By Jonathan Crouch
Porsche doesn't build everyday sportscars. It builds sportscars for everyday use, models like this one, the 911 Cabriolet. Open topped driving is integral to the Porsche legend, dating all the way back to the convertible 356 of 1948 and its descendant, the 550 Spyder. Will this seventh generation '991' series 911 Cabrio be as sought after in half a century's time? Don't bet against it. Let's check it out as a used car buy.
2dr sports cabriolet (991 Series) (3.4 Carrera & Carrera4, 3.8 Carrera S & Carerra 4S)
The 911 Cabriolet. Enthusiasts take its existence for granted today but in truth, it took them a very long time to come to terms with the idea of a fully open-topped version of this iconic sportscar. Almost as long in fact, as it took Porsche to create one in the first place.
You can understand why. After all, the easiest way to spoil the handling balance of any vehicle is to chop the top off it, something Stuttgart's engineers were very nervous about doing. Three years after the 911 coupe's original launch in 1963, they brought us a compromise solution in the form of a Targa model, a kind of halfway house between coupe and convertible which used an ugly stainless steel rollbar to preserve that all-important torsional rigidity. But it wasn't enough to dull a clamour that continued over the next fifteen years for a proper open-top. Finally, in 1982 as production of the second generation G-Series model wound towards its close, the factory at last felt confident enough to give us a proper 911 Cabriolet.
Initially, this model was seen as a 'softer' type of 911 - the kind of car likely to appeal to people who might otherwise buy sporting Grand Tourers like Mercedes' SL or maybe a 6 Series BMW. But as the 911 generations came and went, the factory continually perfected the cabriolet concept and by the time of the launch of the sixth generation '997' model series in 2004, there was virtually no discernible difference in the handling stiffness of fixed and soft-top models. In fact, just about the only thing that was missing from the fully open version was the iconic curving 911 roofline.
With the launch of the seventh generation '991' series version in late 2011, fresh convertible top technology enabled even that to be added to Cabriolet models: never before had Cabrio and Coupe been so similar. And never had the 911 been better, with fundamental changes that went deeper than any since the old air-cooled versions. This is the 911 Cabriolet model we look at here as a used car, a model that lasted until the all-turbocharged 911 Cabriolet range arrived in late 2015.
What You Get
Traditionally, the Porsche 911 has always offered buyers one of the most distinctive shapes on the road - or at least it has in fixed-top form. The Cabriolet version though, has long lacked the same visual uniqueness for until the launch of this seventh generation model series, the designers were unable to replicate the distinctive sweeping roof curvature that has always set the Coupe version apart. That all changed with this '991' series model. Thanks to a cleverly designed panel bow top, this version looked every inch a proper 911, the fabric roof tensioned in an elegant arc from the front window frame to the convertible top compartment.
This was still the most compact car in its class, with the curvy shape and the trademark wide-arched wings both present and correct. Perhaps the evolutionary styling undersold quite how dramatically different the engineering that underpinned this 991 series seventh generation car was. Ninety per cent of the ingredients were different after all. Still, 911 buyers tend to be a conservative bunch and the aesthetic continuity protected the resale values of the old 997 generation car, which made a lot of loyal customers very happy indeed.
This seventh generation model was a bigger car than before with a wider track, less overhang at the front and rear and a ride height that sat it 3-4mm closer to the ground in Cabriolet form. There was a slippery 0.30cd drag factor and a lightweight approach too, with the use of aluminium-steel composite construction that made the body up to 18% more torsionally rigid, yet shaved up to 60kg from its total bulk. Some of the most obvious changes were made at the rear, where the triple-slatted engine cover and slit-like LED rear lights were obvious departures from the previous model. The front revisions were a little more subtle, with reshaped larger side air intakes and repositioned door mirrors.
On to that redesigned hood, made up of four magnesium segments and able to be raised or lowered in 13s either with a button on the keyfob or by pressing a switch between the front seats, the one you'll be using when operating the top at speeds of up to 31mph. When retracted, it fits into an impressively small space below a neater compartment lid that now extends back to the rear spoiler for a cleaner look.
Top-down, the other clever innovation you'll notice is the built-in electric wind deflector that really cuts down cabin wind buffeting when you're not using the rear seats. No need here for the fiddly extra cost contraptions you have to have with rivals, fiddly things you're normally forced to store in the boot, then slot into place like a Mecano set as you break your fingernails on the catches. Instead here, the deflector glides out of a space above the top of the rear seats and slots itself into place at the push of a button, something you can do at speeds of up to 75mph. It's one of the things that would really sell us this car.
And inside? Well if you're familiar with the old sixth generation 997 series 911 model, you'll find that everything's changed - yet nothing is different. So, as ever, you slide behind the wheel to find traditionally upright dash with an instrument cluster dominated by a large central rev counter, flanked by two circular dial spaces either side. But look a little closer and the changes start to become evident. For a start, it feels a slightly bigger car as the windscreen is now a touch further away and you're hemmed in by a high centre tunnel.
