Editor's note: This review was written in September 2012 about the 2012 Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet. Little of substance has changed with this year's model. To see what's new for 2013, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.
Like the Porsche 911 Carrera coupe, the 911 Carrera Cabriolet convertible was redesigned for 2012. Because they share features and most specifications, I'll refer you to my recent coupe review and devote this report to the convertible aspects.
A hardtop is certainly the purer sport experience in any car, but the redesigned 2012 Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet convertible gives up little to its exceptional coupe sibling.
As with the coupe, the sixth and new seventh generations were both built as 2012 models (a practice so fraught with problems that it's thankfully rare). If you shop for one, the giveaway for telling them apart is the new generation's parking brake switch on the dashboard, replacing the older version's conventional console lever. The 2013 models — all of which will be seventh generation — should hit dealerships well before 2012 ends.
At $94,650 including a $950 destination charge, the base Carrera Cabriolet is priced almost $12,000 above the equivalent coupe. It also exceeds Porsche's other redesigned convertible, the 2013 Boxster roadster, in cost by more than $44,000. (See all three compared side-by-side.)
Soft-Top: Mostly Pros, Few Cons
Both the Cabriolet and Boxster are soft-tops, and for good reasons. Retractable hardtops need trunk space for their lowered roof panels, and as mid-engine (Boxster) and rear-engine (911) cars, the Porsches don't have the room to spare. Their primary storage trunks are in the front. Soft-tops typically weigh less, too. The 911 Cabriolet weighs just 155 pounds more than the coupe, accounting for the top and reinforcement to maintain stiffness in the absence of a fixed roof.
The soft-top's main shortcoming is rear visibility when the top's up, where the cloth C-pillar is characteristically wide. There's no problem when the top's down, however, because it tucks down low and active roll bars stay out of sight unless a rollover causes them to deploy upward.
A powered rear screen is also pretty easy to see through. Meant to diminish wind buffeting at higher speeds, it motors upward when you hold down a button on the center console. It might not have impressed me as much as it did if the 2013 Boxster's screen were less obstructive. Between that car's screen (removable but not powered) and the fixed roll bars that bookend it, the Boxster's rear visibility is poor for a roadster.
The 911 convertible has some other common soft-top advantages, including quick operation — about 15 seconds, up or down, at the touch of a button. Unlike retractable hardtops, it doesn't require clearance behind the car for the trunk lid to tilt back, and it can be operated when the car's in motion. It also doesn't steal too much cargo space. The main difference is the area behind the cabin, which isn't a continuous storage hatch as it is in the coupe. Instead there's a compartment accessible from the rear when the top's up that's occupied when it's down.
The Cabriolet isn't as prone as you might expect to a traditional soft-top tradeoff: cabin noise. You hear some sounds from behind you when the top's up, but it's mainly the engine, and the same is true in the coupe. The cabin's well-isolated from exterior noise — for a convertible. It's actually better than the similarly priced 2013 Mercedes-Benz SL550 I recently reviewed, despite its retractable hardtop, which is a presumed advantage when it comes to noise isolation.
Still a Two-Seater
Sometimes lowering a convertible's top makes otherwise worthless rear seats usable, but not in this case. The legroom back there remains scant at best, and the backrests are essentially vertical. You're best off folding them forward and using the space for storage. The sole advantage over the coupe back there is you can transport something tall with the top down. You can't exactly let cargo stick out of the 911's trunk — what with it being in front of you.
Behind the Wheel
Apart from the roof, the main difference between this car and the coupe I reviewed is that the Cabriolet is a regular Carrera while the coupe was the more powerful Carrera S. Even this car had spirited acceleration and a nice sound, including the optional sport exhaust and its "loud" button. Both non-S Carrera versions lose roughly two-tenths of a second in the zero-to-60 mph sprint, meaning a worst case of 4.8 seconds for the Carrera Cabriolet. As on the coupe, the optional PDK dual-clutch automatic transmission and Sport Chrono Package — both featured on my test car — each shave 0.2 tenths, for an estimated 4.4-second zero-to-60. Porsche says a comparably equipped Carrera S Cabriolet does it in 4.1 seconds.
Anyone can tell you a car with a fixed hard roof is the stiffer, lighter way to go, but the 911's convertible version is admirably rigid and exhibits all the coupe's athleticism. Like the coupe, it's a car you wear rather than sit in and operate. If you don't mind the other small tradeoffs, you're not giving up much. The Cabriolet doesn't even sacrifice mileage to the coupe: It's EPA-rated 20/28 mpg city/highway for the base engine with PDK in either body style, and 19/27 mpg for all other versions, regardless of transmission or body style.
The smaller engine's auto stop/start feature is notably more intrusive, though still not too bad. It might be coincidental, but so far I've found larger and/or more powerful engines to auto-start more smoothly, even when two sizes are available in the same car, as is the case here.
Annoyances: A Second Look
Returning to the things that bugged me in the coupe: The fake-metal trim and ridiculous retracting "cupholders" are as offensive as ever. Though this stereo was a different brand, its automatic volume again failed to compensate for changing noise levels. The Cabriolet's darker dashboard produced less windshield glare than the coupe's optional beige color, but I still think polarized sunglasses are a must.
This test car also added the optional keyless ignition, which is a lot like others, though most employ a push button or a small knob. In the 911 it's a big dummy key that sticks out of the dashboard as a regular keyfob would. It works fine; it's just odd looking. Ask anyone.
Due to their low volume, Porsches aren't crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The 911 Carrera has six airbags — the front two along with two-piece side-impact airbags on either side. A torso airbag deploys from the seatback, and a head-protection airbag deploys upward from the door rather than downward from the ceiling. This gives the Cabriolet version head protection that some convertibles lack.
911 Cabriolet in the Market
Sportiness is about feel, not specifications, and convertibles are often geared toward what automakers call a more "casual driver." This is why it might be harder to find, say, a Chevrolet Corvette with a manual transmission. Even more than the coupes on which they're based, convertibles tend to lean toward touring rather than sport. Bucking that trend is what makes the 911 Cabriolet stand out even more than the 911 coupe does among its rivals: For its combination of sportiness and open-air driving, the Cabriolet's high price might be more justified than the coupe's.
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