In which we fall in deep, deep love with Porsche’s least powerful 911 variant.
When it was introduced for the 2020 model year, the latest-generation Porsche 911 Carrera came first in S and 4S coupe forms, followed by convertibles a few months later. Then the base 911 Carrera and Carrera 4 coupes arrived. Finally, in July of last year, Porsche unveiled the final members of the Carrera family, the non-S convertibles. And while there’s no such thing as too much power, after spending a week in a base, rear-wheel-drive, lightly optioned, droptop 911, we think it’s the lineup’s ideal mix of poise, performance, and price.
Helping the Carrera strike that balance is a 379-horsepower, 3.0-liter flat-six, pressurized via two turbochargers. The perennially rear-engined 911 sends all of its power to the back wheels via an eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox, and although the Carrera 4 might offer more grip, we never found ourselves wanting for it.
While we spent most of our time running rather mundane errands, the 911 Carrera Cabriolet nevertheless made every trip feel special, whether it was a dash to the market for some eggs and flour or a starlit spin up Mulholland Drive to decompress after a hard day. In fact, for those who like to daily-drive their sports cars, it’s hard to beat a 911 Carrera, even compared to hot rods from other automakers.
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The latest Porsche 911 generation (codenamed 992) doesn’t break any new ground insofar as the vehicle’s silhouette is concerned. The longer, slightly more graceful proportions of the previous Carrera remain, imparting more of a sense of luxury than prior generations. Even then, though, the car is instantly recognizable as a 911.
For 2020, however, every single example of the legendary sports car boasts wider hips – the thicc rear fenders once reserved for Turbo, Carrera 4, and Carrera S models now make voluptuousness a universal family trait. Porsche nip/tucked the 992 to emphasize that width further, giving it a front grille and lower rear valence that span the entire breadth of the bumpers. LED taillights with a wispy center light bar underscore the impression further.
And Porsche added a number of thoughtful touches to the exterior. For example, there are a total of eighteen slats on the rear engine cover, divided in the center by two vertical CHMSL lights. Read that again: nine on one side, nine on the other, with two stop lamps – 992. Another interpretation of that feature has the onlooker counting from left to right; nine slats in, you encounter a brake-lit eleven – 911.
The styling of the interior departs further from tradition than the exterior, and the changes are almost universally good. Porsche still keeps an analog tachometer front and center, but the 992 ditches traditional gauges for two digital display screens on either side of the rev counter. The screens can display drive data, navigation information, Sport Chrono timing, and conventional readouts for speed, water and oil temperature, voltage, oil pressure, and more. The center console slopes gracefully from the well-integrated 10.9-inch touchscreen display, giving the interior a contemporary, architectural appearance.
The dash, seats, door panels, and other interior surfaces are trimmed in lovely leather (black, in our tester’s case), and although some of us usually detest monochromatic interior palettes, this Carrera feels expensive and polished. The interior is also screwed together very well, with nary a rattle. Our only complaint about the cabin is that without optional aluminum, carbon fiber, or wood trim, the passenger-side dashboard’s distinctive “shelf” is made from textured plastic. It’s not an egregious error, but it stands out negatively in an otherwise stellar design.
Porsche’s suspension engineers deserve gold medals and blue ribbons for how effortlessly this 911 Carrera Cabriolet blends daily comfort with weekend zest. Even on the asphalt-connected potholes that pass for city streets in some parts of Los Angeles, the Porsche absorbed large impacts with a swift thwunk and dispatched small ones without issue. The adaptive dampers deserve some credit, but even in their firmest setting, the 911 wasn’t ever uncomfortable.
Optional 18-way adaptive front seats offered plenty of adjustability, and comfort was mostly excellent, although your author’s back sometimes felt as though it was being stretched on a rack due to an overzealous lumbar bladder. We’d appreciate even more adjustment. Nevertheless, it didn’t discourage taking the car for long, protracted joy rides on the highway.
Surprisingly, the 911 offers a reasonable amount of interior storage, particularly when treating the useless rear seats and their fold-down seatbacks like a parcel shelf. And the front-mounted trunk is deep and capacious enough for a big roll-aboard, tripod, duffel, and backpack, shaped to maximize its smallish 4.7 cubic feet of space. Two adults would have no trouble taking a weekend road trip in the 911 Cabriolet, maybe even with one offspring in tow if the kiddo is okay sharing the rear seat with some luggage.
The 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera probably won’t win any awards for its infotainment system or digital instrument cluster, but using both is easy enough. The 10.9-inch touchscreen display on the center stack fits in perfectly with the rest of the interior’s contemporary styling, and although its multitudinous menus and options are a bit tedious to sort through, finding the audio or navigation pages is relatively intuitive. Simplifying matters is the diamond-shaped “easy button” on the steering wheel, which allows the driver to select a favorite or frequently used infotainment system function.
The Carrera likewise gains some points with wireless smartphone integration. The system lost connection only once in our week, thoroughly beating out the glitch-ridden wireless CarPlay found in other automakers’ cars. Thoughtfully, there’s a USB data port in the armrest storage compartment, so we usually just plugged a phone in and stowed it there – out of sight, out of mind.
