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A new breed of 911 pays homage to the Paris-Dakar-conquering Porsche 953

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The Porsche 911 Dakar needs little introduction. It is the most significant reinterpretation of the factory-built, road-legal 911 rulebook since the engineers at Weissach took a 996-generation Supercup race car and made it fit for public consumption.

That little experiment took place nearly 25 years ago and the resulting model is one of which you may have heard. The now iconic 911 GT3 was named in reference to its motorsport-derived DNA. 

The subject of this road test spells out its source of inspiration even more unambiguously. It was in 1984 that Porsche won the 7500-mile Paris-Dakar Rally using a transmogrified G-Series 911 with 270 litres of fuel capacity and a manually locking centre diff and permitting nearly 300mm of wheel travel, though the 3.2-litre flat six in the back was largely unchanged from the road car’s.

It was known as the 953, and as well as surprising all and sundry by being the first dedicated sports car to win the world’s most gruelling rough-road race, it paved the way for the more famous (and similarly Rothmans-liveried) 959 Paris-Dakar. It is now celebrated by the 911 Dakar, of which 2500 units will be built.

This unusual, potentially very special model arrives at a time when Porsche is expressing itself more freely than ever, at least so far as the 911 is concerned. The latest GT3 RS has to an epic extent redefined the capability of the track-day 911, while the Porsche 911 S/T melds the precision of a hardcore RS with the road manners of a garden Carrera. Want a 911 Turbo shorn of its front driveshafts and with three pedals? With the 911 Sport Classic, you can have that too. 

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At a glance, the Dakar’s underbody armour, Cayenne-rivalling ride height and all-terrain tyres would seem to mark it out as a 911 for dusty trails and muddy tracks. And it will handle those like no series-production 911 before it. But there’s also a sense that its unique modifications could make it a rewarding, engaging road car that’s easier to exploit and live with than any of its range-mates. Could this be the case? Let’s find out.

The range at a glance

Models Power From
Carrera 380bhp £97,000
Carrera 4 380bhp £103,000
Carrera T 380bhp £107,700
Carrera S 444bhp £110,000
Carrera 4S 444bhp £116,000
Carrera GTS 473bhp £122,000
Carrera 4 GTS 473bhp £128,000
Turbo 573bhp £159,000
Turbo S 641bhp £180,600
GT3 503bhp £146,400
Dakar 473bhp £173,000
GT3 RS 518bhp £192,600
Sport Classic 542bhp £214,200
S/T 518bhp £231,600

Porsche carves an extraordinarily broad range out of the core 911 proposition, and the Dakar is the most unexpected of them all. It is the most expensive model not crafted by the motorsport experts in the GT division, who develop the GT3 et al.

DESIGN & STYLING

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porsche 911 dakar review 2024 02 panning side

It can be tricky to swiftly tell apart the numerous derivatives of the current Porsche 911 range, but there can be no mistaking the Dakar.

It is based on the Carrera 4 GTS, but an additional 50mm of ground clearance, black plastic wheel-arch cladding and a unique CFRP spoiler immediately give the car an alternative, looming stance.

How far off the beaten track are you planning to go in your Dakar? It’s possible to option a £4635 roof tent, which is supplied by iKamper and will support up to 190kg.

Hydraulic actuators in the suspension struts can extend the car’s already 50mm-heightened ground clearance by an additional 30mm, bringing the total to 191mm, which is greater than that of even Ferrari’s Purosangue SUV. It’s also greater than that of the Dakar’s closest competitor, the Lamborghini Huracán Sterrato, which manages 171mm.

This maximum ride height setting is automatically triggered in the car’s Rallye and Offroad driving modes but can also be summoned via a toggle switch on the dashboard. The Dakar can remain on stilts at up to 106mph – surely a speed only for the truly courageous.

The suspension springs themselves are, of course, much longer than standard 911 fare, with “considerably lower” rates, says Porsche. It is a manifestly less sporting set-up than we are used to experiencing with modern 911s, though the Dakar still features much of the hardware associated with the fastest and most capable of its range-mates: semi-active dampers, active anti-roll bars and rear-axle steering are all standard.

