Of all the sun-baked beaches in the world, Porsche chose this one to introduce the cabrio version of the new 911. And it snowed.
Journalists from Singapore and Dubai got their first look at frosted forest and iced mountain roads on this island 210 kilometres off the western shore of Africa, somewhere south of Marrakesh.
For this Torontonian, it was a reminder of winter as it used to be. For others from Lebanon and Slovenia, well, experience varied, but everyone survived. Who knew what awaited the Chinese, Danes and Finns still to come later in the week when they too flocked, like so many canaries, up and up toward El Roque Nublo, altitude 1,813 metres.
“You know it has been an unusually cold winter in the south of Europe,” Holger Eckhardt, spokesman for Porsche’s sports car lines, had responded when asked about the location. “We wanted to be sure of conditions in which the cars could be driven with the tops down.”
Sure. It was indeed 18 degrees Celsius at sea level lapping Raceway Bahia Feliz beside an Atlantic beach. But temperatures plunged to plus-one, and heavy fog gave way to hail and snow, traversing the mountains en route to the track.
Perhaps such a climactic surprise served Porsche’s purpose. Journalists found themselves engaging their tops’ up buttons (but not we hardy Canadians). Porsche’s major bragging points about the new car appear with the soft top – a not-so-soft top actually – in place.
First comes appearance. The trademark curve of the 911 silhouette matches that of a coupe for the first time. “The flyline of the vehicle is very nearly identical, whether it’s coupe or cabrio,” said Michael Schatzle, Porsche’s project manager for the 911 line.
The ribs within the fabric seen in virtually every soft top – from classic British sports cars to the current Carrera4 still based on the previous generation of 911 – are eliminated with a construction developed in co-operation with Magna Car Top Systems, a German-based arm of the Canadian company operating near Zuffenhausen. Three large magnesium plates effectively form a metal roof within the fabric, smoothing the surface, quieting the interior, and rendering the Cabrio as difficult to break into as a coupe.
“With the top up, the aerodynamic efficiency is virtually the same as in the coupe,” said Detlev Ranft, team leader of the group that began work on the roof two years before the 991’s introduction as a coupe. “They’re so close: it’s 0.30 against 0.29 for the coupe and I cannot explain why. Perhaps it’s due to the surface of the fabric.”
The top can be vandalized in the same way as the paint of the rest of the body,” Ranft allowed, “but a thief cannot break into the car in the same way as in previous soft tops. The fabric can only be penetrated at the sides of the rear window, and the door locks cannot be reached from there.”
However, replacing the fabric becomes a costly prospect because the near-flush rear window is bonded rather than stitched into place. If the fabric is damaged, it must be replaced with a new rear window part of the package. If the rollover-protection structure is fired into position when the top is retracted, it breaks through the rear window glass, also necessitating the replacement of the entire fabric roof as well as the glass.
Another practical consideration is the elimination of rear-seating when the top is down and the wind deflector deployed. Say this for the newly configured deflector, which appears or disappears in two seconds at the touch of a button: with it in place, drafts in the front seat virtually disappear.
The near-zero temperatures last only 15 minutes. Soon we’re speeding along incredibly narrow roads with the kind of abrupt turns characteristic of a kids’ roller coaster, celebrating the undeniable fact that driving top down transcends any moment in a more sensible coupe.
Top-down, the flat-six symphony soars accelerating in second and third gears taking the tachometer near red-line between countless turns. Your ears confirm what you feel through the steering wheel, that this new generation of the 911, known by Porsche insiders and enthusiasts as the 991, is far more dynamic than was the 997 generation that’s now being replaced model by model.
Turning into corners is easier, stability surer. The more torsionally rigid body (by 18 per cent, Porsche says), the wider front track, and the improved steering with its reduced kickback and enhanced road feel, all play a part.
The new cabriolet goes on sale in April for $106,900 or $123,200 as a Carrera S. The premium over the coupe is $13,200, $500 more than in the case of the Carrera4 that’s a holdover of the previous 911 model.
Porsche’s first convertible 911 made its debut 30 years ago this fall. It resembled a baby buggy with the top down and bunched at the back. Top up, fabric sagged either side of the rear window. It looked sort of home-made.
Now Porsche is embracing open-air motoring with this cabriolet to be followed by a coupe with a panoramic sunroof due this fall – a broad glass panel that retracts over the coupe’s rear window – and a Targa model anticipated in a year.
Stand by for the snow. Not that it’ll be a problem.
2012 Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet
Type: Two-door convertible
Base price: $106,900, or $123,200 as Carrera S; as tested, $121,290 for base Carrera with PDK automatic and ceramic composite brakes
Engine: 3.4-litre, flat-six-cylinder with direct injection, 3.8-litre in Carrera S
Horsepower/torque: 350 hp/288 lb-ft; 400 hp/325 lb-ft in Carrera S
Transmission: Seven-speed manual or automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): Canadian ratings not available. European cycle 8.4 for Carrera, 8.9 for S; premium gas
Alternatives: Chevrolet Corvette, Mercedes-Benz SL550, Audi R8 Spyder 4.2