We go black ops and learn what to expect from the next 911
Back in July, we traveled to San Francisco for an opportunity to drive the next-generation Porsche 911 Carrera: a group of not quite finished cars but a very close approximation. The test cars were three steps along in the development process. First there were 130 hand-built prototypes, then about 300 Pre-Series 1 (PS1) cars and another 300 or so PS2 cars, four of which we would drive. What makes these four samples so special is that among the entire PS2 fleet, these are the only ones to have all of the most recent updates from Germany.
After each day of development driving (12 cars and 20 engineers), there was a 3- to 4-hour debrief, and multiple terabytes of information were shared between the development team and the factory. The latest updates were then applied to the cars we would drive. There are isolated PS2s in the hands of brake engineers, with powertrain, transmission, etc., “but those won’t have all the systems updates from the other teams. Only these do,” explained Alex Ernst, Porsche’s manager of development for sports cars. Ernst, who is partial to wearing colorful pants, organizes and runs the development team, coordinating and maintaining everything from the fleet itself to the team’s driving routes, even lunch destinations. He and his teams have spent the past three months in Nevada and California testing the effects of heat, traffic jams, and fundamentally “local” conditions and problems. Effectively, we were to be embedded in his team for a day. We were hosted by Andreas Pröbstle, director of 718 and 911 complete vehicle model lines; August Achleitner, vice president for 718 and 911 model lines; and Matthias Hofstetter, project manager of powertrain for sports cars.
The current cadre of 911 models (23 at the moment) is generationally known as 991.2, or the second (2017) update of the seventh-generation car that was introduced in 2012. When revealed sans camouflage later this month, the 2020 Porsche 911 (992) will be shown to be essentially all new: new body, lighting, chassis, interior, dash, infotainment, safety tech, you name it. The engines will be updated versions of the current ones, the seven-speed manual will continue, and the PDK double-clutch automated manual transmission will get another forward gear for a total of eight. We learned that there’s also room in the new PDK gearbox that can accommodate an electric motor, but the development team wasn’t keen on this idea, saying that a hybrid 911 wouldn’t necessarily enhance the 911 experience and would add weight and complexity. We’ll see in time. Speaking of the seven-speed manual, the U.S. and U.K. have the biggest take rates, so it’s not in danger of extinction. In sports cars, 5 to 15 percent is typical, but for Porsche, fully 34 percent of the Carrera GTSs sold in the States, 70 percent of GT3s, and 80 percent of Carrera Ts have manual transmissions.
After a short presentation and a hastily eaten breakfast, we ambled down a ramp to an underground hotel parking lot in Fisherman’s Wharf. What we saw was a line of future Porsche products, only four of which I’m allowed to share with you here. All bedecked in subtle but effective black camouflage, each one had red lettering (A1, A2, A3, and A4) on its windshield and back glass plus a small antenna sprouting from the rear deck. No, the next 911 isn’t going to have a mast antenna. Because some of the development drives take place in remote areas where the cars might become separated with little or no mobile phone coverage and walkie-talkies’ range isn’t sufficient, each vehicle has a CB radio. Standing in the dark, we learned the 911 model rollout will be in the following order: 1. Carrera S/4S (PDK); 2. Convertible S/4S (PDK); 3. Carrera/4 (7M); and so on. They wouldn’t talk about the 911 Turbo. The first examples of the 2020 Porsche 911 will be in dealerships in the summer of 2019. We stood there, chatting about the future 911 for what felt like a half-hour until somebody finally said, “Hey, I’ve got an idea: Let’s go drive!”
As if there were some sort of random drawing, we were literally tossed a key. We glanced around to see which car’s lights responded to the unlock button and got behind the wheel, one of the engineers sitting in the passenger seat. My first car was A2, a Carrera S with the seven-speed manual and the Sport Chrono package. My passenger was Achleitner (aka Mr. 911). We drove up the ramp and into the fog like a squad of hit men and blended, as well as four flat-black 911s can, into the city traffic. Very similar to what we do at Motor Trend for a comparison drive, we stuck together tightly as we weaved through the city. By the way, I signed a nondisclosure agreement that restricts what I can say about how the car(s) drove, but fear not, Porsche faithful. All of the sensations, sounds, responses (and trademark five-ring instrument panel) you currently enjoy are intact.
