Porsche has been making the idiosyncratic, rear-engined 911 sports car since 1963. Every few years, it gets an update—often just incremental improvements and styling tweaks, occasionally radical clean-sheet redesigns. The newest 911, known to Porsche people by the internal designation “992,” is the eighth generation to wear those three digits, and it’s new for model year 2020. It’s more evolution than revolution this time; a new eight-speed PDK transmission, a more connected cockpit, and a sharper take on that classic silhouette are the highlights.
It’s wider at both axles than the car it replaces, growing 1.8 inches (45mm) at the front and 1.7 inches (44mm) at the rear. And there’s no longer a mix of narrowbodies and widebodies—all 911s will be the full-fat size for this generation. New LED lights at the front and back give the car a distinctive look after dark, but otherwise there’s nothing about the styling that will offend the more sensitive 911 devotee. A tip for the trainspotters—you can tell a rear-wheel drive 992 from an all-wheel drive 992 because the former has a black grille over the engine and the latter has chrome bits in the grille.
Our test car has a black grille because it’s a $113,300 911 Carrera S, which means rear-wheel drive with the more powerful 3.0L flat-six engine. You can also get an AWD Carrera 4S that has the same engine, or RWD and AWD versions of the cheaper, less powerful 911 Carrera, and all either as coupés or convertibles.
The Carrera S’ flat-six is closely related to the flat-four in the mid-engined 718 family and even shares a lot with Porsche’s all-conquering 919 race car. It uses a pair of turbochargers, but this isn’t a 911 Turbo—that, along with other more specialized variants like the 911T, GTS, and GT3, will arrive in due course. The turbocharged not-911 Turbo first appeared halfway through the life cycle of the 991 generation, but it has had a slight bump in power to 443hp (331kW) and torque to 390lb-ft (530Nm), along with the addition of a gasoline particulate filter. The turbocharger turbines have grown, and electronic motors now control the wastegates more precisely than the vacuum system of before.
Eight speeds but worse economy
A seven-speed manual transmission is now available as a no-cost option, but our car came with the all-new eight-speed PDK dual-clutch transmission. Porsche invented the idea of the dual clutch ‘box back in the 1980s and developed it for road use a couple of decades later; the company arguably does it better than anyone else. For this generation, Porsche has added an extra ratio, shortening the first few gears for better performance with 7th- and 8th-gear overdrives for better fuel efficiency. It needs that help because of the boost in engine output and an increase in weight of about 200lbs to 3,382lbs (1,534kg).
Disappointingly, according to the EPA, fuel efficiency is actually worse than the car it replaces. The EPA rates the 2020 Carrera S at 20mpg combined (18 city, 24 highway); the 2019 version manages 24mpg combined. Highlighting the differences between testing regimes, in Europe under the WLTP cycle, the new car gets 8.9l/100km combined, which is a bit more than 26mpg. I averaged 19.7mpg over a couple hundred miles of driving.
The arrival of a new Porsche 911 has historically been met with the same reaction from Porschephiles. It’s gotten too fat and too heavy, people say. The steering feel isn’t as telepathic as it used to be, they say. The old car sounded better, they say. Luckily for me, I’ve only ever driven one other 911, and that was a recent one, too. There’s no denying the new car is a bit bigger and heavier than before. And it did sound better when there was a naturally aspirated engine at the back. But Porsche still knows how to make a 911 engaging to drive.
It’s a low car, and a relatively stiff one, but road disturbances like expansion gaps are mostly filtered out by the adaptive dampers. Turn-in is very quick, particularly because our test car had the optional rear axle steering ($2,090) that makes the car more agile at low speed and more stable at higher speeds. Porsche is also getting pretty good at programming some steering feel into its latest electronic systems. You feel the car’s rear-biased weight, but forget fears of vicious lift-off oversteer and spinning into hedgerows backward; Porsche has spent decades exorcising those handling demons from its products.
A mostly great interior
It can be hard to tell a 992 from a 991 from the outside, but there’s no such problem once you open a (flush-fitting) door handle and look inside. The multitude of buttons that have been a signature of Porsche interiors for years and years are gone, replaced by the glossy black panels that are so du jour. There’s no physical key to insert into the dash, but there is a knurled aluminum knob located where the ignition would be; you twist it to start the car.
Another knurled aluminum knob can be found on the center console, which is a lonely place now that all the buttons have migrated elsewhere. The cabin is a slightly odd mix of mostly very high-quality materials, with a few bits of plastic here and there that feel cheap and out of place. And beware of the inside door handles—it’s possible to pinch your pinkie finger at the hinge point if you’re not careful.
In front of the driver and behind the (much improved) multifunction steering wheel are a pair of bright, clear displays either side of a conventional analogue tachometer. These will mostly still show you data as old-fashioned circular gauges, and it can be hard to see the outermost parts of either display through the steering wheel. In the center stack, there’s a 10.9-inch infotainment system. Most of the functions from the missing buttons can be found in here.
As ever with 911s, the front seats are a better place to sit than the rears, although the back seats in this car are slightly more useable than those in the Polestar 1 I just drove. You can put small children back there, or your dogs, or luggage, and the rear seats fold flat to increase the storage area to 9.2 cubic feet (264L). Beware, anything you leave here will be on display when the car is parked. For more secure storage, the frunk has a capacity of 4.7 cubic feet (132L) and will happily swallow a hardshell carry-on suitcase plus an extra bag.
As ever, Porsche shows that it knows how not to mess up a good thing—something other car makers with long-running nameplates could do well to learn from. The 911 remains a car that you can daily drive easily but which also encourages you to take the long, twisty road home. Almost all the pieces you see or touch feel high-quality, and it’s a good-looking car. But I’d be a lot happier if the newer, heavier, more powerful 911 also managed to be a little more abstemious at the gas pump. If you care about climate change and want a Porsche, be smart and order a Taycan. (The Taycan 4S will be $10,000 cheaper than a 911 Carrera S even without the $7,500 IRS tax credit.)
Listing image by Jonathan Gitlin