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    NY Times Article on Cabriolets

    From Sunday's New York Times, if you didn't see it. It's about how cool driving a Cab makes you feel.

    August 7, 2005
    2005 Porsche Boxster and Carrera S Cabriolet: Standing Ovations in the Porsche Belt
    By TED WEST
    LARCHMONT, N.Y.

    BEING a matinee idol has become easier. You just slick back your hair and drive slowly by the local sidewalk cafe in your "speed yellow" Porsche Carrera S convertible. People drop their ham sandwiches, point loudly and behave like fox terriers getting the Heimlich maneuver.

    Of course, here in the belly of Westchester County's Porsche Belt, they're eating prosciutto on olive oil ciabatta with mesclun - but a ham sandwich is a ham sandwich. They gawk, plotz and wonder aloud what you're doing for Sunday brunch. You'll gain friends. You'll eat free. And you'll lose nothing more important than your privacy - but with Internet spam proffering Cialis by the case, don't talk to me about privacy.

    Driving a loud-yellow Porsche with the top down on a summer day can take the place of a personality. This convertible ("Cabriolet," to those who know it personally) is better at making friends than your Aunt Latifah on a cruise. You may have set out for nothing more glamorous than a spool of dental floss, but when you park your yellow Porsche, every man, woman and real estate agent croons, "Cool car!"

    They're right. Intuitively, they seem to know that for the moment this hot yellow blob is the fastest 911 Porsche sells. Not indecently fast, of course. It won't peel your eyelids around the back of your head like the new Porsche Turbo is sure to do next year. But with 355 horsepower, 0-to-60 performance in 4.7 seconds and a top speed of 182 miles an hour, just how sheepish and self-effacing do you need to be?

    The price of admission is $89,070, or $99,070 as tested. Of course, the matinee idol in you will say it cost $101,000. Yes you will.

    Porsche has been busy recycling its line of late, and I reckoned the best way to come to terms with the new range was to drive its fastest (except for the unmentionable $450,000 Carrera GT) and slowest. This being summer, only convertibles need apply.

    To get my feet on the ground before tackling the Carrera S, I first sampled the plainest-jane Boxster (not the measurably crisper Boxster S). But I'm lying already - the very plainest-jane Boxster, in terms of performance if not price, has a five-speed Tiptronic S automatic transmission. I said "plain," not downright wart-faced. With a five-speed manual, the Boxster gets to 60 m.p.h. in a reasonably brisk 5.9 seconds; the automatic takes 6.8 seconds.

    Just to prove that life isn't all fun, I planned to drive the Boxster to Cape Hatteras on that jam-packed all-skate known as Interstate 95. If I could do 600 miles without losing all hope of enjoying myself when I arrived, the Boxster had something.

    In truth, it is folly to drive 12 hours to Cape Hatteras without stopping in Virginia for psychotherapy and mood levelers. When the Boxster finally put down in North Carolina, I was seeing double. Which was good - the beach was twice as gorgeous.

    In a way, the Boxster (base price $44,595; as tested, $48,565) is what all Porsches once were. Its 240 horsepower and 199 pound-feet of torque are adequate and pleasing, though hardly overwhelming by today's standards. It delivers superb grip. It stops like a slammed door. And it perfectly communicates the mood of the pavement under your wheels, a vital component of safety.

    To Porschephiles, this base Boxster is a contemporary restatement of the 1958 Porsche 1600 Normal Cabriolet. It is competent and great fun, with all the traditional Porsche agility and precise dynamics, but in most drag races it will come in second. Porsche built its reputation on exactly such a formula; neck-snapping acceleration was added to the menu relatively recently.

    The Boxster has been restyled, and it's a good thing. In the eyes of some, mine among them, the original had devolved into a sort of latter-day Karmann Ghia. The latest reshape incorporates more storage space and is vastly more muscular and self-confident, particularly at the rear. Where the previous stern was Mrs. Miniver in bloomers, this one is Gina Lollobrigida out for a good time.

