Friday 22nd June 2012


TELL ME I'M WRONG: PORSCHE 911 CABRIOLET

A quarter of 911 buyers opt for soft-tops - is Dan daring to say they're wrong?


The social conventions around the minutiae of 911 variants are, at least for the likes of us, something of great importance. Porsche 911s are not born equal and, like the unwritten rules of tailoring and other matters of etiquette, it's easy for the uninitiated to take a wrong step.

Right Porsche, wrong Porsche? It used to be clear
Right Porsche, wrong Porsche? It used to be clear
The fact that to wider society a Porsche is a Porsche is a Porsche is, of course, one of the great strengths of the 911. Short of a bells-and-whistles RS, most casual observers wouldn't spot a 993 from a 991 or pick it out in a crowd. And this anonymity compared with more shouty sports cars is exactly its appeal.

The point? Ah yes. For those more 911-aware there exists the more subtle game of 'right Porsche, wrong Porsche'. Am I the only one, for instance who, upon seeing a 911, immediately peeks through the side window for the all-important Tiptronic/manual assessment? And sighs at the sight of the former? I'm guessing not, with apologies to Tiptronic owners. PDK clouds this blunt arbiter somewhat, two-pedal Porsches now acceptable, if still a little down the purist pecking order.

Soft top, soft target
Surely though, we're all agreed about 911 Cabriolets? Apparently not, my slightly snooty welcome to the announcement of the 991 cabrio shot down in flames by an unexpectedly militant wing of soft-top 911 fans.

Definitely wrong Porsche ... or is it?
Definitely wrong Porsche ... or is it?
Now, let it be clear I have nothing against open cars. Or soft-top Porsches. The Boxster, in all its forms (other than Tiptronic, see above...) is a fabulous car. But I'd always lumped 911 cabrios a long way down the 'wrong Porsche' axis.

But I was willing to confront this snobbery head-on and, just perhaps, prove years of personal prejudice wrong, so I got hold of a 991 Carrera S Cabriolet to put the theory to the test.

If nothing else, the soft-top 911 demonstrates the breadth of ability in the base package. OK, we've yet to see the truly fruity variants of the 991 but, if we take the 997, you've got your track-focused, supercar-humbling RS variants and poser-friendly, SL-rivalling cabrios all spun off the same basic platform and all apparently satisfying their completely different target audiences with equal panache.

Speedster-look roof helps the case
Speedster-look roof helps the case
Silver surfers
So does the 991 take the soft-top 911 further into that silver-haired, golf club car park world of Jags, SLs and - whisper it - Lexus SC430s? Or does it finally make the 911 Cabriolet an acceptable choice?

Functionally there is absolutely nothing wrong with the al fresco 991. The taut, more Speedster-esque roofline delivered by the clever 'panel bow' magnesium struts deals with that saggy, pram-like appearance of some older soft-top 911s - 964s and 993s especially.

Traditionally the delicately balanced 911 shape has always been compromised by the loss of the C-pillar. Coupes look squat, purposeful and poised. Cabrios, without that visual balance, more than little a little fat-arsed and stodgy, 996s and 997s especially. And this underpins my personal prejudice. If you want a roadster, buy a car designed from the off to be one. Again, that SL comparison. Roof up or roof down, especially in previous-shape R230 form, the big Merc is an equally elegant car. Until now cabrio 911s have never lost the sense they're any more than decapitated coupes - compromised to put it another way.

991 interior is a big improvement
991 interior is a big improvement
Truth and reconciliation
And yet I find this assurance rattled by the 991. Roof up it looks low, sleek and purposeful. And with it folded away less like its occupants have been extracted with the aid of fire brigade cutting tools.

No bones about it, with or without a roof the interior of the 991 is a huge step forward for the 911. Fears that middle-aged spread would make the new Porsche feel a little unwieldy are thankfully unfounded and, if we return yet again to that SL comparison, here the 911 feels usefully more compact and chuckable than the big Merc.

Being a Carrera S our test car had fancy-pants features like Turbo-style PTV torque vectoring - now standard on mere S cars - and, of course, 400hp to the rear wheels via that quirky seven-speed manual. On wet surfaces you can sense torque being shuffled about perhaps more than in four-wheel drive Turbos but corner-exit traction is as epic as it's always been.

Driving experience is barely compromised
Driving experience is barely compromised
About that steering...
1,772 extra or not, that sports exhaust sounds magnificent, that hollow flat-six howl and characteristic inertia-free throttle response as thrilling as ever, the more so via the quirky seven-speed manual. And the steering? Honestly? If you could do a blindfolded 'taste test' (OK, you couldn't, but if you could...) I'm willing to bet half the people who have tut-tutted about it probably couldn't tell. And if ultimately a little synthetic compared with what went before it remains well above average in terms of weighting and response.

So, yes, it's a very, very nice thing.

But can a convertible 911 ever be considered an acceptable choice? Functional and aesthetic compromises over the coupe have been more or less eliminated, 70kg weight penalty notwithstanding. And it goes and handles pretty much as well, with that added wind in the hair appeal.

Or should you just buy a Boxster instead?
Or should you just buy a Boxster instead?
Does it move the cabrio into 'right Porsche' territory though? Here's where I still struggle. It still looks hunchbacked and tail-heavy with the roof down. It can't quite match the purity of the coupe. The new Boxster nails it in every respect other than those token rear seats and, inevitably, snob value. And if the latter is your only real reason for buying a drop-top 911, well, I'm sorry you're still going to have to convince me.

Handily the floor is now open for you to do exactly that...



PORSCHE 991 CARRERA S CABRIOLET
Engine:
3,436cc flat-6
Transmission: 7-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 400@7,400rpm
Torque (lb ft): 324@5,600rpm
0-62mph: 4.7sec
Top speed: 187mph
Weight: 1,465kg (DIN, unladen)
MPG: 29mpg (NEDC combined)
CO2: 229g/km
Price: 89,740 (95,838 as tested)

Author: Dan Trent
Want more PH news like this daily - then signup for the PH newsletter here!