After 55 years, it's still a work in progress
Porsche’s 911 may seem immortal, eternal, but in truth it’s always been a work in progress. Generations of engineers have spent their careers buried in the bowels of Porsche’s R&D headquarters in Weissach polishing, honing, refining, and reimagining the sports car that for more than half a century has been its lodestar. The 2020 911, aka the 992, proves the point. It looks familiar, feels familiar, sounds familiar. But there isn’t a part or component on the car that hasn’t been touched, tweaked, or totally renewed.
I’ve now tested seven of the eight 911 generations, and the 992 is the most wondrous of the lot. Oh, you’ll hear some sniffing that it’s grown too big, too complex, too luxurious, that it’s lost the purity of purpose enshrined in Butzi Porsche’s bijou original. Hardcore Porsche aficionados can be a picky lot. Butzi’s 911 was designed to be roomier and more comfortable than the beetle-backed 356 yet was regarded by many in 1963 as a retrograde step. The 1997 switch from air-cooled to water-cooled engines with the 996 was the ultimate betrayal, the automotive equivalent of Bob Dylan picking up an electric guitar.
What I’ve come to understand—no, love—about the Porsche 911 is how it continues to defy logic. It is, on an elemental level, a car defined by its history. But it’s not trapped by it.
Hockenheimring, Germany. Just before Christmas. It’s close to freezing, a watery sun barely troubling damp patches on the track, as I climb into the gray 992 Carrera S. Even though the Le Mans dash-to-the-car starts are lost to history, the ignition is to the left of the steering wheel, just as it’s always been. A twist and the 3.0-liter flat-six—the same capacity and configuration as the engine that powered the first 911 I ever tested 32 years ago—instantly fires up and settles to a rapid idle, combustion clatter muted by water and turbochargers. Five dials are spread across the instrument panel, just as they were in 1963, though only the central one—the tach, of course—is analog.
The eight-speed PDK is the only transmission offered on the 992, though the seven-speed manual will return. The new PDK shifter is nothing more than a giant toggle switch. Click it back for drive, and twist the steering wheel–mounted controller around to Sport Plus mode. There’s a deeper snarl from the exhaust as the Porsche’s electronic brain simultaneously stiffens the suspension’s sinews and sharpens the powertrain’s responses. We’re good to go.
On paper, the 9A2 Evo flat-six builds power in a constant gradient from about 2,250 rpm all the way to 5,000 rpm while the torque curve is as flat as Kansas across the same rev range. And that’s exactly how it feels on the track, delivering an eerily linear surge of thrust, right up to the 7,400-rpm redline. Traction is immense. Already the 992 Carrera S feels an order of magnitude quicker than its 991.2 predecessor.
The first couple of laps are exploratory—I’ve never driven Hockenheim before. But by the third lap I see an indicated 155 mph (150 km/h) before braking hard for the ultra-tight Spitzkehre hairpin. The front tires skate momentarily over the damp patch on corner entry before biting hard; the rear axle, anchored by the bigger 21-inch wheels and tires that allow the standard steel-braked 992s to run larger rear discs, tracks faithfully into the turn. Roll the wrists, and there’s immediate response and immaculate feedback from the wide-track front end. Nip the apex and feed in the gas. Feel the forces build. The 992 telegraphs its punches clearly and concisely. Even as the rear tires start nibbling at the limits of adhesion, I’m dialing in opposite lock.
Compared with the original 911, the 992 Carrera S is indeed big, heavy, and luxurious. But it’s also thrillingly fast, telepathically responsive, and wonderfully communicative. It’s all 911, all the time, yet more approachable and trustworthy at the limit than ever before. As far as Porsche is concerned, though, it’s still a work in progress.
Stay tuned for a more thorough 2020 Porsche 911 review coming soon.
More on the 2020 Porsche 911
- See the 2020 Porsche 911 Cabriolet
- 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera Prototype Development Drive
- Refreshing or Revolting: 2020 Porsche 911
- 2020 Porsche 911 First Look