2020 Porsche 911 Carrera Review: Base Porsche Is Plenty of Porsche09/17/2019
The 911 variants are coming. There are currently 24 submodels of previous generation 911 (Honda sells only 10 nameplates in their entire portfolio) and Porsche is unlikely to change what’s been working for decades. Earlier this year, Porsche debuted the 992—the first major 911 redesign since the 991 in 2012—with the release of the 2020 Carrera S. That means the Turbo, the Targa, the Carrera T, the GT3 and eventual GT2; they’re all on the way.
But it’s this car, the base 911 Carrera, that’s always appealed to me. It’s always been the narrowest, cleanest looking, simplest model in the range—not to mention the most affordable.
Some of those characteristics change with the 992 Carrera. For the first time in the 911’s history, all models including the base car are fitted with the wider body shell, formerly reserved for all-wheel-drive and GTS variants. The 2020 Carrera is 72.9 inches wide—1.7 inches wider than the car it replaces. All-wheel-drive 911s used to be the only models with a full-width rear taillight, but that too is now standard across the range.
The other most noticeable visual tweaks are at the front end. Rounded corners where the trunklid meets the front bumper are traded for sharp ones, and the cut for the front bumper now lies under the headlights instead of bisecting them.
I think this car’s predecessor is a prettier machine. The new rear end has tons of visual mass under that full-width taillight, and the angle between the bumper cut and the front trunklid distract from the classic 911 face more than complement it. This is still a sports car with classically beautiful proportions, and the wider rear haunches make for a muscular back end; I just prefer the 991 by a hair.
Seating position in the 911 is spot on. You sit down in the belly of the beast, as opposed to riding on top of it, and the small-diameter three-spoke steering wheel is aimed square at your chest.
I’m picky about these things, and I couldn’t ask for more from a steering wheel. The airbag cover is small and perfectly round, and there aren’t too many buttons on the wheel to distract the driver. It’s a quality piece.
Like every 911 that’s come before it, the 992 houses its engine in the rear, eliminating the need for a long, bulging hood. As a result, forward visibility is fantastic—the front end immediately drops away from the base of the windshield. The only bits of bodywork you’ll see are the crests of the fenders flowing back from the 911’s signature round headlights, which inform the driver exactly where the front wheels sit on the road.
Those coming from the world of high-end timepieces won’t be disappointed by the 992’s central tachometer. It’s an analog dial with a physical needle and large, clear numbers, and the dial itself has lovely depth to it. The tach is flanked on either side by configurable frameless high-res digital screens, but about a third of the information on display is blocked by the rim of the steering wheel.
There’s a lot more high-gloss piano black plastic trim in this interior than in previous 911s. The space around the new toggle switch-like electronic shifter is full of it. Textured diamond-print plastic trim pieces cover a shelf below the dashboard and surround the center console, and a 10.9-inch center touchscreen dominates this more digitized interior.
My biggest complaint beyond the steering wheel obstructing the gauge cluster are the window and mirror controls. The switches are too far back on the armrest, and operation requires an angle of the wrist that feels like it would induce arthritis by the time I turn 30. It feels silly to complain about such a minute detail, but compared with the ergonomic execution of the steering wheel and seating position, it really stands out.
Drive the Darn Thing
You fire up the 992 Carrera by turning a simulacrum of a key on the left-hand side of the wheel. As the Carrera’s twin-turbocharged flat-six spins to life, it’s immediately apparent that all the action is going on behind you. There’s some aural augmentation at work here, physically piping engine noise into the cabin, but it comes off as more organic than artificial, and it means you get to hear more of the one thing that makes the 911 different than any car on the market: it’s engine.
Not one automaker outside Porsche builds an engine that develops power from six horizontally opposed cylinders. The flat six isn’t entirely limited to the 911—the hardcore Boxster Spyder and Cayman GT4 feature naturally aspirated engines from the same family—but nonetheless, this 911’s engine is a very special powerplant. It feels even more so as a potential all-electric future comes into focus with the debut of Porsche’s Tesla-fighting Taycan.
The base Carrera now makes 379 hp—9 more than its predecessor. It’s hard to imagine wanting for more. Rarely in my drive across rural southern Germany did I find the opportunity to use full throttle, and when I did, the way this engine sang and the way the car gathered speed felt every bit as rich as the Carrera’s $98,750 starting price would indicate. With the Sport Chrono package, it’ll hit 60 mph in a claimed 3.8 seconds.
This car’s wider body shell is likely a consequence of packaging the particle filters necessary for emissions regulations in Europe, but it results in a bump to the 911’s mechanical grip. Because the front and rear track of this car are both over 1.5 inches wider, it’s inherently more stable through a corner than the 911s that came before it.
The limits are a little higher than they used to be, and it’s harder to explore the Carrera’s driving dynamics on the street. When I did exceed the mountains of grip on offer, the car pivoted around me, rather than feeling like it was sliding or drifting. The steering is immediate and impossibly direct. I’ve yet to drive an electrically power-assisted system that’s impressed me more in terms of steering feel and precision.
Gone are the days of widow-making 911s with nasty midcorner behavior, but so too is the 911 that feels slender and lithe. It never comes off as a particularly small car, especially on the narrow two-way German roads that would barely pass for a driveway in the States.
More 2020 Porsche 911 reviews:
- 2020 Porsche 911 S/4S Cabriolet First Drive: Vitamins and Exercise
- 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera S Review: The Immortal 911
The base Carrera has staggered wheels for the first time—19s in the front and 20s in the back, 20s and 21s if you upgrade from the standard rollers. This car travels over pavement in a way that is extremely controlled. There are no secondary motions from the suspension, but the large wheels and low-profile tires result in significant road noise in the cabin. Even in comfort mode, I’d call the ride stiff.
This brake pedal is the best I’ve felt in any car on sale. Try as I might, I couldn’t come up with a better description than this: It just feels like your foot is stomping down on a spinning iron brake disc. The pedal is firm and communicative, adjustable without feeling overboosted. All I want to do is keep driving this car, and driving it hard.
More to Come
Porsche’s newest iteration of the base 911 Carrera is a little different. A touch wider, a bit more digital, a tad quicker. But the impression I’m left with is that the new 911 continues to stand out as a world-class sports car that executes the details—seating position, visibility, steering, brake feel—better than just about any car in the business. I can’t wait to drive what comes next.
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