Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: August 31, 2020
When the Porsche 911 receives an update, it’s big news. The perennial safe choice when it comes to owning a proper, reliable, and hardly depreciating sports car, the 911 is the Rolex of the sports car hemisphere, and I truly don’t believe there to be a more dedicated and loyal fanbase. Case in point is when more enthusiasts call it by the internal codenames of 996, 997, and 991, rather than simply 911. So when Porsche decides to revamp its unique rear-engined rear-wheel drive halo car, it better be for the greater good, or there will be flames and pitchforks involved.
The iconic Porsche 911 is brand new for 2020, codenamed the 992, and is replete with evolutionary changes to the sheetmetal, more power from its flat-six engine, a stiffer chassis, a revamped interior, and updated tech. And in true Porsche fashion, the 992 has already spawned a wide variety of variants, 14 in total from the base 911 Carrera, S, and 4S, each with a convertible and Targa variant, all the way up to the supremely quick Turbo and Turbo S, each elevating the bar in horsepower and performance. This doesn’t even include the middle-ground T and GTS models which have yet to be announced.
As far as appearances go, it was never easy to tell the difference between generations of 911, especially to the untrained eye. Telling the trim models apart are even more difficult sans proper badging. Even with our specific test vehicle, a base model 911 Carrera dressed up in Gentian Blue, we would have thought it to be an S at first glance. But here’s a quick overview.
Visual changes for 2020 include a widebody stance for all models regardless of being rear-wheel or all-wheel drive. That means a wider front and rear track, bigger hips, and a staggered front and rear tire setup with their accompanying flared fenders (19-inches front and 20-inches rear on the Carrera). Fatter rear tires are always good news for a rear-heavy vehicle. The front end remains eerily similar to the outgoing 991 though with a squared off front hood line where it used to be round. The wheelbase remains the same but it has grown in length, most of it on the front overhang.
The classic soap-bar silhouette remains, but a new tail light design borrowed from the Macan and Cayenne design language spans the entire width of the rear, connecting the lights together. The rear spoiler is flush and integrated, and will erect from its slumber when hitting higher speeds or when manually summoned via the infotainment screen. For the sake of design and aerodynamics, the door handles are now flush with the body work, and will pop out when unlocked much like a Tesla or Jaguar F-Type. Overall, it’s more evolution than revolution, but we’re perfectly content with that.
One of the easiest ways to spot the base Carrera is via its exhaust tips. If it doesn’t have the Sports Exhaust equipped, like ours, it will have squared off exhaust outlets integrated into the rear bumper. It looks a little ‘base’, if you ask me, much like they do on the base four-cylinder Macan. In fact, the actual exhaust tips aren’t connected to the muffler exits at all. Look closely and you can spot twin tailpipes hidden within those rectangular bumper pieces, but they don’t protrude outwards like they do in the 991 models. Porsche says this was to reduce repair costs in case of a rear-end collision. On the flip side, if you spec your base Carrera with the sports exhaust, or upgrade to the Carrera S, you will get the oval tailpipes instead, also integrated into the rear bumper.
Though never a cabin focused on drama or elegance, the 992 continues its theme of a simplistic and laser-sharp focused layout with minimal driver distractions. There’s but a tiny razor-like gear shifter located in the center console, a clean dashboard with an integrated widescreen display, and a gamut of digital instrument gauges flanked by a tried and true analog tachometer in the middle, keeping with Porsche tradition. The knurled metallic toggles mounted on the dash feel exceptionally premium, and the fit and finish is possibly one of the best in the business, with not a panel gap or loose panel in sight. If a surgeon had to design an interior, we think it would look something like this. It’s a stark, dark, and sterile place to spend time in, especially when you compare it with the dazzling leathers and colours in the Lexus LC 500, or the entertaining fan movements and pistol-grip shifter in the Jaguar F-Type. The center console is also overly bare, with two large plastic bars running down the sides of the gear shifter that serve no real purpose, but is clearly there because that’s where the manual transmission box is slotted on Carrera S models.
The 18-way adjustable seats are highly recommended, well bolstered and supportive yet adjustable enough for most drivers to find their optimal position. Porsche has always ensured their driving positions exude the feeling of being inside a true thoroughbred sports car. They’ve achieved that by positioning the steering wheel like a race car: parallel and straight in relation to the driver’s body. That makes it easy to sit up nice and close to the wheel and bring it to your chest for quicker wheel rotation The seating position is low as well, giving you the feeling of a low center of gravity and being close to the floor, and thanks to large windows, excellent outward visibility, and a low front hood that doesn’t intrude your forward view, you actually don’t feel that low, that is until you pull up next to a Nissan Micra and realize you can easily read the text on its tires.
