I’m a little confused, here. Actually, that’s the wrong word. What I really am is conflicted . You see, for the better part of the week I spent behind the wheel of Porsche’s latest, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the new 911 Dakar. Or, again more accurately, I was constantly changing my mind about it, flitting back and forth between loving — and sometimes hating! — what Porsche has done to its beloved 911.
For one, as you might expect from a “supercar” wearing a roof rack and “jerry” cans — all Porsche-branded, of course! — it’s certainly an attention-grabber. Said reactions, however, were a major factor in my aforementioned consternation. As in, they varied greatly.
Old-car guys — the only people likely to remember that Porsche won the famed Paris-Dakar rally in 1984 in just such a 911 — were beyond covetous, envy writ large on faces that would normally ignore anything as cartoon-ish as a 911 with a roof rack. Carrying little plastic gas cans, no less. Porsche’s history in the famed Dakar Rally might not be well known — besides winning in ’84 with its much-modified 953, the company repeated the feat two years later in the famed 959 — but it does inspire not a little passion in the cognoscenti.
On the other hand, Millennials and Gen Z-ers looked upon the Rothmans-liveried Dakar with a mixture of confusion and contempt. Can you still advertise cigarettes in this country? What’s with the shovel on the roof rack? And why is that old man with those ridiculous Riddick sunglasses so insistent on declaring he’s into “Rough Roads?” Seriously, one young lady — who by the grace of God managed to take her eyes off her phone long enough to cross Queen Street — looked down upon me with such pity that I wanted to crawl under the seat (a full, non-adjustable carbon-fibre racing bucket that just about broke my back, by the way). Did I not get enough attention as a child?
And, in a way she’s right. Unlike 1984’s winning 953 — which used double wishbones up front instead of the then-standard struts, and carried no less than 270 litres of desert-crossing fuel in its two tanks — the 2024 Dakar is, in large part, just a plain-Jane 911 GTS underneath, tarted up with a period-piece blue-and-white livery. It’s powered by the same 3.0-litre twin-turbo Boxer six boasting 473 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque. The transmission is the familiar dual-clutch, eight-speed PDK, and it filters power to all four wheels through three computer-controlled differentials.
That’s all pretty standard-issue Porsche, right down to the Dakar’s 3.4-second sprint to 100 kilometres an hour (62 mph). That the entire combination costs well over 300 large — by the time you factor in the base price of $247,200, another $32,490 for the Rothmans Rallye paint job, and then ladle on Trudeau’s luxury tax — just added more conflict. My Lord, that’s a lot to pay for a snazzy paint job.
The first clue the Dakar was more than a cosmetic upgrade, however, was the Pirelli Scorpion A/T tires. Oh, their width and asymmetrical sizing are somewhat familiar — 295 millimetres wide in the rear, and 245 mm up front — but then they were markedly taller than anything I’ve seen on a Porsche in a good long while, the 45-profile 19-inch fronts and 40-series 20-inch rears sporting seriously tall, bump-absorbing sidewalls. That said tires are, no word of a lie, true all-terrains, all blocky rubber and butch-tread pattern, also raised a few eyebrows.
Inside the ECU, there was also a bunch of bespoke-to-the-Dakar software. Besides the standard Normal and Sport driving modes, the Dakar adds a Rallye mode — which transmits the majority of the Boxer’s torque rearwards, presumably so you can drift it over sand dunes — and Off-Road, which distributes the power to all four tires more equally, again, presumably, for those planning on clawing their $300,000 — plus! — Porsche over mud and rocks.
The Dakar’s signature technology, though, is its suspension. No, it doesn’t have 270 mm of wheel travel like the 1984-winning 953, but it does boast a much-needed bump in ground clearance. Enough to almost justify that Off-Road calibration.
First up, thanks to longer springs and struts, the Dakar rides 50 millimetres (two inches) taller than a standard 911. On top of that, there’s a lift system — essentially the same that lifts the nose on regular 911s for curbs, just applied now to both ends — that gives it another 30-mm (1.1-inch) boost. Add it all up and Porsche says there’s about 190 mm (7.5 inches) of boulder-clearing ground clearance. That’s enough to lend the Dakar a 16.1-degree approach and an 18.2-degree departure angle.
But is that enough to turn a 911 into a legitimate off-road weapon?
Actually, it kinda is. Oh, those approach and departure angles sort of limit its slow-speed rock-crawling abilities. They are, after all, a few degrees shy of ordinary road-biased crossovers — such as Subaru’s Crosstrek or Toyota’s RAV4 — and not nearly as suited to Rubicon-ing as, say, a Jeep Wrangler or Land Rover Defender. But then, we knew that.
On the other hand, the Dakar is an absolute beast, a rocket ship even, over the sandy — and muddy — trails that constitute “rallying.” Light up the big Boxer in Rallye mode — with its own slippery-roads Launch Control calibration, by the way — and damned if the Dakar doesn’t feel almost as quick as it does on the road.
Oh, that’s almost certainly an illusion, 100 kilometres per hour feeling a lot quicker when you’re barrelling between two trees barely a car-width apart than it does on a two-lane highway. Nonetheless, full credit to the incredibly impressive all-terrain Pirellis and the incredibly impressive combination of all-wheel-drive and Porsche Traction Management. Like I said, a rocket ship off-road. Even Ford’s F-150 Raptor R, its 700-hp blunted by three tonnes of metal rubber and plastic, is a piker in comparison.
And, Lordy, the fun I had tossing this darned thing sideways through Driving’s super-secret off-road testing trails should be positively criminal. Actually, I think it might have been, with stunting laws being what they are. But criminal proceedings be damned, long, controlled drifts were monumental in the Dakar, the front wheels clawing you out of turns, the rear wheels spitting out rocks and stones like they were combat vehicles in Ukraine, the 1,605 kilograms of supposedly road-going supercar doing a truly creditable impression of rallying Finnish-style.
