Back in December, we had the chance to sample two distinctly different sides of Porsche: The 718 Boxster/Cayman GTS and the Panamera Sport Turismo Turbo S E-Hybrid. Both deliver performance that stands at the top of their respective classes. And both have the same reference model: the 911. This rear-engined sports car still is the measuring stick for everything the brand sends to market.
While Porsche is still cranking out new versions and derivatives of the current 911, known by its code name of 991 among aficionados, its 992 successor isn’t that far away anymore. We expect it will hit the market in late 2019 as a 2020 model. So we sat down with the 911’s chief engineer, August Achleitner, to discuss the model’s present and future. Inevitably, the unforeseen success of the 911 R came up; prices on the used-car market have raced toward $1.2 million, more than five times the factory sticker price.
In an earlier conversation, Achleitner told us that the 911 R has taught Porsche a lesson: Customers who don’t race their cars don’t necessarily care about the final tenth of a second on the racetrack. They care about authenticity and driver involvement. Bringing back the manual transmission to the GT3 was a first response to this observation. And a new derivative gets even closer to the 911 R: the 911 GT3 with the Touring package. But it’s not quite the same as an R, lacking some of the ultra-expensive lightweight components. And because of the different aerodynamic package, it’s probably not quite on the level of a regular GT3 at ultra-high speeds. There is less downforce, but not so much less that you’d notice the difference on public roads at even remotely legal velocities.
2018 Porsche 911 GT3
The naturally aspirated engine is part of the GT3’s DNA, Achleitner tells us, but the decision on turbocharging (or not) is driven by racing. If regulation favors turbos, Porsche will make the switch in order to remain competitive. On the 911 RSR race car, Porsche has even reversed the engine position for aerodynamic reasons, turning the 911 into a mid-engined car. But that won’t happen to the 992 series production car, says Achleitner. Having two extra seats in the rear is a key selling point for the 911, especially in its home market.
The manual transmission will remain available, and it will keep the seven speeds. It wouldn’t make much sense to fit regular 911 models with the GT3’s six-speed box: It’s essentially the same gearbox anyway, supplied by ZF and related to the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Porsche will allow customers to disable the automated rev-match function in the future, though. It’s another example of perfectionism going a bit too far, depriving customers of the satisfaction of their own perfectly executed heel-and-toe shift. Perhaps BMW M should take note of this praiseworthy decision.
As far as body variations are concerned, don’t expect any changes for the 992. Besides the coupe and the cabriolet, the Targa (top photo) is exceeding Porsche’s expectations. And that means its complex and heavy technology will carry over as well; unlike 911s up to the 964 generation (though 1994), which featured a manually removable midsection, the current Targa is based on the cabriolet and adds more weight for a powered retracting roof. Customers love it.
Last year Porsche seemed to make clear that a hybrid version of the 911 was off the plate, but that decision has been reversed. The 992 is being engineered with a plug-in hybrid derivative, to be launched after the regular models. Achleitner is guarded on the details, but he says that the 992’s hybrid system will not be shared with the Panamera and Cayenne but inspired by the 919 Hybrid LMP1-H race car.
He is unequivocal on one point, however: There won’t be a four-cylinder 911 in the 992 generation, a matter of speculation from some quarters given the performance of the four-cylinder 718. Achleitner says that isn’t happening, though. The venerable 912, for the time being, will remain without a successor.