First drive: 2012 Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolet in Dubai
The latest 2012 Porsche 911 is the first all-new design for this long-running sports car since 1998, when it first went water-cooled. Every model before that was simply an update on the original design that debuted in 1963! With cars like the Nissan GT-R proving that the Germans can be beaten at their own game, engineering stagnation is something Porsche cannot take for granted any more, and with the new 911, they have moved their star model further upscale. The only job left now, as per tradition, is to churn out a million variants, the first of which is the 911 Cabriolet. Divide that up further and you get the 911 Carrera S Cabriolet.
We were very impressed by the new 911 when we drove it in Abu Dhabi half-a-year ago. While it had lost that closer-to-the-action feel of the old model, it went further in its mission to be a daily-driver that doubles as a proper premium sports car. The Cabriolet continues to impress on that front.
The interior is up to par with what is expected at this car’s price, which starts at a whopping Dhs 432,000, with another Dhs 57,000 worth of options tacked on in our test car. Most cabin surfaces are wrapped in leather, although Porsche still skimps on the padding underneath, even on the armrests. But remember that everything is optional, including the overpriced floor mats.
The multimedia tech remains complicated to use, thanks to tiny buttons and random touchscreen choices. We’ve used it before in other Porsches, but we didn’t have time to relearn it all again. The stereo and the auto a/c, which thankfully have separate buttons, are pretty good.
Space up front is good, but even with the wheelbase extended by 100 millimetres now, the rear space remains useless. And that new “rising” centre console does wonders for wasting storage-space opportunities, so you have to stuff your smartphone in one of the flimsy pop-out cup-holders and hope it doesn’t fall out.
In the transformation from fixed-top to soft-top, the overall profile is kept largely the same, maintaining the sleek styling of the new longer-wheelbase 911. Unlike in most sports cars, the top itself is much more than just a piece of cloth, as it is thick, padded, and has its own headliner.
Cruising around with the top up is fairly civil, with wind noise reaching only moderate levels at 120 kph. You’ll hear the fairly-loud engine a lot more than any other extraneous noises. With the top down and the electric rear windbreaker up, the cabin is surprisingly free of wind-buffeting, to the point where two people can hold a conversation. The ride is firm, but decently compliant, especially since our car had adaptive suspension. Reverse-parking is a pain though, even with sensors, due to the limited rear visibility, and you have to pay even more for a rear camera.
The engine is harder to judge. Now completely covered up so you can’t see it when you open the rear bonnet, the 3.8-litre flat-6 makes 400 hp and 440 Nm of torque, but it never felt particularly fast. It might be because of the linear power build-up and the lack of a proper kick at low revs, but we never went “damn, this is fast!” anytime during our drive. The loud exhaust just grunts and it builds up speed at the higher revs, while the 7-speed dual-clutch “PDK” goes about its business like any other automatic. We were planning to clock it the next day, to see if it was one of those cars that feels slow, but actually returns fast times.
During the first evening of our short overnight test-drive, we went around the city’s highways, taking off-ramps and such at maybe 70% of the car’s abilities, which is probably higher than what most potential owners are capable of anyway. The extra-wide tyres grip well, and the chassis is balanced enough at these speeds to not do anything other than grip. There are no tail-wagging antics, no early squealing tyres and no real drama. The new electro-hydraulic steering is sharp, but lacks the feedback of the old setup, while the brakes are strong, but the pedal feel is rather limp. That raw race-car edge we felt in the last 911 GTS we tested was missing here, and the replacement of the handbrake with an electronic button was already a clue. But we held out hope for the next morning of our test-drive.
Unfortunately that’s as far as we got with our test-drive. While parked overnight, some jerk put a thin forearm-length scratch on the door, and what started off as an attempt to get a simple accident report ballooned into a two-day police “investigation” ordeal, not made easier by the fact that my nationality is the only bit of info that’s printed on my licence. Needless to say, we didn’t get to the performance bit of the test, and returned the car long before we even finished dealing with the bureaucracy.
That’s about it, really. The Porsche 911 is a nice car and all, but from the limited time we had, we couldn’t help thinking of the 2012 Porsche Boxster S we’d just driven in Germany. For half the price of this 911, you get a luxurious interior that is almost the same, the car is almost as quick, a commuter that is just as comfortable, a chassis that is theoretically better-balanced, and there are two boots instead of a useless back seat. Porsche may have outdone themselves this time by making their junior sports-car almost as good as the senior.