by Richard Russell
Bagnaia, Italy – $187,500 – the suggested retail price for the 2004 Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet – and it’s worth every penny.
That’s easy to say when you don’t have the money. But for the few who do, it’s a relative bargain. This is the most sophisticated, domesticated, exotic sports car in the world, equally capable of 275 km/hr cruising or dawdling around town. It is perfectly equipped for the racetrack – or getting to the ski slope – with all-season comfort and the traction of all-wheel-drive. Top down in summer sun or digging through snowdrifts, this is one performance car you don’t have to put away for the winter.
Porsche sold thirty-four 911 Turbos in Canada last year so this is not exactly a high volume product. Other than removing the top, additional strengthening and a $17,500 price boost, the 2004 911 Turbo Cabriolet is the same car, so we can assume only a few Canadians, perhaps a dozen or more, will own one.
What they will enjoy is a remarkable blend of civility and jaw-dropping performance. Driven in a normal, sedate manner, you would never know what lurks a few millimeters of throttle travel away. During our day-long flog in the Tuscany district here we blasted down the A2 Autostrada between Sienna and Florence at speeds up to 260 km per hour and a few minutes later idled through the narrow, cobblestone streets of Firenze, ogling buildings dating back more than a thousand years. The car was equally comfortable in both situations.
The Porsche 911 Turbo coupe is widely respected as one of the world’s fastest and most capable sports cars. The Cabriolet’s development guru Erhard Mossle said nothing less would be acceptable for the open-air version. The numbers speak for themselves: the same 420 horsepower, 413 lb. ft. of torque and 305 km/h top speed (top up). Acceleration from 0 – 100 km/h takes a mere 4.3 seconds, within a tenth of the hardtop.
With twin turbos, four valves per cylinder and dry-sump lubrication, the water-cooled, 3.6 litre flat six beneath the rear lid is a masterpiece of high technology. With peak torque available from only 2600 rpm and all that horsepower distributed among four fat tires instead of only two, acceleration is breathtaking at all speeds and conditions. From rest, 160 km/h is reached in 9.5 seconds, the same amount of time a fairly quick family car needs to get to 100. Pull out to pass and its over almost before you begin. Drop down into third and thanks to the amazing flexibility allowed by turbocharging, this single gear vaults you from 60 to 160 km/h in the blink of an eye. Suffice it to say, exposure time in the passing lane is minimal!
Credit for the ability to use all that power goes to a very light viscous multiple-plate coupling integrated in a front differential that sends five per cent of engine output to the front wheels on a good road surface with firm grip. If conditions demand, up to 40% can go to the front. This system was designed for fast dry road motoring, not winter. This is a high performance sports car. It’s purpose is to allow full enjoyment of the 420 horsepower without the intrusion of traction control – which only kicks in at the much higher limits of traction.
An offshoot of course, is superior grip on slippery surfaces making this a year-round super car.
A six-speed manual gearbox is standard with short, crisp throws and well-spaced gates. Porsche’s five-speed TipTronic S automatic is optional. With gearshift buttons on each side of the steering wheel this TipTronic benefits from specific and highly dynamic shift control maps.
Brakes, as you’d expect from Porsche, are nothing short of phenomenal. Red monobloc, four-piston fixed calipers clamp 330-mm cross-drilled discs erasing speed like a delete button. The internally-slotted discs are a whopping 34-mm thick in front and 28-mm in the rear! Should you plan on stopping from ridiculous speeds more often, or have a schedule of racetrack appearances on your daytimer, you can opt for the Porsche Ceramic Composite Brake System. PCCB consists of yellow six-piston fixed calipers up front and four-piston units at the rear. Each grabs a 350-mm ceramic composite brake disc, internally vented and cross-drilled. These brakes weigh 50 per cent less and are virtually impervious to the amazing heat generated by massive sticky tires slowing from triple digits.
The Turbo Cabriolet comes with 18-inch hollow-spoke alloy wheels at all corners. The eight-inch wide fronts are wrapped with 225 x 40R rubber and the 11-inch wide rears by specially-developed 295 x 30R gumballs.
The Cabriolet’s wheel wells extend 60 mm further than the normal 911 to accommodate not only the humongous rubber, but a virtual plethora of cooling devices: three radiators in front and two intercoolers in back. This Porsche’s “thirst” for fresh air is obvious. Three huge openings in front feed three radiators, one in each wheel well and one in the center. There are charge air outlets on the trailing edge of the rear wheels and intake openings for the intercoolers on the rear side panels.
Porsche’s Stability Management System is also included. Never intrusive, it allows a driver to enjoy a bit of over-the-edge motoring and tire slippage but reins things in when it senses imminent loss of direction. A gifted or stupid driver can switch it off. Should things go all wrong, a pair of roll bars pop up behind the rear seats when a rollover is judged to be in your future.
The three-piece top is a mechanical marvel, operating even while rolling along at speeds up to 50 km/hr and folding completely within the body. Hit and hold the top-down button for 20 seconds and you get to enjoy the delicious concert of sound unique to Porsche. An aluminum hardtop is also standard, weighing only 32 kg. including the glass window and electric defrost just like the soft top.
The world’s most civilized sports car will be available in North America Sept. 27th – one week before its European on-sale date.