2020 Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolet first drive review: The uber-roadster

The Cabriolet makes up 30 percent of all 911 sales in the US, so you had to know that Porsche wouldn't keep us waiting long for a drop-top after unveiling the new 992 generation late last fall. And, indeed, the company didn't. Debuting just last week at the Geneva Motor Show, this is the new, $126,100 (plus $1,250 destination) Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolet. It brings the many tweaks, upgrades and refinements Porsche added in this latest generation of the iconic sports car -- missing only a roof.

How does it drive? Remarkably well, of course, but you knew that. The better question is: what are the compromises? The answer, I'm happy to say, is remarkably few.

New-age icon

The latest flavor of 911, the eighth, offers what can only be described as evolutionary progress. However, given how good its predecessor was, you really wouldn't want much more. The 992 offers cleaner, more modern styling, a refreshed gauge cluster and infotainment system plus the obligatory power and handling upgrades. This creates a car that is, quite simply, more of the same -- in the very best way possible.

In fact the biggest change for the 992-generation of the 911 isn't even there yet. The new, eight-speed, PDK transmission makes room for a hybrid module, a void that won't be filled for a little while yet. When it does, it'll take the 911 into a new, battery-assisted place we've never seen before.

For now, though, the story is not what's going on between that new, 443-horsepower turbocharged flat-six and the wheels. Instead, it's about what's happening on the outside. Namely, the roof.

The Cabriolet is only 110 pounds heavier than a 911 Carrera S Coupe.

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The new 911 Carrera S Cabriolet is 110 pounds heavier than the coupe and, at 3,537 pounds, about 160 pounds heavier than last year's 991.2 Cabriolet. That's inline with the weight increase of the new coupe, so no new compromises have been introduced regarding that particular metric.

Elsewhere, some compromises have been improved. The magnesium-backed soft top drops in just 12 seconds -- 2 seconds quicker than before -- and operates at speeds up to 30 miles per hour. Cabriolet buyers can option out Porsche's sportier PASM suspension for the first time and, for those straight-line blasts, can get to 60 mph even quicker. Four-tenths of a second quicker, to be exact, meaning the Carrera S Cabriolet hits 60 in just 3.7 seconds. Add on the Sport Chrono package and its launch control and you'll do the same in just 3.5 seconds.

Those wanting the ultimate in open-air accelerative bliss, however, will want to step up to the 4S, which gets to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds with Sport Chrono. But the 911 has never been about the numbers. It's about the package, and that's what I went to Athens, Greece to experience.

The top tucks itself away neatly, and in only 12 seconds!

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Open-air in March

For much of the northern hemisphere, March isn't exactly prime time for drop-top motoring. Thankfully, Greece is a seasonable 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit (roughly 18 degrees Celsius) this time of year, making it a lovely place to sample Porsche's latest. It's also a place with stunning scenery and epic roads -- roads made of asphalt only slightly newer than the ruined temples that dot the landscape, traversed by drivers even less predictable than the gods those temples were built to honor.

In other words, it's kind of a crazy place to drive and frankly a bold choice for a program like this. Bumpy roads are often a convertible car's nemesis. Rutted and uneven asphalt can cause the sorts of chassis vibrations that were the death knell for convertibles of yore. No such problems with the new Cabriolet, which tackled some truly awful pavement with aplomb.

With the top up, you'd honestly be hard-pressed to know that you're in a convertible. The headliner, as it were, is rigid and feels as high-quality as you'd expect from a coupe. Likewise, roll up the windows and turn down the stereo and you'll detect little more road or wind noise than a coupe.

It's even a looker with the top up.

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Just 12 seconds later, at the touch of a button, the top has tucked itself into the generous rear haunches of the car, which was how I spent most of my day, enjoying a gloriously sunny day and wishing I'd put on a little extra suntan lotion. While there's respectably manageable wind noise with the top down, even at highway speed, the buffeting did start to bother my ears a bit on those few stretches where we got out of fourth gear.

That's easily fixed, though. Push another button and a clever windbreak folds out of the cowling above the rear seats, popping up behind the front headrests. It deploys in just a few seconds and, once out, the cabin becomes a serene place. You won't even need to raise your voice when conversing with your passenger, though by the end of the day my co-driver and I had engaged in a bit of shouting at the other drivers, who display a wanton disregard for international driving standards and courtesies.

And what about the look of the thing? The new 911 has split some opinions, but I'm quite fond of it, especially the clean lines that wrap around the rear. The back half of the Cabriolet shares those cuts but offers a rather more... voluptuous profile that won't suit everyone's fancy. Considering all that roof hardware had to go somewhere, I think the packaging is quite clean.