It might seem like another cheap jab at Porsche for charging an arm and a leg for options that are easily standard on its competitors, but you do have to give it to them for offering such a vast palette of customizable features to ensure every 911 is a little different than the last. That’s further reflected by the choice of leather, wood, alcantara, or carbon fibre on specific areas of the interior, your choice of seat belt colour, or the Paint to Sample program that allows you to dream up any paint colour for your new 992. But when you’re charging extra for keyless entry, a sunroof, or even ambient lighting, when the base price is already well into the six-figures, we have an issue with that.
Let’s also not forget about the castrated gear shifter, as it’s a bit of sore thumb sticking out of an otherwise clean and clear center console. Why not horizontally orient it like they did on the Taycan where it’s out of view? If you’re going to add a gear shifter, at least make it somewhat substantial and a central focus of the interior. This example reminds us of the dinky shifter used in the Mercedes SLC and SL, and the tear-drop shaped one in last-generation BMW M cars. Or see those toggles above the center fan vents in the 992? Why not relegate those buttons to be the gear selectors instead, much like what GMCs and Aston Martins have resorted to. That would greatly free up the center stack for a more elegant design. The shifter doesn’t light up with its selected gear position either, so you really don’t know what gear you’ve firmly selected unless you peer into the tiny display embedded within the tachometer.
Secondly, the left-side ignition switch and analog tachometer are sweet nostalgic references to Porsche’s storied history, and while the tachometer provides clear fonts and a small screen below for digital information, it lacks depth and doesn’t appear as elegant as gauges past. More Tissot than Panerai. Even when spec’d out with an optional white backwash, it looks like it belongs on a Macan or a Cayenne, but not their halo sports car. And while there are four digital gauges flanking the center tach, the two dials on opposing ends are constantly blocked by the steering wheel rim, no matter how you sit or adjust it. The outer dials are also limited in their degree of customization, so the only way you can view the fuel gauge is by tilting your head to the side. Now, there’s no denying the efficacy of a digital screen but when you’ve been spoiled by the beautiful needles and backlit faces of older Aston Martins and Lexus models, it’s hard to go back. Hell, even Rolls-Royce have ditched their once revered analog gauges to a digital screen format.
Like the BMW M8, Porsche offers a shortcut button on the steering wheel that can be programmed to activate common features like changing the audio track or displaying the navigation map. Here in the 992, the features are heavily limited. You can’t program it to fire up the heated seats, nor engage Sport Mode for quick overtaking maneuvers - I guess Porsche wants you to spend more money for that steering wheel with the drive mode dial. And I never understood why Porsche relegates the sunroof controls to three dedicated switches on the center console. Why not just make it one switch on the headliner like every other vehicle in the world, and free up precious center console space for an additional cup holder? And while sizable and allowing for a great deal of light to flood in and open up the dark cabin, our base Carrera had the ‘cheaper’ sunroof option without a glass roof. That meant the fabric cover was fixed to the sunroof, and you can’t just slide it back. It’s either no light, or all of it. Furthermore, storage options inside the 992 are limited at best, and the miniscule rear seats are more for decorative purposes than actual usable areas of human transportation.
But enough complaints about the interior. That’s not the sole focus of the 992. Let’s talk about how it drives instead because that has always been central to the 911’s appeal. The 911 Carrera retains the same basic format of a horizontally-opposed 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged flat-six, but has been updated with a larger central intercooler, tweaked turbochargers and compressors, piezo fuel injections that replace the mechanical direct injectors in the 991.2, and an increased compression ratio. The resulting output is 379 hp and 331 lb-ft, a paltry amount when similarly priced sports cars produce in excess of 500 horses. That is also 64 hp and 59 lb-ft less than the Carrera S, but 14 hp more than the outgoing 991.2 Carrera. An 8-speed dual-clutch automatic (PDK) replaces the outgoing 7-speed unit, rear-wheel drive remains standard fare, and it will sprint from 0-100 km/h in 4.2 seconds. The looming question still remains: does this base 911 live up to its six-figure expectations? In some ways, yes. In others, that’s up for debate.
When launched from a halt, the 992 certainly does not feel like it has 379 horsepower. It feels more like 450. The pick up is insanely quick, traction feels unlimited, and the way the PDK fires off the first few shifts are nothing short of an engineering masterstroke. The rest of the torque band is flat and linear, offering a punch of acceleration that just keeps on giving. In fact, it’s very similar to how a Golf R turbo-four feels, in a good way, punching hard down low and relentlessly chugging down boost. The latter half of the needle is where the flat-six quicker tapers off before bouncing on its 7,400 rpm limiter. It’s here that it feels more like its stated output but boy, does Porsche know how to make a car feel quick off the line.
