Porsche 928 S4 – Reviews
Many of these reviews are from the “Porsche 928 Performance Portfolio” and “Porsche 928 Takes on the Competition” published by Brooklands Books Ltd., available from 928 International.
updated September 20, 2000
by Randy Leffingwell, published by Motorbooks International Publishers
Both the 924GTP and the 936/81 ran new engines developed from other projects. The 936 used an engine spun off an ill-fated assault on the U.S. Indy car series, while the sixteen-valve 944 engine was one-half of a 5.0-liter V-8 water-cooled engine destined for the luxurious Typ 928 coupe.
As early as 1971 there was concern in the U.S. about the handling characteristics of rear-engined cars. In meetings at Weissach, engineers recognized that if the U.S. began legislating automobiles, it would not outlaw water-cooled, front-engined, rear-wheel drive cars produced in Detroit. So in between other projects, Porsche engineers began to conceive and develop the Typ 928.
Design chief Tony Lapine felt obligated to retain the organic, roundness begun with Erwin Komenda’s Gmund coupes. He challenged the engineers to make the car body act as its own bumper. Fitting in a water-cooling system radiator required other considerations in car bodies previous unperforated. In 1975, engineer Helmut Flegl took over as project manager to continue chassis and drivetrain development. The 928, introduced in Geneva in March 1977, won rave reviews. Appearance was stunning. Performance was impressive. Handling had been tamed. A new level of luxury had been reached. A front-mounted 4.5-liter 90-degree V-8 offered European markets 240hp, while for the U.S., 225hp came out cleanly through catalytic converters.
Engineers worked to improve performance; engine size jumped to 4.7-liters and then to 5.0-liters in the 1985 928 S models. Dual-overhead cams and four-valves per cylinder increased power again in the 928S4 models for 1987. Production topped 5,400 cars. The S4 performed well: 5.7sec to 60mph and a top speed of 165mph was possible. By 1990, engine output had risen to 326hp for manual transmission versions of the 928GT, providing a top speed of 171mph.
“Who has the right to define a Porsche
only as a rear-engine, air-cooled car? Just because
the first two cars were this, can we not grow?
Do we not evolve?”
- Ernst Fuhrmann on the 928, from Porsche Legends
928 S4: REDEFINED DESIGNER GENES
Porsche Magazine (now Excellence), July/August 1987
by David Colman
Everything about the 928S4 is larger than life. It is faster than anything you’ve ever driven on the street. It is better looking than anything you’ve ever been seen in. It is quicker than a cat and sturdier than a tank. It is deliciously appointed and fabulously expensive. In a world of Lilliputian flotsam and jetsam, this Porsche is Brobdingnagian brawn incarnate.
From its massive controls to its laser handling, from its wrenching acceleration to its throbbing deceleration, this latest fourth version of the 928 design brief, so far surpasses the performance envelope of other road machinery that it creates a league of its own. With revamped bodywork front and rear, refined aerodynamics, and newly fattened 32 valve V-8 power curve, Porsche has reassembled its flagship sportscar in a form that defines today’s ultimate road weapon. The 928S4 is so fast, capable and comfortable that it creates a new mythology for the German marque. The S4 is the Paul Bunyan of the Autobahn. Able to stop as quickly as it goes (0 to 60 to 0 in 9 seconds), it wields its wicked double-edged axe with awesome zeal.
The extraordinary 32 valve, 316 hp, 303 cubic inch V-8 is what the S4 is really all about. Crush the accelerator in any gear, and this 3507 lb. German bazooka shell launches itself into orbit with neck snapping authority. Nail first gear and you are pinned in the creases of the burgundy leather. Snap a cross-gate shift to second gear, and the big motor really begins to unwind as the revolutions soar effortlessly to the 6000 rpm redline ignition cut-out. Snatch third gear at 73 miles per hour, and the fun really begins. Traffic recedes in clumps and you dare not look at the tach for fear of collecting the doddering, mirrorless idiots in front of you.
Keeping a wary eye on traffic patterns and not your dashboard, you bang home fourth gear as the engine stutters in third. For the first time now, at 102 mph, you notice some wind noise building at the A-pillars as this ethereal rocketship slices through the air at a drag coefficient of .34. As the revolutions build inexorably once more, the whine of the many accessory belts reaches a crescendo as your speed nears 140 mph in fourth cog. We had the opportunity to carry this gear to redline down a long grade, with the speedo showing an indicated 144 mph, with one more gear to go! Touching 156 in fifth, we shut down before the CHP could shut us down. Extrapolating top speed from this experiment, we will be the first to acknowledge that the S4 will achieve 165 mph at 5100 rpm in the direct drive (1:1) fifth gear of the manual transmission model. With some seam taping, and a change in final drive ratio, Al Holbert coaxes 171 mph out of the S4 at Bonneville Salt Flats.
Should you question whether any means of ground transportation, no matter how fast or awesome looking, is worth nearly $70,000, your answer will come from two sources. One is the amount of satisfaction you derive from piloting this snarky vehicle. The other is the undisguised adulation of the traveling public. In both areas, the S4 scores highly indeed.
