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First drive: 911 Cabriolet hits the mark

On the way: The Porsche 911 Cabriolet will arrive in showrooms Down Under from April this year.

Porsche produces a comfortable cruiser that still provides driving excitement

13 Feb 2012

By JAMES STANFORD in THE CANARY ISLANDS

A ROCK-HARD body and a passive-aggressive personality make the Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet the ultimate dual-purpose cruiser.

Equally happy to go along with a pleasant and surprisingly comfortable cruise or clear its throat for a rampaging blast, the 911 drop-top delivers an extremely exciting drive experience to go with the enjoyment of roof-down driving.

An initial drive at the global launch on Gran Canaria, one of the Canary Islands that sit off the coast of Morocco, indicated the 911 Cabriolet is able to deliver the kind of drive expected from a 911 while keeping the shortcomings of driving a convertible to a minimum.

Pricing is the biggest drawback, rising by between 2.9 and 3.9 per cent to $255,100 for the Carrera Cabriolet and $288,300 for the Carrera S Cabriolet. That represents a $25,200 premium over the coupe versions.

Both of the convertible models will touch down in Australia in April.

This writer has not yet driven the coupe version of the new-generation 911 (model code 991), which is effectively all-new despite looking very similar to the model it replaces, so a direct comparison between the coupe and Cabriolet is not possible.

25 center imageWhile the coupe (judged the best 911 ever in GoAuto’s first drive last November) is likely to deliver a slightly sharper drive experience thanks to its stiffer body and the fact it is around 80kg lighter, the Cabriolet is still a brilliant drive.

There are some niggles, but the positives far outweigh the few negatives.

Almost everything is new for the 991-type Porsche 911, including a new aluminium/steel body and magnesium bonnet, longer wheelbase, new engines, revised suspension and a new electric steering system.

The Cabriolet retains a fabric roof, rather than adopting a heavier folding metal unit, but this lid has been designed so the fabric roof maintains the same arc as the coupe.

It has been made to be as light as possible and, together with a raft of weight-saving measures, means the new 911 Cabriolet is around 60kg lighter than the previous-generation model despite growing in almost all dimensions. The kerb weight for the drop-top Carrera is 1450kg, while the Carrera S variant is 1465kg.

The Cabriolet certainly looks good with the roof up. The ‘ribbed’ look of the previous lid is gone and the silhouette is every bit as impressive as the coupe’s.

It takes only 13 seconds to open or close the roof.

Even without the pop-up wind deflector in place, the Cabriolet is hardly affected by wind noise, even at higher speeds. It is quite possible to run a highway speeds and have a conversation with the passenger without having to raise your voice much at all. You also get very little buffetting, which can grow tiring in other convertibles.

The benefit of owning a convertible version of the 911 is the enhanced sound. You can better hear the exhaust when there is no longer a steel roof sitting above your head.

In the ‘Regular’ engine mode, the 911 Carrera S (the only model we tested on the global launch) sounds sporty and strong, though not overtly aggressive, but this all changes when you change to Sport or Sport Plus, modes that sharpen the throttle response and feed more fuel into the engine. Suddenly the car develops a more menacing snarl, with a more pronounced crackle and bang when you decelerate.

Our test car was also fitted with an optional sports exhaust system, which opens a valve in the exhaust to crank up the volume.

The exhaust belts out an incredibly angry aural assault as the revs climb, but the most amazing sound comes when the driver backs off. An incredible sound similar to a barrage of artillery fire is so loud that it’s addictive and you find yourself backing off more often just to hear it.

That said, it is so loud that it may be wise to encourage it sparingly. Apart from attracting the attention of road authorities, there is also a chance you could scare other road users and pedestrians. Yes, it’s that loud.

The Cabriolets weigh around 80kg more than their coupe siblings and almost all of that is in the form of additional body bracing.

As a result, the body is extremely stiff. The roads on Gran Canaria are good but not great, with some uneven surfaces, and there was no noticeable body flex. Of course, we’ll have to wait and see whether Australian roads bring out any wobbles over rough roads, but it felt good on the launch.

The Carrera S engine is an absolute stunner. This is the 3.8-litre ‘boxer’ with 294kW no power and 440Nm of torque and it is fantastically fast, spinning rapidly towards the 7800rpm cut-out. There are no flat-spots it just keeps the power coming all the way from idle to redline.

Porsche has achieved some amazing fuel economy figures, with the standard 257kW/390Nm 3.4-litre Carrera Cabriolet recording an official fuel economy figure 8.4 litres per 100km and the Carrera S achieving an average of 8.9L/100km when fitted with the dual-clutch automated transmission (the manuals use 0.6 to 0.8 litres more for every 100km travelled).

This is astounding and seems almost too good to be true. We certainly didn’t get anywhere near the claimed fuel figure. Being driven very aggressively, in Sports Plus mode, on roads that encouraged hard acceleration, the test car recorded 18L/100km and another Australian journalist recorded a similar figure.

Porsche’s fuel-saving idle-stop feature, which kills the engine when the car comes to a stop and restarts it when the driver either dips the clutch or releases the brake, was intrusive and annoying. It sometimes kills the engine when you are paused for just a moment (as it can’t predict when you are about to get going again) and sometimes, when you decide to actually stop, it is easy to forget whether you have turned off the engine.

It also seems silly to have spent all this money on a sportscar, which may well only be used at weekends, and have it act like an eco car every time you stop. Of course, you can turn the system off when you start the car but it will default to ‘on’ again the next time you drive the car.

This system helps the car achieve its amazing fuel economy figures, which great, but unlikely to be admired by owners.

Our car was fitted with the seven-speed dual-clutch automated transmission, which works very well when left in Drive and is excellent in manual mode. It changes super-quick, with a fun ‘thump’, in both Sport and Sport Plus modes.

The 911 Cabriolet handles like you would expect a Porsche to handle, being very agile and sure-footed, and powers out of bends with impressive pace.

You would need a back-to-back test with the coupe to see if the extra bulk of the Cabriolet can be felt, but in isolation this is a great handling car.

Porsche has developed the suspension to provide a relatively high level of ride comfort while still retaining good body control.

It is possible to cruise around with the transmission in Drive and the engine set to its standard mode enjoying the scenery in comfort. Equally, pressing all the right buttons transforms the same car into a snarling hardcore sportscar. This dual personality is a great attribute.

A lot of fuss has been made about the new electric (rather than hydraulic) steering system, but I can honestly say I didn’t have to think about it during the several hours driving the car.

The new steering system is sharp and responsive the car goes where you point it without fuss. It has a slightly isolated feel, providing less feedback than the previous models, but Porsche says it has just dialed out the negative feedback passed through the wheel, such kicking and bucking over bumps. This really is a matter of taste some may prefer the old system, but I have no problem with the new one.

Porsche says 911 Coupe buyers and 911 Cabriolet buyers are different animals and that they hardly ever switch between the two. Coupe owners may well love that car’s purity, shape, reduced weight and handling superiority, but the new Cabriolet comes with so few compromises that it might just lure a few of them across.

Porsche 911 Cabriolet pricing (plus on-road costs):
Carrera $255,100
Carrera S $288,300

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