Car reviews - Porsche - 911 - Carerra S Cabriolet
Every day practicality, momentous engine, talon-like grip, watchmaker build quality
Room for improvement
Expensive options, pricey auto
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9 Sep 2016
Price and equipment
HOPPING into an entry-level 911 will cost you $217,800 before on-road costs, which may sound a little costly considering you only get a paltry 272kW, a tin-top and nothing from the playground that is the Porsche options list.
That may be said tongue-in-cheek, but for the same cash you could have an Aston Martin V8 Vantage GT, a Jaguar F-Type with no roof or the mental Nissan GT-R plus some money leftover for the inevitable speeding fines, which is perhaps why some have suggested the most affordable version doesn’t represent the value of some competitors.
However, spend a little extra on a 911 and you enter a realm that appears to make your buck go a lot further.
Slap down a cheque for an extra $56,200 and Porsche will deliver you a 911 Carrera S Cabriolet – tested here – which brings an extra 37kW, 50Nm and a folding fabric roof. Is that sounding a little more tempting?If you have a little left in the kitty you could either step up to something higher up in the range including four-wheel-drive 4S versions, folding hard-top Targas or even the mighty Turbo and Turbo S, or you could splash some cash on the extras list.
Our car had the seven-speed manual upgraded to the dual-clutch PDK auto for $5950, special colour leather ($9630), sports exhaust ($5890), LED headlight package ($6,490), rear axle steering ($5490) and a few other bits and pieces.
End result – $325,780.
Obviously, you don’t have to go anywhere near the potentially treacherous options, but the extensive customisations give customers the opportunity to create their unique and perfect 911.
You have to ask yourself why, at $3290, the black paint on our car’s wheels cost as much as an entire set of decent alloy wheels. It did look sensational with the Jet Black Metallic paint though, which was included in the price.
Porsche has forged itself a reputation for high standards of build quality in addition to its performance promises, and nowhere is that more immediately obvious than when hopping into the cabin.
Our car had been specced-up with a special colour leather for $9630 – ouch – but the wine red upholstery really was special in contrast with the black exterior and Porsche certainly isn’t miserly with hide, with the deep ox blood covering virtually everything.
Everything in the cabin has a solid and substantial feel and the quality is top notch.
It seems Porsche has started to rein in the number of buttons and switches it typically scatters about the dash and centre console, with many functions incorporated into the clean and well presented central screen.
Thankfully, tradition has been adhered to with the driver’s instruments with the beautiful, classic five-gauge pod dominated by the large central tachometer. We particularly liked the modern adaptation of the right dial which has ditched its needle for a multi-purpose digital display.
In the front two seats the 911 interior is both snug, cosy and comfortable with a near perfect driving position, but the same cannot be said for the second row of laughable seats, but the rear seats are not quite silly as they first seem.
They may be far too small for adults and most children, but the back row is a completely feasible storage spot for gear that won’t fit in the generous front under-bonnet luggage area and, in some countries, insuring a four-seater will save you a fair wad of cash.
If the cabin of the 911 gets a little too cosy and stuffy you could reach for the roof operation switch for the ultimate sportscar experience.
With the fabric top stowed and all windows down, the 911 Cabriolet still has the same fantastic presence and a unique look that the model created with the first soft-top back in 1982.
The look of the subtle hump-back, flash of canvass and flowing cockpit line is completely charming and unmatched by anything else in the automotive world.
Engine and transmission
The big news with the latest 911 is that all engines, not just the flagship Turbo are now turbocharged and this initially caused concern when the German manufacturer made the announcement.
Historically, the addition of a turbo has the virtues of boosting power and efficiency but at the cost of turbo lag and a softened, sometimes muted exhaust note, but we are pleased to report that with the Carrera S, neither of these symptoms exist.
In fact, we would go further and say that while there is minimal perceptible lag it imparts more a sensation of a high overlap camshaft engine rather than lag, and the accompanying whistle right in your ear is very likeable.
But the most notable aspect of Porsche’s engineering is that the exhaust note is totally unaffected. Our car was optioned up with the $5890 sport exhaust which produced the classic dry bark of the flat six and none of the muted gargle that some turbo engines suffer.
A side-by-side comparison with the standard system would be interesting but we firmly believe that the Porsche 911 flat six produces the most convincing naturally aspirated note of any turbo engine we have sampled.
But theatre and drama is nothing without the performance to match and here too the 911 delivers. Torque is respectable at low engine speeds and makes for effortless driving but, where many turbocharged engines dump massive amounts of torque at low rpm and then run out of puff at high speed, the Porsche donk is at its best when revved hard.
