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Auto review: At 56 years old, Porsche's 2020 911 sports car is spry as ever

Charles Fleming, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Automotive News

Porsche's 2020 911 Carrera 4S is so quick and capable that it seemed like only a racetrack could demonstrate its true capabilities.

So, wary of testing the laws of physics and the limits of the California Highway Patrol, I asked the Porsche people if I could have a couple of laps on their Porsche Experience Center track south of downtown Los Angeles. When they said yes, I forgot the Angeles Crest Highway and headed for Carson.

The German car company's iconic sports car -- by no means its bestselling model but still its pride-bound flagship model -- is 56 years old and now in its eighth generation. The new iteration differs stylistically only a little. But in terms of performance, as has been the case with every new generation, it's a new car in impressive new ways.

On the outside, very few alterations from the 2019 911 are visible. The rear of the car is a little wider, almost imperceptibly. It is slightly wider up front, and slightly longer overall -- though the wheelbase itself is unchanged. New LED headlights bracket a faintly redesigned hood. Door handles retreat and sit flush within the body, which is now made almost entirely of aluminum. The taillight is now a continuous bar flowing the width of the rear end.

Most non-Porsche people won't notice these changes. But under the hood, the performance upgrades are dramatic.

The six-cylinder boxer engine, rear-mounted and fitted with twin turbochargers, now puts out 443 horsepower (up 23 ticks from 2019) and 390 pound-feet of torque (up 22 over 2019). It jets from zero to 60 mph in 3.4 seconds, almost a half-second faster than its predecessor, and is said to have a top speed of 182 mph.

 

The improved power is put to the ground via a new eight-speed PDK dual clutch automatic transmission – replacing the earlier seven-speed, and now with the top two gears calibrated for freeway driving -- and Porsche's "active all-wheel drive" system, which puts the "4" in "4S." The model I tested also featured the optional rear-axle steering.

Some Porsche admirers are already grousing about the manner in which the new vehicle allows the driver to make manual gear selections. On all Porsches with PDK transmissions, these can be made via paddle shifters mounted to the steering column or by using a "stick shift" on the center console. But Porsche has replaced the console shift knob on previous models with a stubby shift tab. Should size matter? Probably not. But for the purest of purists, Porsche has said it will offer a seven-speed fully manual transmission on the Carrera S and 4S models sometime next year.

Driving modes are Normal, Sport, Sport+ and Wet. Each offers slightly different steering, suspension and transmission settings, and each allows the driver different amounts of available power. (An "Individual" setting allows for customized mode combinations.) Traction control can be removed entirely. The car has a "launch" feature, for drag-race scenarios.

For the first time on a non-GT Porsche, the 2020 911 features "staggered" wheels with 21-inchers up front and 20-inchers in the back. This arrangement, not uncommon on race cars but rare for street machines, is designed to guarantee maximum power to the ground while achieving maximum stability and control.

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