2020 Porsche 911 review: Prototype drive

A spin in the new 911 before it debuts at the LA motor show

$247,950 Mrlp
  • Fuel Economy
    8.3L
  • Engine Power
    272kW
  • CO2 Emissions
    190g
  • ANCAP Rating
    N/A

The 992-Generation Porsche 911 – what's new inside and out. More power, a redesigned cabin, and new features for the latest version of Porsche's iconic sports car.

Porsche has nearly finished introducing the last of its myriad variants of the current-generation 911, known as the 991.2. Since that process takes the better part of seven years, that means it's just about time for a new generation. To get a preview of the next version, we rode along on a development drive to learn about the new 911.

Dubbed the 992, it's a significant move from the 991 generation that was introduced for 2012, with evolutionary changes in styling and to the chassis and more significant alterations to the interior and the powertrain.

EDITOR'S NOTE: You're reading a story by American title Car and Driver. We're bringing you a handful of C/D stories each month, focused on vehicles we've either not yet driven, or models not offered in Australia. Where appropriate, we'll add metric measurements for reference, but grammar and terminology will otherwise remain unchanged.

All Widebody

The styling and chassis changes are closely related, as all 992s will have the wide rear bodywork that currently is used only on the all-wheel-drive and GTS models. This means that all versions will have the voluptuous 72.0-inch-wide (1828mm) hips in the back, and these will be coupled to a 1.6-inch-wider (41mm) front track with matching wider front fenders.

The wheelbase is unchanged, but overall length grows by about an inch—all in the front overhang—due to a more rounded nose. The Carrera and Carrera S will share the 8.5- (216mm) and 11.5-inch-wide (292mm) (front/rear) wheels of the current 991.2 models; wheel diameters measure 19 inches in front and 20 in the rear on the base cars, while S models get 20s and 21s. This is the first time that 911s other than the scintillating RS models have used staggered front and rear wheel diameters.

The Carrera S models that we rode in wore Pirelli P Zero tires in sizes 245/35 R20 in front and 305/30 R21 in the rear. That's the same front tire size as today's cars, and the rears share section width and series, so they're exactly one inch larger in diameter than the 991's rear tires and raise the rear axle height by half an inch.

According to August Achleitner, Porsche's VP of sports cars, the larger rear tires increase the contact patch. "In a rear-heavy car like the 911, anything you do to increase rear grip helps the handling significantly."

The wider front track builds on this by reducing the load transfer from the inside to the outside tires during cornering. This essentially means greater front roll stiffness without resorting to a stiffer anti-roll bar.

Those wider rear fenders are now stamped in aluminum, replacing one of the few steel exterior panels on the 991, for a weight savings of between 22 and 33 pounds. The 992 also has flush door handles that extend when you touch them.

New Look from Behind

In addition to the muscular rear haunches, there's also a new rear fascia that incorporates a light bar spanning the distance between the taillights (previously reserved for all-wheel-drive models), a lower-positioned license-plate mount, dividers that dress the intercooler air outlets, and exhausts that exit through the bumper rather than underneath it.

These exhaust tips are not physically connected to the muffler exits, which allows them to be closer to the fascia—at the price of some authenticity. This disconnection also reduces repair costs in rear-end collisions, which apparently is important for German insurance premiums.

A larger active rear spoiler extends beyond the width of the engine cover to the outer edges of the taillights. Achleitner says that it produces slightly more downforce than the 991's wing, reducing overall lift to zero, while the current car has a small amount of lift even with the spoiler deployed. Drag coefficient for the Carrera S is said to be 0.29, reduced from 0.30, but offsetting that is the greater frontal area due to the wider fenders and the height increase.

Under the new skin, the structure and suspension of the 992 is similar to that of the 991. Perhaps the biggest change is a new engine-mounting system. In previous 911s, there has always been a beam bolted to the back of the engine, which attached to the outboard motor mounts. Such widely spaced mounts could be soft while still limiting engine motion.

The 992's rear mounts are on the engine's cylinder heads, closer together and forward of the traditional setup. This gets those mounts closer to the main rear structure of the car, stiffening the entire rear assembly and also saving a bit of weight.

Brake-rotor sizes and calipers are unchanged from the 991 on both the new Carrera and Carrera S. However, the PSCB system (Porsche Surface Coated Brakes), recently introduced on the new Cayenne, will be optional on the 992. These have a very hard tungsten-carbide layer on the friction surfaces that improves braking performance, lasts longer than conventional cast iron, and reduces brake dust. As on the Cayenne, the calipers are painted bright white to differentiate them from the standard brakes.

One new standard feature is an advanced Wet driving mode. Wet pavement is detected by what is essentially a parking-distance sensor placed in a front wheel well, and it determines when the pavement is wet based on spray from the tire.

When the car detects pavement with a water depth of about one millimeter (0.04 inch), it signals the driver with a dashboard light and switches to a more sensitive stability-control calibration. And the stability control becomes even more sensitive if the driver then selects the Wet mode, which has been added to the 992's mode selector.

Tweaked Turbo Engines

Although all-new turbocharged engines were introduced on the 991.2 models only three years ago, Porsche engineers found several areas to improve for the 992. First, the 992 gets a bigger central intercooler at the rear, replacing the pair located in the rear fenders of the 991.2. This 12-percent-larger intercooler gets direct airflow from the base of the wing, has improved internal airflow, and achieves a greater reduction in intake-air temperature. The intercooler air still exhausts in the lower rear fenders, now in nicely split vents.