And then there are all the modern touches. The electronic handbrake. And the read-out to the right of the rev counter that isn't actually a dial at all but instead turns out to be a high resolution multi-function screen that can display anything from a sat nav map to a G-forces meter. The rising centre console design echoes that used in the old Carrera GT supercar and includes a larger 7-inch colour touchscreen for the Porsche Communications Management system that controls a vast array of functions. Most importantly, everything is of significantly higher quality than before, truly a cabin now worthy of a six-figure sportscar.
Unlike Porsche's other convertible model, the smaller Boxster, 911 buyers get a pair of occasional rear seats and we'd hoped that the 100mm increase in wheelbase you get in this seventh generation design might have made them more usable. Sadly not. Though there's a bit more headroom here than there was before with the top up, a marginal 6mm more legroom means that they're still really for child use only, though for a family buyer, very useful at that.
The extra wheelbase does tell however, when it comes to bootspace here, as in every 911, located beneath the bonnet. As with the Coupe version, there's 135-litres on offer - or at least there is in the 2WD models. In Carrera4 variants, you'll need to bear in mind that the space available falls to just 125-litres.
What You Pay
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What to Look For
No significant faults have yet to develop with the seventh generation 2011 to 2015-era 911 but it's worth seeking out a Porsche Approved car as even apparently trivial faults can be very expensive to rectify without warranty protection. The only reported fault we could find recorded was a radiator leak - and that seemed to apply to a rogue example.
The 19-inch alloys fitted to the Carrera S are very prone to kerbing damage so check these over individually. Check the bodywork, especially the bonnet, as this can easily be damaged by owners slamming them onto protruding items in the front boot. 997s are very colour sensitive and white and black cars are currently in vogue with the ubiquitous silver now starting to fall from favour. Speed Yellow attracts a select clientele.
(Based on a 2012 Carrera ex VAT - prices quoted for guidance purposes only) Expect to pay in the £10-£15 region for an oil filter, an air filter is about £15 and you're looking at around £42 for brake pads. A brake master cylinder would be around £225. A cylinder head gasket is around £32. Things like clutch discs can be pricey - you're looking at nearly £230 for a Sachs item for example.
On the Road
So, let us tell you how it is. You settle down into the most driver-focused cockpit the industry can offer, then slot this chunky car-shaped key into the ignition. The engine fires with a guttural roar unmistakably belonging to a flat six Porsche, then settles down into the usual pulsing beat. And you're ready to go.
Set off in this open-topped 911 and you quickly realise that with this generation model, there's more reason than ever to choose the Cabriolet version. Not only is the roof lighter and more sophisticated than ever before but the option to do without it enables you to better hear one of the most charismatic engine notes the industry can now offer. It's a uniquely configured boxer unit as before, but with the 991 series model, you can properly revel in its aural fireworks thanks to the standard fitment of what Porsche engineers call a 'Sound Symposer', there to emphasise engine's distinctive sound when you activate the standard Sport mode.
The whole thing will entertain you even more if you've stretched to a car that was fitted with the optional sports exhaust system with its two double tailpipes. Tap a centre console switch and the engine note goes from barnstorming to ballistic. You'll enjoy the sensation hugely even with the roof up, but repeat the process with the fabric top lowered - which you can do in just 13s at speeds of up to 31mph - and it's really something else. You don't even have to mess about with a wind deflector to stop cabin turbulence: with this generation version, you can erect one behind the front seat armrests at the push of a button.
Otherwise, the 911 experience is much as it is in the coupe version - and remains as addictive as ever. There simply is no other car in the world that you could get into and feel as ready to confidently drive - and drive hard. It could be down to the ideal driving position, the perfectly supportive seat or the way that the extremities of the car are so easy to place. Or a combination of all that, mixed with the adrenaline that goes with a drive in any legendary sportscar.
Here, we're focusing on the first two rungs of the 911 Cabriolet performance ladder, the Carrera and Carrera S, both predictably more powerful than they were in their previous model generations, despite Carrera buyers being offered a flat six de-stroked from 3.6 to 3.4-litres. You still get 350bhp though, 5bhp more than before and good enough to get you to sixty in as little as 4.6s. Here though, we're focusing on the 'S' model that most customers choose, still 3.8-litres in size, but pumping out 400bhp and good enough to smash the sixty barrier in as little as 4.3s on the way to nearly 190mph.
That's if you specify the PDK double-clutch auto gearbox that many customers will prefer, a unit almost all customers will want to control with the proper, tactile-feeling paddle-shifters that Porsche now provides in place of the nasty little steering wheel switches offered when this transmission was first launched. It's a seven speed set-up as is, very unusually, the manual transmission alternative - a world first. To be fair, it would perhaps be more accurate to call the stick shift option a 6-speeder with an extra overdrive top, since if you leave the car in 7th, even a gentle motorway gradient is going to see you changing down. Get used to it though and it works well.
Changing gear in fact is something 911 owners get quite used to. In an era where we're used to turbo-type engines delivering great slabs of torque - of pulling power - low down in the rev range, the flat six on offer here is intentionally quite different in character, delivering its performance in layers, faithful to the successful motor racing formula of increasing power through higher revs. You need to be up around 3,500rpm before the car really bucks forward, then it pulls lustily again between 4,500 and 5,000rpm before reaching a full-blooded crescendo above 6,500rpm, at which point you're only just about getting to the stage of exercising everything the engine has to offer. Hard work? Perhaps, but it's bloody fun while you're doing it.