Porsche’s brake-based torque vectoring is also used, and all these tech tricks can work to get the best out of a 911 not only on glass-smooth country roads but also when it finds itself on wet grass or gloopy forest mud trails. 

Pop the bootlid and you will see the top of Porsche’s 3.0-litre twin-turbo flat six, deployed here in GTS tune. It makes 473bhp and 420lb ft, put through an eight-speed dual-clutch gearbox. The ratios and final drive are identical to that of any other 911 equipped with this gearbox, but the Dakar’s top speed is pegged at 149mph to prevent any risk of the all-terrain Pirelli tyres delaminating.

The car’s intakes and cooling channels have also been modified for off-road driving, while an uprated air filter plus the more powerful fan motors and alternator from the 911 Turbo are fitted. The engine mounts are to 911 GT3 spec, reportedly doubling the stiffness of the connection and reducing the chance of bottoming out.

With wider tracks (28mm at the front, 15mm at rear) and plenty of uprated hardware, you would expect the Dakar to weigh notably more than the Carrera 4 GTS. In fact, the difference is just 10kg on paper. Thank the lightweight battery and glass, and the CFRP bonnet and rear spoiler – not to mention the lack of rear seats.

INTERIOR

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porsche 911 dakar review 2024 10 interior

Several testers felt Porsche could have been more ambitious with the Dakar’s interior.

This is, after all, a limited-edition model that costs close to £200,000 after options. As it stands, the widespread use of Race-Tex (Porsche’s answer to Alcantara) sets a suitably rarefied tone, and carbon-shell bucket seats plus, optionally, a substantial half-cage ensure the Dakar means business, but there’s little to properly put you in mind of a rally-raid special. 

All cars are individually numbered, though with 2500 units planned the Dakar isn’t an especially rare 911. Porsche made only half as many Sport Classics.

The fundamentals are strong, however, as with all 992-generation models. The exterior design is chunky, but inside the Dakar there is an athletic driving position identical to the one you’re treated to in the 911 GT3. Switchgear actions are uniformly crisp, plastics feel expensive and the combination of smooth leather and Race-Tex is lavish enough. You could get the bodywork as mucky as you like but the Dakar would always feel plush inside. Oddment storage is plentiful and visibility excellent, meanwhile.

Just be careful about ordering the Rallye Sport package, which adds the cage. This car is perhaps the most broadly capable and usable 911 on sale. Having it without even the option of back seats (these are useful whether for people or extra bags) is limiting enough, but the cage means you then can’t even make use of the generous luggage space behind the seats. The ‘frunk’ is spacious, though, and at 132 litres is much larger than the Lamborghini Sterrato’s.

Multimedia system

Porsche has renewed the software for the 10.9in PCM touchscreen infotainment system since the 992-generation 911 was launched in 2019, and while the new system has a simplified layout, it also has better networked connectivity through Porsche Connect and offers wireless smartphone mirroring for both Apple and Android phones. There is, however, still no wireless device charging just yet. 

The factory navigation system is displayed clearly, straightforward to program and easy to follow, with mapping that can be relayed into the instrument binnacle. Voice input of destinations generally works at the first time of asking, and the live traffic re-routing function is very good. 

As standard, the 911 Dakar gets a Bose surround-sound audio set-up. It has reasonable power and good all-round reproduction quality, but you could understand why some might want to upgrade to the 855W Burmester system.  We would  alsohave liked an ‘off-road’ section in the infotainment, with an inclinometer and suchlike.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

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porsche 911 dakar review 2024 21 action rear

In terms of top speed, you have to wind the clock back 41 years to the 1983 3.0-litre SC to unearth a 911 with a top speed lower than that of the Dakar.

But acceleration? That’s a different matter. We tested the car on a near-freezing cold day, when the traction potential of its all-terrain tyres would have been quite limited on Millbrook’s patchily damp asphalt, and yet by engaging its launch control function, the Dakar still turned in a 0-60mph time of just 3.3sec and burst into triple figures after only 7.6sec.

Porsche has had this idea in mind for some time. You might remember the 911 Vision Safari of 2012, which was a running prototype with many of the same elements as the Dakar but a more spartan cabin and an atmo motor. Walter Röhrl is surprised they didn’t make the 911 Dakar years earlier.

