Road Test: Porsche 911 2dr Reviews 2023 | Top Gear
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First Drive

Road Test: Porsche 911 2dr

Published: 01 May 1998

The Germans probably have a word for it, schnardenfaffon or something like that. It's that feeling that you experience when your initial, scornful dismissal of something that has been over-enthusiastically described, mellows to reluctant delight once experienced.

Porsche's engineers are rather proud of the electric roof adorning the new 911 Cabriolet and the fact that, for the first time ever, it can be raised and lowered by using the remote control. "So," they explained, "you can finish your coffee at the outdoor café and then just press the button from your table."

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Can you imagine it? You'd look like the world's biggest... well, you know what I mean. But the truth is, as soon you get that little control unit in your sweaty palms, you just have to point it at the car and push the button. Believe me, you really have no choice.

No matter how hard you purse your lips together in a gesture of defiant, cold cynicism, you can't help the corners curling upwards in the flickering beginnings of a tiny appreciative smile as the roof lifts itself up and folds away, zig-zag fashion, out of sight.

The old 911 Cabriolet did none of these beautiful things. Even if you were rich enough to afford the £70,785 asking price for the outgoing four-wheel-drive version, you still had to faff around with a non-cooperative tonneau cover and then drive around in a car with a back end that looked like it should be Mary Poppins-propelled.

From the rear and side the new two-wheel-drive 911 Cabriolet - yours for £71,450 but with a year-long waiting list - is a much more handsome and elegant looking car than its predecessor. Its side profile is almost more speedster than cabriolet and although its rump sits high and fat, it still looks fast and aggressive. The argument continues to rage over the new car's front. I'd go for the old car's styling every time. The new 911's headlamps just don't look right to my eyes.

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Ears are, fortunately, another matter. Bury the now non-floor-mounted accelerator pedal and the 3.4-litre water-cooled engine is a fine thing to listen to. Admittedly it's not quite as raspy as the old air-cooled engine, while compared with the smaller Boxster, for example, you sit much further from the source of the noise thanks to the rear child-seat-cum-storage-area. But the sounds still reach your ears and, even from low revs, the note is deep, strong and promising.

The performance may not be quite the sizzling variety as sampled by my colleague Mr Stewart in the Turbo S 911 on the following two pages, but it's most satisfactory all the same. The top speed's cited at 174mph - that could be an interesting little test in baseball-cap aerodynamics - and Porsche claim 0-62mph in 5.4secs.

More impressive than mere statistics is the way in which the boxer engine manages to combine its tremendous sprinting ability with flexibility. There's plenty of torque available, whichever one of the six ratios of the manual gearbox you happen to be in.At high speeds, it's very hard not to be impressed with the sheer calmness and civility of the 911's cockpit. Of course there's plenty of wind noise, but with the side windows up and and the air-deflector in place there is actually very little wind inside the cabin - just enough to ruffle the back of your head.

While it still feels firm, the new cabriolet offers a considerably less crashy ride and very, very little body shake. But despite the steering having lost some degree of the old model's knife-edge sharpness, this car is still hugely entertaining with massive reserves of grip and cornering ability. Drive it hard over a twisty road and it definitely feels much more like a raw roadster than a soft cabriolet.

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Sadly, unless you chase the Winter sun south, Summer's end usually heralds a less satisfactory side of motoring for cabriolet drivers. Stuck in murky December traffic with the roar of noisy buses filtering its way into the cabin and rain drops plinking on the fabric roof is certainly not much fun. Soon you begin to wish you'd spent your money on a car more capable of insulating you from the scummier side of motoring. But with this car, that's not a problem. Simply drive it into your garage and, with the help of a friend, fit the smart-looking hard top that comes as standard, along with air-con, leather, twin airbags and a CD player.

Although luggage space isn't vast, the 911 Cabriolet is a massive step forward compared with the old model. It's now a sports cabriolet that's also a comfortable long-distance tourer. It's civilised in the extreme. But that's praise which Porsche, in an agonising twist of emotions, is reluctant to accept for fear it also implies that some of the old character has gone. It's a clear case of snarbodenzau, or something.

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