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Review

First Drive: Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolet car review

13/02/12

TRADITIONALLY Porsche purists have overlooked the firm’s 911 Cabriolet model as, in their eyes, it never offered the same level of performance as the tin-top version. It was, for some, a car to be seen in rather than one you drove hard for the hell of it.

This latest model, the 991 in Porsche parlance, promises to be a different and better beast. Like the recently launched coupe, this convertible has been completely overhauled in a bid to improve refinement, performance and economy in equal measure. Of equal significance is the car’s new Panamera-inspired fascia and switchgear layout, which is a welcome improvement over the old car.

Visually this 911 is a fraction longer than the old ‘997’ model, with the car’s on-road manners benefiting the most. More stable at speed, this 911 now straddles the line between outright performance car and Grand Tourer. A wider front track continues this theme, while a weight loss programme has resulted in a useful reduction in mass to further improve the car’s agility on the road.

Porsche’s infamous six-cylinder ‘boxer’ engine has both gained more power and become more efficient. Like the new coupe, the lead-in engine for the Cabriolet has been downsized from 3.6 to 3.4-litres, while the ‘S’ specification unit remains at 3.8-litres. Power is up to 345 and 395 horsepower respectively, while fuel consumption is down 11 and 15 percent. The switch to electro-hydraulic steering might have the purists concerned, but this set-up helps to boost fuel economy and has been engineered with the keen driver in mind. Hopeful the revised PDK semi-auto gearbox option will help convince the doubters that this 911 still means business.

For many, though, the real focus of attention will be the car’s roof. 1982 saw the first iteration of the 911 Cabriolet, and its basic roof arrangement served a purpose but wasn’t exactly pretty. Today it’s a different matter as this 911’s powered roof can be operated on the move up to 31mph with the press of a button, and stows flush behind the cabin in 13 seconds.

The roof’s lightweight materials and rigid structure ensure a coupe-like experience when raised and the cabin ambience is akin to that of the previous 997 coupe model. Roof down and the traditional wind in the hair experience has been greatly reduced. It’s possible to hold a sensible conversation at speed, while the powered wind deflector further reduces buffeting and, cleverly, doesn’t encroach on the rear cabin space.

Only one question remains: does this all work on the road? The simple answer is yes, as the various improvements – roof, engines, transmission, suspension – all work to create an incredibly refined yet useable and, in the right conditions, devastatingly quick drop-top sports car.

With the 3.4 Carrera proving to be all the sports car you’ll probably ever need thanks to its flexible engine, compliant ride and willingness to entertain, the 3.8-litre Carrera S could be viewed as the decadent choice. That said, the extra torque (325lb/ft against 295lb/ft) is nice to have, and the engine note is deeper and more urgent in tone than the sweeter-sounding 3.4 lump.

Barking its way up and down the gears, the Carrera S ably demonstrates that it’s no slouch. The 4.7 second to 62mph sprint time is reduced further if Porsche’s vastly improved seven-speed PDK gearbox is chosen. Sure, there’s now a standard fit seven-speed manual, but the PDK’s added precision in either auto or manual mode is hard to beat in the real world. It’s also worth noting that fuel consumption and CO2 figures also drop slightly with the PDK gearbox.

And what of the new steering? Determined to improve on an already highly praised conventional system, Porsche’s engineers have dialed out much of the distracting kickback of old yet added more precision to the way the car steers and communicates the road back to the driver. It’s a slightly different sensation to the old car but it wants for nothing in terms of accuracy, making it one of the best of the new generation of electric systems around.

Another change for the better is the near absence of tyre noise, which should please anyone who spends a lot of time behind the wheel. The upside to this improvement is that you can now better enjoy the car’s engine as it grumbles, roars and barks its way up and down the rev range.

In short, the new 911 Cabriolet offers the best of both worlds: genuine top-down high performance motoring with no hint of a compromise. The plethora of performance acronyms – PVT, PASM, PDC, PDCC – all help make the experience the best yet but never feel intrusive if you want to let it all hang out. And that’s the beauty of this car, it’ll let you cruise, rip up the Tarmac and everything in between with roofless efficiency.

FACTS AT A GLANCE Model: Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolet, from £89,740 on the road.

Engine: 3.8-litre petrol unit developing 395bhp.

Transmission: 7-speed manual transmission as standard, driving the rear wheels. 7-speed PDK semi-auto gearbox optional.

Performance: Maximum speed 187mph, 0-62mph 4.7 seconds.

Economy: 29.2mpg.

CO2 Rating: 229g/km.

  • Enginespetrol
  • Power5 (high performance)
  • 0-60 mph
  • Economy4 (better than average fuel economy)
  • CO2g/km
  • Insurance groups3 (average costs)
  • Airbags
  • Seats2

Motors.co.uk value verdict:    stars

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