2012 Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet 991 vs. 2013 Boxster GTS 981

2012 Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet 991 vs. 2013 Boxster GTS 981

Welcome to the battle of the £50k Porsche soft-tops. In the silver corner is a 991 Cabriolet with killer spec. In the blue corner is a 981 Boxster GTS packing a potent punch. Which delivers the knockout blow?


Words Steve Bennett

Photography Dan Sherwood


IT’S A KNOCKOUT — BUYING YOUR FIRST PORSCHE 991 CABRIOLET vs 981 BOXSTER GTS

Fifty grand to spend on a Porsche convertible? Don’t mind if I do. I’ll have a Boxster, thank you very much. This has always been my default, hardcore Porsche enthusiast choice. Why? Simply put, the Boxster was designed as a convertible from the off. The 911, on the other hand, wasn’t. To my mind, the Cabriolet has therefore always been a style-over-substance compromise. Besides, the 911 Coupe just looks better, doesn’t it?


2012 Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet 991 vs. 2013 Boxster GTS 981

This is a prejudice I’ve built up and nurtured over the years, which is mad, not least because I really enjoy top-down motoring and I really, really like 911s. Is a 911 Cabriolet really so dynamically inferior to a 911 Coupe? Of course it isn’t. Do I need to get over myself? Yes, quite probably.


2012 Porsche 911 Carrera Cabriolet 991 vs. 2013 Boxster GTS 981

It’s not just me, though. It’s a typical Britpack motoring journo thing. Allow me to present you with a good example of anti-911 Cabriolet group think at work. When Porsche launched the second-generation 997 (complete with PDK and direct injection engines) to the world’s press in Germany, the manufacturer chose to do so almost exclusively with Cabriolets, reasoning it was the middle of summer and reviewers would likely prefer roofdown action when evaluating the new, improved 911. While the rest of the world’s press were quite happy with this diktat, Porsche-obsessed motoring scribes from Britain had a collective meltdown, virtually coming to blows in pursuit of driving the only two Coupes on hand. Of course, evaluation of PDK and direct injection was hardly going to be compromised because we driving Cabriolets. Even so, Chris Harris was particularly stroppy and gave members of the Porsche Cars Great Britain press team a proper roasting, even though the situation we found ourselves in really wasn’t their fault.

What does this prejudice come down to? It’s largely just a load of macho nonsense, isn’t it? Real 911 enthusiasts only drive Coupes, so we’re led to believe. Hell, even a sunroof is frowned upon. Motoring writers will cite torsional rigidity (or lack thereof) as the dynamic enemy to the 911 experience and will probably claim how Walter Röhrl reckons a 911 Cabriolet is “shit”, off the record, of course.

Fortunately for Porsche, its customer base isn’t made up of hardcore, fan boy journalists. Consequently, it sells plenty of 911 Cabriolets, and for very good reason. Newsflash: of late, I’ve been really coming around to the idea. Indeed, while recently watching tellybox re-runs of culinary hero, Rick Stein, eating his way through France, I was more taken with his 997 Cabriolet than the local grub depicted onscreen. “That looks like a very pleasant way to get around France,” I thought. Being a Porsche nerd, I noted Stein was driving a first-generation 997 Cabriolet equipped with Tiptronic S transmission. “Even better,” I mused.

All things considered, it really is rather timely that Editor Furr has thrown (an admittedly fictional) £50,000 in my direction and instructed me to get my arse down to independent marque specialist, William Francis Porsche, based near Bury St Edmunds, to compare and contrast the Porsche Cabrio pairing you see on these pages. Yep, it’s a tough life and all that, but as compare and contrasts go, and despite my Rick Stein fantasies, the 911 Cabriolet on the menu is going to have its work cut out. It is, after all, up against a tasty Boxster GTS.

Let’s cut to the chase. What we have here is a 991 Carrera Cabriolet and a 981 Boxster GTS. Both are being offered by William Francis Porsche for £50,000 and therefore are in direct competition with one another. Indeed, there has been no shortage of interest in both cars — we’re not the only team in town to make a point of driving these two Porsches back-to-back. It’s understandable. If you’re in the market for the full dropped roof Porsche experience, then from 996-generation 911 and 986 Boxster, right through to 992 and 718, your choice requires serious thought. Not so much when buying brand-new, but when eyeballing pre-loved Porsches, this convergence is all the more interesting.


