2012 Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolet Road Test

For the die-hards, there’s always been something impure about the Porsche 911 Cabriolet. The humpbacked top made the 911 look as if it were auditioning for Shakespeare’s Richard III, while the loss of rigidity took the edge off the handling. To the hard-core Porschephiles, it just wasn’t “proper.”

No doubt they’ll moan about the arrival of the new 2012 911 Cabriolet too, but with much less cause. For the first time since the idea of a topless 911 was proposed in 1981, Porsche has nailed the styling.

With the top up, the new Cabriolet mimics the iconic silhouette of the coupe. The latest 911 — code name 991 — might be instantly familiar, but Porsche’s designer’s have been busy with the details. The result is probably the best-looking 911 since the 993 of the mid-’90s.

About That Top
It’s a real piece of work. It can be raised or lowered in a mere 13 seconds at up to 31 mph, so you won’t get wet looking for a turnout. Then there’s the wind deflector. In 911s gone by, protecting one’s bouffant with the roof down meant erecting a mesh contraption over the rear seats that had more in common with a scout’s tent than Teutonic engineering. No more. At the prod of a button, a deflector motors forth to ensure the cabin remains a haven of calm, even at highway speeds.

The 911 has always been the everyday supercar, and that’s true now more than ever. The interior, pinched from the coupe, is very sensible and very Germanic. There are no eccentricities, no Ferrari-esque jewelry: just good, functional design. The front seats are tremendously comfortable, although the rear is still mostly a depository for spare bags or small children.

Nothing Changes Out Back
The lineup of engines and gearboxes is identical to that of the coupe. You can have a Carrera with the 3.4-liter flat-6 that develops 345 horsepower, or a 3.8-liter Carrera S with 394 hp. Before the end of the year there’ll be a four-wheel-drive 991, but for now only the rear wheels are powered.

A seven-speed manual transmission is standard, or you can pay extra for the succinctly titled Doppelkupplungsgetriebe (PDK) double-clutch gearbox, which combines a fully automatic mode with sequential shifts. Porsche expects most customers to choose the PDK and if you do, it’s worth upgrading to the sport steering wheel with paddle-shift controls for the full experience.

It may not be as pure, but the PDK is actually quicker when it comes to acceleration. It’s shockingly good in automatic mode, too, so it certainly makes sense for cabrio drivers who might be in it for the ride and style of the 911 less so than its ultimate performance.

Much the Same Behind the Wheel, Too
It’s clear that Porsche isn’t worried about the convertible’s status as a true sports car. If it was, it wouldn’t have turned us loose on a racetrack to push the drop top closer to its limits. Driving on a track instantly magnifies even the slightest lapses in rigidity and poise, neither of which we noticed. Porsche says the new car is 18 percent stiffer than the old model, and it certainly feels rock solid at speed. In fact, so much of the coupe’s astonishing ability has been carried over intact that it’s hard to discern between the two.

Like most modern 911s, this cabrio isn’t the least bit intimidating either. Some consider this a lack of character these days, but in reality it simply reassures and cajoles in equal measure. There’s almost no body roll, and more grip than we know what to do with. The engine’s dramatic soundtrack is made all the more immediate by exposure to the elements and, of course, this car is brutally fast.

Porsche says the Carrera S version of the cabriolet is good for zero to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds and a top speed of 187 mph. That’s down a couple tenths thanks to the extra 200 pounds tacked on by the convertible top and its various drive motors. Given that we clocked the coupe at less than 4 seconds to 60, it looks like Porsche is probably right on the mark with its numbers for the cabriolet.

Away from the track, this 911 is happy to play a range of roles. Settle back in 7th gear and enjoy the comfy ride, or switch the suspension to Sport mode and revel in a car that feels like a proper 911. Yes, it’s true, there’s less intimacy with the road than in 911s past, but that’s the price you pay for a better all-around car. It also keeps the door open for the inevitable flood of 911 variants that will cater to those who are willing to sacrifice some comfort to get that intimacy back.

This Will Sell, and Sell Well
In Europe, the Carrera Cabrio costs £79,947, while the Carrera S runs £89,740. That’s roughly £8K (about $12,670) more than their equivalent coupes. No U.S. pricing has been announced yet, but figure an equal level of price bump for the cabriolet.

The flag-waving purists will still pick the standard coupe as the true 911. That’s fine, but Porsche is a business and it needs to make money. And this cabriolet will play a big part. It’s so close in performance and feel to the coupe that few will notice the difference. Add in the slick-looking top that works better than ever and the allure is undeniable. If the standard coupe is the best all-around 911 ever, then the Cabrio is all that and then some, purists be damned.

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