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First drive: Porsche 911 Dakar. Image by Porsche.

First drive: Porsche 911 Dakar
Prepare to want one of these things with every fibre of your being. And then prepared to be disappointed...

   



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Porsche 911 Dakar

5 5 5 5 5

Porsche seems to be having a field day with the 911 lately - quite beyond the superb models at what has to be termed the 'lower end' of the range (a phrase which criminally undersells the stellar abilities of any 992), operating under the 'Carrera' banner, there's a whole wealth of special stuff at the top of the tree; track-focused brutes, retro forced-induction models, blends of the GT3 and Turbo lineage... it's all there. But can any of them match the sheer, coruscating star appeal of this thing, the 911 Dakar? From our experience, probably not. This. Is. Phenomenal.

Test Car Specifications

Model: 2023 Porsche 911 Dakar
Price: 911 Coupe from 97,000, Dakar (was) from 173,000
Engine: 3.0-litre twin-turbocharged flat-six petrol
Transmission: eight-speed PDK dual-clutch automatic, Porsche Traction Management (PTM) all-wheel drive
Power: 480hp at 6,500rpm
Torque: 570Nm at 2,300-5,000rpm
Emissions: 256g/km
Economy: 25mpg
0-62mph: 3.5 seconds
Top speed: 149mph (limited)
Boot space: 132 litres

Styling

There are cars which have presence. And then there's the Porsche 911 Dakar. Bear in mind that this one, RF23 AUY, wasn't even finished in the (ready for this?) 18,434 Rothmans... sorry, no cigarette advertising permitted; we mean 'Roughroads' Rallye Design Package livery - the one with the '953' number on the side to refer to the development code of the immensely tough 911 one-off which in 1984 won the eponymous, gruelling endurance rally that this very special edition is named after - and was instead painted in Porsche's chalky grey finish, called Crayon. Yet the Dakar is, quite simply, magnificent to look at.

It normally stands 50mm taller than a 911 Carrera S on sports suspension, but you can crank the Dakar up by another 30mm of ground clearance if you want, for the sort of ramp angles a proper off-roader needs. Indeed, the Dakar can travel at this height at speeds of up to 106mph, although above that it hunkers back down to the regular ride setting.

Furthermore, the Dakar runs on specially developed Pirelli Scorpion All-Terrain Plus tyres, wrapped around 19-inch front and 20-inch rear wheels, a size mismatch which is obvious if you stand at the side of this off-roading 911; it looks like a Tooned Hot Wheels model made large. These tyres have reinforced sidewalls with two-carcass piles, designed to make them less susceptible to cuts and tears when you're motoring along, at serious pace, in the rough stuff.

It has that lightweight, carbon-fibre spoiler perched on its rump. The carbon bonnet is taken from the 992 GT3. There are aluminium towing lugs front and rear, widened arches and sills, black plastic body cladding, stainless-steel plates for both bumpers and the lower edges of the Porsche's flanks, extra flying-rock protection covers in the form of stainless-steel grilles in the lower air intakes. Even that black thing on the roof, which you might have reckoned is a stumpy aerial, is in fact a 12-volt socket into which the headlights for the optional roofrack - capable of carrying up to 42kg of stuff, including an official Porsche roof tent - can be plugged in. Honestly, it's thoroughly marvellous to look at.

Interior

The cabin of the 911 Dakar is fundamentally the superb interior of any 992, with the usual 10.9-inch Porsche Communication Management (PCM) screen sitting centrally, alongside the part-digital, part-analogue instrument cluster. The German company, however, strips out the Dakar's back seats and fits an exquisite set of buckets up front, before clothing all of the main surfaces with swish Shade Green Race-Tex material. There's also a substantial '911 Dakar' logo on the passenger dashboard, listing precisely which number in the run of 2,500 units in the world the car you're sitting in is.

The optional Rallye Sport Package further bolts in a half-rollcage in the back of the cabin, as well as six-point seatbelts and a fire extinguisher for maximum motorsport effect; this car was fitted with this bundle. Finally, what you can't see is that the Dakar has lightweight glass, reduced sound-deadening and a lightweight battery too, all designed to trim its weight. And that means that, at 1,605kg all-in, the 911 Dakar is only 10kg more than its source material: a Carrera 4 GTS PDK Coupe.

