First Drive: 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera

The new base 911 model might make you wonder if you’ll ever need more.

HAYINGEN, Germany—Base. Entry level. Starter. You can call the 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera a lot of things, but just don't call it slow. On the glassy smooth two-lane roads snaking through these rural hamlets, locals move along at a healthy pace in their de-badged Audis and Benzes while opposing traffic flows past with similar vigor. Brief gaps occasionally occur amidst the rhythm, and our Racing Yellow 911 Carrera is craving a good gallop.

Tap the small button on the steering wheel-mounted mode selector, and the not-so-mellow yellow ride comes to life: gears drop and revs climb, and the driveline grants 20 seconds to max out on socially questionable passing maneuvers before it reverts to its calmer state. Boom. The Porsche shoots forward with a rolling start from 50 mph to 90 mph, dispatching the gap with ease as the mild-mannered C-Class wagon recedes in the rearview.

Offered at a $15,900 discount over the Carrera S model—basically a secondhand Miata's worth of cash—the new Porsche 911 Carrera is motivated by the same 3.0-liter twin-turbo flat-six as the S, though smaller turbos yield 379 hp and 331 lb-ft, sacrificing 64 hp and 112 lb-ft of torque. Porsche claims a half-second difference in 0 to 60 mph times, with the newly introduced car doing the deed in 3.8 seconds when equipped with the Sport Chrono package. Not bad for a beginner 911, and 0.2-second quicker than its predecessor. And while strategic packaging will likely preclude the standard model from accessing some of the S's available goodies like rear-axle steering (in the previous incarnation, Porsche only allowed the feature in the brilliant in-betweener T model), the junior car is otherwise mostly the same, save the smaller 19- and 20-inch wheels (the S gets 20- and 21-inchers) and single-pipe dual exhaust (versus twin pipes.) Interiors are identical, and the new model retains goodies like Wet mode and next-gen PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management), which works in conjunction with staggered wheel sizes for the first time.

There's an indelibly 911-ish impression behind the wheel of the new 992 series, thanks in large part to the analog tachometer that still sits front-and-center, looming large in your field of vision as the aft-mounted flat-six bleats from behind. Apart from a few questionable unorthodoxies, like the needlessly complex door handles which extend to greet you, and digital screens flanking the tach which are easily blocked by the steering wheel, the 992 manages to retain many of the hallmarks that lend it that inscrutable 911-ness. The expanse of the passenger-side dashboard is a welcome stretch of minimalism that can be accented in subdued carbon-fiber trim or even wood, and the feeling of compact, well-executed construction prevails throughout, save small details in our test cars like the glossy black plastic trim on the center console.

The 911's footprint grew considerably with the previous 991 series (2011-18), but the new car still drives relatively small, tussling pugnaciously on switchbacks with precise steering and excellent grip. There's so much surefootedness and stability, in fact, that the 911 feels more comfortable than ever during long stints behind the wheel. Tapping the knurled exhaust and suspension toggles on the dashboard introduces a bit more volume and responsiveness to the proceedings, with a throatier sound emerging at higher rpms, and firmer damping. The short PDK shifter stalk still takes some getting used to—it works intuitively enough, but seems aesthetically anathema to Porsche's decades-old sports car—yet the dual-clutch transmission works with near-faultless efficiency, shifting quickly and smoothly, save for the occasional low-speed flutter when pulling away from a standstill. If anything, the stubby shifter is a visual reminder that Porsche promises a manual gearbox option, which one source hints will be announced soon.

Hitting the small wheel-mounted paddles manually instigates quick, smooth shifts that transition so easily, you barely notice they're there. Manual shifts are triggered by merely tapping the paddles, though the system almost immediately reverts back to an auto shift pattern. However, the driver becomes responsible in earnest after pressing the small M button on the center console: hit the max revs of 7,500 rpm, and the gearbox won't budge because it remains loyal to the driver's inputs. This is good stuff, though you learn the hard way that Sport Response won't override the manual mode, which can lead to awkwardly slow passes if you happen to be in too high of a gear. Lesson learned.

The Carrera Cabriolet starts at $111,550 and brings a more conspicuous experience, with infinite headroom and a surprisingly quiet ride when the top is up. There are palpable dynamic differences between coupe and convertible, particularly in the way the steering feels neurally linked in the hardtop and slightly less buttoned down in the ragtop. While purists will easily choose the fixed roof, the open-air option does introduce more sights and sounds, with turbo whine and a generally more involving sensory experience to go with the driving. While 154 pounds heavier and 0.2-second slower to 60 mph, the convertible still most certainly is what it is, an option that will find its audience independent of the go fast/go hard crowd.

For many, the standard issue Carrera will meet essentially all of their driving needs, delivering swift, capable transport with little to no outward indication of its status on the Porsche pecking order. Sure, the Carrera S is that much quicker with its punchier get up and go. But the standard Carrera counters with a plenty powerful, mighty motivating, and incrementally more affordable way to join the 911 club.

2020 Porsche 911 Carrera Specifications
ON SALE Spring 2020
PRICE $98,750 (Coupe)/$111,550 (Cabriolet) (base)
ENGINE 3.0L DOHC twin-turbo flat-6; 379 hp @ 6,500 rpm, 331 lb-ft @ 1,900-5,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed dual-clutch automatic
LAYOUT 2-door, 2+2-passenger, rear-engine, RWD coupe/convertible
EPA MILEAGE 16/25 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 177.9 x 79.7 x 51.1 in
WHEELBASE 96.5 in
WEIGHT 3,354/3,508 lb
0-60 MPH 4.0/4.2 (3.8/4.0 with Sport Chrono)
TOP SPEED 182/180 mph
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