2017 Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet First Test: The Ultimate SoCal car

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As I roll up to LAX departures to drop off a colleague, I can’t help but notice the bystanders’ lingering gazes one would associate with West Coast celebrity culture—a break from the impatient lethargy of weary 21st-century travelers awaiting their much-delayed Uber Priuses.

Here we are, gliding purposefully in an Agate Grey Metallic 2017 Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet, engine purring, exhaust murmuring—its closed convertible top hinting unambiguously at hidden opulence, muscular haunches promising a rapid exit from terminal boredom.

As my colleague makes her crisp exit from the 911’s starkly elegant cabin and heads toward the ticket counter, collective eyes follow her inside then swing back to me in the Porsche’s cockpit. Perhaps hoping for a star sighting but probably just wondering, “Who even gives rides to LAX anymore?”

But in this era of polarized political—and socio-economic—climes, the glances now feel less about curiosity and more like suspicion. Oligarch money launderer? Hedge funderkind? MTV reality-show bro? A few years ago, my curbside launch might have occasioned a subtle extra woof of throttle in car camaraderie. Now, I skulk away cautiously. It’s a different time.

Automotive purists rightly consider a $181,905 Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet a majestic feat of modern sports car engineering, but we must also concede that its price tag declares it a nouveau riche status symbol—one more than occasionally procured during a midlife crisis by those who pronounce it “Porsh.” But let us not traffic in stereotypes about porcupines and such.

The typecasts are a shame, really, because the Turbo Cab is a magnificent beast, a 540-hp supercar that somehow still manages outrageous torsional rigidity even with the top chopped off.

Around town in Normal mode, the Turbo Cab can feel Lidocaine-numbed, more so than any other 911 in this setting. It might not technically be as such, but it sure feels like it. (Porsche could not confirm whether the Cabriolet settings are more restrained.) Burbling along, the gearing seems two gears too tall and a little slow to react. It’s as if it’s asking, “Are you really sure you want to engage the full fury of the turbo?” But that’s OK for most L.A. commutes and commuters.

Rotate the steering wheel–mounted knob clockwise to Sport mode, however, and the exhaust note snarls to riotous life. The response underfoot is immediate and fully attentive, a late-working Stuttgart engineer startled awake by a supervisor. The suspension becomes more playful, more rambunctious. Give the throttle a kick, and the metallic whirr of the turbos tickles your cochlear nerve receptors. Suddenly let off the gas, and the bark of exhaust backfire in overrun is worth the price of admission.

Because Porsche has more than four decades refining the 911 Turbo from a daunting, tail-happy tempest to a controllable supercar, rotating the knob further still into Sport Plus mode is not an invitation to chaos and a speed dial to an insurance adjuster. It’s more tamped down and snarly. It helps when the all-wheel-drive system has 245/35ZR20 front and 305/30ZR20 rear rubbers to glue it to the pavement.

So what if it has an automatic transmission? The seven-speed Porsche PDK has evolved into such a sophisticated instrument that even enthusiasts give a knowing nod and curled-lip acknowledgement of its excellence. Just mash the loud pedal, and trust in Zuffenhausen. Say what you will about Cabriolet owners placing vanity over performance, but the Turbo Cab still burns a sub-3-second 0–60 time, a sub-7-second 0–100 time, and an 11-second quarter mile at 125 mph in our tests. That’s fearsome stuff.

As road test editor Chris Walton notes: “The way this car puts power down is magic. I could nearly stand on the throttle from about halfway around the skidpad, and it would barely break the rears loose on the exit.”

How to best put power to the pavement? Our assistant road test editor, Erick Ayapana, has some tips: “PSM off, drive mode in Sport Plus. Hard on the brake, apply throttle, wait for engine to max out at about 5,000 rpm, release the gas, and keep looking forward!”

Ayapana tried a trick Porsche suggested. It involved switching the drive mode from Sport Plus to Sport immediately after launch—which retracts the front and rear spoiler to reduce drag. This resulted in a 1-mph increase in trap speed. It’s the little differences, right?

As for stopping all this momentum, the 911 carries forth Porsche’s tradition of excellent binders—six-piston front calipers with 380-by-34mm rotors and four-piston rear calipers with 380-by-30mm rotors. It goes without saying (but Walton is going to say it anyway) that the brakes were tremendous and trustworthy throughout, with precise and easy-to-learn modulation. Or as Ayapana puts it to his fellow millennials: “Scrubs triple-digit speeds like it ain’t no thang.” In precise terms, it drops anchor from 60 mph to 0 in 97 feet. As a result, the Turbo Cab’s 0–100–0-mph time comes in at a scorching 10.7 seconds.

Of course at some point, any ass-engined car is going to get sloppy, whether in the clumsy hands of a novice 911 owner or even with a skilled driver who has overcooked the abilities of the Turbo’s all-wheel-drive system.

Walton has advice when carrying a ton of speed into a corner. “The best technique was to trail brake into the corner to rotate the car,” he says. “I found it easier in this car than in other sports cars, and I could even steer slightly with the throttle—not as much as a rear-drive car but more than in other all-wheel-drive cars. If I got all the braking done in a straight line then turned in, I found some very mild understeer.”

The Turbo Cab puts down a 1.02g skidpad score, just a shade behind the more powerful 2017 911 Turbo S coupe’s 1.04 g. But the Turbo S has a more defined advantage on the figure eight, with a 22.9-second circuit at 0.96 g compared to the Turbo Cab’s 23.1 seconds at 0.89 g. Those numbers put the Cabrio dead even with a Shelby GT350R, which I’m not sure is more of a compliment to Ford or to Porsche.

As you are looking to buy an open-to-the-world Cabriolet, we should examine the check-me-out factor. Unlike a two-seat Boxster, a top-down four-seat 911 Cabriolet has more interior room for outside air to swirl around. So if you are planning on top-down driving, remember to add a bit more scrunch gel to your deliberately tousled mop. And dress appropriately for the outside weather. With the top down but windows up, the climate control system struggles to compensate for chilly or hot conditions. That said, cabin calming is accessible at a touch of the button. The top can be raised or lowered in 13 seconds at speeds up to 31 mph.

Inside, it’s traditional Porsche. Lots of buttons for lots of purposes. You’ll need them all and will figure them out eventually. Apple CarPlay links elegantly to the infotainment system, more seamlessly than in many other cars. (Are you listening, BMW?).

One odd note in our sample size of one vehicle: There was quite a bit of squeaking coming from the driver’s seat mounts when cornering, which seemed poor quality control for a car with just 3,500 miles on the clock.

The seats themselves are buckboard firm, so be sure to position them correctly, lest you feel soreness from improperly aligned pressure points as you creakily extricate from the car. Just remember, how you emerge from a Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet is as important as how you drive it. The public will be watching.

2017 Porsche 911 Turbo (Cabriolet)
BASE PRICE $172,550
PRICE AS TESTED $179,965
VEHICLE LAYOUT Rear-engine, AWD, 4-pass, 2-door convertible
ENGINE 3.8L/540-hp/486-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve flat-6
TRANSMISSION 7-speed twin-clutch auto.
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3,619 lb (39/61%)
WHEELBASE 96.5 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 177.4 x 74.0 x 50.9 in
0-60 MPH 2.9 sec
QUARTER MILE 11.0 sec @ 125.0 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 97 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 1.02 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 23.1 sec @ 0.89 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 19/24/21 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 177/140 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.93 lb/mile

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