Driving for good health
During an intense day spent driving the all-new 992-generation 2020 Porsche 911 S and 4S around the Attica peninsula below and around Athens, Greece, I sensed that my heart was spending a great deal of time at an elevated rate. My pasty winter-in-Detroit skin was equally conscious of and grateful for the overdue dose of vitamin D it was receiving in the nearly draft-free cockpit. This drive felt like the healthiest activity I’d engaged in since the warm weather departed the Michigan peninsula.
Sure, most Porsche press drives are fun, but this one was extra fun thanks to a mechanical problem with an airplane in L.A. See, that plane’s snafu prevented my driving partner from attending, so I got to do the whole thing solo (missed ya, @nireson—mean it!). Whether dancing or driving, my natural tendency is to let it all hang out a bit farther when nobody’s watching (or hanging on for dear life). This is especially true when I’m leading a superior dance partner who’s forever sending the message “C’mon, don’t be shy!”
Let’s recap some of the highlights of the 911 Cabriolet that we laid out when the Cabrio was first teased in January. The new top—designed in house at Porsche like every convertible top that’s preceded it—employs a clever magnesium structure with three large panels that stow in a stack above the glass rear window and ensure that the fabric never balloons or flaps at top speed (188 mph (302 km/h) on the 4S and 190 (306 km/h) on the rear-drive S if you’re planning to take factory delivery for an autobahn vacation, which we highly recommend). The top goes up or down 2 seconds quicker than its predecessor (in 12 flat) at speeds of up to 31 mph (50 km/h). It’s controlled by buttons clearly marked with open- and closed-roof icons, set above a button that controls the clever mesh windscreen.
More good news: Somehow the engineers managed to improve the car’s dynamic torsional rigidity by about 10 percent—that margin sounds small, but when coupled with two other key suspension upgrades, it satisfied the team in Weissach that the Cabrio can now handle the optional PASM sport suspension (part of a $5,460 USD Sport package) that used to be reserved for coupes only. For 2020 it stiffens the springs and anti-roll bars, and it lowers the car by 0.4 inch. Those other key upgrades: Next-gen Bilstein adaptive dampers can now be fine-tuned midstroke on the millisecond level; the old ones could only change their damping rate at the top or bottom of a stroke event. New staggered 20-/21-inch wheels wearing 245/35 and 305/30 tires and wider front and rear track widths (1.8 inches in front and 1.4 inches in the back) allow the springs to be located slightly farther outboard, increasing their “leverage” on the car to inherently reduce roll. The shock upgrade does wonders for improving both handling responsiveness and ride comfort.
Back to my twisty-road drive/fitness routine. Not far from our coastal hotel, I headed up into the volcanic and tectonically upheaved rocky hills, starting out in the 4S. Early on I encountered some peculiar pavement that seemed to approximate the grip level of a polished garage floor even when dry. I was amply informed about it—in advance by the event organizers and at the time by the car’s controls. The steering wheel effort dropped commensurate with the friction coefficient; the brake pedal and my ears sensed the slight anti-lock braking and stability control intervention entering and leaving the turn. (I nominate this as the reference car for brake and electric power steering feel, by the way.) Such honest, forthright communication ensures that the driver’s heart rate is consistently elevated by exhilaration, not fear—a much healthier cardio stimulus.
On the slightly broken stretches of pavement I start doubting that 10 percent rigidity improvement statistic—there’s just no cowl shake or floorpan juddering at all. “Mr. 911,” August Achleitner, explains that the sense of rigidity is further enhanced by supporting the back of the powertrain via mounts on the cylinder head rather than via a plate mounted across the back of the engine, which could flex a bit. Cycling through the Normal, Sport, and Sport Plus drive modes, I’m pleased by the lack of an obvious difference in ride quality in a straight line and by the absence of harshness in bumpy corners.
Another clearly communicated message when the Sport modes are engaged: “Woo-hoo, the Feds aren’t sniffing our exhaust now!” Auto stop/start gets switched off and precious dino-juice gets injected for no other reason than to provide those lovely audible pops and burbles on overrun. And the almost overeager automatic downshifts in these modes remind me of Chester the cartoon terrier forever asking Spike the bulldog, “Wanna beat up that next turn even harder, huh, wanna?!?!” The PDK’s gear selection was so spot on that I only touched the shift paddles once, to limit speed on a downhill stretch.
The best fitness routines involve periods of rest, and coastal towns in between the hills revealed the new Cabrio to be better than its predecessor in this respect, too, thanks to improved driver assist systems, including a lane keeping assist that manages not to pinball off the side-marker lines without strictly lane centering, either, as that might foul the natural on-center steering feel. Adaptive cruise provides stop-and-go functionality, and when the car notices you’re squeezing through a tight space, it automatically calls up the surround-camera view. So solicitous. The optional 855-watt, 13-speaker Burmester sound system has soothing powers and offers impressive dynamic range, though the spatial imaging doesn’t seem as obvious as in other systems, and enough of the system’s brilliance gets lost with the top and windows down that if that’s to be your usual driving mode, you might as well save the $5,560 USD. It still sounds pretty great with the windows and wind-blocker up.
After lunch I strapped into a rear-drive S and was instantly aware of a much greater inclination to gently drift when launching from a stop into a right or left turn. The stability control gets a pretty good workout much of the way through first gear, but at higher speeds wheelspin was much less evident (possibly thanks to unnoticeable electronic machinations of the $3,170 USD Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control and/or the $2,090 USD Rear Axle Steering).
There are nits to be picked. As noted on our First Drive of the coupe, the two outermost gauges may as well be devoted to diet tips and Oprah’s book club recommendations because nobody’s going to see them. Sadly, the right one includes the pretty important fuel gauge, so try to remember to move your head occasionally and check that one. I also wish Apple CarPlay would share my Spotify artist and song info with the car’s home screen. And finally, I’m not in love with the turbo engine’s exhaust note, and Herr Achleitner says these Euro versions actually sound a bit better thanks to their particulate filters.
Watch for a GoFundMe page I’m planning to launch to finance a study proving that 911 Cabriolets qualify as health supplements so that I can defray the hefty monthly note with funds from my Health Savings Account.
|2020 Porsche 911 S/4S Cabriolet|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Rear-engine, RWD/AWD, 4-pass, 2-door convertible|
|ENGINE||3.0L/443-hp/390-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve flat-6|
|TRANSMISSIONS||7-speed manual, 8-speed twin-clutch auto|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,550-3,650 lb (mfr)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||177.9-178.4 x 72.9 x 50.7-51.2 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.5-3.7 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||Not yet rated|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Late summer 2019|