Taking a superb sports car like the Porsche 911 and turning it into a convertible can be risky. That’s because cutting off the roof weakens the body structure, and that can have a disastrous effect on handling and feel. Even the vintage air-cooled 911 sometimes suffered that fate, just so drivers could enjoy the open air. But that was then, and this is now. And this is the new 1999 Porsche 911 Cabriolet. Will losing its lid make it less of a Porsche?
Not hardly! As unlike many convertible designs that are conceived as an afterthought, the 1999 Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet was designed right alongside its coupe compatriot. And due to the copious amounts of high strength steel used in its construction, torsional stiffness is up by 45 percent; bending stiffness by 50 percent. In fact, with the added reinforcements, the Cabrio is slightly heavier than the Coupe.
But not enough so to put a damper on the driving fun. And with Porsche’s 50th birthday celebration in full swing, we couldn’t think of a better way to blow out the candles, than by dropping the top on the first totally new 911 Carrera in 34 years.
And it doesn’t get any easier than this. No latches to release, no boot to snap in place. Just push the dash-mounted button, or turn the key in the door, and 20 seconds later, the lined, well insulated top, with its disappointing plastic backlight, is stored neatly behind you, a la Boxster. In fact, much of the 911 Carrera is a la Boxster. Front end styling is almost identical.
But the new Carrera is larger than the Boxster and the old 911. The wheelbase has been stretched 3.2 inches to 92.6 inches. Its overall length has increased 6.7 inches, its width 1.2 inches. Slightly smaller, is the retractable rear spoiler, however, that can be raised manually at any speed, or does so automatically at 75 miles per hour.
There’s plenty of Boxster ambience inside the new 911 as well. But again on a larger scale. The new, leather-faced buckets, with both power and manual adjustments, are designed to fit a wide variety of drivers. Front, and large side impact airbags are standard. As is the telescoping steering wheel, and the Boxster-inspired, but even more comprehensive, gauge cluster in front of it.
At the top of the center stack, one finds the AM/FM/Cassette stereo, with its dizzying array of identical-looking buttons, and an LCD screen for the optional, Porsche Communications Management system. The LCD also serves as the display for the climate controls below. But access to them is partially blocked by the aluminum accented shifter.
In the back, there is more hip and leg room. But its usefulness to adults is quickly negated by seatbacks that leave one leaning forward, due to the pop-up emergency roll bars behind them.
Despite a lot of similarities, price is one area where the Boxster and the 911 are worlds apart. Base price on the 911 Carrera Cabriolet is $75,225. Our option-ladened tester tipped the scales at $81,745. That’s nearly $41,000 more than the Boxster!
So, why buy a 911? Well, the answer to that question is right here: Awesome acceleration, that creates the ability to go from 0 to 60 in 5 seconds, on the way to a 13.5 second, 102 mile-per-hour quarter mile. Made possible by this still, rear-mounted, 3.4-liter, water-cooled, Boxer 6-cylinder engine. It employs new heads, with four valves per cylinder, VarioCam variable valve timing, and coil-on-plug ignition, to pump out 296 horsepower and 258 pound-feet of torque. And it runs through either a 6-speed manual transmission, with a new cable-actuated shift linkage, and a smoother, more driver friendly hydraulic clutch, or a 5-speed Tiptronic S automatic, that, when in manual mode, uses steering wheel mounted buttons for shifting.
The 911’s better balanced chassis is completely new and that means numerous suspension upgrades that not only improve on its legendary handling abilities, but virtually eliminates unwanted end-switching oversteer. Tried and true MacPherson struts are used up front, with liberal use of aluminum components to preserve strength while saving weight.
At the rear, more aluminum, and a completely revised multi-link suspension design that continues with Porsche’s Weissach variable toe control that helps keep tires from steering outward in corners. Gas shocks and coil springs are used all around to even out the road. And owners can choose from three suspension packages that vary handling prowess with ride comfort. The rack and pinion steering now has a lighter feel. And the steering gear has been moved forward, in front of the front axle. A move that helps reduce the 911’s turning diameter by 3.6 feet.
Serious braking power has always been one of the 911’s strongest attributes, and the new 911 carries on that tradition. The monobloc-aluminum, four piston calipers, wrapped around huge, 12.5-inch vented rotors up front, and 11.8 inchers in the rear, brought us to a screeching halt from 60 in a scant 103 feet.
But the 911’s impressive accomplishments are easily enjoyed off the track, too. As expected, turn-ins are razor sharp and right on the money. With just a bit more understeer felt at high speeds. And even the roughest roads we could find evoked nothing more than a trace of cowl shake from the Cabrio’s rigid structure. Less of a Porsche? We think not!
Make no mistake. Many of the things we grew to love, and loved to hate, are gone. But, think of it as a new beginning, rather than the end of an era. Because, in spite of all the changes, the 1999 911 Carrera Cabriolet is still the perfect candidate as Porsche’s ambassador of speed to all parts of the globe. Only now, it carries the title a little more gracefully.
Engine: 3.4-Liter 24-valve 6-Cylinder
Torque: 258 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 5 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 13.5 Seconds @ 102 MPH
60-0 MPH: 103 Feet