Expert Reviews

Track Test: 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera S and 4S

BOWNMANVILLE, ON – There are two rows of Porsche 911s parked in pit lane at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (née Mosport’s) Driver Development track. It would take a practiced eye to notice that two of those cars are not like the others – so subtle are the differences between the brand-new 2020 911 and the car that precedes it.

The extra technology doesn’t stand between you and the driving experience, it simply makes it easier for any driver to get the same level of performance as an accomplished pro would in the older car.

I’d just finished driving several brisk laps of Mosport’s Driver Development track in a 2019 911 Carrera S and was about to get behind the wheel of the new car for the first time. We’d ridden shotgun in the car over Germany’s Hockenheim circuit last December, and from what I could tell from the right hand seat, the eighth generation car was every inch a worthy successor.

Subtle clues you’re seeing a new gen 2020 911 model

Looking closely, a few differences start to emerge. Its 30 mm longer and 40 mm wider, and rear-wheel-drive models now have the same wide haunches as the AWD cars. The wide-bodied fenders host staggered wheels; 20 inches in front and 21 inches in behind.

The wider front fascia now incorporates larger, more rectangular air ducts, active air shutters, and nestled in the grill’s centre are the cameras for new adaptive cruise control and optional night vision. Evoking the original 911, the hood has a recessed channel formed by two prominent creases adding visual downforce. In profile, the new car appears longer, with stretched side glass and tapered roof. Its sleek sides are uninterrupted by door handles, which now sit flush with the mostly aluminum sheet metal.

From behind, the car’s wide haunches are exaggerated further by the now familiar brake light bar that spans the width of the car, joining the two horizontal taillights. Exhaust pipes are now integrated into the rear fascia. On the rear deck, below the glass are a set of black, straked vents, chrome-tipped on AWD cars, that force-feed the cool air that flows over the car and down the sloping glass directly into the engine.

Also evolutionary changes inside

I’m not sure I like the spring-loaded door handle – it seems a bit contrived for a car that’s never had to pretend. Once inside, although the cockpit has been redesigned, the changes are evolutionary instead of revolutionary, and it feels familiar despite the changes. The seats still sit low in the car, as if you’re part of its centre of gravity rather than riding above it. The redesigned steering wheel now includes function controls on its spokes, which are now plain instead of the familiar brushed aluminum.

The drive mode button remains in the same place under the right hand spoke. Sleek and horizontal, the dash is simple and more modern, with a row of toggles below the touchscreen instead of a dizzying array of buttons along the centre console bank. Inside the instrument binnacle, an analog tachometer is flanked by two seven-inch digital displays that can be changed, using the wheel mounted controls, to show traditional gauges or navigation, fuel consumption, and other information. The main infotainment screen is now a 10.9 inch unit that can be operated, smartphone style, with a pinch and swipe method.

But let’s talk about the one glaring anomaly in the new 911 – that ridiculous gear selector. Sure, the new car is a tour de force of technology, and the compact toggle is very clean and futuristic. But wouldn’t you think one of the world’s best sports cars deserves a proper gear shift that’s satisfying to grip with your whole hand instead of toggling with your fingers? Not only does it look silly, it’s not very intuitive either. Park and Manual mode are now push buttons located beneath it.

On either side of the shifter, the centre console is flanked with shiny “piano black” plastic – my least favourite trim material, as it soon becomes smudged with fingertips.

Some classic 911 touches remain, despite new tech

I turn on the keyless ignition – from the left side of the wheel, of course – and the car roars to life with the familiar flat-six bark. Although based on the previous 3.0 litre twin turbocharged engine, it has received significant upgrades, including a new intake, larger symmetrical turbochargers, piezo injectors, a variable intake valve lift, lightweight manifold and higher 10.5:1 compression ratio.

Power increases to 450 hp and 391 lb-ft, and the new car is five seconds faster around the Nordschleife than the previous car. It’s also more fuel efficient with an official 8.9 L/100 km fuel consumption rating.

