The Porsche 992 Digs Into the Past To Create the Most Forward-Looking 911 Yet

The 911 continues to evolve, but keeps an eye on its heritage.

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They’re all lined up. First, a tidy brown ’67 coupe, tiptoeing on skinny tires. Then a G-body car from the ‘70s, frog-faced and wider than the last. The 964 beside it, broader still, is all eggplant-purple hips and nineties optimism. The conga line continues: 993, 996, 997, and 991 generations. Finally, there’s the new one, eighth in line: the 2020 Porsche 911, codenamed 992.

Porsche pulls this often at events, placing the old guard by the new. Because staring down the row of coupes conjures nostalgia and draws visual parallels—the original shape, swelling from 1963 on. Old 911s are dripping in cachet. Porsche knows it. But today, queued in the pits at Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia, Spain, the lineup feels odd. It’s a reminder of how separate the recent generations now feel, of time and distance covered.

Some 911 evolutions were radical—think the 993 chassis in 1993, when the 911 lost its torsion beam rear suspension to a multi-link setup, and the body seemed sculpted via fisheye lens. Other evolutions were controversial, like the Apocalypse-Now switch from air to water cooling with the late-Nineties 996 generation. This transition, from 2019’s 991.2 chassis, appears minute. Especially visually.

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The 992 shares its wheelbase with the outgoing car, but its body is slightly longer. Front and rear tracks widen by 40 millimeters. The Carrera 2S and 4S models, the first of the 992 lot, share the same widebody. Which is unlike in years past, when the rear-wheel-drive models were narrower than their all-wheel-drive counterparts. The 992’s party piece is an LED light strip spanning the gap between taillights—a throwback to the ‘70s 911 Turbo. The effect widens the car, visually; enhancing views of the 992’s swollen haunches.

The 992’s wheels swell, too, because those dimensions only go one way. The setup is staggered both in width, and in diameter (20 inches in the front, 21 in the rear). The latter is another first for the 911. Pirelli P Zero NA0 tires wrap the gemlike wheels, 245/35 up front, 305/30 out back. As with the outgoing GT3 RS, and Audi sedans of late, we’re floored by the 21-inch tires’ civility.

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That’s it for the exterior, mostly. Porsche preserved the 911’s sacred geometry: long rear overhang, short wheelbase, front fenders that dictate a lengthy bodyline. Any new elements are subtle, or rear-facing. Or both. Squint and nothing changed. This design feels cautious. More like 991.3 than 992. Don’t fiddle with your golden egg, Porsche maintains, lest it cracks.

Thankfully, excitement boils under the decklid. The 992 Carrera S retains Porsche’s 3.0-liter twin-turbo flat six. But there’s new injectors, an asymmetrical valve stroke (one valve opens further than the other), higher compression, re-jiggered turbos. The intercoolers straddle the engine now, expanding their footprint and the car’s heat capacity. The net effect: 443 hp at 6500 rpm (23 more hp than the outgoing car), routed through a PDK transmission that grew an eighth gear to stave off stops at Shell stations.

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We engage first in the PDK, tiptoeing through the pits at Circuit Ricardo Tormo, then blend onto the track past turn one. Hammer throttle. The revised mill is manic and torquey. The turbos scream like boiling kettles in the midrange, octaves above the exhaust’s basso, rising to an almighty yowl at the 7500-rpm redline. Thank the optional sport exhaust for the symphony. Still, the 992 sounds huskier and livelier than the outgoing car. Amen.

Hurtling into the track’s first curling left hander, we taste the brakes. Steel brake discs (350mm front and rear) are standard on the 992 Carrera S and 4S. Carbon ceramics are optional. The steel units reign in the 3487-pound Carrera 4S from triple digits, over and over, fade-free. Even right-seat stints beside Colgate-grin ambassador (and F1 ‘shoe, and LeMans champ) Mark Webber couldn’t swamp the basic steel units.

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During the lap, Webber worked the car, corner after corner, wiggling the 992’s hips. Video reveals him side-eyeing me, stepping the 911’s tail out, trying to fluster another crumply journalist. I just kept thinking, “Well, that doesn’t look so hard.”

Arrogant of me. But it’s testament to the 4S’s talents. I’ve rarely felt more comfortable in a car after only a few laps. The 4S not only inspires absolute confidence, but also delusions of grandeur.

It’s the way the Carrera 4S performs classic 911 courtesies without drama—like that first pivot when you toss the thing into a high-speed bend, or the Skippy-smooth rotation during flying corner exits. The 4S flatters. Rarely has a modern, all-wheel-drive 911 felt this engaging, this vibrant, this playful—the outgoing 991 Turbo S and GTS included.

