One of the things I've always liked about Porsche is the fact that the company has never strayed far from its roots.
Right from the beginning, the idea has been to design and build sports cars, with performance, handling and driving excitement being at the top of its list of must-haves. Despite bringing out an SUV and, recently, a four-door sedan, the company has never deviated from that path. Get behind the wheel of any Porsche and you've got an excellent driving experience waiting for you.
Clearly, it's paid off. Porsche is consistently one of the most profitable car companies in the world and has a museum full of trophies and motorsport awards.
No model has a closer link to the company's past than the 911 series. It has been front and centre, in one form or another, for 45 years and despite numerous engineering updates and redesigns, still has a horizontally opposed engine hanging out the back for power.
These days, the legendary Porsche "flat four" has six cylinders, is liquid-cooled and, in the Carrera 4 model, develops 345 horsepower.
It's mated to your choice of either a conventional six-speed manual stick or Porsche's newest incarnation of the Doppelkupplung seven-speed sequential shifter, more commonly referred to as the PDK. This basically allows you to shift gears manually via the floor shifter or through a pair of steering wheel-mounted shift paddles. Or, if the mood strikes, you can just leave it in fully automatic mode, and apparently, the majority of 911 buyers these days do just that.
The autobox models outsell the manuals by a substantial margin, both in North America and Europe. My tester had this particular option, and it'll run you an additional $5,560.
For me, it's six of one, half a dozen of the other. I like letting the car do all the work once in a while, but the six-speed stick is more in keeping with tradition. This drivetrain has so much useable power - in all rpms - the manual gearbox is almost as effortless to use as the PDK. That said, one of the 911's quirks has always been a funky clutch mechanism that some people find off-putting and, really, the automatic works a treat.
Available in two versions, the Carrera 4 Cabriolet is one of at least five 911 soft-top models offered by the company. You can choose the regular Carrera 4 Cabriolet or the S, which has about 40 more horsepower and various extras.
Both models have a full-time, all-wheel-drive system, with traction control and drive-train stability systems. One of the 911's more delightful idiosyncrasies has been - up until recently - a "happy" rear end that can break away during high-speed cornering and leave the driver wondering which way is up while he or she is spinning out of control.
More than one over-zealous driver has experienced the delights of the famed 911 over-steer and it takes a keen eye and a high driver-intelligence quotient to master it. I've been lucky enough to have the likes of Hurley Heywood and David Donahue explain the finer points of the 911's drive train to me and, on a track - once you figure things out - it's more fun than A-Rod under a fly ball.
But I digress. The Carrera 4 Cabriolet has a power top that deploys in about 20 seconds. There are no tabs to unlock or levers to pry loose. Just lift up on the console-mounted button and, hey, presto. Once folded down, the top stashes itself neatly under a hard tonneau cover.
There is a small amount of storage room under the front hood - some 105 litres in total, which isn't a heck of a lot, but enough to carry a few groceries or a laptop. And you'll need it, because interior stowage space is virtually non-existent. A couple of pockets in the doors and room in the back seat, which, all things considered, is all it's good for anyway. Kids may be able to ride back there, but to confine an adult in the back seat would be cruel and unusual punishment.
Porsche still utilizes an ignition key located on the left side of the dashboard. Aficionados will tell you that this originates from early Le Mans races, so that the driver could get quick access to the key during the famous driver's sprint at the beginning of the race. I think it's just a case of expediency, but either way, it's unique and kind of a nice touch.
Turn that key and you're rewarded with one of the most distinctive and seductive exhaust notes in the business. With the exception of the Cayenne (and Panamera), all Porsches make a lot of mechanical racket, though they're better than they used to be. For motorheads, this is the sound of music, and hard-core Porsches buffs wouldn't have it any other way.
This particular model will effortlessly accelerate from a standing start to 100 km/h in just over five seconds, with a top speed of about 285 km/h.
Not quite sure where and when you'd get to reach that velocity, but, as they say, getting there is half the fun.
2009 PORSCHE 911 CARRERA 4 CABRIOLET
Type: Four-seater sports car
Base Price: $115,000; as tested: $128,335
Engine: 3.6-litre, horizontally opposed, six-cylinder
Horsepower/Torque: 345 hp/287 lb-ft
Transmission: Seven-speed automatic
Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 11.5 city/7.6 highway; premium gas
Alternatives: Audi S4, BMW Z4, Dodge Viper, Chevrolet Corvette, Mercedes SL
- You're kidding, right?
- Zero storage space
- I can't afford one
- Speeding ticket magnet