PASM would replace Minus 20 Sport Suspension and it would be available in North America for $2,940 on Carreras, $1,990 on Carrera 4s, $950 on Carrera Ss, and as a no-cost-extra on Carrera 4Ss. Not long after, I began to get emails from Excellence readers, asking for our take on Sport PASM. There was just one problem: No U.S. press car was equipped with Sport PASM, and my brief drive in Europe in a 997 C4S with the system happened on an airport race track.

There’s always a way, though. In this case, a Carrera 4S PDK coupe with the standard PASM suspension was sitting in Detroit while a C4S PDK coupe with Sport PASM was sitting in the factory press fleet in Stuttgart. Not the easiest or best way, but a way nonetheless.

First up, the Meteor Grey C4S. As we set out from DTW for Ohio, memories of the same drive in a 2003 996 Carrera coupe on 18-inch wheels came flooding back. At the time, I thought a certain Michigan-based car magazine’s writers were wimpy for whining about ride quality in 996s on the optional 18s. Then I felt the expansion joints on the way to Marblehead. All 12,367 of them. It was like driving by Braille; you certainly knew when you left Michigan.

Today’s C4S, with the latest PASM and 19-inch wheels, feels even better buttoned-down than that 996 but filters out the expansion-joint smacking beautifully. It’s one more indication that the Carrera line is maturing into an exceedingly complete car — one that offers few drawbacks against competition such as Jag­uar’s XK, BMW’s 6, and Mercedes’ SL. It provides as much (or more) performance and useful space in a smaller package with a more efficient engine. Ohio failed to yield the endless curvy backroads we prefer for road testing, but the few short sections we found confirmed what I learned about the current Carrera 4S at the airport track near Berlin a year ago: Even with standard PASM, it offers sharp handling, keen steering, and loads of grip.

Also from Issue 180

  • The Forgotten 911 SC-L 3.1
  • Preview: 2011 Boxster Spyder
  • 2009 Corvette ZR1 vs. 997 GT2
  • Troutman-Barnes four-door 911S
  • Patrick Long 2010 GT3 Cup Tire Test
  • Modified 997 GT2
  • Market Update: 1989–98 911
  • Interview: Dirk Werner
  • Project Cayman: Lightweight Seats
  • How Not to Own a 944, Epilogue
  • Tech Forum: TPMS Part 1
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