SPEND IT WISELY

The 991-generation 911 and 981-generation Boxster were developed in tandem and launched within months of each other between late 2011 and early 2012. It’s fair to say the 991 got most of the attention, chiefly because it was the third major evolution of the 911 since development of Ferdinand ‘Butzi’ Porsche’s original concept for the 356’s successor sixty years ago. Not all of the attention was of positive, though. The 991’s physical size came into question and there was a right old hoo-hah over the introduction of electronically assisted steering. Needless to say, it was us 911 fan boy motoring journalists fanning the flames, as per usual. The 981 Boxster, meanwhile, had equally chubbed in size and featured exactly the same electro steering rack, but was received near rapturously. Go figure.

There was, perhaps, some justification to the cool reception received by the 991. In order to further pacify the defining rear-engined handling and dynamic traits of the 911 (and introduce more interior space), Porsche had seen fit to lengthen the wheelbase and reposition rear axle line. The result was a 911 that didn’t much feel like a 911 anymore. Porsche also saw fit to downsize the base engine from 3.6 litres to 3.4 litres. Power went up to 350bhp, but torque, while up, was delivered much higher in the rev range, which really didn’t work with the now typical Porsche intergalactic gearing. Oh, and talking of gearing, it took two years for the manual version of the 991 to arrive. When it did, the seven-speeder was roundly criticised for not being one of Porsche’s finest cog swappers.

With drop-tops being such an important model in the 911 range, Porsche saw fit to develop and launch the 991 Cabriolet alongside the 991 Coupe. And, as a poke in the eye to 911 Coupe purists, Porsche claimed improved torsional rigidity of eighteen percent over the discontinued 997 Cabriolet, as well as weight advantage of forty-five kilograms. Much of the saving was because of a roof frame constructed from aluminium and titanium, plus fabric-wrapped composite for the centre panel.

With all this in mind, it’s fitting that our star 991 Carrera Cabriolet is an early 2012 example featuring the 3.4- litre flat-six (the second-generation 991 base model was upped to 3.6 litres) and PDK. If you’re questioning how this particular 911 can realistically compete with a surely more sportingly inclined 981 Boxster GTS, then consider the fact this 911’s original owner (and therefore the person driving the Porsche configurator) clearly had very sporting intentions, opting for Sport Chrono Plus, dynamic engine mounts, twenty-inch Carrera Classic wheels, a factory aero kit and Sports seats, which are electrically adjustable, heated and ventilated. Now that’s a seat!

The 981 Boxster was launched in 2012. The GTS variant was introduced less than three years later. A 2015 example is what we have here. When compared to discontinuation of the 997 and release of the 991, arrival of the 981 might not have been big news, but it ushered in a new, more grown-up look for the two-seater, characterised by much sharper styling. Porsche claimed an extra forty percent structural rigidity over the outgoing 987 Boxster. Engines ranged from the sweet (but torque challenged and gearing hampered) 240bhp 2.7-litre flat-six to a 3.4-litre 315bhp unit, which made a much better fist of driving the typically long gears in either six-speed manual or seven-speed PDK form.


SIX SHOOTER

With our feature 981 being a GTS, we have 325bhp on tap, some 25bhp shy of the 991 Carrera Cabriolet’s 350bhp. In all honesty, both cars make use of the same engine, but in different states of tune. This was, remember, a time when it really wouldn’t do for a Boxster or Cayman to outgun a 911.

There’s more to the GTS than its powerplant. These three letters have become very much a thing in the Porsche lexicon, symbolising serious bang-for-buck over the S model on which a given GTS is based, whether it be a 911, Boxster or Cayman. In short, for not much more spend, you get a lot more dynamic kit. There’s lashings of Alcantara, too. There is, of course, always room for more — the original buyer of this particular GTS, a Mr M Tibaldi, turned the options up to eleven and added Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus (PTV Plus) and a pair of hugely desirable heated carbon-fibre buckets.

This useful information comes from the original bill of sale, issued by Porsche Centre Guildford. The documentation also adds weight to market intel, which suggests Porsche’s GTS models really do hold their value. The evidence? Mr Tibaldi paid £68,313 for his tidily optioned GTS. In eight years, it has shed little more than £18,000. We don’t have the as-new data for our 991 Cabriolet, but we can be sure it’s dumped a lot more cash than the Boxster. Be that as it may, the point here is price parity and two potentially different ways of achieving roof down thrills from the same stable. Best we get on with the driving, then.

First up is the 991 Cabriolet, if for no other reason than camera boy, Dan Sherwood, is busy snapping the Boxster. First impressions are nothing to do with driving and dynamics. This 911 is spacious, a sense enhanced by the lack of roof and the 991’s more accommodating interior over that of the earlier 997. This drop-top looks proper classy in Platinum Silver with a contrasting burgundy top, too.