    Blessed with the smoothest, sweetest-sounding engine this side of a Juilliard-schooled V-12, the Boxster delivered almost 30 m.p.g. (29.7, actually) on I-95, while juking and jousting at the prevailing traffic flow of 75 to 80 m.p.h. Traditional European sports cars have always combined interesting performance with fuel efficiency, and so does the Boxster.

    But unlike the roofs on Euro roadsters of old, the Boxster's top is entirely weather-tight and opens when you press a rocker switch - after you manually release a latch. The Boxster's five-speed and clutch engagement were silken and the Bose audio was splendid. Top down at 75, with the sound system cranked up, it had I-95's lumbering legions of S.U.V. drivers snapping fingers to its beat.

    Of the two Porsches, however, the matinee idol in me demands the classic rear-engine Carrera S Cabriolet in, yes, speed yellow. For one thing, its top opens at the touch of a button, period - no manual labor involved. And Porsche says you can open or close the top at speeds up to 31 m.p.h. (All right, you can't operate the top at 32 m.p.h. Get used to it.)

    Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Carrera S with a six-speed manual goes like a scalded wide receiver, arriving at 100 m.p.h. in just over 11 seconds. What you do next is between you and your spiritual adviser.

    Yet this 3.8-liter, water-cooled flat-6, mounted behind the rear axle in the time-honored Porsche practice, is just as happy burbling along at 1,500 r.p.m. in sixth gear. Driven gently, it's as quiet as a luxury sedan. For all its power, it delivers reasonable fuel economy. Beast that it is when a red flag is waved in front of it, the Carrera S achieves tolerable federal ratings of 26 m.p.g on the highway and 19 in town.

    Away from German autobahns with no speed limits, using the Carrera S's full performance range is preposterous, even for matinee idols. So what's left? It depends. If you're amused by short bursts of demon acceleration, the Carrera S will keep you giggling. And it never met a freeway on-ramp it didn't love. Its absolute sure-footedness while cornering hard and fast is what put the "sport" in sports cars.

    Yet all the while, the sage Porsche engineers in Stuttgart are watching. Porsche Stability Management, a standard feature, uses all manner of motion sensors to determine whether you know what you're doing at speed. If the P.S.M. concludes that you've gone too far, it applies judicious amounts of braking to this wheel, or to that one over there. The car is stabilized before you and your ego achieve something truly spectacular.

    In this 2005 version (known internally at Porsche as Type 997, replacing the 996 of past years), the driver can elect to cancel the system, allowing purposeful sliding of the car. But panic-brake just once and P.S.M. is instantaneously back on the case, saving your bacon.

    A word of caution: driving the Carrera S, your inner Mr. Hyde is never far away. Open the throttle and the car makes a lovely growl. You'll want to hear more. This exhaust note also proved a superb dog disturber. The open-throttle soundtrack, delectable to the enthusiast ear, will set every poodle, chihuahua and red fox in the neighborhood barking right back. Chihuahuas will even come out to fight.

    One more thing, the Carrera S's high-end Bose sound package was even better than the Boxster's. Exercised at volume, Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" (an unfortunate title, in matinee-idol terms) made believers of Westchester-ites dozing in their hammocks.

    My only complaint with the Carrera S concerns its computerized audio-navigation system. The instructions alone weigh more than a round of Swiss cheese - and are quite as pungent.

    After I'd reached an unspecified level of frustration, a friend's computer-suckled daughter advised me to discard the book and start pushing buttons. I did. At the onset of hoarseness an hour and a quarter later, I'd loaded six FM stations and four Rolaids. In the 1948 Chrysler Windsor that I drove in college (and sorely miss), that operation took 25 seconds. Science marches on.

    Perhaps Porsche's engineers and those from BMW - creators of the odious, counterintuitive iDrive "interface" - drink in the same hofbräuhaus after work.

    Lest we regional celebrities grow bored, Porsche will add the Cayman S fastback coupe next spring. That new car is based on the next-generation Boxster's center-engine platform, but in performance and character it is said to be somewhere between the Boxster and the more aggressive 911. Pricing will fit within those parameters, too, making the Cayman the ideal tranportation device for a matinee idol second-class.

    Click to read it at the NY Times

    Re: NY Times Article on Cabriolets

    Thanks! Interesting, subjective comments.

     
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