Think WRX here, only on the kind of steroids that turned Ben Johnson into a cartoon. Or maybe a Formula One car, if only someone could figure out how to fit knobbies and an all-wheel-drive system.
And even when the road got especially rough, the Dakar didn’t nearly embarrass its species. Again, you’re not going to the Rubicon in this Porsche. Hell, back in my hometown of Sept-Iles, the road to my uncle’s fishing camp might have been a challenge. But flip the steering-wheel Drive Mode thingie to Off-Road and the suspension jacks itself up enough to creep and crawl over terrain no other car even remotely super-ish — yes, including Lambo’s new Sterrato — would dare challenge.
There’s a surprising amount of suspension articulation, and the traction is, as I said, exemplary. Were it not for its long snout — the reason for that shallow approach angle — and its exorbitant pricing, the 911 Dakar would be a not-so-bad soft-roader.
Like the Ford F-150 Raptor R, which turned out to be the best-riding pickup I’ve ever tested, the very same changes that make the 911 Dakar better in the boonies also make it a superior all-around road car as well. Who amongst us hasn’t ground a beak or a wheel against a curb that, if you had actuated a lift device, the extra ground clearance might have avoided? The same suspension tuning — softer compression damping on initial travel to absorb the bumps, more compression at the end of travel to ensure the biggest of those bumps doesn’t bottom out the shocks — that works in the dirt is, no surprise, just what the doctor ordered for the motocross track that passes for downtown Toronto streets these days.
And, blessed be the wonders of modern torque vectoring, suspension variability, and electronic traction enhancement, there’s really not much of a penalty to be paid in the on-road handling. Oh, push comes to shove, the Dakar will, well, push the front end. But, despite those big butch all-terrain tires, you’re unlikely to find that out unless you venture onto a race track.
In most driving, the Dakar handles plenty well enough for the twistiest of public roads while being as charming a compromise between ride and handling as you’ll find in a 911. Indeed, save for the amazingly uncomfortable racing bucket seats — which can be swapped out for some electronically adjustable sport seats at no cost — the Dakar is the best daily driver in the entire 911 lineup.
The best daily that, unfortunately, virtually nobody is likely to drive daily. Porsche is only building 2,500 of the 40th anniversary commemorative model and, if Porsche’s “people” are to be believed, they are already all spoken for. Besides, with an MSRP of 280,000 smackeroonies — with the Rothmans get-up — that makes the Dakar almost a hundred big ones more expensive than the GTS. And who wants to scratch a $32,490 paint job? Add it all up — Canada’s new luxury taxes, HST, and Porsche’s ridiculous $2,850 Delivery, Processing, and Handling Fee — and you’ll be well past $350,000. Nobody, not even the idle rich, drives a car that expensive to work every day.
And that, in the end, is probably the only flaw in the Porsche’s “Rough Roads” portfolio. Too cute for its own good, too precious to let out of the garage on a rainy day, and too rare to drive in traffic, I suspect the Dakar is the ultimate daily driver that will never get driven. Monetary and replaceability qualms aside, though, it’s the first 911 I’ve wanted to park in my driveway.
A few brief words about Porsche and the Paris-Dakar Rally: The toughest off-road race in the world, the Paris-Dakar — especially when it actually went from Paris, France, to Dakar, the capital of Senegal — has long been the most marketable (okay, the only marketable) off-road race in the world. Featuring trucks, cars and motorcycles, the list of brands competing in the famed race reads like a who’s who of automotive brands—
However incongruous as it might seem, way back in 1984, the company got the idea that one of its sports cars — remember, the Cayenne wasn’t even a twinkle in Ferdinand Piech’s eye, back then — could conquer the African desert. So it took a 953 — actually three 953s — and outfitted it for 20,000 kilometres of high-speed stupidity. Double-wishbones replaced the standard front struts, actual suspension travel was increased to a Baja-like 270 millimetres, and dual gas tanks — 120 litres up front, and 150 litres out back — were installed, ‘cause the high-revving little racer had to get through as much as 675 kilometres sans fill-up.
Speaking of gas, the 3.2-litre flat-six’s compression ratio was lowered in expectation of the paltry octanes African gas brought to the explosion. It still managed to put out 300 horses, which made the relatively light 1,250-kilogram 911 amongst the speedier in the rally. Making sure none of that power went to waste, a manual-locking centre diff sent 69 per cent of the 3.2’s torque rearward, and 31 per cent to the front.
Famed racer Jacky Ickx and co-driver Claude Brasseur were expected to be the team’s leaders, but they encountered an unexpected fire — the wiring harness went up in flames — and instead it was the unheralded team of René Metge and Dominique Lemoyne in car 176 — painted Rothmans blue, white, and red, naturally — that took the checkered flag.
Inspired by the win, and the publicity the automaker received, Porsche went back to the drawing board and came up with an all-new car, the famed and oh-so-rare 959. Twice turbocharged — with water-cooled heads to tame the internal tempest — the 959 produced twice the 953’s power while being barely heavier. Double-wishbone suspension was now used at both ends, and, so that the engine wouldn’t munch pistons drinking 75-octane African gas, Porsche even included manually-adjustable — via a knob on the dash — ignition timing.
And this time, it was even better prepared for the rigours of the Sahara. There were two heavy-duty MAN trucks carrying spare parts, and Porsche even rented a Douglas DC-3 chase plane for further support. This time, Porsche took home the winner and runner-up trophies (not to mention sixth in the “support” 959) though Ickx again lost, as he did in 1984, to French racer René Metge.2023-11-23T12:11:45Z dg43tfdfdgfd