The Porsche 911 Dakar is the perfect dune-busting beast that will keep you on the road every day
Even though it has the same basic powertrain as the Carrera GTS, the latest 911 variant offers enhanced off-road capabilities.
With countless wins in sports car races ranging from Le Mans to Daytona over the decades, Porsche has achieved legendary on-road racing accomplishments, but it is equally successful off-road as well. For instance, a heavily modified Porsche won the famous Dakar Rally in 1984.
A street-legal tribute to that car is being offered today by Porsche in the form of the 911 Dakar. After a few days behind the wheel, we can tell you that it's much more than just a new paint job.
Based on the engine's performance figures alone, you'd think it's more poseur than performer. A 3.0-liter twin-turbocharged engine produces 473 horsepower and 420 ft lbs of torque, exactly the same as the Porsche Carrera GTS. As with that road-going super-sports car, the eight-speed, dual-clutch PDK and all-wheel-drive system remain the same.
However, everything isn't the same. The flat-six is fed through a new intake designed to keep the worst of the wilds out. The motor mounts are GT3-spec, and the intercooler layout was rearranged to keep power high, without risking punctures when you're off-roading.
The 911 Dakar's suspension is the most notable update. It sits 1.9 inches higher than a standard 911, but with the dashboard switched on, it rises 1.2 inches more to provide 7.5 inches of ground clearance.
When the copper-colored dunes ahead were steepest and softest, we wanted all that clearance in the Moroccan desert. By turning the steering wheel-mounted mode selector all the way to Offroad, the differentials are tightened up, balancing power distribution front-to-back and side-to-side.
These settings, along with the custom all-terrain tires from Pirelli, gave the 911 Dakar incredible grip and performance. We flew up and over piles of soft sand, and most of all, we drifted and slipped between them. The 911 Dakar is the perfect vehicle for dune surfing, something everyone deserves to experience at least once in their lives.
When the terrain was flatter and the grip a bit higher, we turned on the 911 Dakar Rallye mode. This differential sends a little more power to the rear wheels so the driver can slide the tail out, just as he'll be doing at the Monte-Carlo Rally. Using the 911 Dakar in this mode, you can slide and power through turns and overcome bumps and washboard terrain without hesitation once the traction control is turned off.
The launch-control mode is even custom. Simply stop, hold the brakes down and push the accelerator to the floor with the other foot, and it's off and running. As Newton's Third Law demands, the 911 Dakar surges forward when you release the brake, spraying rocks and dirt all over the place. Physics has never been more fun.
There's no denying that the 911 Dakar is a beast on the dirt and sand, but its on-road manners remain unchanged. Pirelli's knobby tires won't make you a drone on your commute, since they're not much louder than street-oriented snow tires. There are slight differences in suspension dynamics between the standard 911 GTS and this one, but the handling remains superb. After all, it's still a 911.
Porsche eliminated the rear seats to save weight, reducing the 911 Dakar's weight to 3,538 pounds. However, unlike the 911 Carrera T, you cannot ask them to be put back in again. The storage area in the trunk is unchanged, so the Dakar is just as good for a weekend getaway with someone special as any other 911—albeit more expensive.
Its starting price is $222,000, so there's not much reason to spend much more than that, which is unusual for Porsche. There are four decal packages, each inspired by classic Porsche racing liveries, for those who really want to make a statement. The more interesting paint colors are $3,270, or the paint-to-sample option costs $12,830.
Among them, the Rallye Design Package, with a blue, red, and gold Rothmans presentation, is the pièce de résistance, which resembles the Porsche that won first place at the Dakar Rally in 1998.
The 911 Dakar will be limited to just 2,500 examples, so many of them will probably never see the dirt. That's unfortunate, since this car is more than a tribute to your favorite model.