The 2016 Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet is the most affordable drop-top version of the venerable sports car on the market. But is it a bargain?
The roof down, a cool sunny day; the wind in your hair, the seat heaters and steering wheel set at a marshmallow-threatening warmth; and the sound of a turbocharged engine whistling and whooshing as you pound the throttle out of a tight hairpin.
This could be what automotive dreams are made of. Or, if you’re fortunate enough to be able to put the 2016 Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet on your new car shopping list, it could be how you’d want to spend your lazy Sunday mornings.
And of course we’re not talking about the uber-expensive Porsche 911 Turbo or Turbo S Cabriolet variants, which are priced at $406,400 and $478,000 respectively. No, this is the new downsized turbocharged Carrera base model drop-top, which is a comparative cheapie at just $239,300 plus on-road costs. Read the full 2016 Porsche 911 Carrera pricing and specifications story.
It’s the most affordable model in the open-air 911 range, though our car has a few options that push the price up to $273,120 before on-road costs. We’ll get to some of those goodies later, but let’s consider the context of where the most wallet-friendly Porsche 911 Cabriolet model fits in terms of direct competitors.
In short, there aren’t many.
Porsche's rear-engined, rear-wheel-drive four-seater sports car doesn’t realistically compete with much on either price or layout at this level. There are front-engined models that are larger or not as overtly sporty (BMW 6 Series Convertible, Maserati GranCabrio, Mercedes-Benz SL), or sportier models that have two seats and are more expensive (Audi R8, Lamborghini Huracan Spyder), or those that are just more expensive (Ferrari California T).
Indeed, not many sports cars in this price range, with this level of performance, are four-seaters; you'd almost label the Bimmer and Maser grand tourers, rather than dedicated sports models. That said, it's a bit of a stretch to consider this car a true four-seat model – the back seats are extremely scalloped and there's no adult-friendly leg room to speak of. It would be fine in the back for younger children (say, sub 10s).
The front row offers a much-improved environment, mainly because there’s a new multimedia system that looks markedly more modern than the version it replaces.
It has Apple CarPlay to make it even easier to stay connected on the move, though the Bluetooth phone and audio streaming seemed to work fine on test, too. The menus of the system still aren’t as simple to navigate as, say, a BMW with the iDrive system (considered the benchmark among CarAdvice testers for ease of use), but the graphics are much better than the pre-facelift model, and the buttons are more sensible now, too. And the new mapping software is so, so much better than the previous model.
On the topic of buttons, Porsche persists with its plethora of controls down the centre tunnel section of the 911, and once you’re used to the positioning of them, the topography is actually simple to live with.
One problem with the cabin is the lack of storage. Sure, you get those pop-out expandable cup/bottle holders in the dashboard, but not all cups/bottles are compatible, and there could be spillage. And there’s only a tiny little central storage bin for, well, I don’t know what. The door pockets are slim, too, meaning you might struggle to find a useful place to put your wallet or phone. I did. At least the boot – or front trunk, more correctly – offers 145 litres of cargo capacity, which is enough space for a couple of overnight bags or a couples’ shopping for the week.
There are some other issues with the interior. Porsche still doesn’t have a push-button starter, instead it has a weird twist-controller for ignition: you don’t have to put your key in, though, so that’s something – except it's a cheeky $2390 option.
And while there is still a digital element to the instrumentation – the right-side dial features a mini TFT screen that is configurable with maps, car data, trip computer and more – it isn’t quite as high-tech or impressive as, say, the Audi Virtual Cockpit Display in the Audi TT and R8. There's no head-up display, but it is nice to be able to glance down at the map instructions and the digital "better-slow-down meter", though.
The roof switch is located logically between the front seats, just arrears of the shifter, and the lid can be raised and lowered at speeds up to 50km/h – great if you’re caught in a sudden storm. There’s even an electronically-operable wind blocker.
You can choose the colour of the canvas on the roof, too, with the standard being black, while blue, red and brown are also available at no extra cost. That’s pretty cool. The eye-catching Graphite Blue Metallic paint on our tester was a no-cost option, too.
And having the roof droppable means you can hear the exhaust note a lot more in the upgraded Porsche 911. And depending on which side of the fence you find yourself, that’s either good, or bad.
That’s because the updated model traded in its naturally-aspirated raspy six-cylinder for a downsized, double-boosted boxer six.
The new twin-turbo 3.0-litre engine pumps out 272kW of power at 6500rpm, and 450Nm of torque from 1700-5500rpm – well and truly more than the old 3.4-litre (257kW at 7400rpm and 390Nm at 5600rpm). The numbers are bigger, yes – but there’s a focus on the usability of the engine, too, with the broad torque band making it easier to call up the grunt.
The engine has plenty of low range pulling power, but in the mid-range it can peter out a bit. That said, it is brilliant that a turbocharged engine can willingly explore the rev range all the way to the 7400rpm redline: it really is kind of crazy for a twin-turbo to be able to push that hard.
As fun as it may be to rev it out, the engine is also better suited to tooling around town effortlessly than the old one, which required more revs to get the best out of it. It’ll amble along without any trouble at low revs, but if you stab the throttle the seven-speed dual-clutch (PDK) transmission will, invariably, get the right gear to assist in pushing you forward at pace.
The paddleshifters are brilliant, too, allowing you proper involvement when you’re tapping through the gears. And the engine easily offers enough push considering Australia’s speed limitations. After all, this isn’t the sort of car you really want to drive too fast, because of a these factors: a) wind noise and buffeting, of which there is some when the lid is down; b) cool factor – not literally, although during our test it was cold – I’m talking about the fact the thing looks the business with the lid down.
Further, with the roof down you get to hear more of what’s happening outside the car. Adding turbos to any engine, by the laws of engineering, affects the noise that it makes. You could say it muffles, robs or even ruins the noise – whatever adjective you use, it changes it.
And in Alborz’s review of the 911 Carrera S Coupe he openly criticised the sound of the exhaust. Look, maybe it’s just because I’ve had less exposure to the non-turbo Porsches, or maybe I’m just more sympathetic to the requirements of modern performance engines – but I like the sound it makes, there’s an addictive whistle and whoosh. I just wish it was even louder.
With the roof down the car feels pretty tight on the road, apart from some windscreen scuttle over imbalanced bumps.
The chassis is definitely designed with cornering prowess in mind, and it doesn’t disappoint. In Sport mode the suspension is firm but still pretty compliant, and while the ride can suffer a bit over bad surfaces, it sticks to the road tremendously for a rear-engine, rear-drive car. With the optional ($3130) 20-inch wheels clad in Pirelli P Zero rubber measuring 245/35 at the front and 305/30 at the rear, there’s an amazing amount of grip.
The steering is very good when you’re pushing hard, too, and there’s good involvement on offer. In the regular mode at highway speeds the steering can be a little slow to react, particularly if you’re just puttering along during gentle corners. But when you really want it to be brilliant, it is.
If you’re a Porsche purist, you might be put off by the engine noise and exhaust note. But if you’re just after the most affordable Porsche 911 that allows you to put the roof down, this is going to tick most of your boxes. It just might require you to tick a few boxes for options to get it to the spec you want.
Click the Photos tab above for more images by Sam Venn.