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You’re getting soft with age, too

Road test: Porsche 911 Cabriolet (2012)

18/03/2013 00:18 | Comments: 

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Former car restorer, damper designer, rotary-engine guru and also an automotive engineer, but generally doesn’t talk much about his former activities. András is our mag’s Leatherman tool: when there’s a project no-one would poke with a stick, he’s the one usually assigned to carry it through. When he’s in Hungary, he works 16 hours daily, then every once in a while he disappears from the horizon. Last time he’s been seen in Auckland… Has a huge garage, lives with a girlfriend.

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More comfortable. More extras. Less roof. Softer supension. All of this doesn’t sound too good if the car in question is a Porker, especially if it is the 911. But just wait a second...

I hope the needle was at least disinfected. Possibly clothed in a grey lab coat, wearing frameless glasses, Horst heated up the serum in the flame of a Bunsen burner, before he stabbed the syringe into my helpless, sleeping body, and inoculated me with one determined motion of his bony fingers. With a slight moan, I almost woke up, but then considered the tiny little tickle in my left buttock just a delusion, so I dreamed on. But the next morning, when I got a glimpse of my bloody eyes, wheezing and with ringing ears, I instantly knew there was something wrong.

„The 911 got soft? True. If you can position the steering column with a couple of electric motors, if there are eighteen microswitches to adapt the ventilated leather seats to your arse, if you only need to gently push a button to pop up the perfectly protecting wind deflector, what else could you say? The cylinder layout is the only thing left from the legend. If someone said the engine wasn't behind the rear axle any more, I would believe it. You won't have the chance to check that detail anyway, they hid the block under tons of plastic. Porsche 911 cabriolet, passed away at age 30, rest in peace. The 2012 model is another era, a poser car for pricks, a wannabe sports car for wannabe race drivers.

350 or 400 horses are good for showing off, but nothing else. Who needs the seven-speed gearbox, if there is the PDK? The miracles of microeletronics will more likely form armour around your soft body, than put a weapon in your hands. Guess what, the engineers are proud, that the so-called soft top constructed of magnesium and aluminium matches exactly the silhouette of the coupe, and the hydraulics can close it in no more than thirteen seconds.

Where's the spirit left, guys? You think, we care about the hyper-low CO2-emissions fraud, the start-stop system you recklessly packed in, or the sailing function of the gearbox? You really think it's a good idea to save some millilitres of petrol in the NEDC-cycle with that odd electric power steering? Come on, you should know the term called steering response. Who knows that gargling at deceleration better than you? What about the threatening rattle at idle speed? Shall we just move on, relegate that to the memories of an age long forgotten, will it soon be the privilege of classic car collectors?

Okay, at least they fought long and hard. This is the third big generation change since the prehistoric forefather born in 1963, and this time they really started again from scratch. We have to admit, they stuck to air-cooling as long as possible, too, and most probably, now they couldn't defer this consolidation package any longer. The EU got them by the balls: emissions above all. This is probably the first time, that the displacement of the base model has shrunk. Let's praise Siegfried, it's at least not a three-cylinder 1.2 litre with six turbos, but a 350 horse 3.4, and the Carrera S could keep all of its militant 3800 cubic centimetres, having a chance to produce exactly 400 horsepower in a way God likes it: without supercharging. But can it be wild with rage confined to a cage by the Euro 5 standard?

How many hours of selfless overtime, how much bit moving of red hot CPU's was necessary, so they can proudly state now, they have shaved off on average fifty kilos from the last cabriolet. They were not shy to put so much aluminium into the structure, that even Audi is jealous, and they didn't save on high-strength steel, either. The platform was designed from the beginning to be rigid enough for a cabriolet. But for God's sake, that two-seater still weighs nearly 1.5 tons. Right, I see, the crash tests – we don't even go to the playground without being fitted with eight airbags.

Misgivings are in the air, bitterness in my mouth. This is how the 911 goes under, how the outlaw becomes a coward, how rawness dies and tepid phlegm lives on. “That was it, Porsche” – says the educated fan who can read between the lines of marketing bullshit. But he's wrong, so wrong.

I had to learn why Porsche put the starter switch on the left hand side. This is a simple, generous move from the designers. When you approach the car from a distance, there comes a point, when you reach its gravitation field, it begins to draw your body and soul, and you can't resist. From here, you can't help running faster and faster, like on a steep slope, there's no stopping. You tear the door open and here comes the point: you don't even have to hop in, instantly you can turn the key to get the absolution of the roaring six-cylinder engine. At the time you arrive with great momentum behind the steering wheel, the oil pressure is already up, you just have to push the stick into first gear and you're ready to take off, accompanied by the shrill trumpeting of the exhaust, the screaming of the gears, straight to nirvana. You just can't beat the Le Mans heritage.

Half of the 911 magic is the sound. You don't get six-cylinder boxer howling anywhere else, even if you pay for it (let's forget about the poor Subaru Tribeca). And all those who are mourning the sound of the air-cooled Porsches, please, listen to my favourite tune. It's a live recording, with lots of background noise, but it'd be unwise to publish the pictures, because the gear ratios give away that there is no road on Gran Canaria – the location of the premiere – where you could reach the limiter in third gear without putting your driving licence at risk. Except for the small track, where we had the chance to have a spin with the cabriolet.

What a blessing, Porsche didn't skimp that obligatory part. Driving the 911 on public roads is chopping potatoes with a samurai sword. Why is everybody crawling? Are we among stoned snails? The 400 horses of the Carrera S are so obvious, it's just so natural to reach 120 kph within 5 secs in second, you feel tempted to gently knock the speedo, whether it is broken or what? Riding on a speedbike might give you the similar feeling that the slowly rolling traffic seems so static around you, the only difference is, you're not scared for a moment in the Porsche.

