The iconic Porsche 911, first introduced in 1963 for the 1964 model year, is entering its eighth generation. Few cars have achieved the kind of longevity and renown that the 911 has (the Ford Mustang, almost exactly the same age as the 911, is another). Throughout its long life, the 911 has served as the objective Platonic ideal of a sports car. In addition to its impressive lifespan, the 911 has enjoyed a practically linear progression through time: the last near-six decades have seen its size growing, technology complicating, power increasing, performance capabilities expanding and price swelling with each evolution. The whole time, its very general shape has stayed familiar, thanks partially to its unique, rear-engined configuration.
This eighth generation (referred to by Porschephiles as the 992) extends that progress. It is bigger in many dimensions, wonderfully powerful and strikingly fast – indeed, faster than its predecessor by a longshot. There are, famously, many iterations of every 911 generation (Cabriolet, GTS, Turbo…) that span various spectra of performance and price and exclusivity. “Carrera” models are traditionally found at the low end of both; that is, these are ‘base’ models. The first new 911s available will be the Carrera S (rear-wheel-drive) and Carrera 4S (four-wheel-drive).
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The Good: This, folks, is a Porsche 911. If ever in the 911’s terminaly-expanding history a new generation was revealed to be an anything but a vast improvement over the last and a shoo-in for “king of the sports car” crown, I’m convinced the Earth’s core might stop spinning and Armageddon would be upon us. It is considered the benchmark for a reason: the Porsche 911 is engineered to be the best, most archetypal desire-machine available. It is not possible that the Porsche 911 can be anything but a truly remarkable car. So it is written.
The 2020 911 is an objective improvement in nearly every measurable way. It is more powerful, faster, handles better, keeps occupants safer, has more advanced technology, and is even more eco-friendly than its predecessors. It features a next-generation engine with all manner of trick tech to make it run better, better, better. The dual-clutch transmission is all-new, now with an added gear. The seats are all-new, lower and grip passengers better. It is longer and “a great deal wider.” Its track is now more substantial and grippier. There is a new brake system, a more direct steering ratio, a more aluminum-intensive body. Its active aerodynamics do more; driver assistance systems are standard.
Who It’s For: Wealthy enthusiasts who want the best right out of the box. German car devotees who want a heavy dose of a grand tourer with their sports cars.
Watch Out For: The most basic configuration of the 2020 911 Carrera 2 (C2) will start at $113,300 without a single option added. (The current-gen C2 starts at $105,100.) As Porsche options are infamously costly, it will be easy to eclipse that MSRP by a fair margin (some C2 models available for us to drive featured sticker prices tens of thousands of dollars higher). 911 purists will take issue with some styling cues; namely, that the body is, visually – necessarily – larger than ever. Purists should also note that in Porsche press materials, the word “digital” appeared four times in the first four short paragraphs. An unapologetically, unmistakably modern 911, this is a decidedly non-analog car.
• The Aston Martin Vantage ($149,995) is a new contender in the 911’s orbit, aimed squarely at the German’s customer base, only with a bit more spunk.
• Mercedes-AMG GT R ($159,350) is grand tourer DNA shot through with something evil.
• The McLaren 570 S (~$200,000) is a much more pure take on the sports car theme – a no-frills British beast.
Review: I am conflicted about the new 911, which is an objectively incredible car. 95 percent of me – the reasonable, logical, fair portion – knows it is god damn incredible. The other five percent – that’s the pouty, obstinate (read: “purist”) part – takes issue with how little the new car moves me emotionally. I’ll get to those latter opinions later; first, objectivity.
I’m not a great racing driver. I have above average natural driving instincts in terms of car control and mechanical confidence, and I understand racing lines and apexes and weight transfer, but I will not win a race against anyone who’s applied themselves to the art. A large portion of our time with the new 911 was spent on the Circuit Ricardo Tormo track outside of Valencia, Spain, where we performed a series of lead-follow laps behind a professional driver going about 7/10ths (…maybe?) in a current-gen GT3 RS. I kept up. As in, “I had never driven the new 911, got in, started it, steered onto the track and put the hammer down” kept up. I barely had to think. The 911 made hard driving easy in a way that seemed to scoff at me: “I can do so much more, loser.” I could have pushed every bit of my skill to the edge and then some and the car would have still been light years ahead of me.
The new eight-speed PDK dual-clutch automatic (a seven-speed manual is coming… soon), which adds a gear over the last-gen unit and features new ratios in every gear, especially in Sport Plus mode cracks through up- and downshifts like the Large Hadron Collider fires particles. (Fast.) Moreover, I literally didn’t have enough track to accelerate with the car’s full force. At 443 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque, the new 911 C2 S and Carrera 4 (C4) S have 23 horsepower and 22 lb-ft on the outgoing model. That, plus many, many other huge upgrades, are enough to shuttle both the C2 and C4 from 0-60 mph 0.4 seconds faster than their predecessors. That’s… an insane improvement. It’s the difference between a Ferrari 488 and a Bugatti Chiron.
