► Porsche 991 Carrera GTS road test
► Fastest drop-top 991 bar the Turbo
► More focused but still a GT at heart
Time was, it was fair to say the Porsche 911 Cabriolet was more about pose than poise. These days, though, it’s a far more complete bit of kit. It not only looks less compromised – when the 991 convertible’s roof is in place, it now traces a proper slopey-backed 911 silhouette instead of a two-man tent – they’ve also ironed out the dynamic deficiencies, as suspension development and stability tech continue to banish most of the 911’s demons.
In faster, more focused 991 GTS form, this is a 911 Cabriolet that might just be able to please the serious drivers as well as it can the sun-worshippers.
What separates a 911 GTS Cabriolet from a plain old Carrera or Carrera S?
More power, the wide-arch body from the four-wheel-drive Carrera 4 Cabriolet, and a few extra bits of black paint.
There’s around 30bhp of extra poke from the 3.8-litre flat-six, the same one found in the Carrera S but with the optional Powerkit (polished ports, altered intake manifold and fiddled-with engine management software) fitted as standard to take its output to 424bhp.
Like the GTS Coupe, the Cabrio’s offered with rear-wheel drive or as a 4wd Carrera 4 GTS model. We’re testing the rear-drive version here. Regardless, both get the same wider body with a rear track 44mm wider than a standard Carrera S, and all GTS models have a lower ride height, by 10mm.
As for the bits attached to the body, the front apron has a more prominent pout to its lip and the reprofiled door mirrors are said to reduce drag. The rest of the visual tweakery mostly concentrates on painting lots of things black: the badges, inner headlight mouldings, engine cover grilles, the tailpipes and wheels, which are the same centre-locked 20-inch rims found on the 991 Turbo S.
So the GTS is essentially a kind of 991 Greatest Hits package, hand-picking some of the more desirable components and options from the 911 range. To that end, it also gets adaptive dampers that continually alter their stiffness, dynamic engine mounts which do the same, a limited-slip differential and the Sport Chrono Pack (which includes, among other things, a more focused Sport Plus mode for the dampers and stability management, launch control if you pick the PDK transmission, and a lap timer that looks a bit like a gentleman’s pocket watch on top of the dashboard). Oh, and sat-nav.
Add all that up and the GTS’s £7400 premium over a Carrera S Cabriolet doesn’t sound so bad. The £17,430 over the base 3.4-litre Carrera Cabriolet is perhaps a little harder to swallow, though…
Do all those extras add up to a better driving experience?
No doubt if you were to drive the Cabriolet back to back with a 991 Coupe on the same roads it would reveal a few dynamic shortcomings in the heavier car with a big hole in it, but in isolation the GTS Cab feels one incredibly sharp, composed machine, with barely a hint of flex or shimmy through its roofless shell.
Its limits are higher than I’d feel comfortable reaching for on the public road. In the dry, traction seems unbreakable and Porsche’s quoted 4.6sec 0-62mph time (four tenths quicker with PDK) sounds entirely believable.
Turn-in is sharper than you might expect of a 911, and the electric power steering, justly criticised for feeling a touch numb on some other 991 variants, feels keener, chattier, in the GTS.
Those variable-rate dampers impress, too. Ride quality is uncannily smooth, even on the 20-inch low-profile tyres, and even with the shocks set to maximum-attack Sport Plus mode.
The car we drove was fitted with the standard seven-speed manual gearbox, arguably one gate too many but still a pleasure to use, if not as satisfying as the Boxster/Cayman’s beautifully tactile six-speed unit. Despite the overabundance of gears, you’ll find yourself spending most of your time in the lower ones because peak power doesn’t arrive until a stratospheric 7400rpm, at which point the 3.8 really does sound spellbinding. The Sport Exhaust button is as essential an option box to tick for the Cabriolet as heated seats – all the better to make the most of that flat-six howl before its edge is masked by turbo whoosh later in 2015.
Leaving all the performance stuff aside for a moment – how good a convertible is the Porsche 991 Cabriolet?
That roof’s quite a feat of engineering, with four panels, including a heated glass rear screen. When it’s up, at a cruise it actually doesn’t feel a million miles away from a 911 coupe, with superb noise insulation. The rearward view’s a little compromised, naturally, and so are the rear seats. While large kids and small adults really can fit in the back of a tin-top 911, the Cabrio’s seats are canted forwards to make space for the stowed roof behind them, turning them into instruments of torture.
When the roof is folded away (a trick it can accomplish while in motion at up to 30mph), there’s far less wind noise than the fixed-hoop 991 Targa. With the retractable wind deflector in place, a neat construction of electrically powered mesh origami, you can easily hold a quiet conversation with the roof down at 70mph-plus.
The 991 Cabriolet might be out-glammed in the style stakes by the retro-rollhooped Targa, but it doesn’t suffer the same crushing wind noise at speed and gets the choice of rear- or four-wheel drive, while the Targa’s 4wd only.
This rather depends on where you’re coming from. If you’re looking for a serious driver’s car, you won’t be surprised to hear you’d still be best to sacrifice the suntan and choose the fixed-head 991, where the various chassis and drivetrain upgrades the GTS package includes exert more of an impact on the car’s character. The GTS Cabriolet is extremely impressive dynamically but can’t quite excite in the same way. Its core strength is still roof-down refinement and sense of occasion – something which the base Carrera Cab could do almost as well.
If you simply want the best-equipped, most desirable convertible 911 however, and are happy to pay a premium for it, this is probably the one. The 991 Turbo Cabriolet is considerably faster, and pricier, but no more involving – and the GTS makes a nicer noise. These things are important in a convertible, after all.
Click here to read CAR’s Porsche 991 GTS Coupe vs Mercedes-AMG GTS comparison test