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An old colleague once said there are two types of Porsche 911 drivers, tossers and enthusiasts, and each can be identified by whether the roof of their 911 is made from canvas or metal respectively.
That pithy summary was front and centre as our candy-white Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolet – thankfully ‘only’ 18 of those characters are part of the chrome rear badgework, and not the full 27 – accelerated up the main street of North Sydney just as suited-up wan… erm, bankers, bustled down the sidewalk post knock-off time.
Whatever the image associations, paying $25,200 for the cabriolet over the coupe essentially buys the ability to flood the cabin with sun rays and engine decibels, with little expense to the way the car drives.
While the Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet starts at $254,600 for the seven-speed manual, 257kW/390Nm 3.4-litre flat six, the Carrera S costs $287,800, with 297kW/440Nm of enlarged 3.8-litre flat six beneath its Herbie rear hutch.
A seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox dubbed Porsche Doppelkupplung (PDK) – definitely thankful that name isn’t on the badgework – adds another $5950 with either spec level.
In addition to the PDK, our test 911 Carrera S Cabriolet came with 20-inch Carrera Classic II wheels ($2590), Sport Chrono package including launch control and dynamic engine mounts ($4790), and a sports exhaust ($5890) to total $307,020. A new wallet is not included in the price.
For an enthusiast, it’s difficult to reconcile that as-tested price being almost $50K north of a 911 Carrera S Coupe with manual transmission.
However even optioned up, the gas-axed Porsche costs less than an Audi R8 Spyder ($315,900) and Ferrari California ($459,650) and gets to 100km/h in 4.5 seconds – 0.3sec faster than the R8 and only a half-second slower than the California. If value is relative, then the Porshce 911 Carrera S Cabriolet has its competitors towelled up.
The R8 Spyder weighs 100kg more than its hard-top sibling, at 1665kg, while the California winds the scales to 1735kg, needing its 4.3-litre V8 to suck a combined 13.1L/100km. The rear-drive 911 Carrera S Cabriolet weighs 145kg more than its Coupe sibling, yet still comes in at 1560kg, with an 8.9L/100km combined claimed thirst.
That figure may be attainable on a freeway, where the dual-clutch gearbox decouples from the engine when the throttle is snapped shut, lowering revs to idle to save fuel. The seven-speeder also finds tall gears early, and the engine switches off at standstill to bring the fuel number down.
But legislators are searching for economy; 911 drivers want performance and sound.
The canvas lid, with its ultra-strong magnesium internal structure, flips in around 12 seconds and at up to 50km/h. Hit ‘Sport’ or ‘Sport Plus’ to dial-up the transmission’s aggression, harden the variable dampers, and open the butterfly flaps in the exhaust. Wisely, stop-start tech is turned off in SP mode.
The industrial wail from the flat six reaches a 7800rpm crescendo, before being overlaid by the pops, crackles and farts from the exhaust on over-run. To hell with Cabriolet pricing and stereotypes – dropping the roof just allows more sound to fill ear-drums and that’s a win beyond economics and image.
In fact, on one narrow laneway between tightly-packed buildings, backing off the throttle in the 911 sounded like a teenager had dropped five bungers down a nearby drain. A similar level of post-detonation giggling ensued.
The auto transmission’s regular mode can be caught dozing in tall gears, dulling throttle response, making Sport the default choice around town. Meanwhile Sport Plus provides aggressive downshifts under brakes and max-rpm upshifts are delivered with the sort of back thump usually only felt when being greeted by an Old Mate a barbeque catch-up.
Sport Plus also means manual mode is largely redundant, particularly when the ‘tipshift’ is around the wrong way (counter-intuitively, push forward to upshift) and the steering wheel buttons are needlessly complicated – press a button to downshift, pull a paddle to upshift. Proper paddles (left to downshift, right to upshift) are optional (as shown below), but they should be standard.
Out where a 911 belongs – on a twisty backroad – the suspension feels utterly perfect. On lumpy mountain passes, it’s best to thumb-on the ‘Sports Plus’ button, but manually depress the separate sports suspension button. The standard setting lopes (!) and glides over rough roads, where the hardened mode tends to buck and jump to the detriment of composure. The harder suspension mode is best reserved for perfectly smooth corners.
In either situation, the Porsche 911 – the Cabriolet bit matters not – has absolutely sublime handling. In past 911s, the front needed to be settled first, before throttle is applied. With this new car, the level of front-end grip and the seeming weightless-ness over the google-eyed front end is staggering. Your face will fall off before the 911 pushes into understeer.
Excessive grip and no bodyroll can be boring, as in the Audi RS5, for example, but the Porsche 911 never falls victim of this. Its immensely talented front-end response is perfectly matched with a rear that loves to play.
Without a throttle-diluting turbocharger spooling torque in the driver’s face at low revs, the exact amount of nose-tightening rear steer can be dialled in, somewhere between 5600rpm, when peak torque is produced, and 7400rpm, when maximum power comes on strong. It’s utterly user-friendly, yet rewarding.
The switch to electro-mechanical power steering with this 991-generation Porsche 911 has become the biggest talking point among enthusiasts since the company switched from air- to water-cooled engines in 1998.
Threading past the bankers, the steering is at its worst. There’s a bit too much freeplay on centre, and slight vagueness in the first movements that should never be mentioned in a 911 test. But out where a 911 belongs – we don’t need to remind you where that is again – the steering is absolutely fantastic. The mid-weighting is just right and perfectly consistent; winding on lock reveals fast, sharp, accurate response. It simply isn’t an issue.
Porsche being Porsche, they will eventually listen and in time refine the system to fill the on-centre vacant patch. You can bet all your deutsche marks that engineers are on the case right now.
Cruising back from a hard drive, top raised, appreciation of the 911’s engineering expertise expands. Urban environments highlight the body’s supreme rigidity, the 911 Cabriolet feeling more like a premium-sports sedan riding on 18-inch wheels than a drop-top supercar on 20s the way it dispatches with man-hole covers, speed humps, ridgelines, dips, divots… The ride quality is superb.
Only sometimes with the roof up do really large hits cause the roof to shimmy against the header rail. Road noise with the top up is about par with the old 997-series 911 coupe, dulling road roar reasonably well for a soft top. But the new coupe is still quieter.
The rear seat, with its upright backrest and scant rear legroom, is a kids-only affair, but kids can’t be dropped off for school in an R8 Spyder…
It may challenge the insecure, but the Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolet is a stunning car. Yet it is slightly heavier, fractionally slower, and a bit less rigid than the 911 coupe, which also costs a lot less. For open-top fans, the value equation stacks up better than with Audi and Ferrari rivals, however (again) in Porsche’s own camp, a Boxster is lighter and more compact, and a dynamic equal, if not quite as fast and spacious.
In both cases, that colleague’s character assassination of soft top drivers isn’t a fair reflection of the latest breed of brilliant, sun-loving Porsches.