The rear-mounted 3.0-liter boxer-six engine that powers Porsche’s 911 has been made stronger and smarter. It features larger turbochargers (they are now mirrored units, rather than identical) with electric wastegate valves that make boost pressure and, consequently, power delivery, much smoother and more exact. I don’t recall a turbo-lag sensation haunting my drives on the track and public roads – only a steady pulse of power when I demanded it. In addition, the engine now features a new charge air cooling system, piezo injectors (faster, more precise and more communicative with computer systems) and increased compression.
Front and rear drive axles feature different widths in the new car and tire configuration is mixed. All 911s will now feature a rear axle width more in line with the previous-generation C4’s hips, those “wide body” rear ends, which translates to more stability. A new braking system, featuring larger discs (330 to 350 millimeters) and a shortened pedal ratio (a pedal that’s 300 grams lighter than before, mind you) brings things to a stop. Add to all that a steering ratio that is up to “around 11 percent more direct,” optional rear-axle steering, a more rigid body that features only 30 percent steel (largely in favor of aluminum) and adaptive aerodynamics in both the front fascia and the wider, multi-position rear spoiler, and you’ve got a stable, slippery, downforce machine that’ll tackle turns like a champ.
Porsche is particularly proud of all the screens in the new 911’s interior – as mentioned, this is a very digital car. A new 10.9-inch touchscreen is planted smack in the center of the dash and behind the steering wheel on either side of the central analog tachometer lie floating displays that feature configurable functions, including a confusingly small night vision system. In terms of other helpful tech, driver assistance systems like collision warning and brake assist are standard and other tech like adaptive cruise control and lane keep assist are available.
Seats are all new as well. They are slightly lower (five millimeters), slightly lighter (three kilograms) and feature thinner cushions. Rear seats, for your obliviously lucky children and/or expensive briefcase, feature a 20 millimeter-higher seat and wider cushion.
What I see as most controversial in the new 911’s overall presence is its look, both inside and out. The following, be warned, are the subjective ravings of a self-proclaimed purist who couldn’t afford a 911 if he auctioned, well… everything he could. Still, I had trouble inside the 911, where the dashboard stretches horizontally from one side to the other, harking back to the original, decades-old 911. That’s a nice retro nod, much like Lincoln has done in its recent cars like the Navigator. But in the Navigator, the visual homage manages to feel special, or ‘progressively nostalgic,’ shall we say. Here, combined with very, very clean and texture-free surfaces, the retro shape feels sort of generic. Especially set against the multiple flat digital displays, there just isn’t much visual interest in the cabin. In a now vintage 911 that would work, since those cabins are small, but here it feels too airy – somewhere between luxuriously cosseting and anxiously expansive. Granted, I spent my time in cars with entirely black interiors, but if I’m honest, I was a little bored. The 911 has begun to sprinkle grand tourer DNA into its lineage; its interior should feel like an expensive, special experience.
The exterior isn’t boring at all. I find it kinetic and muscular to behold, but it’s so vastly different from the lithe, almost delicate 911s of yore that I find it distracting, especially in the rear. Its bulkiness is actually necessary – as regulations demand more safety and emissions standards and the like, equipment below a car’s body and the body itself have become literally larger. Cars have to fit ‘safe’ stuff now. Cars like the new 911 also have to fit all the rad-as-hell tech mentioned above so that idiots like me can race around Spanish tracks. But I can’t reason away that I think the new 911’s rear looks like an Audi R8 roid-raging out on HGH. Its tailpipes stick through the rear fascia and there’s so much vertical space and it’s just a big chunky butt. To me, the 911 has begun to look like a Panamera. (Wasn’t it supposed to be the other way around?) I will say, though, that vertical third brake light is sexy as hell.
Anyhow, feel free to email me with dissenting (or supportive…?) opinions.
Verdict: It’s a little difficult to believe I just drove the new Porsche 911 around a race track in eastern Spain. This car represents monumental history to nerds like me. And like any history worth its salt, it’s progressed, and aggressively so. I’ve driven fantastic iterations of the previous 911, in which I did things on mountain roads I hope my mother never hears of. It’s a proper wicked car. This new generation, despite my whiny objections to its looks, is better in almost literally every way imaginable, and by a wide margin all around. This remains the car that car guys want. Subsequent variations – GTS, “Turbo” and RS models – will undoubtedly be so sublime they’ll shred reality. And, for that matter, keep armchair purists pleasantly miffed.
What Others Are Saying:
• “An overarching theme of latter-day 911s is the continual expansion of their dynamic range. The latest version of Porsche’s PASM active dampers, now with infinitely adjustable valving, continue to push the 911’s chassis in opposite directions simultaneously: more comfort and better high-performance grip. The optional PASM Sport setup, which the test car had, adds higher spring rates, stiffer damper tune, and a 10-millimeters-lower ride height. ” — Mike Spinelli, The Drive
• “Negotiate the Porsche’s odd, spring-loaded door handle and slide behind the wheel for an experience that feels quintessentially 911. Five gauges stare back at you from the low seating position, but 80 percent of them are digital – the center-mounted tachometer is real (and real pretty), but it’s flanked by two 5.0-inch displays that feature the additional gauges.” — Brandon Turkus, Motor1
• “Even a brief taste of the new 911 made us confident that we’ll be able to swallow and enjoy what Porsche has sprinkled into a car that we didn’t think needed changing. Like your palate, 911s evolve.” — Tony Quiroga, Car and Driver