VALENCIA, Spain—Déjà vu typically strikes individuals, not large groups of similarly afflicted personalities. But at this point in the evolution of Porsche’s 911, you don’t need to have owned an example of the ageless rear-engine sports car to feel strongly that you’ve been here before.
That’s no criticism of the 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera S, available now to order ahead of deliveries slated to begin this summer. (The same goes for the all-wheel-drive Carrera 4 version.) Instead, take it as an endorsement: Each time Stuttgart sets out to reintroduce the car that has, arguably, affected more impact on an automotive marque’s fortunes than any other nameplate, a fair amount of hand-wringing from the faithful—owners and dreamers alike—accompanies the build-up: Is this the revision that will cock it all up?
No need to beat around the apex here: The eighth-generation 911 is free and clear in that regard. In fact, you might not even call this new Carrera revelatory, other than in the eternal context of Porsche somehow—defiantly, even—managing to take its “nonsensical” rear-drive, six-cylinder platform up another notch for what seems like the billionth time, not the eighth. The internally coded “992” 911 jumps ahead of the outgoing 991.2 via a series of mechanical changes; we previously laid out those upgrades in detail, but a quick recap:
The rear-drive 992 911 Carrera S outweighs the PDK-equipped 991.2 S by 163 pounds; the Carrera 4S gains 158 pounds. Much of the weight gain comes from elements designed to position the platform to accommodate future plug-in-hybrid capability, though there is no official word yet on when such a model might appear.
For example, the standard, revised-with-new-ratios eight-speed (instead of seven) dual-clutch gearbox’s bell-housing features an added casting to facilitate the fitment of an electric motor. (Don’t fret, a seven-speed manual is coming soon.) The brake system for the first time gets an electric rather than pneumatic booster that will allow for brake-power assist even without a combustion engine and a vacuum supply. Other heft-adding items include hardware for the new, wider wheel track; bigger, 21-inch rear wheels and tires; standard LED headlights; a camera-based system that warns of objects ahead; and the overall wider body.
In terms of the body panels and shell, Porsche reduced its use of steel from 63 percent to 30 percent while significantly upping the aluminum content, with 25 percent use of extruded aluminum pieces compared to 3 percent before. In the body shell, this delivers a savings of 26 pounds. All exterior body panels are now aluminum save for the plastic—and relatively cheap to replace—front and rear fascias. Improved joining/fastening/bonding methods mean the chassis is somewhere in the neighborhood of five percent stiffer in terms of torsional and bending rigidity.
But that’s not what you see when you approach the 992. For the first time in the 911’s history, all models come standard with the much-liked wide-body treatment reserved previously for all-wheel-drive and Turbo and GT models. The new Carrera S and 4S get front tracks 1.8 inches wider than before, with the two-wheel-drive S also gaining 1.5 inches in the rear, with fatter bodywork to accommodate it. Regardless of any dynamic benefits the new dimensions bequeath to stability and traction, they make both specifications appear aggressive when viewed from head-on, and especially directly behind. The only complaint anyone should have about this change from a physical-presence standpoint is that Porsche over the years has been so stubborn about implementing it.
Take a seat behind the wheel and the new interior design is pleasing overall; the more time we spent in the car, the more we liked it. A new, customizable-in-color-and-trim dashboard is notable for being influenced by earlier 911s, featuring what Porsche designers refer to as a dash “wing” extending across the cabin from the driver’s side to the passenger’s side. Gone is the integrated center console, this version now separated from the dash by vents. There’s a large, almost 11-inch screen above, but the company describes its overall intent here as “maintaining an analogue feel” from a bygone era; agreeably, there are still real switches to control a variety of functions. There’s too much piano-black trim for our taste—it’s become ubiquitous across the automotive industry and a little stale, not to mention it doesn’t look too nice once dust and fingerprints take over the neighborhood—but the cockpit overall nicely blends “upscale” with “performance-oriented.”
Whatever your take on the 992’s exterior and interior designs, it’s irrelevant if the new 911 lets you down when you operate the traditional left-located ignition to fire the 3.0-liter twin-turbo boxer engine. Frankly, we’d have to start the engine side-by-side to the outgoing car to describe any potentially worthwhile differences, but they do exist inside the flat-six. Horsepower increases compared to the previous version, from 420 to 443 at 6,500 rpm; torque rises by 22 lb-ft to 390 available from 2,300 to 5,000 rpm. Those figures are not far off of the 991.2 911 GTS (450 hp, 405 lb-ft), a car we last year named an Automobile All-Star.
The gains come courtesy of bigger turbos—now symmetrical in design—along with electronically (as opposed to vacuum) controlled wastegates, which quicken boost-pressure control and precision, Porsche says. Cooling improves, too, due in part to a 14-percent larger intercooler positioned smack behind the engine rather than behind the rear wheels. This improves airflow and allows the car to accommodate the cooler’s larger size, since the unit no longer competes for space with the wheels. Finally, there are new piezoelectric fuel injectors in place of the solenoid ones; in a nutshell, they improve fuel-spray by injecting the gasoline from a piece that resembles an umbrella or showerhead rather than the old way of doing it from several individual “pinholes.” The old design allows fuel to strike the top of each cylinder, resulting in less efficient combustion and more residue buildup over time. The piezos not only increase power but also contribute to better emission levels.
