Rub Some Dirt on It: Porsche 911 Dakar Tested

2023 porsche 911 dakar
Rub Some Dirt on It: Porsche 911 Dakar TestedMarc Urbano - Car and Driver
2023 porsche 911 dakar
Marc Urbano - Car and Driver

From the July/August issue of Car and Driver.

Greed is good, Gordon Gekko said in the 1980s. Maybe he was talking about horsepower. It was in that decade when Porsche engineers, readying a new 911 Turbo, began questioning how much power they could funnel through two wheels. Porsche president and CEO Peter Schutz responded, “Why not four?” and painstakingly created a test-bed prototype called the 959. Schutz knew he could hasten the engineering if a competition program depended on it. Thus did Porsche venture on tippy-toes into Group B rallying—the "killer Bs," a series then injuring drivers and spectators alike.


Whereupon former Formula 1 driver Jacques Bernard Edmon Martin Henri "Jacky" Ickx suggested, "Forget Group B. With the 959, we can contest the Paris–Dakar," a rally Mr. Many Names had recently won in a Mercedes 280GE. More than 959 pricey pieces of the pricey 959 were doubtless sacrificed in preparation. But it all turned to gravy in 1986, when French driver René Metge won the off-road spectacle. Nowadays, no one remembers Metge, who chain-smoked Gauloises in a Rothmans-sponsored car. Yet we all remember Ickx, who never won in a 959.

Fast-forward almost 40 years. How many sports-car buyers today venerate the Paris–Dakar as Porsche's all-wheel-drive puberty? Six or seven, easy. Porsche swears it's more, thus the 959 doppelgänger before us. You will notice that our test car—number 329 of 2500—bears neither the optional 62-pound roof rack nor auxiliary lights. Porsche wanted clean aero for truer acceleration results.

2023 porsche 911 dakar
Marc Urbano - Car and Driver

The 911 Dakar is similar to the Carrera 4 GTS coupe ($159,850), which shares its 473-hp twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter flat-six. Add to that a teaspoon of rear steering and active anti-roll bars, and your Dakar can tackle shag carpeting, dirt, or dirty shag carpeting. An electronically controlled clutch pack within the eight-speed dual-clutch automatic apportions torque bias from 88 percent front to 100 percent rear, so intelligent that we caught it conversing with a great gray owl.

The maximum 19.0-degree break-over angle is a strong start, and there are red recovery hooks fore and aft that Porsche calls "non-removable retaining lugs." Equipped with front and rear hydraulic axle lifts, the Dakar requires about nine seconds to hoist its skirts to its maximum clearance of 7.5 inches. Versus, say, 8.2 inches for a Nissan Rogue. Forget to lower the suspension after returning to pavement? It lowers automatically above 105 mph, something you could try in your driveway.

2023 porsche 911 dakar
A hydraulically actuated lift system can raise the body 1.2 inches. The standard ride height is already 1.9 inches greater than in a 911 Carrera.Car and Driver

Bottoms Up

The Dakar is raised and then some.

To make the 911 off-road ready, Porsche didn't just lengthen the springs and kick it out the door. From top to, well, mostly bottom, the Dakar gets some features that help it actually function in places where ground clearance and protection matter more than jounce control.

The whole Dakar body raises 1.2 inches on command from an already elevated static height some 1.9 inches above a 911 Carrera with the sport suspension. The body-lift system is developed from the front-axle-lift option on other 911s, but with beefed-up hydraulics (the system pressure increases by 23 percent to 1958 psi) and applied to all four corners.

When activated, the lift system increases ground clearance to 7.5 inches and basically doubles the approach angle to 16.1 degrees, though that still isn't enough to clear our 20-degree RTI ramp. It does, however, give the Dakar a break-over angle of 19.0 degrees, which is on par with Porsche's SUVs, reducing the chances of getting high-centered. Above 105 mph, the Dakar automatically lowers.

If a Dakar scrapes its belly on the trail, stainless-steel panels at the front and rear and along the sills are designed to mitigate damage. The flat, unassuming underbody is plastic, albeit reinforced. Just don't drag the ass, because the engine is mostly unprotected.

Other add-ons include fixed aluminum tow hooks front and rear, and Porsche made the mesh grilles protecting the radiators out of stainless steel. —K.C. Colwell

Unique to the 911 Dakar—and looking like a Fu Manchu on Marjorie Taylor Greene—are dual-carcass Pirelli Scorpion All Terrain Plus tires, not rated for mud and snow. No spare. Just a bottle of sealant and a mini air compressor. The owner's manual moreover warns, "Only authorized Porsche Partners may mount tires." What's shocking is that replacement Pirellis cost an unshocking $402 front and $514 rear, likely the cheapest 911 repair you'll ever endure.