That little revelation out of the way, it’s time to be a bit more analytical. It’s been a while since I’ve driven a 991 and it’s safe to say that of all generations of water-cooled 911 to date, the 991 isn’t my favourite. I should stress, this opinion has nothing to do with Coupe or Cabriolet body styles, or from being a hardcore motoring journo 911 fanboy. You see, from my very first 991 drive back in 2011, I sensed, as did others, that the 911 had lost some of its mojo. The 991, so I surmised, would really only start to dance when on the limit. Frankly, it was less fun than what came before. I reasoned the 991 was more GT than sports car. It was more grown up. Then again, that’s sports car evolution for you.

In some respects, when it comes to a 911 Cabriolet, none of this is a bad thing. Watching Rick Stein drifting serenely around Provence in his 997, I wanted to be there too, soaking up the sights, sounds and smells. This is all part of the open-top vibe and it’s important to remember a 911 Cabriolet isn’t supposed to be a GT3.

Then again, perhaps the original owner of this particular Porsche wanted some of that going on, hence the car’s choice specification, hinted at by the pronounced rear ducktail? I don’t know if this is true, but there are a few things that worry me. Those twenty-inch Carrera Classic rims, for example. They look the business, but that’s a lot of wheel for the passive suspension to soak up and control. At the end of the day, I’m a ride-and-handling nerd. I don’t know how some folk put up with modern, crash-bang suspension setups. Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, though. There are, you’ll be pleased to know, plenty of positives to be experienced.

The Sports seats are great and I even test out the active seat ventilation, which on a hot day would certainly keep your back from sticking to the leather. The heated seat option speaks for itself and is always a winner in winter. And there’s a very nifty electrically retractable wind deflector unfolding behind the front seats, useful for keeping your barnet in check. The 911’s PDK transmission is getting on a bit now, but has proved to be largely reliable, which is a good thing, obviously. It also remains one of the best semi-automatic transmissions out there, moving seamlessly through ratios. Paddles were an option, but here we have the not quite so intuitive shift buttons. Walter Röhrl wasn’t a fan. No problem, though, because I don’t feel the need to manually shift. I’m happy to cruise and enjoy the countryside.

I’m certainly not about to engage Sport Chrono Plus. Well, okay, in the spirit of trying everything on offer, I do, but all it really does is make the 3.4-litre six go very shouty, hang onto the gears for much longer than necessary and firm-up the suspension, all for not a lot of gain in pace. It’s really at odds with the rest of the car. That said, getting the best out of the 3.4-litre flat-six takes a fair bit of commitment.

A word on the electro steering rack, in view of the fuss made of it made back at launch. It is, I find, much as a I remember — artificially light and ‘dead’ feeling at low speed, but more chatty as pace picks up. It’s still weird to think the rack isn’t physically connected to the steering wheel. Software is creating the feedback, but very soon, you stop being concerned about it.

NITTY MITTY

Porsche may well claim significantly more torsional rigidity over the 997 Cabriolet, but there’s still shake, rattle and Röhrl going on, not helped by those large wheels and exacerbated by the UK’s not-so-great asphalt. I can’t help but feel Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) would have been a smart box tick, complemented by nineteen-inch wheels in place of the twenties. Ultimately, though, the issue here is not the fact that this is a 911 Cabriolet. Drop-top or tin-top, all early 991s fall into the same dynamic and driving holes. The 991 Carrera simply isn’t a 911 that really gets under your skin. If it were, then a slight bit of body shake would be neither here nor there. I’m being harsh. There’s still plenty to enjoy — driving a 991 Cabriolet isn’t all about blitzing B-roads. Ignore the Sport settings, find smoother tarmac and this Porsche is instantly in a much happier place. I don’t think a 911 Cabriolet is ever supposed to be an out and out sports car, not even in Turbo form, so best not to try and make it one.

And so to the 981 Boxster GTS. A done deal, the best place to put your £50,000? Not necessarily. For some folk, it’s a 911 or nothing. A Boxster will never shape up for these buyers. Fair enough, but should said folk get Boxster curious, then prepare for a pennydropping moment.

Whereas the 911 has stiff competition from other quarters, the Boxster has pretty much had the roadster market to itself since 1996. No other manufacturer has seriously challenged Porsche to a fight. Sure, there have been a good few midengined sports cars along the way, but few have been convertibles in the Boxster mould. “What about the Lotus Exige?” I hear you cry. Hethel’s offering is a lot more expensive. Besides, Exiges are hampered by proprietary engines. Part of the Boxster’s dynamic genius is its 911-derived flat-six. Not only is it mid-mounted, thereby keeping weight in the middle of the host Porsche, but the weight is also as low as it can go.

