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Tested: Why the 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera is More Car Than You’ll Ever Need

There are faster, quicker and definitely more expensive 911s, but the plain old Carrera still amazes.

Conner GoldenWriterDarren MartinPhotographer

It happens every time I drive a brand-new Porsche 911. No matter the price, power, trim, or configuration, I declare—mentally or publicly—that this is the 911 to buy, and you needn't waste precious time or money on any other variant. That time I drove the GT3 Touring from LA to Monterey? Best modern 911 to come from Stuttgart thus far. Shortly before that sweeping declaration, I thought I had it all figured out with the spectacular 991.2 Carrera T. Then, this year's Automobile All-Stars plunked me in the go-seat of the new 992 Carrera S. Who needs anything more than that? Yup, it turns out that the 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera is all you need, and then some.

Why the 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera is Plenty Good

After a week-long stint in a base 992 Carrera, I'll say it loud and proud: If you're hemming and hawing over whether to spend the extra coin to tack an "S" or "GTS" to the rear decklid of the 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera, don't bother unless cost is truly no object. You don't need any more than what the 992 Carrera has to offer—but I mean it this time! No, I really do. File this away as written evidence and feel free to rub my nose in it if I happen to renege on this absolute. I'm sure I will, but at least you can make me feel guilty about it.

Admittedly, this realization wasn't as easy to formulate as it was with past 911s. Driving the Carrera T and the GT3 Touring, for example, hit the automotive pleasure centers like a thunderclap, encouraging obnoxious babble and ramblings anytime someone asks about some of the better-driving cars of the past few years. Surely, the 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera is close to the top of the heap for this year, but the lines between 911 variants is starting to blur even more than it did with the 991.2 generation.

Under the Hood, Er, Deck Lid

Like the 991.2, all non-GT 992s (thus far) make use of the same 3.0-liter twin-turbo flat-six and the same seven-speed dual-clutch PDK transmission. The Carrera S and 4S (and potentially the forthcoming GTS), however, also offer a seven-speed manual transmission, but if you go with the PDK, they all use the same gearbox. Porsche says it has no plan to offer a manual transmission in the base Carrera, whose 3.0-liter is tuned for 379 horsepower and 339-lb-ft of torque; jumping to the Carrera S nets an additional 64 hp and 51 lb-ft. As we enumerated with the Automobile All-Stars-winning 992 Carrera S, that 443 hp feels a whole lot closer to 500 hp at full song.

Similarly, the 379 hp in the base Carrera shoves more like something north of 420 hp. Sure, some of this can be chalked up to insta-shifts from Porsche's wicked-fast PDK, but out on the wide-open straights of Angeles Crest Highway in California, the 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera pulls like a 997-generation Turbo. At every speed, in every gear, there's more potential forward momentum than anyone needs in any sports car, full stop. Equipped with the Sport Chrono package like this tester, 0-60-mph takes a claimed 3.8 seconds, but from the way the digital speedo spins and my lower back compresses, mid-to-lowish 3s are more realistic.

Dynamically, the Porsche is beyond reproach for something that's considered entry-level in the range. For those not familiar with Porsche sports cars, it can be frustrating to read pages and pages of breathless praise of anything and everything emerging from Stuttgart, but it's difficult to not dip into hyperbole after a canyon sprint in a new 911 of any ilk. Aesthetics, value-for-money, and sound are absolutely subjective, but on the topic of how the 992 drives, it borders on objective sublimity. The best way to describe the modern Porsche sports-car experience is that of unshakeable and intoxicating confidence in every parameter of the drive, apparent from the picosecond you turn the wheel out of the parking spot.

Close to Perfect?

The familiar sure-footedness of the Carrera S is found in the 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera. It's at home in every type of paved-road environment you'll encounter, including the tighter technical stuff that's so often the Achilles' heel—or maybe Achilles' Pirelli—of bigger, more powerful supercoupes like the Chevrolet Corvette and Mercedes-AMG GT. Even on serpentine switchbacks where you run the risk of crossing the center-yellow purely on width alone, it flows and sticks like honey on glass.

The steering, braking, shift paddles—it's all weighted, balanced, and tuned as close to a universal ideal as I can imagine in a modern digital sports car. The electric steering isn't as direct as a 997-generation GT3, nor is the braking as sharp as the binders on the bigger, badder Turbo S, but every interaction contributes to an unbeatable cohesion of product and experience.

Then, when you're done thrashing, it settles down to a low buzz and does an excellent impression of a grand tourer. Without the masochistic race tubs found on prior GT cars, the cockpit is comfortable and lined with the requisite leather, gloss plastic, and aluminum trim. There's more tech, gizmos, and gadgets to keep you occupied, the ride is mostly supple, and when not in max-attack mode, the PDK shifts as smooth as a run-of-the-mill torque-converter automatic found in a crossover.

More Car Than Anyone Needs

Nope, at no point during the week did I need—or desire—more power or capability. After our All-Stars shootout, I kept the keys to the winning 992 Carrera S for an extra weekend, and I ripped that identically equipped coupe up and down the California coast and through mountain roads in the same manner as I did the 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera. I'm frustrated to say both experiences mostly blend together; I can remember the distinction between time spent with the 991.2 Carrera T versus the 991.2 Carrera 4 GTS, the Turbo versus the Turbo S, the GT3 versus the GT3 RS versus the GT2 RS … but time spent with the 992 Carrera and Carrera S is one unbroken dream sequence.

This is not to denigrate the Carrera S, which is fabulously capable and incredibly thrilling, but if regular use will be highway blasts, workday commutes, and an occasional run through local backroads, I struggle to think of a single scenario I'd find it necessary to spend the extra coin for the undeniably faster but also harsher, less comfortable Carrera S. The S doesn't even take the lead in the visual department, considering the differences between the two variants teeter on the border between subtle and non-existent.

As far as I can tell, picking the Carrera S is the smart move if you're after a 911 with a manual transmission or that trick optional rear-wheel steering setup. Everywhere else, just stick with the 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera; it's capable of more than anything you could throw at it on-road, all without delivering punishment, pretention, or unapproachability—and this time, I mean it.

2020 Porsche 911 Carrera Key Talking Points

  • Latest base Carrera proves you don't need big power for big fun
  • Incredibly quick, and sharp as a needle
  • Skip the Carrera S and wait for the Carrera GTS
  • One of the best turbocharged engines on the market
2020 Porsche 911 Carrera Specifications
ON SALE Now
PRICE $98,750 (base)/$116,110 (as tested)
ENGINE 3.0L twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve flat-6/379 hp @ 6,500 rpm, 339 lb-ft @ 1,950-5,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
LAYOUT 2-door, 4-passenger, rear-engine, RWD coupe
EPA MILEAGE 18/24 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 177.9 x 72.9 x 51.1 in
WHEELBASE 96.5 in
WEIGHT 3,354 lb
0-60 MPH 3.8 sec (mfr. )
TOP SPEED 182 mph