Review and photos by Laurance Yap
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There are many reasons that I consider the Porsche 911 to be the one of the best cars (if not perhaps the very best car) in the world, and they’re mostly emotional. I love the classic teardrop shape. I love the fact that so much of its engineering flies in the face of conventional wisdom. And I love how it combines so many seemingly contradictory characteristics: sleekness with relative practicality; speed with economy; aggression with everyday drivability.
Most of all, though, I love how they just keep making it better. Since its introduction over forty years ago at the Frankfurt auto show, the 911’s shape may have remained recognizable, but it’s an entirely different car than it used to be. The Carrera S cabriolet you see here may still have its engine in the back, but it’s otherwise an entirely modern car, one that runs on the updated 997-generation chassis that was introduced in coupe form last year. What does that mean? A 355-hp flat-six engine driving through six gears, an electronically-adjustable suspension, variable-ratio steering, speed-activated rear spoiler, and a level of sophistication that leaves most other sports cars, and indeed, most other cars, in the dust.
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There will be Porsche purists who bemoan just how modern the 911 has become – there will ALWAYS be Porsche purists who do nothing but bemoan the car’s constant evolution – but the fact is that the new 911, despite an increasing load of electronics and creature comforts, is a faster, better-handling car than ever. In coupe form, with the electronic suspension on its sport setting, it’s as fast around the old Nurburgring as the previous-generation 380-hp GT3, but has a fully-equipped interior and a ride that won’t punish you on your way to work. The new engine, with its electronic throttle, has faster, more immediate response than ever before, especially when you order the Sport Chrono Plus package that my tester was fitted with. Yet it’s cleaner and more economical than ever, returning just over 10 L/100 km in a week of aggressive driving, and also qualifying as an ultra-low emissions vehicle.
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Porsche seems better able than anyone to manage engineering contradictions, and it shows in the new S cabrio. It is a car with a true dual personality. With the sport setting off, the roof down, and loafing along in its tall sixth gear, it’s an exceptionally attractive and comfortable way to cruise into work, the engine grumbling and growling gently behind you, the adjustable suspension flowing smoothly over bumps in the pavement, the wind gently ruffling (what’s left of) your hair. Its controls work in perfect harmony: the gas, throttle, brakes, steering, and shifter all have just the right weight and heft, making it a cinch to trickle along in traffic. It has an amazing Bose stereo whose sound remains clean and clear even with the top down. And it looks just terrific, hunkered down low over its 19-inch tires, red brake callipers gleaming out from behind thin-spoked wheels, its front end now sporting the circular headlights that made the 911 so recognizable in the first place.
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But there’s another car hiding in there as well; push the sport button on the lower dash, crank up the speed a bit, and you find that the new S cabrio is a holy terror on the road. Switched to its stiff setting, the suspension is purportedly as extreme as the GT3’s; the ride is certainly punishing on all but the smoothest of roads as the dual-compound Michelins pound and smack against the pavement. Attack a corner and you’ll find that the 911’s traditional bobbing nose is still there, though its motions are better-damped than ever; the grip once you’re hooked up is simply astonishing. Porsche’s interpretation of variable-ratio steering is also the best: it gets quicker the farther you turn it, rather than being dependent on vehicle speed. All the while, the engine’s demented buzz-saw sound is that much more evident thanks to the open roof, and in sport mode, the throttle has a hair-trigger edge to it; you twitch your toe and the power’s right there. This is the first 911 convertible that I would consider as a serious track car as well as an enjoyable road car.
The transition between the new cabrio’s personalities is made that much easier this year by an improved fabric top that not only folds faster – about 20 seconds by the stopwatch on the dash – but can also be operated on the move at up to 30 km/h. This doesn’t seem like such a big deal until you’re caught in a sudden rainstorm and need to get the roof up without holding up traffic. Inside, the roof’s three layers of insulation make the cabin surprisingly tight and quiet at speed, all the better to enjoy the redesigned dashboard, white-faced gauges, big-screen display for the audio and navigation systems, and vastly improved build quality and materials. Though the ergonomics still aren’t great – the climate control switches are too small and too low, and the roof and window switches are ill-sited – overall comfort is improved thanks to a seat which has a huge range of adjustment (side bolsters, too, if you order the adaptive sport seats) and a new tilt/telescope steering column. Most importantly, the new 911’s interior now feels almost as expensive as the car actually is, which is saying a lot given some of the swirly plastic crimes it has perpetrated in the past.
Capable or not, this is still a frighteningly expensive car, starting at over $125,000 and easily eclipsing the $140,000 mark with a few choice options from Porsche’s ridiculous luxury laundry list. It certainly has its flaws: while it’s good on gas, it chews through those expensive Michelins fast; its rear seats are all but useless; and the gas tank really doesn’t provide sufficient range to make it a useful long-legged tourer. To my mind, the cabrio’s shape is also less pure than the teardrop of the 911 coupe, and though its structure is commendably stiff, it does exhibit some shudder over railroad crossings and really rough pavement. And in rational terms, the Boxster S, at around $75,000, is a better-driving car: it rides better, it handles better, and is actually more practical, with no rear seats but two trunks and a roof that tucks away even faster.
In compensation, though, you’re getting one of the driving world’s last truly unique experiences, wrapped in the latest and greatest evolution of one of the driving world’s truly iconic shapes. There’s just something about 911s that can’t be fully grasped until you’ve driven one, and this new cabrio is no exception.
Technical Data: 2005 Porsche 911 Carrera S cabriolet
|Price as tested||$132,035|
|Type||2-door, 2+2 convertible|
|Engine||3.8-litre, horizontally-opposed 6-cylinder|
|Horsepower||355 @ 6600 rpm|
|Torque||295 lb-ft @ 4600 rpm|
|Tires||Front 235/40ZR19; rear 265/40ZR19|
|Curb weight||1505 kg (3318 lbs.)|
|Wheelbase||2350 mm (92.5 in.)|
|Length||4461 mm (175.6 in.)|
|Width||1808 mm (71.1 in.)|
|Height||1300 mm (51.2 in.)|
|Front track||1486 mm (58.5 in.)|
|Rear track||1534 mm (60.3 in.)|
|Cargo capacity||125 litres (4.4 cu. ft.)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 12.8 L/100 km (22 mpg|
|Hwy: 8.2 L/100 km (34 mpg)|
|Fuel type||Premium unleaded|
|Warranty||4 yrs/80,000 km|