Art without heart

Lest the conclusion of this brief appraisal should appear a trifle critical, let's not beat about the bush.

In all fairness, I enjoyed the 968 Cabriolet.

From the driver's seat, it feels very much like the 944 it succeeds. There's more than a passing physical resemblance, too. The exterior is softer, slightly less squat and not so aggressive. Inside, familiar switches and dials are attractively laid out in the mildly random manner which has become something of a Stuttgart tradition. The cabin of a 911 is an ergonomic disaster; those in front-engined Porsches are much, much neater, though the location of certain controls is a touch illogical. Best ask your passenger to activate the hazard warning lights, for instance.

The character of the 968 is equally redolent of the 944. It is brisk, comfortable and solidly built, although - as with any cabriolet derived from a hard-top coupe - there is a degree of compromise involved. On anything but the smoothest surfaces, you are acutely aware of mild body flex, despite the fact that the cabriolet has gained 154 lbs' worth of structural reinforcement.

Operation of the hand-assembled hood could be effected by an averagely bright primate. Lowered via a couple of clip-in handles and an electric switch, it is as simple a system as it is efficient. Waterproof, too, it seems. Porsche cabriolet hoods can cope with the watery strain of a programme five car wash . . .

The rear 'seats' are superfluous, and the space could be used more efficiently for luggage, first aid kits, a full-size spare wheel (rather than the space-saver supplied) or whatever. To give you an idea of their practicality, they aren't deep enough to support a baby seat. Everyone accepts that this was not a car designed as family transport. But as such token perches are, to all intents and purposes, unusable, there seems little point in their existence. As a journalistic colleague once remarked, "Even children have legs..." 

Like the rest of the Porsche family, the alfresco 968 is available with Porsche's Tiptronic transmission, though that adds a couple of thousand pounds to the £37,175 asking price for the basic article. In our experience, Tiptronic - which has a twin-plane operation, allowing either automatic or manual gear selection - is the answer to a problem which didn't exist, clever though it is. The six-speed manual is just fine.

As an overall package, the 968 cabriolet is unerringly efficient. It just lacks a certain sparkle. Anyone who has savoured the unassisted telepathy of a 911 will find the 968 rather soulless. Like a 944, in fact.

The 968, in all its forms, is a desperately good motor car. From Jeremy Walton's accompanying assessment of the Club Sport, you will gather that it can also be fun in a way that the Cabriolet is not. If you want to get from A to B stylishly, without having to think a great deal about what you're doing and, above all, quickly, this will suit you down to the ground.

If, however, you place a higher value on smiles-per-mile (the Mazda MX-5 is living proof that you can have a whole lot of fun with less than half the 968's 240 bhp), then you'll probably look elsewhere. The 968 Cabriolet doesn't make you want to drive for driving's sake, doesn't incite you to take detours for the sake of stretching your journey lasts longer.

In such a beautifully crafted open car, the more's the pity.

S A