As the 911 ever was, so shall the 911 ever be—but better
It’s cold. That worst kind of cold. The biting, penetrating cold you feel in your bones. It’s mid-morning at Circuit Ricardo Tormo inland of Valencia, Spain, and all of 40 degrees. The sun’s been up only an hour, and it’s cloudy. I’m not worried about the air temperature, though. I’m worried about the track temperature. The tire temperature I can fix on the warm-up laps. The track, though, that’s on nature.
I might have known I needn’t worry. Eight years ago, Jonny Lieberman and I absconded from the last Porsche 911 launch in Los Angeles with a Carrera S and a Corvette Grand Sport and quickly found ourselves in a freak rain-sleet-snowstorm in the mountains halfway between L.A. and Santa Barbara. The Corvette was nearly undriveable; the Porsche didn’t even seem to notice the conditions.
So it was familiar ground when I finally put rubber to racetrack the better part of a decade later. The new Porsche 911, referred to by its 992 internal designation among those in the know, is no more troubled by cold weather than its predecessor, the 991. I would be among the first outsiders in the world to drive the latest 911 as it’s meant to be driven, and the thought of being the first to put one in a tire wall gnawed at the back of my mind.
The warm-up laps were encouraging. The surface wasn’t as skatey as I’d feared. Still, the question percolated of what would happen with me piloting 443 hp through this rear-engine sports car at the limit, when the only margin of error left is the runoff. Two hot laps put my mind at ease. By the fourth, I was sure I was just as wrong to be worried about the 992 in the cold and damp as I was about the 991. To be short: Weather doesn’t matter.
Don’t tell that to the people in Stuttgart, though. They expended quite an effort developing a Wet mode that can sense water on the road by the spray from the wheels and, when selected, apply its safety-oriented algorithms with the authority and conviction of a riled-up Southern Baptist preacher. Yes, when there’s standing water on the road, the 911’s computers can prevent even the biggest fool from lunching his car.
For us lesser fools, it’s a crutch on which we need not lean. The new 911 has grip. All of it. All the time, it seems. When it doesn’t, it has predictability. The great folly of 911s is conversely their greatest strength: They always behave exactly the way you expect them to.
In the distant past, rude behavior was far, far easier to provoke than it is today, but the result was the same. Trail-brake and turn in too sharply? Lift off the throttle too abruptly with too much steering angle? Yes, the rear of the car will try to take the lead. What makes modern 911s, and especially this new one, so great is the friendly nature of their oversteer.
Whatever Isaac Newton may have to say, new 911s don’t want to go backward in the wall unless you really make no effort to stop them from doing so. When they start to go, you remember that old driver-school chestnut and turn into the skid. Even if everything you know about controlling oversteer comes from a Ken Block video, you’ll be able to stop a 911 from doing a 180. And really, it’s only a situation you’ll be facing if you turn the entire electronic safety net off in some pre-emptive stroke of confidence.
The same rules of predictability and vehicle management apply, albeit with much less drama, to understeer. If it happens, you know damn well why; fixing it is instinctual if you remember anything at all about car control from driving school.
This predictability, and the confidence it necessarily engenders, is to me the hallmark of a driver’s car. Knowing from the first set of corners how a car will behave is what makes a great car easy to drive. Knowing where the limit is, when it’s approaching, and the surefire way to fix things once you’ve gotten them wrong puts the mind at ease. This reassurance allows you to drive a car as hard as the mood strikes you, even if it’s otherwise unfamiliar. This is what the 911 possesses.
But you know that already. If you’ve read anything about a 911 in the past decade (and as a reader of this magazine you surely have), you know the 911 in all guises is a fantastic and fantastically capable sports car that ingratiates itself with overwhelming confidence whether it has 400 horsepower or 700.
I knew it on that racetrack, even if my amygdala had temporarily hijacked my certainty in that knowledge. Trail-braking into the Turn 2 hairpin and rolling as hard as the adjective allows into the throttle, keeping that same throttle pinned under the bridge and through the kink of the back straight, then standing on the brake pedal with still a bit of angle in the steering wheel, the 911 reminded me it was just as disinclined to meet the wall as I was.
In fact, understeer and oversteer are as much coaches to the 911 driver as they are deterrents. If you’ve managed to provoke either ailment, it was for one of two reasons: Either you meant to, or you got greedy. When you didn’t mean to, you know as you enter the corner you’ve carried too much speed, braked too late, turned in too early or too late, turned too aggressively, or gotten too deep into the throttle too early. Your knuckles proportionately rapped, you promise yourself you’ll get it right the next lap.
Of all 911s, the Carrera is the least likely to ever see a track from anywhere but the parking lot. That it can be so rewarding on a closed course, though, is an important factor in the confidence you have in the car on the street. Assaulting the mountain roads of southeastern Spain, or wherever you live, the 911 behaves no differently. Indeed, you’re far more likely to induce its particular brand of driver coaching, especially with poor road surfaces, and corners designed with the path of least construction resistance (and not the racing line) in mind. Even with the electronic minders fully engaged and commensurate with the drive mode you’ve selected, you’ll test the limits of the car and its tires in a way that’s utterly rewarding without posing an undue risk to yourself or anyone else.
It’s the response in the steering, the quick ratio that rarely asks you to move your hands around the wheel, and the tenacious grip from the nose despite its inherent lightness. It’s the ever-improving feel in that electrically assisted wheel that translates the road surface to your tactile senses. It’s the response from the engine—its torque curve moved up both in numbers and revs, its horsepower curve just a little steeper on its climb to a loftier peak—that combines to make the engine feel less obviously turbocharged (noises not withstanding) and more linear. It’s the response from the brakes, an unmistakable correlation between pedal pressure and travel and the braking force returned, never changing, never fading. Yet if you still find yourself insufficiently stimulated, there’s always the stability control’s Sport setting, in practice nothing more than a more liberal tolerance for slip angle ahead of intervention.
No matter how it drives, this new 911 is not a perfect car. It has at least one glaring flaw, and it’s right in front of your face. Porsche has elected to replace 80 percent of its instrument cluster with a pair of 7.0-inch wing screens flanking the analog tachometer, the evaluation of which would be purely subjective had Porsche not arranged the digital gauges presented on them in such a way that a full 40 percent of them—that is, two of the five gauges—are almost completely obscured by the steering wheel rim.
On the left side, it’s uncritical information like time and outside temperature, but on the right, it’s engine temperature and the fuel gauge. Criticality of data aside, it’s unfathomable how an oversight like this made it to production. That there’s a curiously large amount of wasted space on the center console behind the dainty, Braun shaver–inspired shift lever is a triviality by comparison.
If a few specific interior ergonomics issues are the sole points of contention I have with the new 911, it says as much about the car as everything else I’ve written. Take a moment to remind yourself this is the base model with performance options. Just imagine what’ll happen when they put the letters “GT” on one.
|2020 Porsche 911 Carrera S/4S|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Rear-engine, RWD/AWD, 2+2-pass, 2-door coupe|
|ENGINE||3.0L/443-hp/390-lb-ft twin-turbo DOHC flat-6|
|TRANSMISSION||8-speed twin-clutch auto|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,400-3,500 lb (mfr est)|
|LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT||177.9-178.4 x 72.9 x 50.8-51.2 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.2-3.5 sec (mfr est)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||22-23/29-30/25-26 mpg (MT est)|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||147-153/112-116 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.75-0.79 lb/mile (est)|
|ON SALE IN U.S.||Summer, 2019|