The New 911 Cabriolet Pillages the Island of the Dogs Where Pirates Hid Among the Packs of Wild Mutts

The 991 911 from Porsche is a major evolution of the sportscar and now the soft-top version gets ready for a new summer.

What a difference three months make. After the September 2011 introduction in Frankfurt of the new Porsche 911 – called the “991” – I drove the Carrera S version of that new masterpiece coupe with both the new seven-speed manual transmission as well as the PDK seven-speed dual-clutch version with fresher better software in California during a very warm and sunny November. Today, I am on the Canary Islands just west of Africa in February to drive the new 911 cabriolet. I even looked at the weather forecasts to make sure there would be lots of pleasant weather; it’s an iconic cabriolet and I did not want to close the roof at all.

The big difference for that first drive in November really was that I and other journalists were concerned and a little scared to think about a 911 that is so different from the traditional 911 recipe. Before the drives in California, there was some tension in the air, to be quite honest. But after the drives, I realized that the wonderful 911 history would continue on to new great achievements with this 21st-century car that is a big improvement both visually and dynamically over the 997 generation.

It’s very appropriate that I get excited over finally driving the cabriolet, too, because Dr. Porsche’s original 356 in 1948 was, in fact, an open car and not the more famous coupe. That being a fact, however, it’s also true that the modern 911 Carrera did not have a drop-top version until 1982 with the G-model 911 SC.

It would be pretty easy to say that this 991 cabriolet is just the coupe without a solid roof, but one can never just say that and not expect to cause a donnybrook. For one thing, the cabriolet is the utmost statement of French Riviera or Santa Barbara wealth and leisure. It is much more a four-season lifestyle statement than is the coupe body, the latter being mostly for those who stress the sporting side of the 911 legend. The same personality shift holds true here.

As with the 991 coupe, the 991 cabriolet is anywhere from 100 to 130 pounds lighter versus the previous 997 911 cabrio. This is primarily due to the wider use of aluminum in the body and chassis – a full 50 percent is in aluminum. It’s remarkable what Porsche has done as part of its “Porsche Intelligent Performance” effort here, since the 991 has a wheelbase that is 4 inches longer than that on the previous model car and it is 1.2 inches longer overall. The difference in the handling between the most recent 997 II and 991 models equates to a major improvement for the 991, what with that greater wheelbase, wider front track, lower ride height, and less weight while having more power and torque.

At 3,274 lbs of curb weight (or roughly 121 lbs less than on the preceding 997 Carrera S cabriolet) with the optional PDK gearbox and 394 horsepower at 7,400 rpm from the 3.8-liter flat-six direct-injected engine, that’s just 8.2 lbs per horsepower in the Carrera S trim. (And 8.1 lbs per horse when you stay with the standard seven-speed manual shifter.) Then, of course, torque is a healthy 325 pound-feet peaking at 5,600 rpm. When I take the top trim Carrera S cabriolet with Sport Chrono Plus and the weight savings and stopping power of the optional PCCB brake discs, I can reach acceleration to 60 mph in just 4.1 seconds as estimated by Porsche. That’s versus 3.9 seconds in the coupe body of the same setup. A day driving both this Carrera S 911 cabrio and the Audi R8 4.2 V8 Spyder with R-tronic would be a sweet day indeed, although the better side-by-side would be to wait for the 911 Carrera 4S cabriolet instead for it to be a true and fair comparison. The R8 Spyder may have 424 hp, but at 3,869 lbs it also weighs considerably more than any 911.

The biggest debate on the new 911 family has been the revolutionary change of electro-mechanical power steering for the very first time. Whereas on the new coupe I drove three months ago I felt very positive about the overall feel of this new steering strategy, especially the complete lack of resistance at the full left and right lock when driving quickly through tight curves, here in the cabriolet this new solution is almost perfectly matched. The balance between assistance and no assistance is ideally suited to the no-roof lifestyle, but it doesn’t ever go too soft. The directness of the action at the wheel in my hands while driving quickly in Sport Plus mode of the Sport Chrono Plus is really a pleasure here – even nicer than on the coupe.

Both the seven-speed PDK automated dual-clutch and seven-speed manual are based on the same set of gear ratios as set up by German supplier ZF. I enjoy both, this dual-clutch PDK in its third generation of development being every bit as good as the best Audi S-tronic seven-speed. The manual seven is as good as it needs to be, but the shift lever does go very far to the right away from me when the top gear is engaged. What Porsche has done to help minimize this feeling of reaching too far is to give the new 911 a center console similar to that in the famous Carrera GT. (Some might even say similar to the Panamera center console, too.) By doing this, the shift lever is closer to the steering wheel than before. The lock-out solution to avoid shifting into sixth or seventh gears until you’ve engaged fifth gear is another smart development, since those top two overdrive gears are a little long at 0.88:1 and 0.71:1 respectively in the manual treatment. In fact, top speed of 187 mph in the 911 Carrera S cabriolet with manual is reached soon after fifth gear with its 1.08:1 ratio. That ratio is the same for fifth gear in the PDK, but top speed in that case is 186 mph due only to the additional 44 lbs aboard..