Which brings us to the aspect of this MK7 model that die-hard 911 fans will approach with the most caution: the electro-mechanical power steering system. Steering, you see, is sacrosanct to enthusiasts of this car who loved the way that the old hydraulic set-up got the wheel writhing in your hands throughout the driving experience. All very nice - but all very Nineties. Hydraulic systems milk the engine of power even when you're doing nothing with the wheel: electric ones don't. So for this '991' series model, the Porsche people got on and developed the best electric steering system in the world. No, it doesn't have the leather-stitched wheel jiggling in your hands like before, but neither does it feel like you're at the wheel of a PlayStation game either, the response direct, well-weighted and with fine feedback. Thank goodness for that.
There are two other really important hi-tech developments on this car and both majorly contribute to the astonishing speed at which it can go around corners - one reason why a '991' series 911 could lap the Nurburgring Nordscliefe an astonishing 14 seconds quicker than its very capable predecessor. Let's start with PDCC - Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control: it was standard on the Carrera S but offered as an option to original buyers of the entry-level model. It's an active roll compensation system that detects the very instant the car begins to roll when cornering, eliminating it almost entirely. Hit a bump mid-corner and the car just shrugs it off and continues on as if nothing had happened. It's almost erie. Also standard on the S model is PTV - Porsche Torque Vectoring - which uses either a mechanical or an electronically-controlled rear differential lock and selectively brakes the inside rear wheel through sharp bends, firing the car on towards the next bend like a bullet from a gun. Brilliant.
If you owned the previous '997' series 911, you'll already be familiar with the other key electronic driving aid on offer here - PASM, Porsche Active Suspension Management, which offers active continuous damper control to create either firmer or more supple ride quality with a choice of two settings - Normal and Sport. Again, it was standard on the S, but optional on the ordinary Carrera. Both sets of buyers had to pay extra if they wanted to mate PASM to the optional sports chassis, which lowered the car by 20mm and offered an aerodynamics package for reduced lift and more downforce. Even the standard model offered 880Nm of that thanks in part to an automatically activating rear spoiler. This helpfully alerts police patrols to your speed when it rises at 75mph, then falls again when the speed drops below 50mph.
But then this is a car designed to be driven very fast indeed, preferably in the 'Sport' mode, a setting that offers more agile engine control and quickens the changes if you've a PDK automatic version. Opt, as we would, for a 911 fitted with the extra-cost 'Sport Chrono' package (which includes a launch control function for PDK owners as well as a lovely centre-dash stopwatch) and you can go a step further with this system, thanks to an extra 'Sport Plus' setting, specifically designed for circuit use and able to slash a further 0.2s from the 0-60mph sprint times.
Activate it and all hell breaks loose. Behind you, the dynamic engine mounts developed for the track-orientated GT3 model that come as part of the Sport Chrono package switch to their stiffest mode for a tauter and sportier damping and chassis setting. And if you've got yourself a car specified with the other hi-tech dynamic gadgetry we've mentioned, it'll all automatically follow suit as the Dynamic Chassis Control, the Torque Vectoring system, the Active Suspension Management - even the optional Dynamic Lighting system that adjusts itself according to speed and conditions - all configure themselves instantly into red mist mode.
Which might still be a touch disappointing were there not also to be a few aural fireworks. Fortunately, there are plenty of those too. All '991' series 911s have what Porsche engineers call a 'Sound Symposer', there to emphasise the boxer engine's distinctive sound whenever - but only - when you're in 'Sport' or 'Sport Plus' mode. We'd want to go even further and find a car fitted with the optional sports exhaust system with its two double tailpipes. Tap a centre console switch and the engine note goes from barnstorming to ballistic. So that as the car tenses itself, every system primed for the challenging road ahead, so do you. But don't infer from all that this can't also be a quiet, long distance trans-continental express, should you need it to be. In fact, the extra cabin refinement is one of the first things that strikes you about this '991' series model. Something you can enjoy safe in the knowledge that that wonderful engine roar is just a prod of your right foot away.
The development of the Porsche 911 from its '997' model incarnation to this 991 generation car was the biggest step forward in the car's history. That much we know. What isn't so well publicised is just how much better this open-topped version was when compared to its direct predecessor. Though it at last looks almost identical to the Coupe when the shapely hood's in place, this Cabriolet was also a car able to emerge from the hard top model's shadow as an entity in its own right.
In fact, it was a more convincing convertible car than ever before, the sleeker profile matched with better mechanical refinement and a more luxurious interior. And, if there were dynamic differences between Coupe and Cabriolet in the previous '997' series 911 generation, they were almost totally eradicated here. As a result, if you're looking at buying in this era, there's nothing quite as rewarding as this car in its chosen segment.
But then, there's never been anything quite like a 911: that's why so many people, ourselves included, love it so much. With this much style matched to this much substance, you'd have to be tempted.