"Taut" became our word of the day as we started to test out the 2008 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet. There is nothing loose about this car--it goes exactly where you point it and evenly distributes power when you push the accelerator. Its exterior lines are simple, with no excessively flared fenders or gaudy spoilers, maintaining the original 911 look. Our 911 model gets a lot of modifiers in this incarnation: the "4" means all-wheel-drive, the "S" marks it as a sport version, and "Cabriolet" is a fancy word for convertible.
But the 911 is more than just a racecar--it also offers cabin gadgets. Befitting its more than $100,000 price tag, the Bose stereo system produces excellent audio. On the downside, the navigation system only offers basic functionality, while the hands-free phone system is inconvenient, to say the least.
Test the tech: Tour planning
The navigation and phone system in the 2008 Porsche 911 4S Cabriolet comes as part of the Porsche Communications Management dashboard module. We noticed a feature in this system called Tour Planning, so figured a perfect tech test would be to program a nice tour through the winding roads around Marin county, north of San Francisco, and take a nice, long drive.
We hit our first snag before we set out when we tried to program our route into the navigation system. First, we tried to pick a location from the navigation system's map. To move the cursor over the map, the system showed us that we had to use the phone keypad buttons to the left of the screen. As the system is DVD-based, we found it very tedious to move the cursor to the locations we wanted to pinpoint in Marin as the map renders and moves slowly. Once we had the cursor over our preferred location, we couldn't figure out how to select that location as a destination. We reverted to entering a town in Marin county, letter-by-letter, using the tedious push button-dial interface. We got our town entered, but couldn't figure out how to add it to the Tour Planning function.
Frustrated by the unintuitive system, we just started driving north, over the Golden Gate Bridge and into Marin county. The first destination we had in mind was Lucas Valley Road, a nice, winding strip of asphalt that led us further in to the good stuff, connecting with Nicasio Valley Road. We let the 911 run when we could, getting the feel of the car in the corners. Our route so far involved frequent 25 mph turns, for which we found the six-speed manual transmission's second gear worked just fine. The engine's 355 horsepower gives both second and third gears wide power bands, providing some latitude in which gear we could select for a turn.
Somewhere north of Nicasio we pulled over to give the navigation system another try. We went back to the Tour Planning feature and chose the Add destination function. Moving the cursor around on the map, we settled on the village of Tomales, on Highway 1 toward the coast. This time, we pushed the Enter button and held it down, until the system gave us the option of storing the destination. Then we chose another destination with the cursor, Point Reyes Station, also on Highway 1, and stored that as well. Going back to the Tour Planning feature, we were able to add our stored destinations. We also entered our office location, in San Francisco, and were pleased to see we could change the order of locations on our tour. Although the interface wasn't intuitive, we eventually figured it out.
To get to Tomales, the navigation system directed us along some spectacular roads, miles and miles of curving country road, with rarely a stop sign, intersection, or any hint of traffic. Out here, we really got to test the 911, putting on speed as we cranked the wheel around corners. With the car in Sport mode--which adjusts the suspension--and with its all-wheel-drive, we had a hard time stressing the car on any of these corners. Each turn we took, the car followed the direction we pointed it, with no squealing or complaining, and not a hint of slide. We eventually found some tight corners where we got a little sound from the tires, but overall the 911 4S handles incredibly well. We got a sense of the all-wheel-drive when we took some fast corners with uneven pavement, where one wheel jounced and felt as if it lost some grip, letting the other tires dig in. The 911's all-wheel-drive system biases torque toward the rear wheels, but it can shift 5 percent to 40 percent of torque to the front.
After hitting our first destination, we drove down Highway 1 toward Point Reyes Station, taking in the spectacular ocean views and further testing the car's cornering capability. We had the top down for our entire trip, and the unimpeded views were a nice bonus. The windshield and rear wind deflector kept cabin turbulence to a minimum. The 911's climate control system kept us at the comfortable 70 degrees we had set. We were on the verge of ascribing the excellent roads the navigation system had calculated for us to some winding road algorithm of the Tour Planning feature until we got to Point Reyes Station. From here, the navigation system would have sent us over to boring Highway 101, so we had to conclude that Tour Planning is a simple multiple waypoint feature, with no special bias toward better driving roads. With plenty of Highway 1 south of us, we added a waypoint, something we have become expert in, for Stinson Beach, so we could enjoy the rest of our drive along the coast.
From this trip, we drew a few conclusions:
The Tour Planning feature, while useful, is nothing special.
The 911 4S's handling is spectacular.
Cruising over country and coastal roads with the top down makes for an exhilarating afternoon.
In the cabin
Our 2008 Porsche 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet came with its body painted Carrera White and with a Cocoa soft top, a color combination we didn't care for. This combination was carried into the cabin, where the $3,795 Natural Leather option meant practically every surface--seats, dashboard, doors, and stack--were covered in cow. Inside, the Carrera White showed up in the metal-covered console. Color combination aside, we liked the look of the stitching for the leather, and the metal console cover gave the car a retro feel, as if the exterior was carried over into the cabin.
The navigation system, standard in the 911 Carrera 4S, doesn't mar the cabin look. Its plastic buttons are nicely designed while the maps look good, with bright colors and decent resolution. However, it's far from a cutting-edge system, with a limited points-of-interest database and no special features such as traffic reporting. We found its destination entry method unintuitive and tedious, as you have to spin a small dial from letter to letter, then push it to select. Route guidance worked reasonably well, with a voice prompt and arrows in the speedometer display to indicate upcoming turns.