Car reviews - Porsche - 911 - Cabriolet
Sleek roof design and fast operation, performance, PDK transmission, handling balance, structural integrity, electric parking brake
Room for improvement
No spare wheel, expensive options
31 May 2012
PORSCHE might sell twice as many Cayenne SUVs as 911s these days, but the iconic sports car remains the heart and soul of the Stuttgart car-maker.
The arrival of only the third all-new generation in the car’s glorious 50-year history is therefore more than enough to get enthusiasts’ hearts pounding, and few will be disappointed with the result.
Now we have the arrival of the Cabriolet version – just two months after the Coupe landed in Australia – as well as the new seven-speed manual gearbox that is available in both bodystyles.
It should be said from the outset that, while racetracks are great places to have fun in a car, especially one with the performance and breeding of the 911, they are terrible places to assess a car for the road – especially a cabriolet and a seven-speed manual (when a quick lap means never getting higher than fourth).
So, while lapping Eastern Creek Raceway – sorry, Sydney Motorsport Park – in the latest and greatest from Stuttgart was a superb way to spend a day and to assess the performance potential of both the Coupe and Cabriolet, it means a proper road test is required for us to seriously pass judgement.
Of course, we know from overseas drives of both the soft-top and the hardtop that Porsche has not let us down with either, but we still can’t wait to get the new 911 onto our own familiar roads.
What we did learn from the track experience is that Porsche’s confidence in letting us loose on the track was not misplaced. In fact, it may have been prescient because jumping into the Cabriolet after lapping in the Coupe made us realise just how successful the engineers have been in making the convertible feel just as solid as the hardtop.
The most notable difference we felt was the softer suspension, which produced extra bodyroll and more tyre scrub on the limit. Not that this will trouble too many Cabrio drivers on the road.
In terms of structural rigidly, the Cabriolet felt like a pure 911, with no sign of scuttle shake or twisting that would have shown up in the form of squirmy steering. Not that there was any with the previous model, either.
Much has been made of Porsche’s move to full electric steering in the 991 series and, while it felt fine at Eastern Creek, we were really concentrating on our lines and not stuffing $270,000 worth of the company’s finest into the scenery, so we will defer to our colleagues who have driven the cars on the road in Europe.
The general consensus is that it is the best electric steering system available, but does not provide the same degree of feel and feedback as the old hydraulic (though electric power-assisted) 911 system.
The other big change in the latest 911 Carrera is the reduction in capacity for the base engine from 3.6 litres to 3.4 litres, though the 3.8-litre capacity remains for the Carrera S variants.
But don’t for a minute think that the reduction in capacity has also reduced performance because the 3.4 has just as much power and torque as the old 3.6 and on the track felt perfectly strong, with good pull from low revs, a strong mid-range and a howling top-end.
In fact, we’re told the latest Carrera is as fast around the Nurburgring Nordschleife as the previous-generation GT3 – which is pretty staggering when you think about it – while the new Carrera S is as fast as the current GT3.
A graph shown by Porsche Cars Australia technical manager Paul Watson showed us just how far efficiency has improved over the course of the 911’s lifetime, with power increasing three-fold from around 100kW to 300kW while fuel consumption has come down from about 15 litres per 100 kilometres to better than 8.5L/100km. Remarkable.
Porsches 911s have distinctive and purposeful exhaust notes, with a guttural roar under accelerating and crackling on the over-run and down-changing. All of our test cars at Eastern Creek were equipped with the optional ($5890) sports exhaust system that, combined with engaging the Sport mode for added gearshifting zest, produced some wonderful sounds, which would be even more enjoyable with the roof down.
The Sport mode also sharpens the suspension, which feels more settled as a result and provides more feel for road irregularities, providing a thoroughly enjoyable driving experience.
Push the limit and the front end will push wide, but a quick feather of the throttle brings the nose quickly back into line and away you go.
The rear end feels planted to the road and only a rush of blood to the head and overly optimistic turn-in speed could break it free.
The new seven-speed manual is essentially a six-speed with an extra-high overdrive, so the ratios are not closer than before, but even so you are kept very busy given the rate of acceleration of a car like the 911.
Personally, we would only opt for a manual in something like a small hot hatch where the there’s lots of revs but not the same performance, and where the clutch and gearbox can be a lot lighter.
In the 911, the dual-clutch PDK is just too good to overlook, with not only timely and smooth changes but faster acceleration (two-tenths quicker than the manual to 100km/h). The only downside appears to be a 10 per cent penalty in fuel consumption, although we have yet to assess how it handles city traffic conditions, where such transmissions often struggle.
Finally, the Porsche party trick is a new launch control function that – unlike many others – is easy to use and can be deployed time and time again without trouble. Of course, it’s just for showing off to passengers, but is a great illustration of the company’s engineering prowess.
The new 911 Carrera Cabriolet is a wonderful sports car, bristling with engineering know-how and design skill, boasting an innovative and stylish roof, while matching the Coupe for performance, if not handling. It is a rare convertible that feels at home on a race circuit.
No wonder Porsche Cars Australia expects more 911 buyers than ever to opt for the convertible over the coupe. We’ll take a black one with matching roof, thanks.
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