2012 Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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Hot on the heels of Porsche's thoroughly redesigned 911 Carrera and Carrera S coupes, which debuted late last year and bear the model code 991, comes the first of the 991-based variants: the 911 Carrera and Carrera S Cabriolets.

And if the new 911 coupe was an impressive leap forward (which it was), the new Cabriolet is all that and more - it doesn't just improve upon the 997-based 911 Carrera Cabriolet, but pretty much redefines what a convertible sports car should be.

Overall, and even though no body panel was left unchanged, the new 911 coupes and cabriolets have the same instantly recognizable iconic styling as the cars they replace. The differences are in the details. The new car has a 100-mm longer wheelbase and is wider and lower than the old car, but it has shorter overhangs so its overall length is only 70 mm greater. There are distinctive (and good-looking) new "dagger" taillights tucked in under a rear brow, their shape echoed in the front sidelights. In the coupe the effect is fairly subtle - the car looks more modern and more planted than the previous 911, but not dramatically different, at least not to a casual observer.

In Cabriolet guise however, the 911's makeover becomes more dramatic. This is because the 2012 911 Carrera Cabriolet also benefits from a new hybrid convertible roof that uses cloth-covered magnesium panels to provide all the advantages of a soft-top convertible (light weight, compact stowage) and all the benefits of a hardtop convertible (security, quietness with the top up). The rigid magnesium panels also give the top an extremely smooth profile when up. Combined with the new car's slightly higher beltline and streamlined bodysides it makes the new Carrera Cabriolet far better looking than the 997-based Cabriolet ever was: With its top up, the new Cabriolet has none of the old car's slightly hunchbacked appearance, but instead it almost perfectly replicates the coupe's iconic profile. And with the top down, there's far less of a rear-end hump covering the stowed top compared to the previous car. Styling-wise, this is a Cabriolet that might even win the hearts of 911 purists.

It's not just the Cabriolet's looks that might win the purists over, either: Porsche has evidently spent considerable time getting the car's structure right, adding stiffening around the B-pillars, rockers and windshield frame. The resulting car is impressively rigid and exhibits absolutely no evidence of body flex or cowl shake, making it a seriously capable performance car: Equipped with 20-inch Carrera Classic wheels ($3,120) and Porsche Active Suspension Management ($2,390), my Basalt Black 911 Carrera Cabriolet test car had a comfortable, refined ride but gave up nothing in the corners to the coupe (which I drove recently on the track), exhibiting the same dead-flat cornering attitude, the same astonishing levels of grip and control, and the same phenomenal braking power. New for 2012 is electric power steering, which was co-developed with ZF and is the best electric steering system I've yet encountered - perhaps not yet quite as sublime in terms of road feel as previous hydraulic systems, but extremely close.

Mechanically the new 991-based Cabriolet is the same as the coupe: The Carrera Cabriolet gets the same naturally aspirated 3.4-litre flat-6 engine as the Carrera coupe, which develops 350-horsepower and 288 lb-ft of torque. The Carrera S Cabriolet gets the same 3.8-litre engine as the Carrera S coupe, which is also naturally aspirated and develops 400 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque. With both engines Porsche has managed to increase horsepower a bit while also improving fuel economy, thanks to innovations such as direct injection and stop-start technology. That's right, the wonderful Porsche flat-6 exhaust burble cuts out at traffic lights, starting up again when you step on the clutch (in manual transmission cars) or take your foot off the brake (in PDK-equipped cars). It's okay though - this starting and stopping becomes increasingly more natural seeming as you get used to it, and anyway all you need to do to disable the feature is press a button on the console (or just keep the clutch pedal depressed…).

Speaking of clutches, new for 2012 is a 7-speed manual transmission, which I must admit had me wondering whether I'd be able to find all the gates accurately. But Porsche's shifter is precise, intuitive and hard to mess up - indeed it's much easier to shift than many six-speeds I've driven recently. Sixth and seventh are really highway overdrive gears, so around town or on twisty backroads driving the 911 Carrera Cabriolet is not really any different than driving a 5-speed. On the highway the engine's broad torque curve allows you to shift up into seventh and mutter along at 110 km/h turning only about 2,000 rpm and delivering surprisingly good fuel economy (official ratings for the Carrera Cabriolet are 10.9 L/100km in the city and 7.3 L/100km on the highway).

Choose the 7-speed automated PDK transmission (which the coupe I drove recently was equipped with) and you get lightning-fast upshifts and engine speed-matched downshifts, contributing to even better 0-100km/h times than the manual-transmission cars. Porsche claims 4.8 seconds for the PDK-equipped Carrera Cabriolet and 5.0 seconds for the manual-transmission version, but those numbers can't accurately convey what a visceral thrill those few short seconds represent, or how mightily the big 6-cylinder pulls throughout the rev band.

The interior of the new 911 is perhaps the one area that has seen the most obvious change, and Porsche appears to have restyled it with a nod to the Panamera, using plenty of polished metal and adding a big, swept-back centre console to create a grand-touring ambience that is much more in keeping with the 911's lofty price tag. Everything still falls readily to hand, and the front seats are brilliantly supportive and comfortable (the back seats are equipped with seatbelts, and did in fact fit my two gangly teenagers for a short ride, but beyond that there's not much you can say for them - they are best suited for small children or luggage).

Nice details abound inside, including a standard navigation system and a slick electrically-actuated wind screen that can be popped up behind the front seats to reduce wind noise and turbulence when the top is down (and provided you haven't shoehorned any passengers in the back seat). If you plunk down $2,110 you can also get the Sport Chrono Package that was included on my test car and adds a gorgeous analog-digital sports timer in pride of place front and centre on the dash (lest you think that two grand is a lot to pay for a stopwatch, keep in mind that the package also adds launch control, a Sport Plus control mode for the car's suspension and stability management systems, plus Porsche's dynamic motor mounts, which actively control the car's engine mass in order to enhance handling).

One new feature inside the 2012 Carrera Cabriolet that might have the purists shedding tears is the electrically-operated park brake that replaces the old 911's traditional hand brake. In a sense this is neither here nor there, as I doubt many Carrera Cabriolet drivers intend to pull park-brake turns or go rallying, but from a practical perspective it does mean that Porsche needed to fit the car with a hill-hold feature to aid in hill starts, and unfortunately I found the system to be overly aggressive: Stop on a hill and the car puts the binders on quite firmly, requiring a fairly hard launch if you don't want to risk stalling or lugging the engine. This can become a bit frustrating if you get caught in stop-and-go traffic on an incline, especially if you normally pride yourself on being able to execute perfectly smooth hill starts.

Other than that one small quibble, I was overwhelmingly impressed with the new 911 Carrera Cabriolet. Even at a starting price of $106,900, and with my well-optioned test car pricing out at $124,385 (plus $1,085 in destination fees), the 911 Carrera Cabriolet offers good value in its niche market segment. It's by no means an inexpensive car, but the 911 has long been referred to as "the ultimate everyday supercar" and the latest 911 Carrera Cabriolet is perhaps the best embodiment of this concept so far, offering an exceptional - and rare -blend of performance, handling, luxury and everyday livability in an open-air package.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Convertible, Porsche, 2012, 911 Carrera Cabriolet, $99,999+,

Organizations: Porsche

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