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2020 Porsche 911 Carrera S first ride review: A tantalizing amuse-bouche

The 992-generation of Porsche's car looks to deliver more of everything: more speed, more grip and more technology to help you go faster.

Porsche

It'll be a little longer until we get into the driver's seat for ourselves, but Porsche gave us a preview of how the new 2020 911 Carrera S will drive at the Hockenheimring race circuit in Germany. Riding shotgun alongside one of the car's test drivers for some hot laps, I found that the 911 is shockingly quick, grips heroically around bends and, yes, sounds like a serious performance machine.

While right-seat impressions are always diluted by words like "seems like" and "feels like," Porsche engineers also gave me a closer look at all the changes under the surface of the eighth-generation of the company's iconic sports car. Over a day and a half of technical presentations, it became even more clear the new, 992-generation 911 is a tour-de-force of Porsche's latest and greatest technologies.

Hot laps

The air temperature hovers at 39 degrees Fahrenheit as a quartet of Porsche 911s idle in the Hockenheimring paddock, but Porsche's development drivers say they've been able to get enough heat into the Pirelli P-Zero tires for quick lap times. I buckle into the right seat of a Carrera 4S for two laps of the track, which starts with a launch-control blast out of the pits. The tires hook up almost immediately and the Porsche explodes forward, the dual-clutch transmission rattling off gears with almost no pause. Porsche's claimed 3.2-second 0-60 mph time (3.3 seconds for the rear-drive Carrera S) feels more than believable.

Around Hockenheim's National Circuit layout, the 911 pulls ferociously with intake honk and exhaust snarl that are typically Porsche flat-six. The car is equipped with every available performance option -- carbon-ceramic brakes, torque-vectoring differential, etc. -- and pulls huge levels of lateral grip through bends. Porsche's driver brakes late, holds big speed through each corner and rockets out again on a wave of torque. And when he, on lap two, turns off the stability control system, the 911 effortlessly dances sideways, twin-turbo engine singing as the revs soar. It's a really promising introduction to the car's 992 generation.

For some numbers to put the car's performance in perspective, Porsche says a 2020 911 Carrera S lapped the Nürburgring in 7 minutes and 25 seconds. That's 5 seconds faster than the outgoing model. And for reference, it's quicker than a BMW M4 GTS and on par with the 639-horsepower Mercedes-AMG GT 63 S.

2020 Porsche 911
Porsche

A stronger, but lighter, platform

The 992 rides on a new platform called MMB, which is German for "Modular Center Engine Kit." It's a modular platform, meaning it will be adaptable to other future models: The front is common, but the middle and rear sections will vary by model. Porsche's slide (pictured below) notes that MMB will be used not only for the expected Cabriolet (due in 2019) and Targa variants of the 911, but also for the next-generation Porsche 718 Boxster and 718 Cayman mid-engined cars.

Though the new 911 is longer and wider than the car it replaces, the use of more lightweight materials has made the new body-in-white (that's the body shell, minus doors) 66 pounds lighter than before. A total of 45 percent of the body-in-white, by mass, is made from aluminum. Despite this weight reduction, Porsche says that the car is stiffer than before. The diet extends to clever engineering of every single part. The new car's brake pedal, for instance, is a claimed 41 percent lighter than before.

However, because the car is bigger and has more features, total curb weights have risen. In the US, quoted weights range are 3,382 pounds for the Carrera S and 3,487 pounds for the 4S, increases of 163 and 158 pounds, respectively, over equivalent 991-generation cars.

Porsche MMB platform

As this slide shows, Porsche will use the MMB platform for multiple vehicle types.

Porsche

Depending on the model, the body-in-white will offer several different roof panels. The standard car has an aluminum roof, but also available will be a magnesium panel, a carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic (CFRP) one, as well as both metal and glass sliding sunroof panels.

Even more horsepower

The Carrera S and 4S continue to use a twin-turbo 3.0-liter flat-six engine, but the mill has been thoroughly revised to make even more power and torque. Totals in the US market stand at 443 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque, or increases of 23 hp and 22 lb-ft over the prior model. The engine's redline remains a lofty 7,500 rpm, with peak horsepower likewise still delivered at 6,500 rpm. The compression ratio inches up slightly, from 10.0:1 to 10.2:1.

Because the new turbos have larger turbines and compressor wheels, to make more top-end power, low-end torque suffers a little. Peak torque is now achieved from 2,300 rpm through 5,000 rpm, versus 1,700 to 5,000 rpm in the outgoing model. However, peak outputs have both grown and, as will be discussed later, new transmission gearing should offset the low-end torque discrepancy.

To reduce turbo lag, engineers relocated the engine's intercoolers. They're now mounted right in the tail of the car, rather than the rear fenders, reducing the distance air must travel. One set of air intakes, through the vents about the "Porsche" script across the car's tail, serves to both feed the turbochargers and pass fresh air over the intercoolers. Porsche engineers acknowledged that puts the intercoolers above the exhaust muffler, so there will be some heat-soak when the car is stopped, but said it's a non-issue once the car starts moving again.

Porsche even relocated the flat-six's engine mounts rearward and outward slightly compared to the old car, a move that apparently slightly reduces the amount of vibration felt through the cabin and flex under hard acceleration. As before, active engine and transmission mounts are available as options.

2020 Porsche 911

This cutaway shows the intercooler and air intake piping.

Porsche

More gears for more speed

Getting that power to the road is an eight-speed dual-clutch transmission, replacing the old car's seven-speed PDK. The new transmission is shared with the Porsche Panamera. It has a much wider gear-ratio spread than before: first gear is lower for quicker acceleration, while eighth gear is taller than the old car's seventh gear, for improved highway economy. Still, the car attains its top speed (191 mph for rear-drive cars, 190 mph for 4S models) in sixth gear.

Among the logic changes for the new PDK gearbox is a "sport factor" function when you're driving in the car's Sport or Sport Plus modes. If the navigation system detects that the car is driving in an urban area or on a long straight, the gearbox won't hold such high gears. Previously, PDK-equipped cars tended to keep revs high at all times, so this should be a nice change.

Turning and stopping improvements

To go along with all that speed, Porsche made sure to improve the way the 911 handles. It now rides on 20-inch front and 21-inch rear wheels, which was a deliberate choice because the larger diameters apparently provide more stable tire temperatures and pressures in sporty driving. The standard rubber is, again, Pirelli P-Zero, but it has a new compound and thus a new tire code: NA0. The tires measure 245/35ZR20 in front and 305/30ZR21 rear (click here for a reminder of what those numbers mean).

While the car's standard front brakes are unchanged, the rears are now a little larger. As ever, Porsche Carbon Ceramic brakes are optional. The ABS can now better take into account the car's body motions and the rear spoiler can pop up to serve as an air brake. All told, Porsche says the new 911 can stop in 3.2 feet less distance from 62 mph and a whopping 39.4 feet shorter from 186 mph. The brake pedal now has a shorter travel and a more linear build-up of stopping power, Porsche says.

2020 Porsche 911 brakes

To counter the twin-turbo engine's might, the 911 features powerful brakes.

Porsche

Other chassis changes include quicker steering ratios and higher suspension spring rates. The adaptive dampers have a wider damping range, meaning the car should be both more comfortable in Normal mode and sportier in Sport Plus mode, and the dampers' rates can now be adjusted more quickly.

All-wheel drive remains available in 4S models, though it defaults to a rearward torque split for sportier handling. The front axle's cooling system has been significantly upgraded, with 300-percent greater capacity than before. Porsche says that means you can drift a Carrera 4S for longer without overloading the AWD system. Nice.

Less slippery when in wet mode

After my thrill ride around the main circuit, Porsche's driver takes me for two laps around a small wet handling course. The first time around, the car behaves as you'd expect: It slips and slides, only for the stability control to intervene and catch the car with juddering brake application. For the next lap, however, with the car in the new Wet driving mode, things are much more controlled. The car is tamer, less prone to slide, and altogether stable.

2020 Porsche 911

With Wet Mode engaged, your 911 should be less likely to do this.