The fundamental differentiator between this new model I’m driving here and the original coupe, of course, is the folding fabric roof. The exact weight to the car as a result of the roof, its actuators, and the structural changes to maintain chassis rigidity, is around 80 lbs, which is remarkably little. How do they do this? Porsche has engineered a magnesium “panel bow” structure for the tightly stretched roof fabric that significantly lessens the mass, while also maintaining perfectly the roof line as established by the hardtop 991 911. The main aesthetic result being that this cabriolet looks just as good as the coupe when it’s closed. Under the stretched fabric are four solid magnesium panels – the front section that attaches to the windscreen frame, two center segments, and the rear window whose framing is likewise in magnesium. While opening, the four segments lay one on top of the other neatly while the fabric part folds as before in a Z configuration. This all disappears into a rear bin over the engine compartment that is 9.0 inches deep and 21.7 inches across.

The action of the opening or closing of the new high-tech roof takes just 13 seconds, the rear steel tonneau cover being the only body part that needs to move while this occurs. The front section of the roof itself actually acts as the rest of the tonneau, if you will, once the roof is fully folded behind the rear seats. As for the wind deflector piece behind the front seats to lessen the buffeting within the cabin when the roof is open, this is now automated as well for the first time and can move into or out of position in just two seconds at the press of a new button on the console. Have to say: the organization of all this roof mechanism is terrifically easy and the most sophisticated feeling I’ve yet seen and experienced.

The other part about a loose roof is that the whole sound experience changes. Whereas the coupe body introduced the Porsche “sound symposer” – basically a mysterious membrane that transmits more intake sound from the engine through to the passenger cabin when the Sport Chrono Plus is set in Sport or Sport Plus – the effect of this here is understandably lessened by the increased wind noise while the roof is open. Trust me, though, the sound is still mighty nice and I’m getting a sun tan while driving this model in the Canary Islands. Not bad, I’d say, as trade-offs go.

The roads out here in the eastern Atlantic are a healthy mix of perfect surfaces but an occasional noisy and lumpy one. Given this, I generally preferred the 19-inch standard wheels on the Carrera base model instead of the 20-inch standard set now found on the Carrera S, particularly given the 991 model’s 2.1-in wider front axle when compared to the 997 generation (1.8-in on Carrera). On the other hand, whereas I feel the coupe does not much benefit from the optional Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control with its dynamic sway bars, I do feel that I’d want to have this on my cabriolet when I buy one. With the added 44 lbs of weight and the less rigid chassis/body communicating to me (though there is an 18 percent improvement in chassis vibration frequency versus the 997 II equivalent), PDCC together with the standard (on Carrera S) Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus at the rear axle helps matters when I’m in a situation where I can drive the car hard.

I deliberately chose to test a Carrera S with PDK and the standard multi-function steering wheel instead of the new sport steering wheel with shift paddles. Even today, customers want the standard steering wheel more than the paddles because only the standard wheel can come with multi-function features. The drive on the 20-inch Pirellis on the public roads, and at a small pro circuit where we could go a little crazy, is exactly as you might imagine: very tight and very responsive to every move of the steering wheel. The 0.4-in lower ride height of the Carrera S with sport adaptive suspension really does provide a sports car with two distinct personalities over the road.

Apart from these practical details of the drive test, I have to admit that the longer wheelbase and lighter weight with more direct steering for the 991 911 Carrera or Carrera S cabriolet help a lot in making this 911 finally get on a level playing field with the Ferrari 458 Spider or hottest trims of the Lamborghini Gallardo Spyder. Never has an open 911 felt so strong, well built, and quick to respond.

This might easily be the best summer of your life. You can buy the cabriolet 911s starting in mid-April.

2012 Porsche 991 911 cabriolet


Length: 176.8 in; width: 71.2 in; height: 50.9 in

Wheelbase: 96.5 in

Track f/r: 60.6 in/59.7 in

Curb Weight: 3,197 lbs (3,241 lbs PDK)

Engine: 3,436cc “9A1” flat-six, 24-valve; direct injection

Transmission: seven-speed manual (seven-speed PDK option)

Wheels/tyres: front – 8,5 x 19,0-inch front, 11,0 x 19,0-inch rear; 235/40 ZR19 92Y front, 285/35 ZR19 103Y rear; Goodyear Eagle F1

Top Speed: 178 mph (177 mph PDK)

0-60 mph acceleration: 4.8 seconds (4.6 sec. PDK; 4.4 sec. PDK w/Sport Plus)

Carrera S:

Length: 176.8 in; width: 71.2 in; height: 50.9 in

Wheelbase: 96.5 in

Track f/r: 60.6 in/59.7 in

Curb Weight: 3,230 lbs (3,274 lbs PDK)

Engine: 3,800cc “9A1” flat-six, 24-valve; direct injection

Transmission: seven-speed manual (seven-speed PDK option)

Wheels/tyres: front – 8,5 x 20,0-inch front, 11,0 x 20,0-inch rear; 245/35 ZR20 91Y front, 295/30 ZR20 101Y rear; Pirelli P Zero

Top Speed: 187 mph (186 mph PDK)

0-60 mph acceleration: 4.5 seconds (4.3 sec. PDK; 4.1 sec. PDK w/Sport Plus)

[ Billy “Snap” MacGillicuty – 991 911 text & photo; Christoph Bauer – 991 911 photo help]