We can’t think of any Porsche 911 in recent memory that didn’t distinguish itself as a good driver’s car, and this base-model Cabriolet is no exception. Downsized and direct-injected for better efficiency, then twin-turbocharged for more power, the Carrera’s 3.0-liter flat-six produces 379 dazzling horses and 331 pound-feet, with the latter on board between 1,900 and 5,000 rpm and the former taking over at 6,500 rpm.
Unlike many turbocharged engines, this one produces wonderful power even high in the rev range, spinning to a thrilling 7,500 rpm. While 379 horsepower isn’t an overwhelming number for an expensive sports car, Porsche claims a 0-60 time of 4.0 seconds – our butt dyno says that’s conservative.
What’s more, Porsche has done a decent job imbuing the engine with some sonic personality. Our tester came equipped with the optional $2,950 Porsche Sport Exhaust System, and while that’s a bit dear, it gives the car so much sizzle. When paired with the likewise-optional $2,720 Sport Chrono Package, the exhaust responds to the drive-select’s Normal, Sport, and Sport Plus modes, ratcheting up the burbles, crackles, and low-speed turbo whir appropriately, as one might expect of a force-fed Porsche.
Speaking of those drive modes, the driver can adjust the suspension, exhaust, steering, and throttle as a group using those three aforementioned modes or tune them independently using the Individual setting. For most of the week, we left the steering in its sportiest setting and the throttle and suspension in their most comfortable, turning the loud exhaust on and off at will depending on our surroundings.
In either Normal or Sport Plus, the 911 handled beautifully, with an exceptional balance between a smooth ride and snappy cornering. A wide stance – which honestly makes parking maneuvers a chore – pays off brilliantly in the canyons, with zero body roll and exceptional transient response between corners. And we’re tempted to say that the rear-drive Carrera is better in these situations than the Carrera 4, with less weight over the nose improving steering response and no shortage of grip from the 295-section-width rear tires mounted on 20-inch wheels.
The 235-width front tires and smaller 19-inch wheels pair with the massive rear meats and standard iron-rotor brakes to give our tester incredible stopping power. Even without the pricey carbon-ceramic brake rotors, we found nothing to complain about when we needed to tramp on the left pedal. The only performance options on our tester were the exhaust system and Sport Chrono, and that’s exactly how we like it.
Speaking of that pedal box, the only thing lacking from this perfectly balanced base-model Porsche is a driver-selectable clutch. Porsche’s eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox is brilliant, offering crackling upshifts and responsive downshifts, but our lightly optioned tester deserves an available manual transmission to improve its pure-sports-car credentials further. Unfortunately, Porsche only offers a stick on the Carrera S and 4S, a snub on those who want a simple, “budget-priced” sports car. Here’s hoping Porsche brings back the base-engine, manual-transmission Carrera T model soon.
"Lightly optioned" applies to this vehicle’s safety scorecard as well. Porsche includes standard automatic emergency braking, but blind-spot monitoring, lane keep assistance, and stop-and-go adaptive cruise are optional – only the former was included in our test vehicle. Of course, it’s a sports car that’s meant to be actively driven, so we’re more inclined to forgive some of its shortcomings in this department, but others spending the $110,200 required of a base-model 911 Cabrio might be less charitable.
Hedonists who demand the most should also tick the box for Porsche’s impressive InnoDrive adaptive cruise control optimization. Using an array of sensors and map data, InnoDrive enhances cruise control by taking traffic, freeway curves, and hazards into account, adjusting speed less abruptly.
For such a bombastic and exciting automobile, the Carrera gets reasonably good fuel economy, achieving an EPA-rated 18 miles per gallon city, 24 highway, and 20 combined. In rather enthusiastic driving, we saw an indicated average of about 18 mpg, while the one long freeway hustle yielded about 22 mpg with the top down.
The cheaper and faster Chevrolet Corvette is either better or worse depending on your driving style, getting 15 city, 27 highway, and 19 combined mpg, while the more expensive Audi R8 V10 is far thirstier: 13 city, 20 highway, and 16 combined. The hybridized Acura NSX improves on the Porsche somewhat, with 21 city, 22 highway, 21 combined, and the similarly priced Mercedes-AMG GT Roadster throws down 16 city, 22 highway, 18 combined mpg.
It’s almost impossible to call any six-figure automobile a value, but surprisingly, our test vehicle came with precious few of Porsche’s legendarily expensive options. A base price of $110,200 is definitely dear, but no-cost Guards Red paint and base wheels (which still looked large enough for the car) helped the 911 Carrera hold the line somewhat. A $4,530 leather interior and $3,470 adaptive sport seats were the biggest contributors to our tester’s $127,120 price with destination, which also included $840 ventilated seats, $1,040 blind-spot monitoring, and the aforementioned Sport Chrono package and upgraded exhaust system.
As tested, that’s substantially more than even the most expensive Chevrolet Corvette C8 convertible but less than the drop-top competition from Audi or Mercedes-Benz or the fixed-roof Acura NSX. Of note, most of those rivals offer better performance and faster acceleration, but we still think there’s a case to be made for legendary 911 style, wrapped up in a bon vivant Carrera Cabriolet package.
Gallery: 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet Review
2020 Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet