This is the smartest 911 ever.
Designing, manufacturing, and selling a new Porsche 911 is a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, there's the overwhelming pressure to advance the breed – to make the new model more potent, more entertaining, and better in every way than its predecessor. On the other, there's a horde of viciously devoted purists waiting in the wings to descend and destroy the work of hundreds (even thousands) of Porsche employees.
That, in part, explains the glacial evolutionary pace of Porsche's rear-engined sports car. Advance, but don't offend. Like we said, it's a delicate balancing act. We received a first-hand demonstration of that balancing act while visiting Porsche's headquarters and the 911 factory in Zuffenhausen, as well as the Hockenheimring circuit, last week.
While we're still waiting to drive the 992 – look for that next month – it was clear from our ride along at the track that Porsche has been hard at work making the 911 smarter without compromising the driving experience. Besides adding power, Porsche imbues the 911 with new active safety systems and a dedicated drive mode for wet weather make the 992 even easier to drive. Smarter manufacturing processes mean a car that balances agility with comfort and luxury. And of course, there's a new, more modern design that retains Porsche's iconic styling while accommodating smarter technology.
Here's everything we know about the 2020 Porsche 911.
Porsche released the details of the 992's first powertrains as part of the model’s debut. Both the Carrera S and Carrera 4S – the first two members of the next-generation 911 family – feature twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter flat-six engines. We knew from the debut that both models would have 443 horsepower on offer, but we can now report that there’s 390 pound-feet of torque, as well. All told, there's 23 horsepowers and 22 lb-ft of torque more than the current Carrera S.
Despite these modest gains (relative to 400-plus-horsepower sports cars), the new 911 is much more potent. The sprint to 60 miles per hour takes just 3.5 seconds for the Carrera S and 3.4 seconds for the all-wheel-drive variant – grab the Sport Chrono Package, and those figures fall to 3.3 and 3.2 seconds, respectively. The top speed, meanwhile, is 191 mph for both variants.
Porsche calls the 992's engine “new,” but really, its official name gives away its modified nature – the 9A2 Evo. Based on the 991.2's engine, the 3.0-liter in the new 911 features a revised exhaust manifold made from cast iron. Combined with a pair of larger turbochargers – the symmetrical units have electric wastegates, and larger compression and turbine wheels – the 9A2 Evo promises a reduction in turbo lag. That said, the larger turbocharger does mean less accessible torque compared to last year's 9A2 engine – peak twist is available from 2,300 rpm rather than 1,700 rpm.
Engineers also repositioned the intercoolers, moving them from the inside corners of the rear bumper to almost directly above the muffler. While there's a negligible decrease in cooling efficiency – exhaust systems get hot, after all – the new position allowed Porsche to enlarge both intercoolers. There's 14 percent more cooling capacity, and because the position is more efficient, the throughput of cool air is higher.
Continental 911s will be cleaner than North American models, although our car will sound better.
One of the big differences between the 911 we'll receive here in the United States and what our cousins across the pond will see is the presence of a gasoline particulate filter – European Union law mandates its presence. What that means is that continental 911s will be cleaner than North American models, although our car will sound better. How much better, though, we can't say. Even our Porsche Cars North America contact at the event hadn't heard an NA-spec car.
That said, the European model sounds perfectly throaty, both on startup and under full chat. The sound of 992s running hot laps regularly interrupted our tech sessions on the Hockenheim main tower's fourth floor. And that sound, aside from the sheer volume, was every bit a Porsche flat six. Porsche's engineers once again have nailed the 911's soundtrack.
The other main element of the 992's powertrain is its new eight-speed dual-clutch transmission. Plucked from the Panamera, this transmission's most notable feature is its potential for hybridization. As we've covered before, there's a slot (for lack of a better word) at the back of the transmission for a disc-shaped electric motor. The transmission itself, meanwhile, can accommodate up to 590 lb-ft of torque, or 200 more than the Carrera S makes – that should mean that when the inevitable 911 hybrid arrives, it will pack a whole bunch of twist.
In the gas-only model, though, the eight-speed is precisely what we expect of a PDK. Upshifts are quick, but Porsche managed to reduce the sensation of shift shock without impacting shift speed. That should make for a more stable character under heavy acceleration. The Wahl trimmer-style shaver, meanwhile, is all electric. It's too tiny and stubby for our taste.
Chassis and Body
It's impossible to talk about a new car and not discuss any increase in the size of the body. Yes, the new 911 is bigger. In fact, at 177.9 inches in length, the 992 is a full inch longer than the Chevrolet Corvette. And while the bottom line is that it's heavier too, with the 992 Carrera S weighing in at 3,382 pounds to the 991.2's 3,219 pounds, the increase in weight is less than the 911's new size might indicate.
The long story short is that the weight of the 992's body alone is down five percent compared to last year's car, which itself was 11 percent lighter than the heavyweight 997. In more tangible numbers, the 992's body-in-white is over 25 pounds lighter than last year's car.
In more tangible numbers, the 992's body-in-white is over 25 pounds lighter than last year's car.
That's in large part due to the fact that Porsche increased the use of aluminum in the body by seven percent while reducing the amount of cold-rolled steel by a whopping 37 percent. The super-strong steel is only present in major crash structures, like the A-pillar and the front of the door frame. The vast majority of the body, though, comes from aluminum. The biggest change is in the door structure and rear fenders, which are aluminum instead of cast steel. And yes, both torsional and bending rigidity is improved, but only by a modest five percent.
Underpinning that lighter body is a stiffer suspension, with increased spring rates at all four corners on both the standard and sport chassis – the front springs are 15 percent and 18 percent stiffer, respectively, while the rears are 14 and 23 percent stiffer. Along with the stiffer springs there are new dampers for the Porsche Active Suspension Management system. Variable dampers from Bilstein use Porsche-developed control software to vary firmness based on the usual suspects (driving situation, road condition, etc). But the big news is that these new dampers have higher thresholds for both damping firmness and softness, so the 992’s handling dynamics can get both more aggressive and more relaxed than last year's car.
Porsche also addressed the steering, even though the 991.2's rack was plenty good. The new model, though, boasts a more direct steering ratio – Porsche says it's 11 percent more direct (rear-wheel-steer models are six percent more direct) than last year's 911. What that means in real numbers is a 15:1 ratio for the standard car and a 14.1:1 ratio in the rear-steer 911.
But what all these changes mean is hard to judge from the 911’s passenger seat. Our pilot around Hockenheim certainly seemed to be having fun, throwing the 992 around with abandon. The dampers felt firm, but even as we ran up on F1-spec curbs and rumble strips, the ride was consistently comfortable. Our pilot had to make only minor steering inputs – it seems a little bit of effort goes a long way with this rack. That said, judging steering feel from the passenger's seat is a bit like trying to complete a jigsaw puzzle, blindfolded, with your hands tied behind your back.
Judging steering feel from the passenger's seat is a bit like trying to complete a jigsaw puzzle, blindfolded, with your hands tied behind your back.
Porsche staggered the 992's wheels from front to back, with 245/35 tires wrapped around 20-inch wheels in front and 305/30s and 21-inch alloys in back. With more available grip in back because of the change, Porsche tweaked the rear brake rotors on the 4S, expanding the discs from 13 inches to 13.8. That's a modest change, but the bigger news – and yet another revision that we can't judge until we take the wheel – is the new brake pedal. Porsche slashed 0.66 pounds of weight from the pedal, which doesn't sound like a lot. But the company is promising a shorter ratio for the pedal and better feedback under hard driving. Porsche also ditched the old-school pneumatic brake booster for an electric booster.
Finally, we get to the nerdiest change for the new 911: new engine mounts. Porsche moved the mounts further forward and out to the sides, so they're more in sync with the 3.0-liter's center of gravity. The result is a stiffer link between the powertrain and chassis, which in turn means a car more willing and able to react to sudden inputs. This goes for both the standard engine mounts and the dynamic mounts available as part of the Sport Chrono Package.
Like death and taxes, technological bloat is a constant part of life. Even a sports car like the 911 isn't immune. The 992 gets a full suite of active driving systems, no less than 24.9 inches of screen real estate, a dedicated Wet driving mode, and even a night vision camera.
Porsche split the 992's two-plus feet of screens between three elements. There are a pair of reconfigurable seven-inch displays flanking a center tachometer, and their function isn't all that different from other Porsche products. Drivers can scroll through different pages of information, ranging from navigation information to active safety systems to vehicle data. There's even a full-screen map and a page for the night-vision camera.
The 10.9-inch infotainment touchscreen, meanwhile, boasts the same operating system as the Panamera, updated Macan, and new Cayenne. Five “Direct Access Keys” allow quick responses, while drivers configure their own home screen, optimized to their preferences.
Those active safety systems may be the most contentious element of the new 911. Porsche purists may loathe the idea of relinquishing control, but it's important to note that we're not talking about some kind of semi-autonomous system. In fact, the 992's active safety systems aren't even especially advanced. The notable additions are automatic emergency braking and lane-keeping assist – both adaptive cruise control and blind-spot monitoring are available on the 991.2. The systems function as expected, but in the case of lane-keeping assist there is no lane centering capability. In fact, LKA will only start to warn the driver if it senses the 911 drifting out of its lane. There's a fine-line between a safety system and a driving aid, and the 992's lane-keeping assist strikes us firmly as the former. As for the forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking, it follows a similar strategy.
There's a fine-line between a safety system and a driving aid, and the 992's lane-keeping assist strikes us firmly as the former.
First, it detects an obstacle, then pre-charges the brakes and issues an audio and visual warning. If the driver fails to respond, there's a brake “jolt.” Halfway through this second stage, the pre-tensioners kick in, while, in the third stage, the 911 takes braking into its own hands.
Traffic sign recognition is also available, and in our experience (outside the 992, naturally), it's a must-have for lead-footed drivers. There's nothing quite like having the speed limit constantly displayed in the instrument cluster.
The other element that might rile purists is the new Wet Mode. Admittedly, this is a more difficult feature to attack – rear-engine, rear-drive sports cars on low-profile, high-performance rubber and wet roads are not good bedfellows. And working in Wet Mode's favor is its sheer intelligence.
Like the AEB system, there are three stages to Wet Mode. The first stage happens automatically as soon as a set of sensors at the back of the front wheel wells detects an adequate amount of precipitation. The system is always operating and analyzing the road, but once the water starts splashing up, the 992 primes its stability and traction control systems. A warning fires in the instrument cluster, informing the driver of the wet conditions and suggesting they activate Wet Mode via the updated, wheel-mounted dial. And once that's done, the big changes come into play.
The engine's throttle is retarded and torque arrives more gradually, while the eight-speed automatic transmission swaps gears with less aggression. All-wheel-drive models shift power to the front axle, while all variants kick up the stability control's sensitivity and lower the threshold for the ABS to kick in. The active aerodynamics go into the maximum downforce setting, while the torque-vectoring system adjusts the level of locking from the differential. All of this is to say that with Wet Mode enabled, the 992 should be more sure-footed than ever before.
With Wet Mode enabled, the 992 should be more sure-footed than ever before.
But while we went on a demo lap around a wet-handling course with Wet Mode on and off, it was hard to tell just how much was happening without physically feeling the gas and brake pedal or the vibrations from the steering wheel (remember, we were relegated to the passenger’s seat). Our 992 felt more stable under throttle and more predictable under braking, but we'll have to wait until we test the new 911 next month to judge the benefit of Wet Mode.
The New 992
It's clear that Porsche has done a great deal of development on the 992, with the biggest focus on the car's technology. This is undeniably the smartest 911 ever made. But it's bigger and more powerful, and while it's still a world-class sports car, there's more layers than ever between car and driver. Our brief taste at Hockenheim wasn't enough to tell us just what impact those added layers have on the 911. For that, we'll have to wait until January. And you will, too – check back next month for our full first drive of the 2020 Porsche 911.