February 18, 2008

Photo Gallery: 2008 Porsche Turbo convertible

Specifications: 2008 Porsche Turbo convertible

The Guide: 2008 Porsche Turbo convertible

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Toronto, Ontario – Every time I get back behind the wheel of this car – a Porsche 911 Turbo convertible with all the trimmings, worth almost $200,000 – I keep thinking, there should somehow be more to it than this:  more trepidation piloting a car down the road that’s worth more than I paid for my home; more drama for something with 480 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque; more discomfort from a suspension that’ll go around corners faster than my brain and guts can handle;  just more all-round fuss.

But that’s the thing about this car – its biggest plus point, and for those who spend such huge amounts of money seeking thrills and spills and lots of attention, likely its only drawback:  it’s just so easy.

Want to rip from 0-100 km/h, where the law permits, in under four seconds? If you’ve opted for the Tiptronic automatic transmission like my tester was fitted with, all you need to do is punch the gas. The Porsche lunges forward like a rocketship. There’s no wheelspin thanks to all-wheel-drive and huge tires (Continental does, in fact, make winter radials big enough to fit the enormous rear wheel arches) and the automatic actually gets you going faster than the slick-shifting manual. A digital boost gauge at the bottom of the rev counter starts to flicker at about 2,000 r.p.m.; at around 4,000, you hear a whir as the variable-vane turbos switch over to a more aggressive setting, hurling you at the horizon with even more gusto.

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An automatic transmission wouldn’t be my choice of transmission in this car, but there’s no denying the effectiveness of the powertrain. Though it has just five gears (the manual has six), there’s no shortage of punch when you need it; adaptive shift programming means the transmission "learns" your driving style, adapting to how aggressive or how conservative you’re being at any particular time. After a couple minutes of sitting in traffic and driving at low speed, it knows to upshift early and often to improve fuel economy. Give it one full-throttle burst however, and it enters its natural state, holding gears as long as it possibly can, downshifting aggressively when you’re on the brakes. Clearly, the car likes being driven like this: it takes forever to realize you only entered ‘hooligan’ mode for a couple of corners and are back pretending to be civilized.

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The suspension likes aggression too. Switched to sport mode, the standard PASM (for Porsche Active Suspension Management) system delivers amazing stability and feel. The nose doesn’t dive even when you’re hard on the brakes, a function, as well, of the 911’s unique rearward weight bias, the rear doesn’t squat under acceleration and body roll is perceptible only by its absence. More importantly, the suspension, the steering wheel and the seats are feeding a constant stream of information to you about the road surface; you know exactly what’s going on and thus are able to drive the car with that much more confidence and precision. For driving in the city or on rough roads, you can switch the suspension to comfort mode, which trades just a little bit of sport mode’s rock-solid body control for a little extra compliance over potholes and freeway ridges.

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A notable – and expensive at $12,000 – option fitted to my test car was Porsche’s latest ceramic-composite brake system. What do you get for that money, besides flashy yellow brake calipers? Primarily, you get a major reduction of unsprung weight at every corner of the car; there’s less mass bouncing around on the end of the suspension, which means it can react faster and more accurately to the road surface, improving both the ride quality, which is surprisingly good on the Turbo, as well as the handling. You also get much more consistent stopping power. A mere brush of the pedal with your toe is enough to start slowing the car with authority and constant pedal pressure develops braking power in a linear, intuitive fashion. You only need to slam on them in emergency situation, at which point you’ll be glad the seatbelts work so well. Other advantages? A lack of brake dust, which keeps the bright-polished alloys looking nice and clean even after a long drive, as well as longer life and an increased resistance to fade. If you can afford a Turbo, you should definitely get the ceramics.

Heck, they look like a steal compared to some of the other options in Porsche’s extensive catalogue. At least the expensive brakes have a functional advantage. My tester was outfitted pretty conservatively, but even then, the cost of backlit "turbo" logos on the door sills, adaptive seats that pump up the side bolsters during cornering and (!!) extra-cost floor mats all add up pretty quickly. Good thing there was a $3,190 "market adjustment" on the price sheet to help, though not completely, address the price discrepancy between the Canadian list price and what’s charged in the States ($136,500 to start).

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That’s still quite a difference, but then again, the Turbo cabriolet is not a car that you buy if you’re looking for a deal. While all 911s are major indulgences on the grand automotive scale, the lesser models in the lineup can make the argument that they’re more practical, more fuel-efficient and better all-round cars than most of their competitors. The Turbo cabriolet, thanks to its all-wheel-drive hardware up front and the folded-up wind blocker that lives in the trunk, has very little cargo room compared to 911 coupes, while the top mechanism intrudes on the already-marginal rear seat space, turning it into little more than a glorified (and small) cargo shelf. Driven gently, staying out of the boost, the Turbo will struggle to do better than 12 L/100 km in mixed conditions; make full use of the power and you’re looking at 15 L/100 km or better – not bad for a 480-hp car, but still supremely thirsty.

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As for being a better all-round car, well, so long as you don’t need a lot of cargo space and can put up with the wind and road noise that comes as part of the experience, the Porsche still makes a strong case for itself. Its all-wheel-drive and stability control means you can drive it all year round with more confidence than a BMW M6 convertible or Mercedes SL55; it’s also, in practice, faster and more fun to drive than either. Relative to much more expensive Italian machinery, like the Lamborghini Gallardo spyder and Ferrari F430, it looks like a bargain, with equivalent performance, a list price that’s tens of thousands lower as well as a flexible service system that can stretch oil changes out to 15,000 km intervals, depending on your driving style. Of course, its 911 body – pumped up and flared out though it may be – is a far more common sight on our roads and doesn’t quite carry the same "wow" factor, but traveling incognito may be preferable in something capable of this kind of speed.

Besides, if you really want the attention, you can take the Turbo cabriolet out for a drive on a cold, snowy winter’s day, drop the top and crank up the heater and the seat warmers. You’ll be laughing away in a cocoon of warmth (wind management is surprisingly good with the top down) and will get all the stares you ever hoped for.

Pricing:  2008 Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet

Base price: $
Options: $
(adaptive sport seats, $1,590; heated seats, $680; cocoa natural leather, $590; ceramic brakes, $12,300; floor mats, $190; illuminated entry guards, $915; white instrument dials, $1,190; leather rear centre console, $1,775; tiptronic transmission, $4,790; sport chrono package, $2,500;)
Market adjustment discount $
A/C tax $
Freight: $
Price as tested: $


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