The McDonnell F-4 Phantom II was such a dominant all-weather interceptor plane that it saw service in both the U.S. Navy and Air Force (despite their usual preference for their own unique planes) and it flew for more Western air forces than any other plane. With the new 8th-generation 911, Porsche targeted the same kind of multi-role, all-weather superiority that made the Phantom a legend. Porsche even concedes that this breadth of capability comes at the cost of some all-out performance in perfect conditions.
Prior-generation 911s each produced substantial reductions in Nürburgring lap times from one to the next. August Achleitner, vice president for the 911 and 718 product line, determined that a better goal for the new “992” generation of the 911 would be to improve the safety and stability in foul weather.
“Wouldn’t it be better, for the average driver, to improve in critical circumstances—especially drivability in the wet?” he asked. Just like the F-4 traded away some turn-and-burn dogfighting capability in exchange for its peerless speed, ceiling, and range, so the 2020 Porsche 911 isn’t brute-optimized for track attack.
Better control in the wet
But make no mistake, the 992 is faster than the car it replaces. With a lap time of 7:25, it is five seconds faster around the Nürburgring, it accelerates to 60 mph in 3.2 seconds (0.4 seconds quicker than before), and reaches a terminal velocity of 191 mph, which is 1 mph faster than the outgoing model.
However, “we could have made the car even faster, 7:20 or below, if that had been the main target,” Acleitner said. This all-weather upgrade includes a “Wet” selection among the available drive modes that the driver can purposely choose while driving in such conditions. Still, the 911 also automatically detects when it is driving through heavy rain and applies electronic countermeasures.
The new 911 has microphones in the wheel wells that detect the signature sound of tires splashing through water. Within about a quarter mile of such conditions, the 911 automatically applies stricter limits on the traction and stability control systems and signals the driver with an alert that it would be a good idea to manually switch the car to Wet mode. Doing so causes all-wheel-drive models like the Carrera 4S to shift more power to the front wheels, and in both rear-drive and all-wheel-drive models, the car slows throttle response and applies a more cautious shift program.
Driven on a watered kart track adjoining the main circuit in Valencia, Spain, the 911 demonstrates amazing sure-footedness on the soaked tarmac when driving in Wet mode. However, the car is also unexpectedly competent in the wet while driving in the track-oriented Sport Plus mode, so long as the driver is deliberate with throttle, brake and steering inputs.
Traversing nearby mountain passes on public roads, the new 911 exhibits impressive precision, making it easy to place the car accurately on the narrow byways which leave little margin for error. Even on the goat trail roads, the 992’s quicker steering makes the rather large sports car feel more agile than its size would suggest.
The base car’s 15.0:1 steering ratio is 11 percent quicker than that of the old car, and cars equipped with rear wheel steering get still-quicker 14.1:1 steering.
Over the uneven pavement of such roads, the 911’s ride is improved. The eighth-generation car’s track is 45 mm wider in front than that of the previous model, and the new rear-drive car’s rear track is widened by 44 mm so that it is now the same as that of the C4S. That broader stance is now encompassed within all-aluminum outer bodywork.
The wider track lets engineers better control body roll in turns using the car’s springs, which permits a softer front anti-roll bar, according to Achleitner. Thus, the 2020 911 delivers both crisper turn-in response via the wider front track and a smoother ride thanks to the softer anti-roll bar.
As potent a sports car as ever
These changes create a car that engenders immense confidence in the driver. Even on the usually unnerving downhill portions and on the straights between corners, the 911 tolerates and even encourages full-throttle bursts from its upgraded 443-horsepower (up from the previous 420 hp) 3.0-liter twin-turbo flat-six. The motor also gets an updated direct injection system as well as larger twin turbochargers with a new electronically operated wastegate, all contributing to the power boost.
Braking reveals the benefit of the new electrically-powered brake booster, which provides more consistent assistance than one relying on engine vacuum. Additionally, the shorter, stiffer carbon-fiber brake pedal suffers less deflection, letting the driver seemingly stomp directly on the brake rotors for maximum feel and control.
Those rotors were carbon ceramic on our test car, and they provided good progressive initial grip as you toe the pedal, without any of the grabbiness that often plagues carbon brakes. However, the 911’s carbon ceramics did exhibit that other typical annoyance, issuing a quiet squeal under light brake pressure.
Passengers might be less excited by the 911’s dynamics because the car lacks a grab handle above the passenger’s-side window, leaving the plus-one to flop around uncomfortably during sportive motoring. Selecting Sport Plus mode for this kind of driving not only tightens the electronically adjustable shock absorbers, but also grants more leeway with the stability control system and opens the muffler bypass valves for a soundtrack upgrade.
The louder exhaust is particularly noticeable as the 911 aggressively downshifts the new eight-speed dual-clutch PDK automated transmission, which replaces the seven-speed dual-clutch of the outgoing 991-generation car.. Shift paddles are available on the steering wheel, but the Sport Plus driving mode does the job as well or better, so there is little point in using them. Manual transmission enthusiasts need only be patient. The traditional H-pattern gearbox will follow the PDK-equipped cars to the U.S. market later this year, and it’s a carryover of the seven-speed unit from the previous 911.
A balance of powers
The 992-generation 911 wears the first staggered wheels from Porsche outside of the GT3 RS track car, with 20-inch wheels in the front and 21-inch rears. Porsche developed tires with Pirelli, Michelin, and Goodyear, though our test cars were shod with the Italian tires.
As with other aspects of the 992, the tires were specified for all-weather performance and resistance to hydroplaning, rather than for ultimate lap speed. Driven on the Valencia Grand Prix circuit, the tires provide crisp turn-in and stable braking, but turn greasy after a few hard laps.
Once again, it’s an example of the 2020 911’s broad-spectrum GT-car capabilities rather than narrow race-track focus. No doubt for the inevitable GT3 (and maybe GT2) variants, we’ll see a more targeted approach. And if a hybrid version of the 992 happens down the road, it’ll have to demonstrate the same dynamic capabilities as the pure combustion-powered 911. The McDonnell engineers who produced the F-4 Phantom would surely see in that wisdom. We can’t wait for the new 911 Turbo model, to see what it’ll do with the afterburners lit.