This makes it quicker than the Carrera S we tested in far kinder conditions in 2019, and even the recently retired R35 Nissan GT-R.

One has to assume that with ultra-high-performance summer tyres fitted, and in warmer conditions, the Dakar would get close to a 0-60mph time of 3.0sec – the current boundary for true supercar-grade performance. So don’t be fooled by the cartoonish looks: this is a truly rapid 911.

For those who want to indulge in casual competition activities, or who simply want to have some fun off road, the Dakar also has a specific Rallye launch control mode for loose surfaces, which permits up to 20% wheel slip. 

As for personality, the Dakar is closely matched to the Carrera 4 GTS on which it is based. There is a touch more squat under initial acceleration and dive during hard braking, but not as much as you might expect in either regard, and the rapidity with which the eight-speed PDK gearbox switches cogs is as spectacular as ever.

The effectiveness of this twin-turbo unit, whose boost grips the chassis and flings it forward early in the rev range, is matched by a surprisingly soulful top-end wail. It’s a fine match for the Dakar, with a broad band of torque and power paying dividends off road, where the car’s attitude can be adjusted at will.

Lastly, a word on braking performance. We were able to find a dry stretch of surface to perform brake tests and, predictably, the Dakar’s all-terrain tyres hampered it. Our car took 45.1m to haul up from 70mph. By comparison, the Carrera S took 39.8m and a Turbo S (on a summer’s day, admittedly) a mere 38.3m.

On the road, it pays to be aware of the Dakar’s limitations in this respect, and you are unlikely to forget about it because the initial pedal response has a somewhat woolly feel. Note also that the Dakar comes with model-specific cast-iron discs because Porsche’s carbon-ceramic alternatives don’t fit inside the wheels.

Off-road notes 

Investigate the online forums and you will see Dakar owners are taking their cars down impressively challenging trails that would usually provide a light workout for something like a Jeep Wrangler.

Clearly, the Dakar’s all-terrain tyres, Cayenne- style ground clearance (when the suspension struts are extended) and 16mm-shorter front overhang compared with the regular 911 aren’t just for show, and while the underside isn’t entirely panelled, there is a fairly comprehensive level of protection that even extends to individual suspension links. The front rads also have specific stone-chip protection.

Our test car acquitted itself well on the perimeter road of Millbrook’s off-road course. Its wheel articulation allowed reasonable speeds to be sustained over rutted terrain without fear of damaging the underbody.

More notable still is the nature of the steering, which is precise on the road yet doesn’t have the rim writhing around when the going gets tough.

RIDE & HANDLING

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porsche 911 dakar review 2024 02 panning side

There is something old-school about the way the Dakar conducts itself on a good road, and this will make it divisive.

Compared with a regular 911, there is unmistakable heft in the manner the Dakar steers, with subtly delayed direction changes. It does not lack agility but it is less willing to be guided with fingertip inputs than its low-slung brethren. It is also a less communicative machine. More rubber in the suspension and down at the contact patch makes this inevitable, and straight away this makes the Dakar a less confidence-inspiring 911 than others.

The Dakar wears bespoke Pirelli all-terrain tyres with a tread depth of 9mm and double carcasses. They're wrapped around 19/20in wheels that are unique to the car and have a Fuchs-esque design that, in my opinion, also looks superb in white.

There is then the limited grip on offer. The Dakar is more likely to understeer in the damp, and in a 911 what typically follows understeer is oversteer. Sure, we are not talking about lurid arcs of attitude here, because the Dakar is fundamentally well sorted and has an array of well-integrated chassis electronics to keep things neat, but that sense of looseness lurks, and those who enjoy their sports cars ultra-disciplined won’t warm to this.   

But the rest of us might. While the 911 Dakar presents as a light-hearted sideshow to the mainline 911 range, it also happens to be the most easily exploitable car Porsche builds. Roll is well controlled but there’s still enough of it to add insight into what the car is doing, and what it might do next. And although the steering is less engaging than that of the regular 911, it is very good for something with off-road pretensions.

This is a modern 911 whose nose nevertheless really does need to be stuck into bends with the help of the brakes, and that is more than happy to benignly rotate under power thereafter. You can select Rallye mode to heavily bias the torque split rearwards and accentuate this behaviour, which is essentially taking you back in time, but only in the best way.

