Convertible supercars: possibly the source of our greatest hypocrisy. On paper we prefer to shun them, to turn our noses up while mumbling words like ‘posers,’ ‘weight penalty’ and ‘handling.’ If the coupe is a stylish luxury hotel in Paris, the convertible is a neon-lit beachfront bar in Magaluf.
Earlier this week we brought you news that Porsche is cooking up something that, while it’s called the Speedster, seems a lot like a convertible GT3. Think 493bhp flat-six, rear-wheel drive, even a manual gearbox – plus unlimited headroom. But, as we always end up saying whenever this sort of thing happens, it inevitably won’t drive quite as well as the hard-top.
The extra weight involved in bracing the chassis after removing the roof is the arch-enemy of performance and handling. Scuttle shake is nowhere near what it used to be in the days of Saab 900 convertibles and Citroen C3 Pluriels (shudder) but it’s usually noticeable in anything that wasn’t designed to live without a roof in the first place, like a McLaren.
That extra flab can show itself on track, bringing the limits down a fraction, or making the steering feel a tad more dim-witted. Even on the road the convertible version often just feels a little… flat compared to the hard-top.
Porsche’s 911 is a perfect example. I once drove a current-era S Cabriolet from the south coast of Wales to the north coast in a day. It left me completely cold. I didn’t engage with it at all, but the weather was crap (obviously) and the roof spent 90 per cent of the time keeping rain off my head. There was loads of grip, but it just didn’t feel very engaging.
A month or two later I drove a Poundland-basic Carrera coupe and absolutely fell in love with it. It felt lithe, alert and so much more enjoyable. It’s that spark of life that nothing but low weight can really bring.
On the other hand, I’ve also driven both the hard top and Roadster versions of the Lamborghini Aventador. The Roadster, for all our mutterings about posing pouches and new money, is absolutely 100 per cent the one I’d have. The same goes for the McLaren 650S, of which I drove both styles, and the Ferrari 458. I’ll have the Spiders, thanks. Audi R8? Yep, driven both, and mine’s a Spyder.
What we’re sometimes guilty of when writing about these things is forgetting the real value of the extra theatre afforded by an open roof. Sure, you have to pay £10,000-£15,000 more for the roof delete option, but it’s that louder, more visceral experience that grabs you by the nerve endings and shakes you like an industrial paint mixer. It’s the reason we always come away from open-top supercar drives knowing that we’d have that one.
At the end of the day, neon-lit beachfront bars in Magaluf aren’t really our thing at all, but as much as we hate to admit it, that doesn’t mean they aren’t often very good fun.