We made our way to a remote parking lot on the bay to switch cars and passenger hosts. Standing on the windblown bluff, we learn the cars’ wheels will grow to 20 inches up front and 21 in the back. I jotted down sidewall information: Pirelli P Zero NA0, 245/35R20 91Y and 305/30R21 100Y. Achleitner went on to reveal the cars’ front track width grows by 40mm, overall height increases by 5mm, length by 20mm, or roughly similar dimensions to the current 991.2 Carrera GTS. The C-shaped one-piece aluminum body stampings (from A-pillar, over the door, through the rear quarter panel, and concluding at the front edge of the rocker panel) are aluminum and are 20 to 30 pounds (14 kg) lighter. The car’s overall coefficient of drag drops from 0.30 Cd to 0.29. The front anti-roll bars’ stiffness has been lowered due to new dampers. Hofstetter explained that the new engine mounts (active on Sport Chrono cars) move forward. The engines have 10.5:1 compression, precise piezo fuel injectors, and intricately cast, integral exhaust manifolds that are lighter than the current ones. The intercoolers migrate to the top of the engine, just under the highly vented engine cover. Air filters for the intake manifold now reside where the intercoolers were, which improves the intake flow. The eight-speed PDK’s gearbox is the same length as the old one but now has a larger volume and four shafts instead of the previous two. Eighth gear is the same ratio as the outgoing seventh gear, so although the overall spread remains the same, ratios are distributed more tightly between gears. Time to drive some more.
Into the Light
Next up was car A1: a Carrera PDK with steel PSCB (Porsche Surface Coated Brake) discs and PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management). My partner for this stint was Pröbstle (the whole vehicle guy). We drove over the Golden Gate and into the sunlight in Marin County. On the drive, I learned about a new lane keeping system and a night vision system with pedestrian and animal detection that remains active (and will still warn) when the display isn’t being used. Similar to snow/ice detection, there’s also a new “wet” detection system, which alters stability and traction controls. Those sensors are in the front wheelwells and look for spray and listen for noise associated with wet roads. We swap into a new car with a new host (Hofstetter, the powertrain guy) for a riotous 4.4-mile (7-km) hill climb through redwoods to the intersection of Fairfax-Bolinas Road and West Ridgecrest Boulevard. As luck would have it, I was driving A3, a Carrera S with the works: eight-speed PDK, PASM, PDCC (carbon-ceramic brakes), rear steering, and Sport Chrono. Let’s just say the switchbacks didn’t stand a chance.
Take a Break
The group grew hungry, and Ernst said he knew just the spot in the charming little town of Fairfax. We parked the cars on a side street and followed the red trousers. When we walked in the restaurant, it was clear he had been here many times. It felt like they knew and greeted the Porsche group, or maybe that was just Fairfax hospitality. In any case, over the jovial lunch it became very clear that despite having been away from home for months and working closely with the same group of dedicated individuals, the entire squad of engineers, mechanics, chase, and support teams really loves what they do—and weren’t at each other’s throats. Quite the contrary, the camaraderie was genuine, generous, and inclusive. As we dined, the team asked for my impressions—they’re still working out the brake “jump-in,” which was a little abrupt. I can’t remember who said it, but I jotted down something somebody said: “If one cannot adapt to the car within 45 to 90 minutes, then the car must be changed.” I told them I was honored to be involved, that they had succeeded in exceeding my 911 expectations, and that I greatly looked forward to driving the final product.
There was one more stop ’n’ swap on the way back to The City. As we stood on the roadside, a Toyota Prius driver stopped and asked for directions to the nearest gas station. Ironic, isn’t it? Looking at her fuel gauge, the engineers determined she would not make the 10-mile (16-km) distance, so Ernst sent a person to retrieve a gas can from the support van. Ernst emptied the container into the Prius, wouldn’t accept a dime in return, and sent her safely on her way. These are good guys. We finished chatting, and with Ernst as my passenger, we headed back over the Golden Gate and straight into afternoon rush-hour traffic. The graphics and processing speed of the new infotainment/sat-nav system are world-class. As is the case with the recent Porsche products, the bevy of buttons has been reduced to a minimum, replaced with touchscreen or haptic-touch icons/panels.
991.2 < 992
What an illuminating, forthright, and privileged day it had been. Every question was answered. Each opportunity to demonstrate the cars’ collective new features was welcomed. I wish I could tell you more about how the four cars drove, but we’ll have to wait until the official, fully baked 992 press drive in January. What a treat it was to pretend to be part of the development team for a day—and to be welcomed with such gusto. I would happily do it again. Heck, I wonder if they’re hiring! Kidding, of course, because I’m not an engineer, but it’s no wonder the 992, and Porsche products in general, are some of the best-engineered vehicles in the world. They appear to have some very happy, cooperative, honest, and thorough engineers. And this was just one of the development drives. There are several more in the course of a Porsche’s development: hot weather, cold weather, Nürburgring (naturally), and so on. Rest assured. The 2020 Porsche 911 will live up to its own self-set benchmark status. Watch this space.