2020 Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolet review: Make mine a manual
Some people get too hung up on numbers. A guy on Twitter recently told me he thinks the Porsche 911 is worse with a manual transmission because it's slower than versions equipped with the PDK dual-clutch automatic. He's right about the last half of that sentence; in terms of a Carrera S Cabriolet, there's a 0.7-second discrepancy in acceleration times, favoring the PDK. But that doesn't make it worse, buddy. Nuh-uh. No way.
The manual Carrera S Cabriolet hits 60 mph in 4.2 seconds (that's still superquick, guy) and will top out at 190 mph if you suddenly find yourself on an empty runway. The dual-clutch Carrera S Cabriolet with Sport Chrono does 0 to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds, sure, but what you lose in fraction-of-a-second acceleration (which doesn't really matter outside of a racetrack), you more than make up for in tangible, tactile excitement.
Going manual is a no-cost option and includes Porsche's Sport Chrono package -- something you have to pay $2,790 for on PDK cars. In addition to the fancy clock on the dashboard (OK, technically it's a chronometer), Sport Chrono includes active drivetrain mounts, a Sport setting for the stability control and auto rev-matching downshifts in the car's Sport and Sport Plus drive modes.
But what the manual transmission really adds isn't something quantifiable. Flawless as Porsche's eight-speed PDK transmission is, it can't match the experience and involvement of working three pedals and a stick shift. That's especially true here; the 911's gearbox is extremely good. There's a satisfying click-click as you move through the seven-speed shift gate, and the clutch is light but not too light, with smooth engagement every time.
This gearbox is only available in the 911's rear-wheel-drive S and all-wheel-drive 4S flavors (for now), and it bolts to the same engine as the PDK models: a 3.0-liter twin-turbo flat-6 with 443 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque. Equally happy kissing redline in each gear or putzing around town at 2,000 rpm, the 3.0-liter is a honey of an engine. I love the characteristic flat-six sound, especially through the 911's optional sport exhaust, and hearing the turbos whistling behind me just makes me giggle.
The Sport Chrono package includes a drive mode selector attached to the steering wheel that lets you choose between Normal, Sport, Sport Plus, Wet and Individual programs. And while there are some noticeable differences in throttle response as you work through the modes, I find they're not nearly as useful with the stick shift -- and that's a good thing. In a PDK car, I'll commonly switch between Sport or Sport Plus on a winding road to change up the transmission's shift programming. But with the manual, every shift is on my terms, regardless of mode. Need a little Sport Plus in your otherwise Normal drive? Drop down from fifth to third and nail it. Want to cool your jets when your canyon road turns into a straight highway? Shove it into seventh and relax.
Manual 911s are slightly lighter than their automatic counterparts; this Carrera S Cabriolet weighs 85 pounds less than its PDK equivalent, tipping the scales at a still-kinda-porky 3,452 pounds. That's not a significant enough reduction to really affect the car's overall handling, which is awesome, because the dual-clutch 911 Cab is nothing short of fantastic. I could go on and on about the great steering, the balanced chassis, the strong brakes and the world of grip from the staggered 20-/21-inch tires, but you've heard it all before. I'll admit, it kind of feels like a cop-out to summarize each discussion of a 911's dynamics with, "Yep, pretty perfect," but, well, it's pretty perfect. The manual transmission just means you get to take a bigger role in the action.
By the way, I realize that a manual transmission is not something a lot of people want to live with everyday, and I know a ton of folks either can't or won't drive a stick. But I implore you, give this one a chance. Even in lousy Los Angeles traffic, the 911's stick shift never feels like a chore. The clutch is light enough that my left foot isn't begging for mercy when I'm in the hell that is the 101 freeway during rush hour, and the rev-matching tech makes downshifting a breeze.
I'm still not totally sold on the Cabriolet body style -- the hunchback look isn't really for me -- so I'd much rather have a Coupe or, better yet, a Targa. But no matter the model, the 911's interior is the same: handsomely styled, nicely appointed and big enough for two people and a couple of backpacks. (Yes, there are rear seats, but like, don't.) The gray color scheme of this particular test car's cabin has all the personality of a DMV clerk, but Porsche offers all sorts of colors and fabrics, so go wild.
Every 911 comes with two large, reconfigurable screens on either side of the tachometer, and the 10.9-inch display in the middle of the dash runs the snappy and colorful Porsche Communication Management software, which I love, even if it still isn't compatible with Android Auto. The manual transmission doesn't lock you out of any of Porsche's safety tech features, either, including the InnoDrive function that combines adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist. Blind-spot monitoring, a 360-degree camera, night vision and more are all available, and all cost extra money, because Porsche.
Not that price really matters for a new Porsche sports car buyer, after all; you're not getting into a manual 911 for less than the Carrera S Coupe's $116,450 MSRP, including $1,350 for destination. Loaded up with neat stuff like Porsche's fantastic rear-axle steering, the totally necessary front-axle lift, cooled seats, a Bose audio system, 18-way sport seats and more, my Carrera S Cabriolet costs $148,820 as it sits. Not cheap, but fair for the class.
Considering the seven-speed manual is a freebie and it actually adds performance upgrades, I can't imagine ordering a 911 without it. Porsche says some 20% of US customers feel the same, and I offer hell-yeahs and high-fives to those folks. If you focus on acceleration times, you're totally missing the point. The 911 is an amazing driver's car and the seven-speed stick only enhances the experience.