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The improved steering helps. On turn-in, the 992’s steering rack tenses immediately. No slop, just hyper-accuracy. Porsche says the rack is 11 percent quicker than the 991’s. It’s not grainy and buzzing like the old stuff, but it stands out among modern electric racks. On throttle, the 4S’s wheel does go stiff, losing feel, but retaining accuracy. The numbness is likely a function of the powered front wheels, which receive 30 percent more torque than the last Carrera 4S. The car practically claws for grip mid-corner, muddying signals from the pavement to your palms. But the urgency with which a 992 4S exits a corner is batshit. It’s 911 GT3 RS fast. Maybe faster, thanks to that engine, that front end, and the ease of it all.

Porsche’s reworked Active Suspension Management (PASM) shines at this Spanish circuit, too. It’s included in the imaginatively-named “Sports Package” ($5460). Tick. That. Box. PASM reminds one of Chevrolet’s MagneRide—where complex tech masquerades as a simple analog solution. The new PASM dampers react to the 992’s movements 100 times per second, doling out perfect stiffness or compliance. The dampers can adjust mid-stroke now, rather than waiting for compression or rebound motions to finish, as before.

Sounds like thick-rimmed-glasses stuff, or sales-floor jargon. But PASM-equipped cars reap tangible rewards. The ultra-responsive dampers afford a more-compliant ride as a baseline than without PASM. The car seems to float along, then firms up instantly under compression. Strafing the exit curbing at Ricardo Tormo’s turn six, suspension loaded, never rattles your teeth like expected.

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PASM isn’t new. But this newest version is sublime. You only sense the system adjust at the fringes, though it’s surely working everywhere. PASM edges in less abruptly than before, yet more immediately. It’s silken, especially at high speeds, provided inputs are smooth.

Looking over the 992’s faithfully-arced fenders during cooldowns laps, one relaxes. This is the most upscale interior ever fitted to a 911. We dig it. There are hints of the cold, futuristic Panamera cockpit here—a central screen in the console, sparse physical controls, a digital panel with haptic feedback. Thankfully, not too many hints. The 992 console returns to a more classic, horizontal orientation, remaining as driver-centric as any 911 that came before. The steering wheel has the right proportions and heft, there’s upright bucket seats. Essential controls fall easily under your reach. Some things, however, weren’t saved.

Porsche claims it incorporated the classic 911 five-gauge dash layout, central to the ethos of the car. There’s still the Flava Flav tachometer. It’s big and pretty, front-and-center, as the gods demand. On either side, the other four gauges are gone, replaced by two screens that render the old gauges digitally. They display speed, G forces, time, temperature, etc. Or directions to Lululemon—something absent from the gauge cluster on your 911 SC. The previous-gen 911’s instrument panel also had a digital display aft of the tachometer. At least it was housed within its own gauge-like enclosure. So, much as Porsche has tried to preserve a bit of the past through the design of its new instrument cluster, it’s a sore loss, those old binnacles disappearing. Somehow, the 911 experience feels duller without them.

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Swapping track work for road driving always lowers adrenaline, but the contrast is stark with the 992. We venture from the Circuit, probing the Valencian countryside in a silver Carrera 2S, surrounded by beauty ripped from Picasso’s early landscapes. The roads are narrow, winding, sun-bleached. The 992 2S’s front end, relieved of propulsion duties, reveals road textures through the steering wheel in a way the 4S doesn’t.

As heightened as my senses were at the Circuit, they’re lax here. We soon discover the 992 is a magnificent Grand Tourer, not a sports car on the road. You could hustle the car, blurring the Spanish backdrop, picking up your heart rate—but why? The 992’s wide hips chafe against the edges of these narrow lanes. The smooth chassis control, creamy interior, and seamless gear changes conspire to relax, not stir.

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If Porsche weren’t busy lining pit lane with The 911’s Greatest Hits, we might not have noticed. But something’s been left behind. Mostly that buzzing, fidgety, go ahead, misbehave charisma tucked into every other 911’s back pocket. No doubt the new 911 GT cars to come will still pack attitude. We hope.

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Porsche is, if you consult the numbers, a luxury crossover company with a side hustle selling 911s and 718s. Seventy-five percent of Porsches sold in 2018 had four doors. Eighty-one percent of those had lifted—not ground-hugging—suspensions. Porsche has evolved. The 911 must keep pace.

It does. The 992 is undeniably more capable, comfortable, versatile. It’s a car on 21-inch wheels that rides like a Bentley. It’s a masterclass interior, crammed inside a car that just sings during tidy, triple-digit drifts. It’s a riot on track, and a float tank during commutes. For most modern customers, that’s probably perfect. The 992 is the logical step forward, even if it alienates a small swath of noisy zealots – likely that same group who griped about water cooling. Notice a pattern?

There was a moment during the reveal of the 992, just before Porsche wheeled eight generations of 911 out to pit lane. The new PDK gearbox was on display, now with a chasm at the front of an otherwise jam-packed bell housing. An electric motor will occupy that space in the future, one Porsche engineer admitted. A 911 Hybrid is coming. Perhaps, an electric one, too. Because the 911 always packs bits of the future into a familiar wrapper. Even if it upset the purists.

Progress, in other words, won’t wait around for our blessing. With the 911, it never has.

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