2023 porsche 911 dakar
Marc Urbano - Car and Driver

Plop your backside into either the civilized no-extra-cost 18-way heated seats or the standard carbon-fiber torture shells. The latter's tall bladelike bolsters inflict a second butt crack, and their manual fore/aft adjuster is hell to reach.

More fun facts:

  • The Dakar shares its passive engine mounts with the 911 GT3.

  • In case of theft, there's a tracking system, perfect if the carbon seats have already punished the thief.

  • Silver-gray seatbelts, as on our car, are a $540 option. For gray?

  • The optional roof rack must be removed for automatic carwashes.

  • The door handles stand proud unless central locking is engaged, and they can likewise be damaged in carwashes.

  • A front-center radiator is obviated by two electric fans from a 911 Turbo. Show off your engine and all you'll reveal are plastic blowers resembling 1980s-era Pioneer speakers.

  • The hood and fixed deck spoiler are fashioned from carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic.

  • A dashboard switch supplies “acoustically optimized exhaust.” We tried it. Then we smoked a Rothmans.

Just to prove a close-to-absurd point, we drove the Dakar in Montana's Bitterroot National Forest, where many foresters do not drive Foresters. We immediately noticed that, in Offroad and Rallye modes, the transmission hangs on to revs too long before upshifting. Big engine speed is anathema to rock crawling. So we reverted to Normal, which only minutes prior on pavement had annoyed us for doing the opposite—upshifting too soon, a fuel-saving trick. The Dakar thus felt ever befuddled, a gazelle wandering in the hyenas' 'hood.

A rock that would have slid undetected beneath a starter-kit Toyota RAV4 crashed and banged and scuffed below the Dakar's two front undertrays until we halted in concern. There's little protection under the engine. Should that stone perforate turbo plumbing or the crankcase, the fiscal carnage will rival your last two divorces.

At 7000 feet, we squished into snow deep enough to suck a boot off photographer Marc Urbano. Whereupon the 911 surrendered too, just before flattening his stylish footwear. Then it rained, with the swollen rear fender flares acting as mudflaps, and the driver bellyaching about the lack of a rear wiper and whether Drakkar Noir smells like Dakar.

2023 porsche 911 dakar
Marc Urbano - Car and Driver

Is it just us, or is Porsche's credit-card-sized shifter—a flimsy flipper—somehow almost sexual in its disappointment? You cannot feel when reverse or drive have been engaged. It flops like a spoon in oatmeal and is useful only to Tolkien characters.

A photo of the Dakar fording the Bitterroot River would have been fun. Until we recalled that the engine's air filters are stashed in the rear wheel wells. "Exposed to high sand or dust, the air filters must be replaced after a day's drive," Porsche warns. It's a 23-step regimen resembling an IRS audit.

Hot Rubber

Our road-test subject wore the Pirelli Scorpion All Terrain Plus tires developed specifically for the Dakar. They feature reinforced construction and a knobby look. But that isn't the only OE tire; we borrowed a second Dakar with summer shoes. Also developed just for the Dakar, these Pirelli P Zero PZ4s offer way more grip on dry pavement, which is where most Dakars will live, right? There's some added bite at launch, which shrinks both the 60-mph and quarter-mile times by 0.2 second, to 2.7 and 10.9 seconds. Skidpad stick increases to 1.04 g's from 0.96. Stopping from 70 mph comes 18 feet sooner, at 144 feet. But the real shocker is that stopping from 100 mph shrinks by 48 feet (!) to 284 feet. And surprisingly, there's a 76-decibel hum with either tire during 70-mph cruising.

While the P Zeros' numbers seem more befitting of a modern 911, the summers don't complete the safari look that makes the Dakar pop in traffic. However, with a 640 treadwear rating (the P Zeros' is 280), the slightly pricier Scorpions should last longer—provided you don’t chunk them at 0.96 g on a cloverleaf. —K.C.

Base price for a 911 Dakar is $223,450. That's six Honda CR-Vs and tickets to visit Zuffenhausen. What saves it from sideline snipery is that its modest off-road chops inflict such minor mischief on pavement behavior. Even atop those chunky Scorpions, the Dakar pulls 0.96 g. It tracks like a bullet train, pivots like a skid-steer, and can burn off 70 mph in 162 feet. Despite its 3580 pounds, it's as agile as, well, a 911. Simply imagine a directional change, and it's past tense.