False-hearted tail-shaking? Wrestling with the steering wheel? Please, don't insult the engineers in Weissach. The 911 is playing a more elegant instrument today. They would never get rid of the construction disorder, but they tamed it with cruel methods I don't want to know about. All you get is the instant kick of 440 newtonmetres in your back, every time you hit the accelerator, but without the fear of losing control. It's addictive. Even if you thought you have only pity for masochists, you will ask the engine to grab your hair and bang your head to the headrests. Again and again and again.

It just won't punish you. The Porsche does exactly what you want to do. The steering wheel, making only 2.5 turns from lock to lock, is a conductor's baton for one of the best symphonic orchestras in the world. One slight hint, and the violinists know at once they have to step back to mezzoforte, otherwise no one will hear the bassoon. The inner rear wheel brakes already, when you're entering the corner, so the nose finds its way easier (PTV – Porsche Torque Vectoring). And when you're braking hard under changing grip conditions, the electric servo whispers with some torque through the steering wheel, in which direction you should interfere. It would be worth nothing, if it wasn't so damn elegant, how the electronics assist you from backstage - the violinist doesn't bang down the bow, if he's overshadowed, and forgives generously, even if the oaring monkey in front of him forgets to turn pages. The 911 is foolproof.

Being malicious, one could say, the braking at turning in is a preventive ESP function, because the new 911's basic temper is so much towards understeer, that it's pushing the nose not only at braking, but also at speeding out of the bend. But this is not down to the poor grip of the front tyres, it's because the rears won't let go, until they can find a grain they can hold on to. There is no hesitation at all when you slam the accelerator, you get maximum grip, and no chance to drift around. The bottom-heavy arrangement gives a close-to-all-wheel-drive experience, just easier, more natural.

Snitching personnel

At the usually yawning, small-talking dinner, I was extraordinary lucky to sit next to a brake specialist who spared me of the usual marketing bullshit. He didn't disclose all the secrets of Porsche's exceptional braking knowledge, but got some insider stories I never thought they were allowed to tell.

Did you know for instance, that every standard Porsche has to accomplish at least eight laps on their private test track in Weissach in an appropriate manner, flat out, of course? That's quite a lot. How many laps can you do in a stint on a normal track a day? Less, I guess. Certain values, like the pressing point of the brake pedal and various temperatures should stay within the maximum limits, which means, having fun on the track is considered as an everyday situation at the developmentdepartment, they don't just go for survival. The S models have to do ten laps, and there are plenty of faster Porsches than that.

So the six-pot calipers are not only decoration behind the rims – they've got some new developments there, too. The performance of the system was sufficient even for the heavier old model, but the residual torque after braking is getting more important, because it affects efficiency, i.e. it can cost you precious grams of CO2 in the NEDC cycle. That's why the new calipers position the pads further away from the discs, which does also good for the cooling. In order to avoid too much pedal travel, they use a bigger master cylinder with a double servo. Compared to a standard BMW, the pressing point might be a bit deeper – consider, you have to move 20 pots instead of 4 – in return you get such a solid feel on the pedal, you might think, this system can take everything, it'll never fail.

I also hit a sensitive point when I asked him about the limited slip differential. Somehow, he started talking about the BMW M5's double-overgeared active system, and why it's bad. Ok, not bad, but not good enough for Porsche, where they struggle to get rid of every ounce, if it's pushing the rear axle. So instead of heavy gears, they went for an old-school friction-type LSD, with some magic electronics, but they could only squeeze it into the manual gearbox. Apparently, there is no space for it in the PDK, or it's just out of place in the auto box.

You have dialled the wrong number, if you accuse the 911 of getting soft. Yes, they have cured all of its bad habits. Not one Porsche customer will get killed by an unexpected move of the rear end, and the suspension can be judged as comfy in normal mode – scandal. But you're a fool, if you think the manufacturer, which knows it all about building cars, didn't do that on purpose. They built the car exactly to their customers' wishes.

If they are moving all that stuff with motors, if they channel the electrifying engine sound through a membrane to the cockpit, if you can hardly distinguish between the convertible with a closed roof and the coupé – well, is it too dandyish? Let's just not pay too much attention tothe jealous tough guy's despise. If others drive your car as well, the seat memory comes in handy, doesn't it? At times when the law limits the noise to two decibels, why rob of the intoxicating boxer sound from the driver? Do you enjoy stopping every five minutes when the weather changes? Isn't it nice to have an insulated roof over your head in raw weather?

The basic philosophy of the 911 is that you shouldn't hate it when driving to work, but you could love it on trackdays. With this incarnation, coded 991, Porsche got closer than ever to the immaculate realization of this idea. If you wish, it will transport your body without torturing it, but push a few buttons, and it's a loaded weapon. If you believe in Nürburgring lap times, judge the improvement by the fact that the Carrera S can get around exactly as quickly as the old GT2.

I'd have laughed, if someone stated that one day I would glorify an automatic, convertible Porsche. I'm certainly not keen on any of those three attributes. But no matter how hard I'm trying to stay unimpressed, it's just impossible to offend the PDK. That gearbox is like Walter Röhrl personally shifting gears for you. And why for God's sake would I not choose the convertible, if I couldn't find any way in which it's inferior to the coupé. If there's too much wind, I close the roof, as simple as that. And the 911 is most probably the best second car in the world. Damned serum.

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