All of these improvements indeed equal 991.2 GTS levels of performance, but regardless of where any measurable numbers shake out in tests once we get our hands on the new Carrera stateside, the 992 exhibits incremental yet tangible improvements across the board.
Tackling a severe fusillo of a mountain pass along with others of a certain skill level participating in the launch event, laughter and smiles dominate the day. The revised steering—11 percent quicker in cars without optional rear-steer and 6 percent quicker in those with it—is excellent in both feel and response. Along with the significantly wider front track, it makes the 911’s nose your eager ally, turning into corners with bite yet zero twitchiness. Rather than unsettling drivers who are not used to it, it scopes out your selected arc through corners with radar-guided accuracy.
As the pace quickens and the laughter grows, we encounter no scenario that puts the Carrera S out of sorts. Braking is, as usual with modern Porsche sports cars, a delightful experience, made extra so in this case by improved pedal feel. You can adjust this car’s attitude on the brake pedal as well as on the throttle, which leads to perhaps over-exuberant behavior: Our group becomes more brazen by the corner, even more brazen by the mile. Braking comes later and later, turn-in quicker and quicker, almost as if there is no end of capability in sight. Never does the chassis protest, and neither does it tell us we’re pushing our luck.
Everything is under control, and then some, even when mashing the left pedal past the ABS threshold on bumpy, uneven brake zones while simultaneously asking the nose to point toward its target. Porsche points out that the brake-pedal travel is shorter, and the pedal itself is now made from “an organic sheet-composite material consisting of steel, carbon fiber, and plastics. It weighs 10.6 ounces [emphasis ours] less than the previous steel component. This leads to a more immediate brake response, and the driver can also feel a very precise pressure point because of the firm connection.” OK, then.
Helping matters more is the fact the development team raised the rear-brake rotor size from 13.0 to 13.8 inches, the same size as the front. It could do so because, for the first time on non-GT3 RS or GT2 RS models, the Carrera S and 4S come standard with not only wider rear tires but also staggered wheel diameters; the rears measure 21 inches, the fronts 20.
Put these modifications alongside the first major revamp of Porsche’s Bilstein-based active, magnetically adjustable suspension system (PASM), and comfort improves along with performance—the holy grail of road-car setups. PASM in this form modifies its damping constantly; originating to its launch 15 years ago with the 997, it adjusted only at the top and bottom of its travel. So while the base suspension’s front spring rate increases by 15 percent and at the rear by 14, the car’s damping, body control, and comfort over rough roads is tangibly better. It’s an impressive trick, even for what was already a world-class performer in that sense.
Upon arriving from our road loop to the Circuit Ricardo Tormo MotoGP racetrack, we did a few quick instructor-led laps of the 2.49-mile layout to get a taste of the car’s track-day capabilities. Through heavy brake zones and quick transitions, it confirmed what we learned on the road drive: It’s quick, fast, and easy to extract a high level of performance from. Certainly higher than any Carrera S that has come before. In cars with the sportiest setup—so, with the optional Sport suspension and without a sunroof—the larger pop-up rear spoiler and overall aerodynamics are said to produce some downforce, and indeed the butt-test validates Porsche’s claim of them cancelling aerodynamic lift regardless of the Carrera’s specification. Slight understeer is naturally the order of the day if you overdrive the car but not overly so; the chassis well answers calls to rotate if you get your brake release and steering inputs right. The engine upgrades add to the punch; the suspension (read: traction and nimbleness) improvements and wider track allow the meaty torque curve to pull the car out of corners like a rocket in third gear. If we have a niggle after this early first drive, we expect Porsche to sooner or later offer an even grippier, more consistent Michelin tire as an alternative to the OEM Pirelli P Zeros, though we got no solid answer as to when that might occur.
More 992 variants and performance will come of course, as the car orbits through its years-long lifecycle. But as ex-Formula 1 and Porsche Le Mans driver Mark Webber said to us on a flying, ride-along lap of the Valencia circuit to close the day: “They’ve done a wicked job with this one, I’d say.”
Yes, he’s on the payroll, so there’s that. But he’s also correct. Like we said, we’ve seen this all before—and then some.
2020 Porsche 911 Carrera S/4S Specifications
|ON SALE||Now (deliveries in summer)|
|PRICE||S, $114,250; 4S, $121,650|
|ENGINE||3.0L DOHC 24-valve twin-turbocharged flat-6; 443 hp @ 6,500 rpm, 390 lb-ft @ 2,300 rpm|
|TRANSMISSION||8-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 2+2-passenger, rear-engine RWD or AWD coupe|
|L x W x H||177.9–178.4 x 79.7 x 51.2 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.4–3.5 sec (est)|
|TOP SPEED||190–191 mph|