The Dakar can be quietly rewarding or very exciting, and because you never run out of suspension travel, just how much you tap into its dynamic persona, and where, is up to you.

Comfort & Isolation

In terms of ergonomics and visibility, the Dakar is beyond objective fault. Outwardly it is quite an imposing machine but it could hardly be easier to slide aboard and drive. There is also the added bonus of not needing to fret much about kerbing the wheels, as they are relatively protected by the tyres.

On the move, the lower spring rates and increased spring travel are immediately apparent. While the damping kinetics don’t always feel quite as polished and, frankly, expensive as you might expect, this car flows down roads like no other 911, progressively absorbing potholes and crenellations in the surface in a dismissive manner more akin to that of the Cayenne or Macan, and perhaps better still. It does not possess quite the delicacy or lightness of touch of a mid-engined Huracán Sterrato, but it isn’t far off its £232,000 rival.

It is a noisy, sometimes boomy car, however. All-terrain tyres and the lack of sound-proofing normally provided by the 911’s rear-seat cushions mean the Dakar recorded an in-cabin reading of 73dBA at 70mph, which is firmly in supercar territory. There’s a case to be made that this feeds into the sense of competition-infused drama, and the distinctive whirr of the hydraulic suspension-lifting system does have a charm to it, but prospective owners shouldn’t expect the Dakar’s level of acoustic refinement to match its top-notch ride quality.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

porsche 911 dakar review 2024 01 cornering front

In terms of list price, Porsche has a habit of offering value for money compared with rivals. At £173,000 before options (including some very dear cosmetic ones), the 911 Dakar stretches this assertion a tad, and yet the dirt-road Porsche remains usefully cheaper than its only true rival, the Huracán Sterrato.

This is the case both for buying and running, and we shouldn’t forget the Porsche is also much easier to use day to day. Both oddball creations ride fabulously and have spectacularly good residuals, mind.

Dakar features conspicuous towing eyes at both ends. They're made from forged aluminium and are painted red, though recovery boards and a folding spade are available as optional extras, in case there's nobody to winch you out of trouble

If buying pre-owned, expect to pay well over list price, at least in the short term. The general desirability of Porsche’s current portfolio and the restricted supply of certain models have resulted in often eye-watering premiums, and this is certainly the case with the Dakar. However, if you have missed the boat, do consider that you can buy a brand-new Carrera GTS and a lightly used Ariel Nomad for less than the price of an unadorned Dakar.

The Dakar’s main service interval is 20,000 miles; at a cruise the car will return similar economy to a 911 Turbo (around 36mpg); and careful off-roading should result only in occasional damage to mudflaps and scratches to the polished cladding. It’s still ‘just’ a Porsche 911.

VERDICT

porsche 911 dakar review 2024 25 static rear

Automotive flights of fancy with an eye-watering asking price are currently de rigueur, but you don’t need to spend long with the 911 Dakar to realise that there is a product of genuine substance behind the questionable (and thankfully optional) liveries and its status as a highly sought-after, limited-edition special. 

It’s clear that Porsche’s 6000 miles of off-road testing and the time spent at the Château de Lastours test track in France have resulted in a 911 with an unexpectedly deep ability to tear away from asphalted routes and off into the scenery, and owners inclined to discover what their Dakar can do on mud, gravel or sand are in for a treat.

But as far as we’re concerned, the real talent and appeal of this unusual 911 is found in its personality as a road car. In dynamic terms it has some limitations, but generous suspension travel plus limited grip and traction combine with a fundamental composure that makes the Dakar so easy to manipulate and enjoy.

That it is also the finest-riding 911 of the current crop is a bonus, and a judiciously specified example would make for an enviable daily sports car.

Porsche should now consider taking the 911 Dakar philosophy forward at a lesser price.

Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017, arriving from Evo magazine, and is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests, performance benchmarking and supercar lap-times, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found on Autocar's YouTube channel

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year, and focuses mainly on the more driver-orientated products, as is tradition at Autocar. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Away from work, but remaining on the subject of cars, Richard owns an eight-valve Integrale, loves watching sportscar racing, and holds a post-grad in transport engineering.