Porsche 911 ‘991’ Cabriolet review (2012 onwards)
Summary: with chassis changes that make it easier to drive fast, Porsche has given the latest '991' series 911 broader appeal - and this new Cabriolet version brings further indulgence. But beneath the surface it's still a supreme sports car.
We like: sharp new roof design, clever electric wind blocker, faster, more efficient, still great to drive
We don't like: feels strangely big on the road, 911 in general starting to seem more GT than sports car...
Following hot on the heels of the new '991' series coupé, this is the brand new 2012 911 Cabriolet. Powered by the same 350hp and 400hp engines and with a similarly high-tech aluminium and steel construction, the new 911 convertible is lighter, faster and more efficient than before.
It's also available with all the latest Porsche driving aids - including standard Porsche Torque Vectoring and optional Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control - making it a formidable tool on a twisty road. But built to be a good poser as well as a good goer, the Cabrio has two new tricks of its own as well.
First and foremost is the new 'panel bow' roof design, which gives the soft-top such a flush appearance it's easily mistaken for a fixed-head 911 at a glance. The secret is in the solid magnesium panels hidden beneath the fabric surface.
These create a smooth and surprisingly rigid finish; with the roof up the silhouette is now almost identical to the lines of the coupé. Refinement is also improved, but with the same compact packaging and no increase in weight.
The second innovation is the new electrically operated wind block, which pops up from behind the rear seats at the push of a button. No more fumbling to find and fit a manual equivalent means no more excuses when it comes to making the most of sunny days.
For 911 Cabriolet customers these two features are likely to appeal at least as much as the improved torsional rigidity and the even more user friendly driving experience. But that doesn't mean this isn't still a fabulous sports car.
The 911 Cabrio launches in two flavours: 3.4-litre Carrera and 3.8-litre Carrera S. Both are non-turbo flat six 'boxer' units in traditional Porsche fashion, mounted at the rear and driving the rear wheels. Four-wheel-drive 991 911s will follow in due course.
Equipped with the standard seven-speed manual gearbox (still a novelty), the 3.4 Carrera produces 350hp - 5hp more than the 3.6 it replaces - and propels the 911 Cabrio 0-62mph in 5.0 seconds. That's 0.2 seconds faster than before, and 0.3 seconds behind its new Carrera S big brother.
0-62mph in 4.7 secs
This now has 400hp, a 15hp gain over the last model, and does 0-62mph in 4.7 seconds. Spec the optional seven-speed PDK dual-clutch paddleshift auto on either unit, and things get quicker still - especially if you add the Sport Chrono package, which includes a standing start optimising launch control.
Despite all this, the 3.8 needs around 4,500rpm on the dial before it starts to really get moving; commit right to the redline and manual gearbox cars then lunge again, covering the last few hundred rpm with eye-widening brutality - like the rubber band holding them back has suddenly snapped.
This effect is somehow less obvious where the enormously effective PDK is installed, but compensated by the vicious, crackling upshift available in the Sport Chrono pack's Sport Plus mode. If the howl from the engine doesn't set off the hairs on the back of your neck then bad news, you're probably dead.
Speaking of which, like the coupé, the Cabriolet has a Sound Symposer, an intriguing piece of mechanical engineering that transfers the 911's noise right into the cabin. If you like your sports cars LOUD you'll probably approve of this, but subtle it most certainly ain't.
A quick blast in the 3.4 suggests that even with 50 fewer horses it doesn't really give away very much on the road - at least until you start reaching legally dubious digits on the speedo. In fact, it feels incredibly sweet. No shame in saving a few thousand pounds and opting for one of these, then.
Ride and handling
First things first, the new car still feels like a 911. Pushed hard it has a definite rear-engined balance that's such an intrinsic element of the 911 story - the heart of its enduring appeal. Having the weight of the motor sitting on top of those big driven rear wheels means huge traction as well.
As you'll already know if you've read our first drive of the regular 991 911, for this new generation Porsche has increased the front track width and the distance between the front and rear wheels, while maintaining a similar overall vehicle size. The result is increased high-speed stability.