Out on the open road, the 992 delivers a very GT-like drive, affable and approachable but sharp enough to remain sure-footed on dopamine-rushing excursions. There’s no denying that you feel pudgy hints of weight around the edges, and that the mid-engined Cayman GT4 clearly eclipses it in terms of athleticism and body control. But thanks to a balanced layout, the 992’s handling is as neutral as Switzerland, and the electric-powered steering is near telepathic - light without being overboosted, quick without being twitchy. It provides wide open channels of communication through your fingertips, and reacts to even the tiniest of inputs. The 992 rides well too, harsh on pockmarked roads but absorbing the impacts well enough to be gentle on the occupants, further emphasizing its acceptable use as a civil everyday cruiser.
The 8-speed dual-clutch PDK remains as close to gear-shifting perfection as it will ever get, but we still firmly believe that a proper six-speed manual would distill the experience down to a more organic and raw level. Alas, Porsche only offers three pedals on Carrera S and 4S models. It’s a shame really, as the 911 segment has one of the highest take rates for manuals, but I’m sure the bean counters at Porsche have done the math and made the logistical decision.
Of course, this being a base Carrera model with limited options means you don’t get the full gamut of driver technology. It doesn’t have rear-wheel steering, an adaptive suspension, sports exhaust, carbon ceramic brakes, or even launch control. Does the average driver need these? Absolutely not. In essence, the base Carrera is all you require for dominating street performance. It’s genuinely hard to believe that one could even call this base for all intents and purposes. The 992 Carrera is a somewhat sterile experience with so much perfection instilled into the drive, but it is an over-achieving machine, cleverly compounding its strengths together for unparallelled and remarkable road presence. Ignorance is bliss, surely, but hop into a Carrera without expecting 4S or Turbo levels of performance, and you won’t be disappointed.
But then we get to the noise. The subdued wail of this straight-six is the opposite of operatic, and isn’t all that pleasing without the optional sports exhaust. The mechanical notes, lack of deep-timbre bass, and hollow wail that simply goes up in volume in proportion to the throttle pedal, just can’t replace the beats of a V8 wardrum, and we can easily name ten other cars in this price range that are more emotionally stimulating at wide open throttle. Calling our bluff? Challenge accepted: Jaguar F-Type SVR, Mercedes-AMG GT C, Lexus LC 500, BMW M8 Competition, Audi R8, Ford Shelby GT500, Nissan GT-R, Chevrolet Corvette Z06, Maserati GranTurismo MC, and Lotus Evora 400. Phew.
The 992 simply lacks those heart-wrenching crescendos when cresting the limiter, and doesn’t raise goosebumps the way the aforementioned cars do. It does deliver some crispy and bass-filled downshifts though, and you can hear the hissing of the blow off valves and the swooshing of air as it passes the driver’s window. Of course, exhaust noise isn’t everything, and I’m certain most 992 owners wouldn’t mind one bit but to us, it’s essential.
The new Porsche 911 is a sports car powerhouse with grand touring DNA. It executes both jobs exceptionally well, possibly better than any other sports car in the segment. The brilliantly natural steering, superb brakes, and exceptional stability means you can lean on the car and trust its instincts and movements. The way it launches off the line with ‘just’ 379-hp is also nothing short of exhilarating. Calling it the base model would be a disservice. We have our nitpicks with the interior and the way Porsche nickels and dimes for common creature comforts, but spec your 911 well with just the bare minimum of essential features, and you just might find your calling.
Leaning towards a more comfortable drive? We recommend the 18-way Sport Seats Plus, glass sunroof, and the Burmester audio system to get the most out of your leisure drives. If performance remains the top priority, better to get the sports exhaust and Sport Chrono package instead. But no matter the options, no matter which side of the comfort and performance spectrum you find yourself in with the entry-level Carrera, in our minds, this is the new sweet spot of the 911 lineup.
Model: 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera (992)
Paint Type: Gentian Blue Metallic ($950)
Base Price: $113,000
Price as Tested: $141,310
Length/Width/Height (mm): 4,519 / 1,852 / 1,298
Unladen weight (kg): 1,505
Engine: 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged flat-six
Horsepower: 379 hp @ 6,500 rpm
Torque: 331 lb-ft @ 1,900 rpm
Transmission: 8-speed dual-clutch automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Rear engine, RWD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 15.2