To improve exhaust flow, the stamped-steel manifolds in the 991.2 have been replaced by cast-iron headers. These are said to weigh no more, but flow better, than their double-walled predecessors.

The base Carrera will retain the same turbochargers as the 991.2, with a 49-millimeter compressor and a 45-mm turbine wheel. But the Carrera S will get the 55-/48-mm unit used today in the Carrera GTS. The 992 engines also get piezo fuel injectors, which are more expensive than the mechanical direct injectors but provide more precise control of the injection quantity.

These changes have allowed an increase in compression ratio from 10.0:1 to 10.5:1, which pays dividends in both power and efficiency. The 992 Carrera S output increases from 420 to 450 horsepower, without any change in today’s 16.0-psi boost pressure. (That's the same output that today's GTS produces with 18.1 psi.) Expect another 30 ponies or so in the new GTS. The base Carrera, however, gets a smaller bump, from 370 to 385 horsepower, with unspecified reduction in boost pressure from 13.1 psi in the 991.

Shift Action

This output is coupled to an essentially carryover seven-speed manual transmission, with perhaps a final-drive ratio change to offset the larger-diameter rear tires. However, the dual-clutch automatic (PDK) option goes from seven to eight speeds. This change was neither for fuel economy nor performance but rather to save some space.

Known as PDK 2, the eight-speed is based on the unit in the Panamera, it features a four-shaft design rather than the two-shaft design of the 997's and 991's PDK 1. This arrangement is shorter and, when fitted to a housing the same size as the current one, leaves room for an electric motor. Yes, that means a hybrid or plug-in hybrid is coming, probably with the 992.2 mid-cycle upgrade in four or five years, if not sooner.

For now, however, the eight-speed doesn't get the ultra-wide ratio spread used in the Panamera. Instead, its overall ratio spread is about the same as in the seven-speed PDK 1, with the new gear dropped essentially between the existing sixth and seventh. This gearbox is controlled by a shifter that's not much more than a large flat plastic toggle, although the usual steering-wheel paddles are also present. This compact shifter does, however, leave room for a cupholder in the center console.

Revised Cockpit

This shifter is part of a major interior redesign that leaves little in the cockpit unchanged. The traditional five-dial instrument cluster remains, but only the central tachometer has a mechanical needle. The two dials flanking it on each side are computer representations on a pair of LCD screens.

The dial to the right of the tachometer is a multifunction display as on the 991, but the one on the left can show a traditional-looking speedometer or display the various driver aids now optional on the 992. These include the controls for the new lane-keeping-assist system, as well as the adaptive cruise control and the blind-spot warning system. The outer dials also have a limited degree of customization.

One new feature is an optional night-vision system, which comes up in the multifunction display. It incorporates software that provides a visual warning when it detects a person or an animal in the car's path. This means that the driver is not forced to split his visual attention between looking at the night-vision display and through the windshield. Also new is an optional 360-degree camera system, which should assist in avoiding curbs with those expensive Porsche wheels.

To the right of the instrument cluster is the unmissable main touchscreen, which is a wide 11.0-inch unit incorporating most of the 12 physical buttons that controlled the various functions of the 7.0-inch screen in the 991. The HVAC controls also have been simplified, with the more detailed functions moved to the screen. It's much like the setup in the latest Cayenne and is less cluttered, although only time will tell if it's easier to use.

A new design theme matches these changes with a small horizontal shelf bisecting the dashboard just below the central screen. The central air vents have been moved below this shelf to allow the screen to be mounted as high as possible; this means that the vents atop the dash now handle more of the airflow and have slider controls.

This stylistic shelf is only about an inch wide, so it isn't for storage, and it has a textured-plastic surface that seems designed to capture dust. Moreover, it looks cheaper than the metallic trim that bisects the dash on the current 911, but plusher trim options will be offered.

This sense of cost reduction continues to the steering wheel, which feels more plasticky and has molded facsimiles of hex-head screws. The ignition switch is similarly downgraded from the metallic-looking item in the 991. The upper surface of the center console now sports a piano-black finish that looks good when new but is vulnerable to scratches.

Even the manual transmission's shift knob is now plainly plastic rather than having the leather-and-metal look of its predecessor. And the currently standard microsuede headliner becomes an option, replaced by a less-rich cloth.

At least the superb driving position remains, with an excellent relationship of seat to pedals and a highly adjustable steering wheel that, unlike in many modern cars, can be positioned low enough for average-size drivers. The same seat options—Sport and Sport Plus in Porsche parlance—can be had, with and without extensive power adjustments.

We had no opportunity to drive the car, but from the passenger seat of the Carrera S, all 450 horses feel present. Road noise is slightly reduced—mostly from the rear wheels—on most surfaces. And while it's difficult to discern from the right seat, turn-in, even without four-wheel steering, seems more direct with the wider front track. Overall weight is said to be similar to that of the older car, which means a little under 3200 pounds for a stripped manual Carrera S and around 3275 for an automatic.

Arrival Times

The 992 will be introduced in late November at the Los Angeles auto show. In a break with tradition, the Carrera S and 4S coupes, with PDK only, will hit the market first—in early March in Europe and American shores in the summer. Soon after, we'll get the cabriolet versions of the same models and, later in 2019, the base Carrera and Carrera 4 models with both PDK and the manual transmission, the latter of which will then also migrate to the S models. The 992 Turbo will appear toward the end of 2019, with many more variants sure to follow.

Australia

We expect to find out more about the new 911's local timing and specs at the LA motor show, later this month.