2023 porsche 911 dakar
Marc Urbano - Car and Driver

Under max braking, anything untethered—Yeti cups, hand sanitizers, an egg-salad sandwich halfway in my mouth—slams missile-like into the dash. Reacting to full-throttle upshifts at 7500 rpm, the same missiles reverse course to pockmark the carpeted rear firewall. No seats back there, you'll notice. And in Sport mode, under determined braking, with the Scorpions yowling and squirming, the eight-speed supplies downshifts preceded by sublime throttle-matching blips. Porsche says it has added compliance, yet the ride recollects a titanium-carbide teeter-totter. Body roll? The Dakar's never heard of it.

Porsche's familiar launch-control programming is available in Sport, but in Rallye and Off-road modes, Rallye Launch Control allows a gratifying 20 percent wheelslip. The Dakar then squats for half a beat—as if asking "Everybody strapped in?"—before lunging so ferociously that you're never prepared. A "hard leaver," as Pro Stockers would declare, a group who would beam at the Dakar's 11.1-second quarter-mile at 126 mph.

Back in the '80s, the sensuously flared 959 hammered out 60 mph in 3.6 seconds. Several of us wept. Today the Dakar performs the deed in 2.9 seconds. Wide-open-throttle upshifts are instantaneous furious thunderclaps, putting to shame the quickest manual shift you ever accomplished in front of your high school. At 96 decibels, such juvenilia will deafen your old Spanish teacher too. Should you ever wish to reduce your colleagues' vocabulary to two words—"holy" and "shit"—the Dakar is the delivery mechanism.

Porsche 911s carry two burdens only: handling and acceleration. To expect this one to penetrate granitic hummocks and Miocene tar pits—just in case Starbucks' next franchise is halfway up Trapper Peak—is like asking a Cuisinart to tie your shoelaces. One possible rationalization: "I want to drive my 911 all winter." Okay, but why should one car serve all functions? That's how America became constipated by SUVs styled like Mosler vaults. Let's be honest: The Dakar is less functional off-road than a $38K Subaru Forester, which we'd driven on these same two-tracks a week prior. When you're off-road yet suppressing 473 horses under your right Reebok, all you can wonder is, "How close are we to pavement?"

2023 porsche 911 dakar
Michael Simari - Car and Driver

Porsche offers 20-some 911 variants, so it's not as if the Dakar has squeezed out a more practical cousin. But, come on, what's next? A 911 hearse with floral arrangements? An armored 911 for SWAT teams? Imagine if Porsche's engineers lost all reason and created an off-roadable SUV called the Cayenne.

Mind you, we're the folks who once built a 150-mph cop car. Life doesn't make sense. Why should your car?


I was ready for a jacked-up Porsche on knobbies to drive like something uncouth enough to enter in an SCCA Pro Rally: a noisy beast that rattles like bolts in a coffee can and bucks like a Brahman bull. But the only trait the Dakar shares with a rally car is its exuberantly loud exhaust note, which growls and howls like it wants to tear the engine out of the next Camry it comes across. I love that. Otherwise, the Dakar drives as sweetly as any 911. Its kooky off-road nature is fun in theory—but drive a 911 off-road? Not me. My ideal Porsche is a 911 Carrera 4 GTS with the Dakar's exhaust note and racy bucket seats—and the approximate 60-grand savings that would come with it. —Rich Ceppos

Driving the Dakar has me imagining myself in an Indiana Jones film with I-94 as a rope bridge on the verge of collapse and the Dakar's all-terrain tires comfortably rolling over the disintegrating path. The additional ground clearance over the 911 Carrera 4 GTS the Dakar is based on isn't too wild but enough to clear a sacred stone or two dropped in front of you. On more fun roads, the 473-hp powerplant cracks like a whip, and the added ride height and off-road tires don't detract from the experience. The fatter sidewall adds more cushion, and the 0.96-g skidpad grip and 162-foot stop from 70 mph are shockingly close to the Nissan Z NISMO we tested, which wore summer rubber. One word of caution: Beware of the racing seats. Climbing in and out of them can be a real blockbuster. —Austin Irwin

I am anything but an 85th-percentile man, but I am in the apparent 1 percent who normally love Porsche's carbon bucket seats. Standard in the Dakar and some other GT Porsches, the buckets are Loctite for your ass. But they're overkill on a 911 that can only pull 0.96 g. The no-cost 18-way-adjustable seats would improve the experience massively. They're easier to get in and out of and better off-road when you need to shift your body that extra inch to check clearance. About the only time you might want the carbon buckets in a Dakar is if you entered a rallycross. Other than that, no notes. Tons of fun everywhere. Yet another 911 that I shall waste too much time pining over. —K.C. Colwell

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