As goes the 911 coupe, so goes the convertible. The all-new 2012 Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet is longer, lighter, and more powerful than its predecessor. While it retains all the unmistakable DNA like the rear-mounted flat-six and evolutionary styling that still pays homage to the 1965 original, there's no mistaking this 911 for any previous generation. With sophisticated suspension technology and controversial electric power steering, the 2012 911 Cabriolet is more refined than ever and the difference is palpable.
The totally solid, completely rigid, hard-as-a-rock, soft topWhile the 911 Cabriolet has the look of a softtop, there are actually four rigid magnesium panels that define the shape of the polyacrylic fabric outer shell. The lightweight metal sheets make for a smoother roofline than the typical softtop with fabric stretched between slender bows, and with the roof up, the cabriolet in profile looks more like the coupe than ever before. The seamless, rigid roof also pays dividends in cabin quietness and aerodynamic drag.
If you're anything like us, at this point you're wondering, "Why didn't Porsche just make a hardtop?" A true folding hard top would require a much more robust structure and far more moving parts, making it unacceptably heavy. As Porsche executed it, the top weighs roughly 100 pounds; a hardtop would, at a minimum, double that. Additionally, a fanatical Porsche roof engineer contended that many cabriolet buyers appreciate the characteristic look of a contrasting fabric roof.
Of course, the convertible identity is even stronger once you've opened the roof, a process that takes just 13 seconds at the push of a button. A new power-operated wind deflector flips open at the push of a second button, raising a mesh screen over the second-row seats and behind the front passengers' headrests to calm cabin turbulence when the rear seats aren't occupied. With the top down, 911 aficionados will recognize that the rear-end hump hiding the roof is no longer as pronounced as on the last-generation car. That look is more of a visual trick than an actual dimensional change. Instead of lowering the height of the decklid, Porsche engineers have raised the beltline to compensate for larger wheels, streamlining the bodysides and the rear end in the process.
Longstanding traditions and new realitiesPorsche's normally aspirated, horizontally opposed six-cylinders are slightly up in power to 350 hp in the Carrera and 400 hp in the Carrera S. At the same time, they're also more efficient by about 15 percent. But those numbers don't communicate how exceptional these engines are. As other sports cars adopt turbochargers to boost fuel economy, the Porsche flat-six is more rewarding than ever. The engine is vigorous, silky, and unrelenting as it pulls to the power peak at 7400 rpm and it sounds fantastic whether or not you opt for the sport exhaust.
The seven-speed PDK dual-clutch automatic can still claim to be among the best transmissions in the business, with shifts that are blisteringly quick and masterfully precise. The seven-speed manual delivers equally satisfying action, but it takes some time to pick up on the spacing of the four side-by-side gates. Distinguishing between third and fifth gear when downshifting from seventh is particularly challenging. Nevertheless, we think it's great that Porsche continues to innovate with a technology that so many automakers are leaving for dead.
In his first drive of the 2012 911 coupe, West Coast editor Jason Cammisa lamented the lack of steering feedback from the 911's first-ever electric power steering setup. We'll use our first drive of the cabriolet drive as a second opportunity to echo that sentiment. While the effort and speed and responsiveness of the steering are all above reproach, on gritty roads, over broken payment, and at the limit of adhesion, the always smooth steering would have you believe you're driving on glass.
The suspension is similarly misleading -- but that's a compliment, not a complaint. Loaded up with big-money options, the 911 rides as comfortably as some luxury cars, erasing road imperfections without feeling squishy soft. Dive into a corner, and the 911 cabriolet remains flat, composed, and graceful. A no-options 911 Carrera has a fantastic ride-handling balance as well, but the split personality is most prevalent when the car is equipped with active dampers and the new $3160 Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control available on the Carrera S. With hydraulic actuators acting on antiroll bar at each corner of the car, the system virtually eliminates lean in corners without inducing side-to-side rocking over imperfect straights. These technologies allow Porsche to sprinkle its press materials with oxymorons like "sportier, more comfortable suspension" without fear of being called out, because Porsche isn't bluffing. The Stuttgart automaker has truly stretched the bandwidth of the 911, building in touring-car refinement without compromising the sports-car performance. It's impressive, yet to the driver who cherishes the 911's legacy, refinement also feels like dilution. While Porsche engineers can point to quicker acceleration times and increased torsional rigidity, the 911 is losing that edgy character that appeals to a special set of drivers.
All of this likely means little to the 911 cabriolet customer. The convertible has always been the 911 for a softer set of customers, and from that perspective, the 2012 model is the ultimate folding-roof 911. It is exceptionally accessible with a phenomenal ride, a remarkably quiet cabin, and a sumptuous cockpit. The 911 is still an athlete, too, with an impressively rigid structure, sophisticated transmission, and lively engines. The net effect is that the 2012 911 cabriolet caters to the L.A. commuter crowd without abandoning nearly fifty years of sports-car heritage.
Porsche 911 Carrera CabrioletOn sale: May 2012
Base price: $94,650/$108,950 (Carrera/Carrera S)
Engines: 3.4L flat-six, 350 hp, 288 lb-ft; 3.8L flat-six, 400 hp, 325 lb-ft
Transmissions: 7-speed manual, 7-speed automatic
EPA Mileage: 20/29 mpg (est., Carrera)