2002-2004 Porsche 911 Carrera, Carrera 4, Carrera 4S, and Targa

Porsche was really soaring by the early 21st century, setting new global sales records almost every year: 55,782 units for 2000-2001; 73,284 in 2002-2003; 81,531 for 2003-2004. Sales in the vital North American market kept pace, rising from 23,698 in calendar 2000 to 33,289 in 2004.

Though the new-in-'02 Cayenne sport-utility played a big part in this success, so did timely updates for the Boxster and mainstream Porsche 911s. In fact, the rear-engine 996 got a thorough revamping for 2002, just three years after its U.S. debut.

Porsche 911
The 911 Carrera 4 cabriolet and C2 coupe were part of the makeover for 2002.

That was a big change after decades of slow model evolution, but that no longer worked, as shown by Porsche's near-death experience in the early 1990s. A brutally competitive market put a premium on "new," and Porsche was forced to learn to keep its wares fresh without breaking the bank. That it did, and more. In fact, it was now the world's most profitable automaker.

That 2002 makeover applied to non-turbo Porsche 911s, which that year comprised the Carrera coupe and Cabriolet, Carrera 4 Cabrio, a revived Carrera 4S coupe (replacing the C4 coupe) and a new-design Targa. The big news for all was an M96 engine stroked by 4.8mm to 3.6 liters and boasting Porsche's VarioCam Plus variable-valve-timing-and-lift system.

Helped by a lower-restriction exhaust, horsepower rose to 320 at 6,800 rpm, up 20 from the previous 3.4 engine. Torque improved by 15 pound-feet to 273 at 4,500. Despite the added displacement and power, U.S. EPA-rated fuel economy was unchanged on C4s and up slightly for rear-drive Carreras.

Performance was a little better across the line. Porsche said rear-drivers did 0-60 mph in 5.0 seconds with manual transmission and 5.2 with Tiptronic; C4s needed only 0.1 to 0.2 of a second more.

For better crash protection and a more solid driving feel, Porsche strengthened the side sills, roof rails, and floorpans to increase structural rigidity by up to 25 percent in coupes and 10 percent in cabrios.

Outside, Turbo/GT2-style headlamps graced a subtly reshaped nose that trimmed aerodynamic lift by a claimed 25 percent. A revised front fascia increased radiator airflow by 15 percent. The tail was also subtly recontoured to reduce lift at that end by 40 percent; a higher decklid and new bumper did the trick. The rear haunches were slightly wider, but the base drag coefficient was unchanged at 0.30. Chassis updates were limited to retuned shock absorbers and lighter 18-inch optional wheels measuring an inch wider (now eight inches fore, 10 aft).

Answering persistent criticisms, interiors received higher-grade plastics and fabrics, a locking dashboard glovebox where none had existed, and proper cupholders that popped out from the dash instead of clipping onto the outboard air vents. Minor controls were tidied up, and the optional onboard computer was now standard. Cabrios finally exchanged their plastic rear window for a heated glass pane, and bi-xenon headlamps were a new Carrera option.

Reaching U.S. dealers in February 2002, the new 996 C4S coupe mirrored its 993 predecessor as essentially "a 911 Turbo without the turbos," as AutoWeek put it. Apart from the engine, the main differences were a movable spoiler (as on other Carreras), no air ducts in the rear fenders, and a model-specific red filler between the taillamps.

Otherwise, the C4S had most everything the Porsche Turbo did, but saved you a whopping $34,800, priced from $80,200 instead of $115,000. That put the "Un-Turbo," as Road & Track termed it, about midway on a price ladder stretching from $67,900 for the basic rear-drive coupe to $179,900 for the all-conquering GT2.

Porsche 911
The 911 C4S was basically the Turbo without the turbos. Here's 2003 model.

Of course, the all-wheel drive and added features made the C4S a bit heavier and thus slower than a base Carrera coupe. But as project engineer Georg Wahl told AutoWeek, "We have given up an almost imperceptible tick in acceleration...in favor of more grip and better brakes." That and the friendlier price were hard to argue with, so Porsche probably had no trouble moving the planned yearly production of some 5,000 units.

Arriving with the C4S, the 996 Targa coupe was slated for just 2,500 worldwide sales per year. But that was deliberate, as only 10 percent of Porsche 911 buyers had opted for "the world's most expensive sunroof," as Car and Driver quipped.

This new Targa differed from the 993 version in being a modified coupe, not a re-roofed Cabrio, which produced a slightly cleaner-looking superstructure. And the rear window now lifted like a hatch, a first for the Porsche 911. The roof itself was much the same in concept and operation, but was supplied as a module for installation from below -- by robots, no less -- to protect the various rubber seals. Rear drive was again mandatory.

Initial U.S. base price was $75,200, $7,400 less than the Carrera cabrio. Though a bit weighty and arguably less involving than other Porsche 911s, the reborn Targa, as C/D noted, was "the easiest way of having a near-cabrio experience while retaining full coupe convenience and security."

The expanded Carrera lineup continued for two more years with no further changes of note save one: a 40th Anniversary 2004 Carrera coupe marking four decades of Porsche 911s. Only 1,963 were built, recalling the model's introductory year.

All had Carrera GT silver paint and coordinating leather interior with a commemorative console plaque. Functional features included a tuned 345-horsepower engine, limited-slip differential, PSM stability system, firmed-up suspension, specific 18-inch wheels, and a Turbo-style nose with auto-leveling bi-xenon headlamps. Though all this gilding cost $89,800, a stiff $21,200 premium over the base Carrera coupe, Porsche, as usual, had no problem moving the metal.

Porsche 911
The Targa was more than $7,000 less than the Carrera cabrio. This one is a 2003.

Check out the complete story of Porsche cars, including these fabulous models:

Porsche 356
Porsche 911
Porsche 914
Porsche 924, 944, 968
Porsche 928 Porsche 959
Porsche Boxster Porsche Cayenne Porsche Cayman

For Porsche prices and reviews from the auto editors of Consumer Guide, see: