Car of the Year 2004: Porsche 911 Turbo Cabriolet
Anyone who has lived with Porsches knows that they represent the best real-world solution to sports car ownership. I have always thought that it is precisely because they do everything so well but so differently, without cowing to styling trends and me-too clichés, that they excite either ire or lust and not much in between. The 911 genus, of which the latest Turbo is the most capable and costly species (excepting the GT2), has been evolving for some 40 years. The Turbo Cabriolet is a most auspicious 911, eagerly awaited by Porsche fans who have missed the topless Turbo since its last iteration way back in 1989.
The 15-year wait has seen the 911 Turbo transformed from a cantankerous machine that was known to bite unsuspecting owners to a tractable and user-friendly car that Grandma can drive to bingo. But she will need some big winnings to do so; at $128,200 plus, this Porsche delivers less value than the Carreras, and therein lies the quandary. Its price creeps into buck-and-a-half territory, not a far stretch from the realm of Aston Martin, Bentley, Ferrari, and Lamborghini, all of which offer exclusivity and looks that make the ubiquitous 911 common by comparison. Of course, none of them is a Porsche. (Click image to enlarge)
The Turbo’s magic is that it is totally competent at everything it does, a revelation not lost on our disparate group of drivers. It is interesting that even those drivers who would never consider a Porsche conceded that this car did everything right and nothing wrong. Point-and-squirt power is delivered telepathically; for all practical purposes, there is no quicker car. The 6-speed gearbox is seamless, and all-wheel drive ameliorates any rear-weight bias and results in almost idiot-proof handling characteristics. That is a good thing, because everyone who drove the Turbo Cab grinned—if not drove—like one after a few minutes behind the wheel. Special mention should be made of the Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes (PCCB), an $8,150 option that may be overkill for the street but are nonetheless the best binders in the world.
The Turbo Cabriolet is nearly coupe-quiet with its lined fabric top in place, and surprisingly quiet and comfortable when the top is down. A wind deflector pops up behind the seats and is essential to reduce wind buffeting and noise. A stylish aluminum hard top is standard equipment that can be optionally deleted for credit. Build quality of Porsche sports cars is second to none, but true to form, interiors lean toward the ascetic rather than the sybaritic. From the other participants this prompted comments such as “cheap” and “plasticky,” which may be unfair, but the remarks reveal that today’s drivers want their performance delivered with commensurate luxury. Of course, it is possible to load the interior with optional leather and wood, but to the purist, that is not what the Porsche experience is all about.
It is a fair bet that if the Turbo Cabriolet were not such a familiar form, if it were distinguished from its more popular 911 and Boxster siblings by a new, exotic shape, and if its interior were replete with leather, wood, and gadgetry, it would have taken top place as “Car of the Year.” But for drivers who want their entertainment served up topless, there is, after a wait of 15 years, simply no better car in the world.
“It was sporty and extremely fast, but you could drive it at 30 mph in fourth gear. At the same time, it was very comfortable.” —Peter Baenninger
“The Cabriolet is my runaway favorite. It has the acceleration of a cannonball. It relishes long-distance cruising as well as short, frenzied blasts.” —Fluto Shinzawa
Engine 3.6-liter flat-six turbo
Power 415 hp at 6,000 rpm
Torque 415 ft lbs at 2,700 rpm
Zero-to-60 time 4.3 seconds
Top speed 189 mph
Transmission 6-speed manual
Wheelbase 92.5 inches
Curb weight 3,388 pounds
Base price $128,200
Return to Robb Report Car of the Year