What's so fabulous about this cabin, quite aside from its top-notch finishing and ergonomic correctness, is that the Dakar sits you wonderfully low in relation to the body of the car, yet you can sense as soon as you climb in that this is a loftier 911 - which validates the whole point of having a Dakar in the first place, something so many other car-based crossovers get wrong, all without sacrificing that sporty sensation you ought to enjoy sitting at a Porsche's wheel. It's an incredibly tough balancing act to pull off, yet (of course) Stuttgart has only gone and aced it.

Practicality

No 911, 992 or otherwise, is going to make the top of anyone's list of 'Most Practical Family Cars We Can Buy For Any Money', but the payoff for its magical interior ambience is the fact that a Rallye Sport Package-equipped Dakar like this one pretty much gets rid of any versatility the Porsche sports icon might have possessed in the first place. You can, naturally, do without the tubing of the rollcage, in which instance you'd have a carpeted ledge in the back of the rough-rider 911's cabin on which to store stuff. Beyond that, there's only the usual 132-litre square cubby under the bonnet to utilise, so it's not the most capacious car. Although, we suppose, if you equipped it with the roofrack and accompanying tent, then its practicality levels would skyrocket... in a perverse kind of way. Come on; how many cars have a bedroom fitted (on)to them?

Performance

As we've already touched upon, if you were trying to be unkind to the Dakar then you could simply categorise it as a 'jacked-up Carrera 4 GTS that costs about 50 per cent more basic'. But two things to deflate this argument before it gets too big: one, a Carrera 4 GTS is a bloody chuffing good car, all things considered; and two, who wouldn't like the idea of a trails-ready 911 inspired by the 953 Dakar legend of 40 years ago?

Anyway, what it means is that the Dakar has Porsche Traction Management (PTM) all-wheel drive, natch, as it is supposed to be just as good off the tarmac as it is on it. It also has a rear-mounted, twin-turbo flat-six engine with 480hp and 570Nm. Given its modest weight increase over a Carrera 4 GTS (slightly more than half-a-percentage point) and the raised bodywork changing its aerodynamic properties, the sprint to 62mph is ever so marginally slower at 3.5 seconds. But that remains supercar-like, doesn't it? The limited top speed of 149mph is not so eye-popping, although the Dakar only has to be pegged to that if you order(ed) it with the Pirelli Scorpion 9mm-tread tyres. Porsche gave you the chance to fit proper summer sports rubber to the Dakar if you preferred.

However, for the first few miles we were driving this beauty, equipped with the Sports exhaust, we were convinced it had the 4.0-litre nat-asp boxer six from the GT3 slung out the back. It sounds utterly terrific, mainly thanks to the trimmed back sound-deadening and thinner glasshouse, a serrated, stand-the-hairs-on-the-back-of-your-neck howl emanating from it the minute you get anywhere past 3,000rpm. It also feels indecently fast, because those twin blowers and subsequent torque-rich delivery means it picks up startlingly almost from any revs, in any gear. And if you do decide to spin it right out to the redline, it will feel every bit as quick as any 911 this side of the monstrous 992 Turbo S.

We could go on and on about the glittering excellence of the drivetrain, but you probably get the idea. You won't seriously want for much more from it. Probably not even the switch of the eight-cog PDK for a seven-speed manual, which is an option you can specify on the 992 GTS but not the Dakar. And as for economy? Well, Porsche claims 25mpg, but you'll never see anything like that if you're enjoying the multitalented capabilities of what the Dakar can do on a whole variety of surfaces. And if you've got one of these and you're just burring up and down the M4 in it, getting 30 to the gallon on a steady cruise, then we'd very politely suggest you're doing Dakar ownership all wrong.

Ride & Handling

With its specially tuned, high-riding suspension and those off-road-optimised tyres, you might think the Dakar is going to turn out to be a wibbly-wobbly mess on public roads, especially compared to the sensational array of dynamic talents available in the current 911 stable. But Porsche also fits this car with rear-axle steering, the dynamic engine mounts from the GT3, and the anti-roll-stabilising Porsche Dynamic Chassis Control (PDCC) technology too, in order to make it as sharp in the corners as it can possibly be, given its higher centre-of-gravity.