An epic open-top corner-carver. 



Though 160 additional pounds is not insignificant, that figure marks a roughly five percent increase in weight over the coupe. That is to say: the extra mass is far from a dealbreaker. Under all but the most extreme of driving antics it won't bother you. The Cabriolet handles just as delightfully as its hardtop predecessor.

I was able to sample both the Carrera S Cabriolet and the all-wheel-drive 4S. In isolation, the revised front differential on the 4S only makes itself known when you're asking for more power than the rear wheels can put to the ground. Then, you get just a little extra feedback through the steering as the front wheels lend a hand and send you rocketing down the road.

However, driven back-to-back, the rear-wheel-drive Carrera S proves just that little bit sweeter. Both cars are incredibly responsive, aggressive steering made all the more engaging by the rear-steering system. The Carrera S, though, is fractionally more playful, nose more eager to slot into the apex, tail keen to kick out just enough to put a smile on your face.

Those opting for the AWD 4S will surely not find it lacking in the handling department, but the RWD S would still be my choice.

The new interior is much, much cleaner than before.


Assists and infotainment

The latest generation of the 911 receives a host of new and improved driver assistance systems, plus a retooled infotainment system and gauge cluster housed in a radically simplified interior. The bulk of the buttons were banished, resulting in a stark, clean, modern look that's not dissimilar from that introduced on the current Panamera. Most interactions are now handled through the 10.9-inch touchscreen, though just enough buttons and knobs survive to ensure functions like adjusting the volume or lifting the nose are quick and easy.

The infotainment system is likewise what we've seen in the latest Panamera, which is to say stark and intuitive and, thanks to the car's active data connection, offering enough hooks to online content that you won't necessarily need to pair up your phone before yanking the (curiously shaped) shifter back into D. That said, there is Apple CarPlay if you want it. Android Auto is still sadly lacking, an increasingly indefensible omission given even Toyota is finally getting on that bandwagon.

On the ADAS front, the 911 offers all the modern niceties you'd expect, including things like pedestrian detection and automatic emergency braking. The adaptive cruise system is now more self-sufficient, bringing the car to a complete stop in traffic and resuming again automatically -- so long as traffic gets moving again within 15 seconds. (You'll have to tap the Resume button, otherwise.)

The 10.9-inch touchscreen runs the latest Porsche Communication Management software.


Porsche's infra-red, night-vision camera system has also made its way to the 911 in this generation, and unlike earlier IR systems that required you look down on the dash to see what the camera sees (not a particularly good idea in the dark), the 911 can now identify pedestrians and wildlife all on its own, flashing warnings in the gauge cluster. When the temperature-sensitive display is enabled, the system automatically places yellow boxes around those critters lurking in the bushes waiting to strike.

If equipped, that's just one of the many interfaces that can be toggled on the multi-function LCDs flanking the traditional, analog tachometer sitting front and center. Cycling through the displays is a simple matter of scrolling with the wheels inset in the stalks of the steering wheel. The overall visual effect is somewhat less striking and dramatic than a fully digital gauge cluster, like Audi's Virtual Cockpit, but there is still something very satisfying about watching a real, physical needle speed around the dial as the g-forces pull you back into the seat.

And oh, does this thing pull.

Top up or down, the new 911 Cab cuts a very neat shape. 

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Remarkable roadster

While those looking for the ultimate in performance will still want to go for the coupe, the 911 Carrera S Cabriolet is remarkably free of compromises, giving open access to the world around and making it that much easier to appreciate the sound of the 3.0-liter H6. It's a great package, but that greatness comes with a cost.

The 2020 Porsche Carrera S Cabriolet starts at $126,100, while the AWD 4S is $133,400, each plus $1,250 destination. As with all things Porsche, you can go way, way up from there. Should you want the Sport Package and the exhaust, Sport Chrono and suspension it brings, add $5,460. The must-have rear-steering system is another $2,090, adaptive cruise is $2,000, night-vision is $2,540 and, if you're really living large, $5,560 gets you the new Burmester sound system, with its 13 speakers and a whopping 855 watts of neighborhood-irritating power.

Out the door, the white Carrera S Cabriolet you see pictured at the top would set you back $170,810. That will put a serious dent in all but the most generous of motoring budgets, but should yours be suitably funded you'll not be disappointed. 

Editors' note: Travel costs related to this feature were covered by the manufacturer. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. While Roadshow accepts multi-day vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews, all scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms.

The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.

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