This ultimate Porsche will afford its owner (provided he can afford it) the security of knowing he has purchased the world’s most competent and dependable high speed tourer. If he drives it with restraint and cautious enthusiasm, he will never approach the limits of its potential. If, however, he presses the outer envelope of those limits, he had best be very good and very quick.
Europe’s Fastest of the Fast – Porsche 928S4 vs. Ferrari Testarossa vs. Lamborghini Countach vs. Lotus Esprit Turbo
Motor Trend, January 1987
Next in line was Porsche’s new 928S 4. Porsche has decided that the 928 needed an image change. The car has always been viewed in this country (by the enthusiast) as an unparalleled cruiser, the perfect car for a weekend in the Napa/Sonoma wine country with your lady friend or a quick run from L.A. to Portland. Its compliant, comfortable ability to cover large distances quickly has few, if any, equals, but now there will be a new emphasis on performance for the 928 from the German car company. The ’87 928S 4 is the spear carrier. As we reported in last month’s issue, it’s not all image. The car has more power, better aerodynamics, and, as a first step for the new “performance” 928, Porsche sent Al Holbert to Bonneville Salt Flats to capture two FIA speed records for the flying kilometer and flying mile, nearly 172 mph. We were slightly slower with our test car at TRC, but the differences are small enough to be explained by preparation of the car for the Bonneville record runs.
Certainly the most civilized of the field, the Porsche was also the least demanding at top speed. Compared to the others, it was compliant, and managed to turn the bumpy west banking into a non-event. The Porsche was also the quietest at speed. The 4-valve V-8 was silky smooth, the only sound was the complaint of the air as the big, red 928 blasted a 170-mph hole through it. The speedometer registered a solid 169 mph at the end of the front straight, and the Porsche seemed totally unconcerned by it all. We tried both high and low lanes of the banking to see if the 928 suspension would react – it did not. We tried different exits from the banking – the Porsche didn’t care. We considered turning the stereo on but decided that would be sacrilegious; after all, this was serious stuff blasting along here at 170 mph on the high banking, and we should be paying attention.
Speedometer accuracy being what it is, we were anxious to see the printouts from the timing equipment. The story of the tape:
Ferrari Testarossa – 177.27 mph
Porsche 928S 4 – 166.94 mph
Lamborghini Countach – 160.27 mph
Lotus Esprit Turbo – 145.79 mph
The surprise of the field was the 928S 4 at 167 mph. A noticeable improvement over the last time we tested a 928S, here at TRC back in 1984, when the best speed was 147 mph (a full 14% increase).
Coupes Uber Alles? – Porsche 928S4 vs. BMW M635CSi vs. Mercedes-Benz 420SEC
Performance Car, April 1987
And then there’s the 928S4. The new Porsche stands alone in being a fully committed GT car, a thoroughly modern, totally integrated design with no compromise, nothing hand-me-down, nothing superfluous. It is superlatively equipped, fully of character, blisteringly fast and in spite of the paper similarities is in a different world from either of its competitors here. Driven hard, it all but matches the M635 for sheer entertainment and the Mercedes for refinement. Put the two together and the choice is inevitable . . .
Well-equipped, but still inviting you to spend money on options, the 928S4 is far from being the stereotypical luxury car: a Jaguar XJ-S for half the price would be that. Instead it argues forcibly to be a real sportscar, despite its great bulk and its mostly automatic sales. Even at high cornering speeds the 928S4 feels absolutely settled, asking for more acceleration to squirt from the exit of the bend, which can be fed in with complete confidence in the traction available. Pinpoint accuracy is there to be exploited through the wheel, and the massive-looking vehicle flicks one way to the other with almost ludicrous ease.
Combine these qualities with the beautiful finish of components and trim, the busy quiet it exudes on the motorway, and the uncomplaining way it will trickle through M1 roadworks jams, and it is difficult to draw a distinction between the Grand Tourer and sportscar labels. It is a fine compromise in function with no compromise in execution – a hatchback with luggage space which will quarter Europe in a day and provide immense satisfaction while running rings around many another sports aspirant.
And if you are likely to be one of the 300 or so who will buy one in a year, who cares what sort of car it calls itself?
Summary: Striking shape, first seen ten years ago, brought right up to date. Practical, as all Porsches are; displays muted brio – breathtakingly fast but placid and smooth, without the hard edge of, say, the BMW M635. A glorious piece of engineering for the price of a house.
Power Trip! BMW M6 vs. Porsche 928S4
Motor Trend, April 1988
R & T Porsche, February 1989
When people look at you when you’re driving a 928, there seems to be an assumption in their eyes that you’re having a wonderful time. And they’re correct, because when you’re in this Porsche you aren’t so much in a car as a system. Like an aerospace project, with every part carefully designed and fitted, not picked out of a parts bin. You feel almost self-contained and sufficient, the way Bruce Dern finally did in the great movie Silent Running. I have no idea how many times I’ve done the LA to Vegas to St George and Cedar City, Utah freeway run, but I’ve never noticed the miles go by quite so quickly before.