The result is chassis and handling genius to rival any sports car at any price. Did Porsche develop the 991 to be more GT than sports, letting the 981 Boxster/Cayman twins fill the gap? Maybe not consciously, when the 981 series arrived seemingly minutes after the 991, but it became abundantly clear the 911 could no longer rely on its quirky balance to stay ahead of midengined machines. There was no hiding the fact the 981 was the better handling sports car and dynamically superior. And so it proves today. Sitting lower in the Boxster and gripped by a leather-trimmed carbon-fibre Sports bucket, I am very much connected to the mid-engined action. It is a shame this GTS doesn’t have the shift-tastic manual six-speed gearbox, but it has got everything else I would want from a 981, including PASM, which really works its magic on the gnarly local topography. Unlike the 991’s passive setup, it doesn’t let the twenty-inch wheels take over.

The 981 Boxster GTS is utterly sorted. The wide track and longer wheelbase (over the 987 Boxster) generates terrific amounts of grip. You can throw this Porsche at a corner, keep piling on power at the exit and the car remains stuck to the surface, resolutely holding off any sniff of understeer. The sense of balance is palpable. Even with your bum skimming the road, there is huge confidence transmitted by all the Boxster’s contact points. Yes, I include the steering here, which by the time of the 981 Boxster GTS, benefited from further development over the earlier 991’s system.

As mentioned, Porsche claimed forty percent extra stiffness over the 987 Boxster. It shows. There’s not a wobble to be felt, even on the choppiest of surfaces. Remember, the Boxster was designed to be a drop-top from the beginning. Many of you will argue the 981 Boxster GTS gives away twentyfive horsepower to the 991 Cabriolet. True, but the 991 generates its extra power higher up the rev range. Torque is what you feel on the road. Whereas the 991 Carrera delivers peak 288lb-ft at 5,600rpm, the 981 Boxster GTS gives 273lb-ft at 4,500rpm. It feels much faster as a result. No surprises on the scales, either — the Boxster is lighter, registering kerb weight of 1,350kg versus the 991’s 1,400kg.

Like our 991 Cabriolet, the 981 Boxster GTS features Sport and Sport Plus driving modes. The latter is a largely pointless option for the public highway. Likewise, the option to stiffen the dampers. My advice? Select Sport mode to sharpen throttle response and PDK shifting and leave it right there. Oh, and you’ll probably want to keep the exhaust at low volume. It really is quite attentionseeking.

Maybe I’m just shy and retiring? There’s no sugar-coating the result in this £50,000 drop-top bout. It’s a knockout for the Boxster in every respect. And no, it doesn’t come down to 911 Cabriolet prejudice. Ultimately, it’s a case of dynamic prowess. The Boxster in 981 form has it, whereas the 991 Carrera doesn’t, whether Coupe or Cabriolet. Don’t get me wrong, the 991 Carrera Cabriolet is a pleasant place to be and more than fulfils the wind-in-the-hair brief, but the 981 Boxster GTS does this and so much more.

YOU CAN THROW THIS PORSCHE AT A CORNER, KEEP PILING ON POWER AT THE EXIT AND THE CAR REMAINS STUCK TO THE SURFACE

Above Due the model’s sixty years of heritage, some buyers won’t be able to get away from wanting a 911, but slip outside this train of thought and you’ll find the Boxster a hugely rewarding drive and great value for money

THERE WAS NO HIDING THE FACT THE 981 WAS THE BETTER HANDLING SPORTS CAR AND DYNAMICALLY SUPERIOR

Above If you’re in the process of testing Porsches before deciding which one to purchase, be sure to sample the Boxster’s superb mid-engined chassis dynamics. Above Our 981 Boxster GTS is offered at the exact same price point as our 991 Carrera, but which would you like to see in your garage?

A ROOF FRAME CONSTRUCTED FROM ALUMINIUM AND TITANIUM, PLUS FABRIC-WRAPPED COMPOSITE FOR THE CENTRE PANEL

Above and below For many buyers, a 911 Cabriolet offers an irresistible windin- the-hair driving experience, but consider the merits of the Boxster before taking the plunge. Above and below Platinum Silver works brilliantly on the 991 Cabriolet, as does our car’s body add-ons.

Above Steering wheel button controls for PDK aren’t as satisfying as paddles Below If you’re interested in buying a 911 you can service at home, consider the fact access to the 991’s flat-six isn’t as easy as you’ll find with earlier 911s.

Above and below Carrera is the base 911 (although our star drop-top benefits from tidy factory extras), but even this specification is head and shoulders above top offerings from many of the world’s sports car makers.

THE 991’S SIZE CAME INTO QUESTION AND THERE WAS A RIGHT OLD HOO-HAH OVER THE ELECTRONICALLY ASSISTED STEERING

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