It is remarkable how much energy and charisma the six-cylinder has at high revs and the accompanying sound is totally intoxicating. After so many years, the 911’s engine is still its party piece.
It is worth mentioning another inherent design trait that is almost unique to the 911 and one that is also still benefitting the model. With its engine situated close to the rear axle, weight transfer and traction is unrivalled by any other two-wheel drive.
Say what you like about clever differentials, garden roller tyres and advanced traction control systems — there is still no better way of getting torque to the tarmac than weight over the driven wheels. We love the way the Porsche squats and blasts of the mark from a standing start or in gear.
On the back of that delightful engine of our test car was the optional PDK seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, which may add a sizeable chunk on to the list price, but the automatic is one of the best approaches to the technology that we have encountered.
Where most dual-clutch gearboxes offer lightening quick and smooth cog-swaps when whipping the haunches, many struggle at lower speeds and when maneuvering.
Not the 911 though.
Torque uptake from standstill is careful and refined without the snatchy sensation of some dual-clutches, but when up to speed shifts are slick and highly responsive.
Ratios are spaced at the longer-legged end of the spectrum for effortless autobahn tearing, but a closer ratio option would perhaps suit Australia’s nannied and altogether slower road network.
We are also pleased to see Porsche has now adopted the more universally recognised arrangement of steering wheel paddles that change up a gear with a right click and down with the left, and not the silly steering wheel buttons that were unintuitive.
Ride and handling
The 911 has always been known for its exciting handling, but since Porsche found a little more room ahead of the rear axle and pushed the flat six further towards the middle of the 911, its handling went from exciting in the way that owning a lion for a pet is exciting, to an experience more like owning the same animal in a cage.
The Carrera S’ unbeatable weight transfer makes for a rock-steady nature in a straight line, but its rear-mid engine configuration is also reassuring in fast corners too. In damp conditions the excellent torque characteristics allow traction to be broken almost anywhere, but grip in the dry is seemingly boundless.
A beautiful steering weight and feel complements the flat body in corners with more feedback than a royal commission, while the turn-in is a masterful balance of precision and restraint.
Cabriolet versions of the 911 get a slightly more comfort-focused suspension set up over coupe and GT3 variants, but that’s not to say the open-top 911 is the soft option, because its chassis is still as taught as a bow string and offers plenty of poise for going fast and comfort for posing.
The careful blend of cruising comfort and tarmac shredding cornering pace makes the 911 Carrera S the most versatile variant in the 911 range, allowing huge fun on twisty roads but silky and elegant cruising with the roof down when eating up miles.
Safety and servicing
Porsche offers a three-year warranty on all new cars with roadside assistance, a three year paint warranty and all cars are covered for corrosion for 12 years.
The convertible 911 is equipped with upwardly inflating side-impact airbags for thorax and head protection as well as a pair of two-stage front row bags for frontal collisions.
In the event of a roll-over, a pair of spring loaded bars are deployed from behind the seats to protect occupants.
Extra safety is offered with the usual raft of electronic safety systems as well as a forward facing camera which adds active cruise control and autonomous braking.
Standard iron brakes can be upgraded for carbon-ceramic versions for increased braking performance and safety.
After 50 years of winning hearts all over the world, it won’t come as a surprise to report that the new 911 Cabriolet is fast, fun, built like a watch, gorgeous to behold and sounds like a 911 should, but the Porsche has one attribute that keeps it ahead of the pack.
There are a number of models that offer the pace of the Carrera S combined with the joy of convertible motoring, but many have nuances that may start to grind in the daily grind, which is why they often share garage space with something a little more day-to-day.
Spending some time in a convertible 911 explains why there are so many examples of the iconic model on the road every day of the week. While lurid Lamborghinis, feisty Ferraris and mighty McLarens get wheeled out on weekends and when the sun is shining, the Porsche 911 is so downright easy to live with that it is still the victorious quintessential everyday sportscar.
Maserati GranCabrio from $338,000 before on-road costs
The Italian drop-top differs in many aspects to the 911 with a naturally aspirated eight-cylinder at the opposite end and a bit more room in the second row of seats, but it is still a good-looking convertible with potent pace and conspicuous looks at a comparable price.
Porsche Boxster S from $143,100 before on-road costs
Porsche’s smaller sports offering might not seem like an obvious comparison but we think it is worth considering for its similar driver-focused performance and convertible motoring proposition wrapped up in the same typical quality and style. You’ll also save yourself $130,000 without fear of ridicule, because the Boxster’s days of serving as the ‘poor man’s 911’ are very much behind it.
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