Porsche

The secret is two acoustic sensors, one behind each front wheel, which "listen" for the sound of spray from standing water. When wet roads are detected, the car will warn drivers on the instrument panel and adjust the stability and ABS parameters. If the driver then chooses the Wet driving mode, the adjustments go even further: the throttle response and transmission shift schedule slacken, and any performance parts (active rear differential, adaptive suspension, etc.) switch to their most comfort-oriented mode to ensure the car handles easily and predictably in the rain.

Or, you know, you could just drive slower when it's raining...

Major interior changes

The inside of the 2020 911 has a distinctly more modern look than before, with two 7-inch displays in the instrument cluster. A big, analog tachometer remains at the center, however, to provide a "connection" between the car and the driver. The 10.9-inch touchscreen infotainment system is familiar from the Porsche Panamera, with integrated Apple CarPlay support.

2020 Porsche 911

An analog tachometer remains front-and-center, but otherwise the 911's cockpit is very high-tech.

Porsche

The rest of the cabin is pretty minimalist in terms of switchgear -- a nice change from the button-intensive 991-generation car. Two buttons, label 1 and 2, on the dash allow for setting shortcuts to things like a favorite driving mode or a specific piece of information, like the tire-pressure screen.

The tiny new shifter was made possible in part by the fact that Porsche research showed drivers never used the big, old shifter to manually change gear, preferring the paddle shifters. Coupled with the fact that the new eight-speed PDK has full shift-by-wire capability, and it made sense to dramatically shrink and simplify the shifter.

One feature you won't find is a head-up display. Porsche says there just isn't enough space to fit the required optical components inside the 911's cramped dashboard.

2020 Porsche 911
Porsche

Efficiency gains

As with almost every new car, Porsche also worked to improve the 911's fuel efficiency. Numbers won't be ready for some time, though for reference, the 2019 Carrera S with PDK has an EPA fuel-economy rating of 22 miles per gallon city and 28 mpg highway.

Among the many tweaks: low-viscosity oils for the engine and transmission, plus standard engine stop-start. The VarioCam Plus valve-timing system now has a special low-lift mode that sees the intake valves lift by different amounts, to promote turbulence in the cylinder head that should mix air and fuel more thoroughly. Even the new intercooler and inlet piping is said to reduce parasitic losses in low-load driving.

European cars have a special aerodynamic mode for the electric rear spoiler that cuts drag at speed. It won't be included on US-market 911s because in that mode the wing blocks too much of the taillights and thus doesn't comply with American regulations.

The transmission's logic is also intended to boost fuel efficiency. Able to infer what the driver is about to do by looking at GPS data on road curves and hill elevation, as well as using radar to determine if the 911 is approaching a slower car, the new transmission won't upshift ahead of a curve or hill. In fact, before hills the transmission will proactively downshift, then upshift again sooner at the top of the hill. All these little tricks should make the car a little sportier to drive.

European-market cars will also have a gasoline particulate filter in the exhaust system, intended to clean up the car's emissions and make sure the car meets increasingly stringent European rules. As the system isn't needed to meet American emissions rules, it won't be featured on US-spec 911s. That should save a bit of weight and is also expected to make our cars louder and give them more low-end punch.

2020 Porsche 911
Porsche

The possibility to go hybrid

As Roadshow reported from the LA Auto Show, a hybrid powertrain is not currently planned for 992 -- but the car has been package-protected so it could add a hybrid version down the road. The eight-speed transmission, for instance, is set up so it could work with an electric motor. The car's brake booster is now electric rather than vacuum-operated, so it would work with a hybrid or even battery-electric powertrain. Again, there are no confirmed plans for a 911 hybrid today, but Porsche engineers have at least made sure they could build one if the need arose.

Stay tuned for more

Riding along in the new 911, but not getting to drive it, was a little like smelling a delicious steak but not taking a bite. Still, the car was an absolute thrill machine around the Hockenheimring and should be a blast when we get a chance to try it out ourselves. Stay tuned to Roadshow in early 2019 when we bring you our first drive review. The new 2020 Porsche 911 goes on sale in the US this summer, with prices starting at $114,250 (with destination) for the Carrera S and $121,650 for the Carrera 4S.


Editors' note: Travel costs related to this feature were covered by the manufacturer. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists. While Roadshow accepts multiday vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews, all scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms.

The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.