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12 Dec 2019

Photos by Richard Pearce

Can the 911 Cabriolet face the UK winter?

Matt Master warms up to the new 911 Cabriolet during a bone-chilling test drive

This first drive of the new 911 Cabriolet needs prefacing with a small confession: I’ve never much liked a drop-top. Never understood the need, never got on with the looks (excepting the 944 – to my mind Porsche’s only truly successful cabriolet design). But what really irks me is the compromises, be that increased weight and decreased torsional rigidity, or the reduction in day-to-day practicality.
The Porsche cognoscenti traditionally shy away from the cabriolet too, its lack of dynamic focus at odds with the marque’s sporting DNA. Consequently, both Targa and Cabriolet derivatives of the 911 tend not to hold their value as well as their coupé equivalents, and this despite being pricier to buy new.
Of course, for generations now the 911 Cabriolet has been designed alongside its tin-top brethren, rather than as a market-driven afterthought. Its structural rigidity has improved immeasurably over the years, the extra weight inherent in the stiffened chassis significantly reduced by the use of evermore ingenious construction methods and the generous application of lightweight aluminium. Refinement at speed improves with each new generation too, as flimsy soft tops become more rigid and better insulated.

Another thing that has come on leaps and bounds in recent iterations of the 911 Cab is how the historically troublesome design is resolved. The 911’s silhouette is the mother of all sacred cows, so getting this right is a top priority for Porsche. The 992’s soft top follows an even more convincing coupé-like line than the 991, ending high above the pronounced rear clamshell. And when stowed, the car’s standardised wide body is even more accentuated, reminiscent somehow of the current Speedster. Which is no bad thing.
Inside the 992 Cabriolet, the reduction in glass behind what would be the B-pillar makes it feel more claustrophobic than the coupé, and the usability of the rear seats is severely compromised. Moving away, you notice that the Cab also has a formidable blind spot with the roof up; something that comes with the territory no doubt, but that nonetheless compounds my dissenting inner voice when it comes to convertibles.
At launch, much was made of the 992’s extensively revised hydraulic roof system, which boasts increased stiffness through a series of magnesium bows that prevent it ballooning at speed. The rear window is a proper glass affair these days too, another boon in terms of both heat and noise insulation. But at motorway speeds there’s still a greater level of cabin noise; a combination of wind and tyre that, while not overwhelming by any stretch, does make you question this car’s touring abilities against those of the consummate coupé.

But I’m missing the point. Time to pull over, press and hold the release switch below the gear selector and in a matter of 12 seconds the roof has fully stowed beneath the tonneau, a rapid, seamless and fully automated process whose ease of operation must belie some really remarkable engineering beneath.
Back behind the wheel, everything starts to fall into place. From having large blind spots over the shoulder, suddenly you have peerless peripheral visibility. Cabin refinement is moot now of course, the hum of induction and burble of exhaust centre stage. The 992’s twin-turbo boxer is actually remarkably quiet at a pootle, making it a relaxed car to drive gently, but there is drama to be mustered should you want it, accessed with a quarter twist of the mode switch or a quick pinch of a paddle shifter.
Pushed briskly through a familiar series of tight corners, the Cab feels as composed and planted as the coupé, free of the rattles and shakes of yesteryear’s soft-tops. And with the improved visibility, it’s that much easier to position just so on a narrow B-road, allowing you to grow quickly in confidence and dig a little deeper. 

Regarded in isolation, the 992 Cabriolet is a fantastic package that, were we all living a stone’s throw from Malibu, could hardly be bettered. But it’s trickier to see it as a viable second car in the UK where, despite our lunatic appetite for convertibles across the board, it rains for more than 130 days a year. We also have an average mean temperature of around 9.5 degrees Celsius. A pertinent point during this test on a sunny but bitterly cold day in late October.
In the name of journalism, as night falls on our shoot and I put Porsche HQ into the satnav, the roof stays down. There are more than two hours of driving ahead, the temperature is plummeting and some ominous rain clouds are looming in the east.
Heated seats, another mystery to me, come into their own, as does the heated GT steering wheel I’d never have optioned. Failing to find the right balance of heat and fan direction, in the end it’s a battle of wills not to pop the roof up at the first opportunity, but I persevere through an icy and protracted downpour, through standstill rush-hour traffic, through an inability to hear the radio much at all.

The upside is that you’re immeasurably more intimate with a car when its environment is also your own, and by the time we’re in sight of home, although half-frozen, I’m converted. Sort of.
The 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet is a VAT-inclusive £108,063 basic. That’s almost £10,000 more than the 4S coupé, a car that is more versatile, practical and capable. It’s a substantial trade-off for the chance to feel the wind in your teeth, but there are many among us that just have to have it. And I’m starting to understand….

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