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January 6, 2008|
Behind the Wheel | 2008 Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet
Racing Toward the Sun
By LAURENCE M. PAUL
PUT aside for the moment the matter of wretched excess. Nobody needs 480 horsepower or a top speed just south of 200 miles an hour, unless he plans to overtake a jetliner before liftoff. And nobody has to spend $136,000 for an invigorating sports car experience.
Nevertheless, there are drivers who can afford it and want to be seen on the road in the new convertible version of the Porsche 911 Turbo, which was introduced last fall as a 2008 model. To satisfy the curiosity or envy (or outrage) of those who do see them, here are some observations from a weekend spent driving one.
In these turbo cabriolets, as in all its cars, Porsche has wrapped luxury-car aesthetics around a racing machine.
The interior initially feels more spare and sturdy than sumptuous. Yet a few minutes in the seat make clear that no detail of comfort and convenience has been omitted. Even the most banal accessory, cup holders — which old-timers disdain, yet sometimes secretly yearn for — are included, deftly concealed behind a slim dropdown panel in the dash.
Just cruising around town with the top closed, the car is restrained and mannerly, even with the six-speed manual transmission. (A five-speed Tiptronic S is available.) Accessibility of controls? Comfort and adjustability of seats and steering? Dizzying selection of goodies and doodads? Of course it’s all here.
The cabin is reasonably quiet — not sedan-silent, though close enough. But roomy? Not really.
The problem is not on the driver’s side, and that is as it should be, because these are drivers’ cars, not touring cars. But for a front passenger, the space is noticeably confined.
This may be a consequence of Porsche’s moving the bass speaker unit to the passenger footwell to make room for the convertible top. Or it may be that other technical things are using space in the center tunnel. But whatever the reasons, a passenger would not find it easy to sit here on, say, a transcontinental trip.
On the other hand, that’s not really what these cars are for, so it’s probably not a quibble of much concern.
As for Porsche’s rear “seats,” they’ve never been much more than an inside joke. In the new Turbo Cabriolet, they are even less than that, especially once the wind deflector is in place for open-top driving.
Which brings up the top-down experience. At this point, everything changes — breathtakingly.
Any negative impressions evaporate as the top gracefully folds itself into its stowage space (and it will do this, or the opposite, with the car moving at up to 30 miles an hour).
The peace of the closed cabin is still here except for an ominous bass-baritone grumbling to the rear. Can that be the exhaust? It is. Oh Lord.
At highway speed, the cabin is still ... quiet.
That’s partly because of the wind deflector. Unlike those on many of today’s sports convertibles, this one is not permanently installed, perhaps a nod to roadster purists who disdain such a wimpy accessory and insist on a full measure of hair tousling.
Instead, the lightweight plastic device tucks into a carrying case in the front luggage compartment. (Not much luggage is going into this compartment, by the way; see transcontinental trip above.) The deflector unfolds and installs behind the front seats in seconds by means of cunning side clips and fold-down rear seatbacks (see goodbye storage space above).
But peaceful top-down driving requires more than just a wind deflector, and much of the credit goes to the aerodynamics of this car.
Porsche has created a convertible that with its top up has wind resistance equal to its hardtop sibling’s. Among the ways this is achieved is a flame finish that reduces the fabric’s friction.
With the top down, naturally, this drag coefficient cannot be as good, but it is nevertheless better than that of a typical roadster.
The proof is on the Interstate. At 85 m.p.h. with the windows up, a driver and passenger can converse in normal voices. Indeed, the most noticeable sound is not rushing wind, but the whir and seam-slap of tires on the car ahead.
Yet aerodynamics are for more than mere quiet. Their main function is speed and agility, and a large share of those come from the signature rear wing. On the new Cabriolet, when the wing rises at 75 m.p.h., it is a couple of inches higher than on the coupe. This gives the cabrio road-holding downforce equal to that of the coupe.
Enhanced aerodynamics also help with the mileage, rated by the E.P.A. at 15 miles a gallon in the city and 24 on the highway. (During a real-world test drive, the mileage was 16.8 m.p.g.)
To really explore the potential of all this engineering, the car needs to be driven on a track, and that wasn’t possible on this weekend. But Porsches now have a feature that offers a facsimile.
Among the controls is a deceptively innocent button labeled Sport. Traveling at challenging speeds on an undulating road, a driver pushes that button and suddenly a calm and civilized road car transforms itself into a racing beast.
The suspension hardens; the throttle softens and the steering becomes more responsive. In the exhilaration of G-forces, whining tires, snarling turbo-boosted exhaust and intimate road feel, a weekend adventurer can entertain grandiose imaginings of Hurley Haywood at Le Mans — if just for a few minutes.
At the same time, the driver is comforted by the knowledge that Porsche’s computerized stability and traction controls are still invisibly managing and modulating things, just more subtly than when Sport is not engaged.
With reassuring facts like these in mind, it’s hard to resist the temptation to really let the thing out. So what does it feel like when twin turbochargers and a 3.6-liter flat 6 slam 480 horses and 460 pound-feet of torque into an all-wheel drivetrain (standard on this cabrio, unlike its predecessors)?
Like the surge of a jetliner as it starts its takeoff roll, pushing passengers hard back into their seats — except much more so. Because in about 10 seconds, this car will be traveling more than 100 m.p.h., and that plane won’t have a chance of catching it before liftoff.