This spaceship aspect to the 928 is, of course, in stunning contrast to philosophy of the first Dr Porsche, when he created the original Volkswagen Beetle. Never mind, because the rules are all different now.
Modern Motor, August 1989
After the nimbleness of the 944 S2 and the bursting performance of the 944 Turbo, switching to the 928 S4 was like climbing into a too-large, ungainly, and heavy-to-drive behemoth…but only for the first couple of kilometers.
The 928 has always been one of the most deceptively efficient, fast, and safe cars of all time. The fourth major update, the S4, is all of that and more.
In situations where the 944 Turbo might step its rear end out of line as the turbo power rushes into play on the exit from a tight, damp and bumpy corner, the 928 just sits flat and unfussed.
Most, other than Porsche devotees, might have forgotten about the 928, with its “Weissach axle”, had actually started the current all-wheel steering era. This Porsche design put formerly unwanted changes to suspension geometry as the suspension bushes flexed in cornering to work for it rather than against it. By turning this flexing into rear-wheel steering that aided, rather than detracted from, the cornering power, Porsche gained a degree of four-wheel steer that gives the car uncanny road manners.
I remember some years back a photographer asking me to attack a corner faster and faster in a 928 to try to get some attitude on it to make for a spectacular photograph.
Even after adding, little by little, 50 percent to the original perceived maximum speed for the corner, I could not get the car to do anything other than corner flat and on-line at ever-increasing speed. Its cornering limits were well beyond my threshold of fear.
The latest version is all that and more. This could well be the most efficient car – in handling terms – ever created, barring race cars and super cars like the almost unbelievable all-wheel drive 959.
The Grand Tour - 911 v 928
911 & Porsche World, May 2000
(a 1999 911 Carrera Tiptronic S and a 1991 928S4 automatic)
What defines a true GT? By this we don’t mean the poor relation to a GTI, which is the modern marketing department’s weak interpretation, but a grand tourer – a car capable of transporting two people and their luggage over many hundreds of miles, swiftly and without any undue mental or physical strain.
… we opt for a smart 1991 S4, which is nicely run-in at 78,430 miles.
This is no joke. Indeed, the 928 feels as solid as the day it left the factory. In fact, the engine might actually be at its peak. After all it’s designed to do a quarter of a million miles between rebuilds (with regular servicing, of course).
However, even with five litres of four-cam, 32-valve V8 at the sharp end, the S4 is no drag-racer. Easing into the evening traffic to put in some hours behind the wheel, we immediately become all too aware of the car’s bulk – through both the power-assisted steering (which is surprisingly heavy at parking speeds), and the throttle (which needs to be pressed further than you might expect to wake the 320 horses).
Performance is still firmly in the big league, though; 0-62pmh in six seconds and a top speed of 164mph (for the automatic) are figures to be reckoned with even today. The confidence-inspiring brakes are more than capable of wiping speed away with disdain, too, with 62-0mph taking just 3.3 seconds. But this isn’t the whole story as to why driving the big 928 is always underlaid with a feeling of great excitement.
It isn’t just the feeling of being in something whose shape is far removed from humdrum everyday cars (and which must have been all the greater in the 1970s). I believe it stems from the sheer solidity of the beast. To suggest that the phrase ‘hewn from granite’ was coined for the 928 requires no stretch of the imagination. This may sound trite, but it’s the nearest I can come to explaining why, after only a couple of hours, I was beginning to want a 928. Badly. I was also beginning to imagine the four-hour journey back home in it.
Do these two examples of automotive beauty share many talents? Even though their 0-62mph times are identical, at precisely 6.0 seconds, the 911 always feels more eager. Its five-speed gearbox makes more use of the engine’s 300bhp more of the time, but it dictates higher revs at autobahn speeds.
The 928 only begins to feel like a 320bhp car above 80mph, when it begins to transform into something really impressive. At such speeds the 911 becomes susceptible to crosswinds, requires more minute corrections at the steering wheel, and generally demands more of your attention. The front-engined car, on the other hand, remains relaxed and quiet, seems little different in straight-line stability, and its steering now feels perfect.
Before long you are carried away [by the 911] on a tidal wave of adrenalin, and the 928 is gently receding in your mirrors. But after an hour or so of this you are mentally exhausted and ready for a break. But before you find a suitable hostelry, the 928 is in your mirrors again, and carries right on after you stop, for its driver is still feeling fresh. He may not have reached quite the peak of exhilaration you did, but he is more than ready for another hour or two in the saddle at over 100mph.
It is plain, therefore, that the 928 has all the qualities of a true GT, while the 911 has merely varying degrees of them overlaid on a sports car. Although the latest model may not be as raw as the previous air-cooled incarnations, and is certainly no bad way to travel, even in its most sybaritic form it is no 928. And it never will be as long as it is rear-engined.
The 928 gains much of its civility from having its two heaviest concentrations of mass (engine and transmission) at either end, plus a greater total weight to smother whatever the road throws at it. It has the most comfortable interior, the better seats, and the quietest manners. It is the best long-distance Porsche ever; a car for which the vast empty spaces of Australia and the mid-west USA pose as little difficulty as the A1 from London to North Yorkshire on a rainy night.