Versus the competiton:
The 2013 Porsche 911 is a civilized sports car that embraces the needs of both luxury- and performance-minded car buyers in a way that prior generations never have.
All you need is a wide-open wallet.
A redesigned 911 debuted as a 2012 model and, as is Porsche tradition, additional variants have begun to appear in subsequent model years. Our test car, a 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet (convertible), is one of those variants. This version is fitted with all-wheel drive and a more powerful flat-six engine and starts at a lofty $118,480, including a $950 destination charge. A staggering $28,695 worth of optional features (see them all by clicking here) made the as-tested price swell to $147,175. Prime competitors include the Audi R8, BMW M6 and Jaguar XKR, all of which also come as both coupes and convertibles; to see these cars’ specs compared with the 911, click here.
The 911 driving experience — especially in convertible form with the top down — is all about engaging your senses. From the distinctive turbinelike whine of the rear-mounted flat-six engine to the way the car feels on different road surfaces, the 911 is a machine that’s always communicating with you. It refreshingly embraces its sounds in an era when other luxury performance cars try to mute them.
The most surprising thing about the 911 is how workable it is as an everyday car. In the car’s regular or Sport modes, ride quality is firm but livable; it didn’t beat me up when commuting on some less-than-smooth surfaces. That changes when you choose the optional Sport Plus setting, which firms up the ride considerably. On Chicago’s beat-up post-winter roads, it didn’t take long to grow weary of this setting.
What isn’t tiresome about Sport Plus is the rev-matching feature for the seven-speed — yes, seven-speed — manual transmission. It makes you look like a pro even if you’re not trying, by automatically blipping the throttle on downshifts to perfectly match engine rpm to the new gear. The gas pedal is responsive enough in normal mode and more immediate in Sport, so it isn’t hard to match revs on your own, but it is hard to beat the automated system’s consistency, shift after shift.
The other thing that doesn’t get old is the optional sport exhaust, which opens a freer-flowing path for exhaust gases in Sport and Sport Plus modes. The resulting sound is deep with plenty of burbles, and there’s enough crackling and popping when decelerating to bring a smile to your face. It’s quite a bit different from the sport exhaust’s regular mode, where you hear more of the turbinelike engine sound than the exhaust rumble.
With a 400-horsepower, 3.8-liter flat-six engine driving all four wheels, the 911 4S Cabriolet builds speed quickly — and sounds great in the process. With the seven-speed manual, Porsche cites a zero-to-60-mph time of 4.5 seconds. The available seven-speed double-clutch automatic transmission is even quicker to 60 mph, taking just 4.3 seconds — or 4.1 seconds with the optional Sport Chrono Package. With the majority of engine torque directed to the rear wheels on dry roads, the 911 4S Cabriolet feels and behaves like a sure-footed rear-wheel-drive car.
Whether you get the manual or dual-clutch gearbox, the transmissions’ seven speeds contribute to respectable gas mileage for a sports car. With the manual, the 911 4S Cabriolet gets an EPA-estimated 18/26 mpg city/highway, and the dual-clutch transmission gains 1 mpg extra in city driving for a 19/26 mpg rating.
With a driving experience that’s so sensory, the one aspect that’s a little diluted is the steering setup. While precise and responsive, the electromechanical system doesn’t provide the kind of steering feedback we’re used to from Porsche. It’s been filtered out to a large degree, and the steering is quite a bit lighter than you might expect, though our test car had the optional Power Steering Plus, which provides more steering assistance when traveling below 31 mph. At a minimum, there needs to be a mode with demonstrably less assist, perhaps tied to the Sport or Sport Plus modes.
Despite their premium pricing, Porsche interiors aren’t known for being especially luxurious, and for some time the 911 was no exception. That began to change with the introduction of the Panamera sedan a few years ago, and the theme of high-end finishes has since spread throughout the lineup, with the 911 getting its own luxury-oriented theme with its 2012 redesign. Though the cabin has a function-oriented layout, upscale materials on the doors and dashboard help justify the purchase price, where the prior-generation 911’s interior failed to do so.
One of the best changes to the new 911 is the driving position, which I found much more comfortable compared with the prior-gen car. The front-seat cushioning is among the firmest you’ll find in a passenger car, but the support is appreciated when working the manual transmission’s firm clutch pedal, which will give your leg a workout in stop-and-go traffic.
I wasn’t thrilled, however, with the location of the 911’s various performance-oriented buttons, like the ones for Sport, Sport Plus and the sport exhaust. They’re clustered together near your hip on the center console, which means you have to look down and away from the road to use them — not something you want to be doing when driving at a good clip. It’d make a lot of sense to put them on the steering wheel within easy reach of your hands, especially because there were no buttons — not even audio controls — on our test car’s SportDesign steering wheel, which is a $250 option.
One of the great things about the convertible version of the 911 is that it lets you more fully experience the mechanical symphony happening behind your head when you lower the power soft-top, which takes about 18 seconds. It takes a little less time — about 16 seconds — for the top to go back up, and once it’s raised the cabin is pretty quiet when cruising at highway speeds, with just some mild tire noise. (We tested the 911 4S Cabriolet in the springtime, but it was still fitted with a set of winter tires, so we don’t know how the regular tires sound.) The fully automatic soft-top works at speeds up to 31 mph, Porsche says.
The other thing that’s powered is a wind deflector that motors out from the rear of the passenger compartment, covering the two rear seats, at the push of a button. Manual wind blockers tend to be a nightmare to install; they’re a kind of automotive origami that’s typically more trouble than it’s worth, and I suspect quite a few are collecting dust in garages the world over. The 911’s powered one, in contrast, is so simple to operate that you’ll probably use it quite a bit.
With the screen deployed, there isn’t any buffeting at highway speeds with the top down — even with the side windows lowered. It’s just mildly breezy. The screen completely covers the rear seats, but as actual places for sitting, these seats are highly suspect to begin with: The cushions are tiny and the backrest is vertical.
Top-up visibility is limited in a few directions, primarily when looking out the rear window or checking your right-side blind spot. Parking sensors give you a better feel for your surroundings, but I’m surprised our test car didn’t have a backup camera.
As convertibles go, the 911’s chassis is one of the stiffer ones out there, but I did drive some roads that made the car’s body shudder. A rough patch in the middle of a sweeping turn brought on some body flex, but there was less when the car met the same type of surface on a straightaway.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety haven’t crash-tested the 911, and the model’s comparatively low sales volume means it’s unlikely that the car will be tested in the future.
Safety features include antilock brakes, an electronic stability system, traction control, seat-mounted side-impact airbags, door-mounted side curtain airbags designed to provide head protection, and pop-up roll bars behind the backseat that deploy if the car rolls over.
For a full list of safety features, check out the Features & Specs page.
There aren’t many sports cars that have been around as long as the 911 — the car marks its 50th anniversary this year — and none that have stayed as true to the original’s formula. At the same time, Porsche has managed to transform the 911 into a modern sports car with the performance and amenities buyers expect. It’s an icon of the sports car world, and shoppers have responded to the latest generation in a big way: 911 sales were up 42 percent last year. After driving it, it’s easy to understand its appeal.