Rolling out of pit lane to merge onto the track, the Carrera 2S feels very much like the one I’d just driven. The actual wheelbase, at 2,450mm, is the same as the previous car, but mechanical complexity adds 55 kg to its overall weight. The new modular mid-engine (MMB) platform uses half the steel and twice the aluminum of the previous car – even the carbon fibre brake pedal is 40 percent lighter in an effort to shave off more weight.

Four-wheel steering and precision dynamics remain

The wider stance and staggered tires combined with Porsche’s adaptive damper system produce absolutely flat cornering. Turning precision is improved by rear wheel steering, which at speeds up to 50 km/h steers the back wheels in the opposite direction to the fronts, thereby shortening the wheelbase and improving the turn-in response. During faster turns, all four wheels turn in the same direction, lengthening the effective wheelbase and increasing its stability.

All I know is that this new Porsche can handle even the hairpin turns with absolute confidence. At speeds above 90 km/h the rear spoiler deploys, making the car more slippery and improving fuel consumption. At 150 km/h, it changes angle to provide aerodynamic downforce, gluing the car to the tarmac at high speed.

Porsches of old used to be known for their unforgiving nature; swapping ends easily if taken for granted or provoked. Improvements in aerodynamics and balance have been gradually increasing the car’s tractability, each incremental change adding up to a car that’s more predictable.

Of course, there are purists that will hate that, and claim that all the new technology has ruined the 911’s legacy by making it softer. That’s an argument that’s entirely subjective, there will always be those who hate change, and those who embrace a vehicle that’s even faster, more precise, and easier to drive.

Latest 911 still lives for hot laps

Warmed up after the first lap, I accelerate down the long straight and listen to the 8-speed PDK ripping off the shifts behind me, “boom, boom, boom”. This is simply the finest dual clutch automatic ever built, a brilliant piece of technology; never lagging, never missing a shift, and changing gears faster than any human could ever hope to. Using the steering-wheel-located dial, I switch the car to Sport Mode. Immediately, it becomes more responsive, shifting quicker, reacting to a touch of the throttle, and ramping up the sonic boom behind my head.

Coming to the end of the straight, I apply a bit of brake. There’s not a lot of travel to the brake pedal, and that’s confidence inspiring, they’re right there when you need them and provide a lot of feedback. Unfortunately, I’ve apexed a little early which means I come out wider than I should have after the turn, and run up on the curbing. That could upset some cars, unsettling their grip and balance, but the 911 shrugs it off and regains composure.

The steering feels surgically precise and I pick up speed as my confidence grows. The rear-wheel-drive Carrera S has standard torque vectoring plus, and a rear differential lock. The car can sense which wheel needs more power to prevent slip, and add more finesse through the turns.

I had driven here this morning in our ’08 Porsche Cayman S – a manual six-speed car with a non-adaptive steel sports suspension and no added embellishments. It’s as pure and simple a driving experience as it’s possible to get. But that comparison doesn’t make this new 911 feel any less pure. In my opinion, the extra technology doesn’t stand between you and the driving experience, it simply makes it easier for any driver to get the same level of performance as an accomplished pro would in the older car.

The 4S adds AWD, confidence

Swapping the rear wheel drive Carrera for a Carrera 4S, I head back out on the track. While the RWD car sprints from 0-99 km/hr in 3.7 seconds, this one is even faster, doing it in 3.6. I apply more throttle going into turn one, a banked off-camber right corner that quickly turns uphill left. The car sticks like glue. I’m able to brake later, carry more speed through the turns without feeling the rear end step out, and get back on the gas more quickly.

The C 4S has an electronically controlled multi-plate clutch, and torque vectoring plus, so the car can make lightning quick decisions on where to best apply power. Through the s-curves I keep my foot on the gas and let the car slowly move out, unwinding the wheel as we go. This is so utterly intuitive, it feels like the car is just going where it’s supposed to, with very little persuasion on my part.

And that’s the mark of a driver’s car. A true sports car isn’t necessarily one that scares the hell out of you, although some of them do. It’s one that makes you feel so damn good, you want to keep on driving it. The new 911 (known as 992 to the Porschephiles) is the most technologically complex model yet, but it retains the essence of what makes it a Porsche.