It also has coded in two further bespoke driving modes for the Dakar, accessed by the rotary switch on the steering wheel. These are called Rallye, said to be ideal for loose and uneven surfaces, and which flings more power at the back wheels than the front, and Offroad, for high-clearance driving. Frankly, we tried Rallye on the road and the car is ridiculously firm in that setting, presumably trying its hardest to squish its tyres down into gravel for as much traction as possible - this almost makes it pogo up and down on bumpy tarmac, somewhat at odds with what you're expecting from longer-travel, softer suspension. Best to avoid it.

In any other setting, the Dakar is mesmerising. Little short of sublime. It has that clean, accurate yet feelsome steering of any 992, the feedback at the wheel's rim not diluted by the Dakar's elevated height nor chunky rubber. It also breathes magnificently with undulating road surfaces, so that on the sort of sheep-smattered, snaking British B-road which drapes its way across the remote highland moors of northern England, it feels like it is in its ideal milieu, even more so than it probably would battering its way through some Saharan dunes at 130mph-plus.

And so it proves to be just as beguiling and enthralling and involving as any other 992, yet it has that unmistakable soupcon of difference mixed into it, courtesy of its raised ride height. You can feel it's a 911, yet it's also not quite like any other 911 either. OK, put it this way: on the roads we were driving the Dakar on, in that particular part of the world with glorious winter sunshine in the skies above, we wouldn't have swapped this 992 for any other model in the range. Not even a manual GT3. Genuinely.

Do you want any details on ride comfort and refinement? If you insist. There's more mechanical chatter at speed in this car, the corollary of it having less insulation against outside noise contributors like road roar and the machinations of the engine, and also thanks to the chunky rubber. Also, those bucket seats are trim in the extreme, so if you're of the, um, bigger-boned persuasion, you might not relish having to do 400 miles in one hit in the Dakar. But we think we could happily live with these very minor flies in the kinematic ointment for the magical display the 911 Dakar can summon up in every other circumstance.

Value

This is where we must confess to being naughty with this review. The 911 Dakar is a newly launched model, but all 2,500 examples of it worldwide have sold out. Here in the UK, its 173,000 basic ticket placed it in the upper echelons of the 992 hierarchy: more than the 146,400 GT3, for example, if not as much as the 192,600 GT3 RS; some way shy of the 214,200 Sport Classic or the 231,600 of the retro-inclined S/T, yet more even than the non-S 992 Turbo at 159,000.

What you think of an unnecessary off-roading 911 that's a lot more than its Carrera 4 GTS source material is one thing, but as a limited-build special edition of the Porsche legend, 173,000 new was a bargain considering what second-hand examples are going for now - they're all in the 225,000 to a quarter-of-a-million-quid bracket. Also, for the seminal driving experience the Dakar serves up, we'd also say 173,000 is a bargain - especially as your only viable, plausible alternative is the Lamborghini Huracan Sterrato, which is 60 grand more again.

Verdict

Without a shadow of a doubt, among all the exceptional 911s we've been lucky enough to drive over the years, getting a turn behind the wheel of the 992 Dakar will live long, long, long in our memory as one of the most blinding, glittering best of the bunch. We want one of these things, complete with full roofrack set-up and Roughroads livery, more than you can possibly imagine... which makes it such a shame that they're all sold out already. The fantastic Porsche 911 Dakar is comprehensively tremendous in every detail; majestic.



Matt Robinson - 5 Apr 2024



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2023 Porsche 911 Dakar. Image by Porsche.2023 Porsche 911 Dakar. Image by Porsche.2023 Porsche 911 Dakar. Image by Porsche.2023 Porsche 911 Dakar. Image by Porsche.2023 Porsche 911 Dakar. Image by Porsche.

2023 Porsche 911 Dakar. Image by Porsche.2023 Porsche 911 Dakar. Image by Porsche.2023 Porsche 911 Dakar. Image by Porsche.2023 Porsche 911 Dakar. Image by Porsche.2023 Porsche 911 Dakar. Image by Porsche.








 

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