REVIEW DATE: 18 Jun 2008
Porsche's latest 911 Cabriolet offers less compromise and more of what has perpetuated the 911 legend. Andy Enright reports
Depending on your viewpoint, Porsche's 911 Cabriolet is either a fun way to enjoy a classic design or a heretical butchering of a classic shape. Until recently, I'd have placed myself firmly in the latter camp, arguing that to chop the top off a Porsche 911 was tantamount to treason. Then, after an extended spell with a turbocharged 911 drop top, I grudgingly began to see the logic. Porsche hope the latest 911 Cabriolet will possess an even greater capacity to convert. It's their least compromised effort to date.
Talk to any Porsche fan and they'll soon bury you in model code numbers. Latter-day Porsche 911s correspond to a number of series titles. The latest car is a heavily revised version of the 997, featuring direct injection on the flat six engine for the first time and the option of a clever PDK semi-automatic gearbox. The model before that was the 996 and its air-cooled predecessor was the 993. Based on the 997 chassis, this Cabriolet features an even cleaner silhouette than the sleek 996 and the detailing is neater again, harking back to that classic 993 shape. Porsche has worked a little harder to differentiate the 997 Cabriolet's basic shape and finishing from the Boxster. This proved to be a key reason for slow 996 Cabriolet sales. Why spend almost twice the price on a 911 Cabriolet if most people thought it was a Boxster anyway?
This touches upon one of the reasons why I'd never warmed to the Porsche 911 Cabriolet. Many were bought for posing purposes, a criminal waste of a car with such huge reserves of talent. Driving the 996 Turbo Cabriolet, however, proved that the car was still virtually as good as the coupe in terms of ride and handling. The hood imposed very few sacrifices and was a boon when the sun was out and you just wanted to savour the sound of that magnificent engine.
"Losing the roof needn't mean losing the handling capabilities"
The 997 Cabriolet's hood system is a good deal slicker than the old 996 soft top, featuring as it does an improved folding mechanism. A button can open or close the roof in twenty seconds, the hood now folding into the roof compartment with the heated glass rear window facing upwards for added protection. One of the best parts about the hood is that it can be raised or lowered at speeds up to 31mph which means that should the traffic lights change while you're half way through raising or lowering, you won't need to wait with a queue of laughing/swearing drivers behind you.
Improved guide ducts above the doors direct rainwater into a specially developed channel in the windscreen pillar and an improved wind deflector reduces buffeting in the cabin while cruising. In order to ensure torsional rigidity, soft-top conversions need a degree of additional reinforcement and this often adds to the weight to such a degree that performance is blunted. No such issues with the latest 911 Cabriolet. It tips the scales at a mere 85kg more than its hard top sibling. Even accounting for all the strengthening and electric motors for the roof, that's less than the weight of an average chap.
Under that sleek bodywork comes a bigger, punchier engine. It still sits way out at the back of the 911 and it's still a flat six but nowadays it's a DFI flat six. Porsche's Direct Fuel Injection system uses a sophisticated engine management computer and high pressure injectors to fire a fuel and air mixture directly into the combustion chamber. This mixture is constantly adjusted according to the demands being placed on the engine at the time. The results are said to include a more efficient combustion cycle, superior engine response and more power. It means that the 3.6-litre 911 Carrera Cabriolet has 345bhp while the Carrera S version comes in with 385bhp and a top speed of 188mph.
All the cars feature a drag coefficient of just 0.29, ranking them at the top of their respective market segments. One feature unique to the Cabriolet is the rear spoiler that extends an additional 20 millimetres further than the Coupe's appendage. Porsche's aerodynamicists discovered that the Cabriolet's marginally different shape caused changes in the way it cleaved the air and made small adjustments to the front and rear downforce levels. That's the sort of expertise you're buying when you hand over between £70,360 for the Carrera and £77,650 for the Carrera 4S Cabriolets.
Many owners will opt for Porsche's latest PDK gearbox as an alternative to the conventional manual set-up. Much superior to 'Tiptronic'-style auto transmissions, this is a conventional seven speed manual gearbox with a hydraulic control mechanism which is divided into two separate units. There's one clutch looking after the even gears and one taking care of the odd ones. It means that the clutches can work in unison, producing super fast shifting marshalled by buttons mounted on the steering wheel. Each gearchange is around 60 per cent more rapid that that of a conventional automatic transmission. The Carrera S achieves the 0-62mph sprint in 4.5s with the PDK box which is 0.2s faster than an expertly driven manual car. Install the Porsche Sport Chrono Package Plus on the car and its launch control system will get it off the line more smartly, lowering the sprint time again to 4.3s.
Bar perhaps that intoxicatingly breathy engine note, Porsche steering and brakes do more than anything else to differentiate the marque in terms of sheer excellence. Down the years, 911s have always had a linear steering rack that delighted in the amount of feedback it supplied to the driver. The 997 has departed from this system and adopts a variable ratio set-up that gets quicker the further the wheel is turned. Getting rid of the old 17-inch wheels has also allowed Porsche to fit bigger and better brakes to the 997. The S gets brakes similar to those fitted to the 996 Turbo and the truly well heeled can even opt for ceramic discs.
The straight-line performance of the 997 Cabriolet is only a smidgeon off that of the Coupe. The top speeds of the Carrera and Carrera S Cabriolets are exactly the same as the Coupe, with the S model making a maximum of 188mph. The Carrera will accelerate to 60mph in under 5 seconds while the same benchmark will detain the Carrera S for just 4.5 seconds.
The Porsche 911 Cabriolet deserves better than to be used as a bauble that's trundled up and down city centre streets of a weekend. With a staggering depth of engineering and huge reserves of talent, these cars lose little to their hard top siblings. Losing the roof will, in some instances, make this more of a 911.
|OVERALL||7.1 OUT OF 10|
|Space / Versatility||5|