Not that we got much of a chance to test this out around the narrow and wriggling roads of Gran Canaria. But Porsche has also switched to electro-mechanical power steering (like everyone else, it can't ignore the fuel savings over the old hydraulic systems), and this certainly does make a difference.
Porsche has done an excellent job
Not necessarily a bad one - Porsche has done an excellent job of tuning this to feel very natural for the vast majority of the time. It's inevitably come at the cost of the really detailed feedback, though, and diehard enthusiasts are always going to be disappointed by that. Again, high-speed stability is the major benefactor.
As for lopping the roof off in general, engineering the Cabrio has been part of the plan since day one, and despite being up to 60kg lighter than the car it replaces, "dynamic torsional stiffness" has increased 18%. This is one structurally stiff convertible.
Chuck it around over your more abrasive UK road surfaces and it is probably going to lack the precision of the coupé. But on smoother tarmac and merely fast - as opposed to meteoric - velocities it's still a brilliant steer. Even without troubling the options list for any of those additional chassis enhancing acronyms.
On the inside the new 911 Cabriolet is inevitably more luxurious, with a raised centre console festooned with buttons in a manner familiar from the Panamera. The build quality is impeccable, but roof down and finished in beige (wouldn't be our choice...), it does rather smack more of grand tourer than sports car.
The roof and the electric wind block are very slick - the former can be operated at up to 31mph and takes just 13 seconds, while the latter works up to 75mph. Wind noise actually increases with this in place and it remains unusable if you've got passengers in the back, but buffeting is significantly reduced.
Speaking of back seat passengers, anyone relegated to the rear will be pleasantly surprised by the extra legroom, and on a sunny day there'll be no problem with headroom, either - which is still an issue for the coupé.
The way the sat-nav can be integrated into that famous five-dial instrument cluster, some clever audio solutions (including a chassis mounted subwoofer) and the availability of electric everything means few compromises in terms of creature comforts. But has Porsche taken this a step too far from the car's sporting origins?
Economy and safety
That switch to electro-mechanical power steering is one of a number of detail changes aimed at making the 911 more economical. Others include start-stop for both manual and PDK transmissions, specially optimised tyres, brake energy regeneration and faster engine warm up cycles.
911 Cabriolet now returns 33.6mpg
PDK-equipped cars also have a new "coasting" function, which is more or less exactly what it sounds like, and allows you to save fuel by taking your foot off the accelerator at speed. None of this is especially exciting in sports car terms, but it does mean the 911 Cabriolet now officially returns up to 33.6mpg combined.
Manage that in the real world and you should sell the car immediately. Because you aren't using it properly. But we suppose it's nice to see Porsche making the effort. CO2 emissions range between 198g/km and 229g/km.
Safety kit includes all the electronic stability systems and airbags you'd expect. But since this is a soft-top car there is also a rollover protection system, hidden away behind the rear seats and fired pyrotechnically the instant the car believes the situation to be unrecoverable.
The MSN Cars verdict
It's hard to argue when a car company has managed to make its halo product range faster, more efficient and more luxurious - so in that respect the new Porsche 911 '991' Cabriolet is a triumph.
No doubt plenty of buyers will appreciate the new roof design and that clever electric windblocker, too. But bit by bit, the 911 seems to be at risk of losing its sporting focus in the face of customer demand for extra toys and greater levels of comfort. Perhaps this is inevitable.
And yet - make no mistake - the 911 Cabrio is an awesome car. If you're after a seriously high performance convertible there are few better, certainly this side of £100k.
|Need to know|
|Engines petrol||3.4, 3.8|
|Power hp||350 - 400|
|Torque lb ft||287 - 324|
|0-62mph secs||5.0 - 4.3|
|Top speed mph||176 - 187|
|Mpg combined||33.6 - 29.1|
|CO2g/km / Tax %||198 - 229 / 35|
|Ratings out of five||Porsche 911 Cabriolet Carrera S PDK|
|Ride and handling||*****|
|MSN Cars verdict||****|