Just to remind us that it still makes sports cars as well as sedans and SUVs, Porsche launched its new 911 Carrera Cabriolet with a 7-hour romp over treacherous mountain roads that seemed specially built for tarmac rallyes, interrupted only by mid-day laps at an oceanside race track.
A finer way to meet a new Porsche is hard to imagine, but the strenuous workout also approached overkill. Most Cabriolets end up cruising the California coast or through South Beach and are not a weekend warrior’s first choice for track duty, but Porsche, eager to demonstrate how closely the convertible’s virtues resemble those of its tintop brethren, let us loose on a route that appeared chosen to expose the car’s flaws, not showcase its qualities.
We discovered lots of quality. Flaws? None.
Following Porsche custom, these first Cabriolet models are mechanically identical to the two rear-drive models that so far make up the Coupe range: a 3.4-liter base model with 350 bhp and a 3.8-liter S version with 400 bhp. Transmission choice is between two seven-speeds: a new manual or Porsche’s wonderful PDK twin-clutch automatic. Cabriolet S models come standard with Porsche Active Suspension Management and Porsche Torque Vectoring and, for those who want flatter flat-out cornering, Porsche’s new Dynamic Chassis Control system. The S models also receive larger front brakes and sit on 20-inch running gear in lieu of the base car’s 19-inchers.
Porsche thankfully let the car speak for itself. Little time was spent discussing PDCC, PASM, PTV, PDK and the other systems related to the new generation of 911’s superior dynamics. In fact, the blessedly short press conference was almost totally devoted to the Cabriolet’s roof and the other ways in which the car has been restructured (not to forget a forgettable ramble on the physics of the high-end stereo).
Head of Porsche’s soft-top staff, Detlev Ranft, told us he began his quest for the perfect convertible top a full two years before the rest of the 991 platform began to take shape. The primary goal was to fashion a roofline identical to the hardtop’s iconic arc, without the ridges caused by the previous system’s aluminum bows, though issues of weight, comfort and safety were also to be addressed in the redesign. Ranft’s team quickly eliminated a hardtop as too complex and heavy; besides, traditional Cabriolet buyers claim the cloth roof is cosmetically appealing, and a few owners are even reported to have purchased a Cabriolet for its looks, with no intention of ever dropping the top.
Speaking of looks, the “hump” over the folded top is the same height as on the previous Cabriolet, but it appears to be lower due to the 991’s higher beltline, drawn to accommodate the larger front headlamp assemblies and 20- inch wheels. Overall aerodynamic efficiency is ensured by the adjustable rear spoiler, which changes its angle depending on whether the top is open or closed. And, in addition to its smooth shape, the roof yields a 2 dB drop in interior noise.
With the aid of a clever German supplier, Ranft’s engineers built a top comprised of triple-lined fabric-covered magnesium panels that, in just 13 seconds of operation and at speeds up to 31 mph, mesh to form the closed roof’s smooth radius or fold away in a Z-pattern beneath a reconfigured deck. Though the top is necessarily larger over the larger 991 platform, it is no heavier thanks to the increased use of lightweight magnesium and a redesigned roll-over protection system. Instead of being mounted to a separate subframe, the hoops are part of a self-supporting, load-bearing structure that’s both simpler and lighter.
Our drive began in a standard Carrera with the new seven-speed manual. It took only a short while to become accustomed to the layout of the shift gate before we were heel and toeing with complete confidence in finding the correct gear. The 3.4-liter demonstrated again why the flat-six is such a brilliant engine, muscular yet as elastic as a yoga master. Despite the narrow roads and countless switchback turns, we never felt as though the new electronic steering was leading us astray. Yes, some of the previous hydraulic steering’s feedback has been eliminated, but given the abysmal state of so many road surfaces these days, the new system seems a better idea.
Four hours later we arrived at the track, still fresh due to the comfort of the new sports seats, where we climbed into a Carrera S with PDK automatic and full options list, including active shocks, Porsche Torque Vectoring and the $3,160 Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control option. PDCC utilizes hydraulic actuators to adjust roll stiffness at each corner of the car, and its effect is nothing less than amazing. Body roll is almost nonexistent, and on the track that translated into more stable braking and quicker acceleration out of the corners. Later, on public roads, PDCC contributed to an even-keel ride quality that beggared belief. Simply stated, it’s worth the money.
And that brings us to the only unfortunate aspect of the new Cabriolet. A no-frills 3.4 begins at $94,650 (price includes Destination Charge), while the Carrera S’s MSRP is $108,950. Yes, the navigation system is now standard, which means the price rise over the previous Cabriolet is negligible, but it’s still lots of coin, especially when the options list is brought into play. If nothing else, the price underlines the latest 911 Carrera’s status as a luxury car first and a sports car second—a very close second, to be sure.
2012 Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet
Longitudinal rear engine, rear-wheel drive
3.4-liter, flat-six, dohc, 24-valve
McPherson strut, antiroll bar (f); LSA multi-link, antiroll bar (r)
330mm ventilated and cross-drilled rotors w/ four-piston calipers, PSM
Curb Weight: 3,197 lb
Peak Power: 350 hp @ 7400 rpm
Peak Torque: 287 lb-ft @ 5600 rpm
0-60 mph: 4.8 sec.
Top Speed: 177 mph