Porsche 911 Dakar review: utterly joyous and addictive to drive Reviews 2023 | Top Gear
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Porsche 911 Dakar review: utterly joyous and addictive to drive

£173,000 when new
Published: 31 Jan 2023

What do we have here?

We have a jacked-up, rally raid version of the world’s most famous sports car, named after the world’s most gruelling off-road race. The idea of an off-road sports/supercar is nothing new of course, there have been various attempts over the years: remember the Audi Nanuk concept? Or the Italdesign Parcour? Lamborghini has also just pushed the big green button on an off-road Huracan Sterrato.

Then there are the endless 911 Safari restomods and Porsche itself built a secret 911 Safari prototype, based on the 991-generation car, back in 2012… that fell on deaf ears in the boardroom.

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So why now then?

Good question. Our guess is customers are growing tired of aimless extra horsepower, brutal downforce and speed you can’t use in 99 per cent of situations. What they want is versatility, fun and stories to connect to. Which is exactly what we have here.

There was a time when Porsche bossed the Dakar rally, first conquering it in 1984 with the 953 and then in 1986 with the 959 supercar. And up until this point it hasn’t properly leveraged that success. Now it’s bleeding it for all its worth, hence the optional £18.5k Rally Design Package with its two-tone paint job and go faster stripes that pay tribute to the Dakar winning ‘Rothmans’ 953… although no fag adverts are allowed these days, so it’s ‘Roughroads’ instead.

There are other, more affordable retro wraps, too - including a swirly Martini tribute - a nod to a livery used in the East African Safari Rally in 1978… yours for £4,209. Block colours are also available; Farrow and Ball fans, you’re going to love Shade Green.

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To be fair, it does look good…

There’s been plenty of chatter about Porsche not going far enough, that it’s merely a 911 given the Audi Allroad treatment, and to that I say… nah. With its arch extensions, towing eyes, bespoke Pirelli Scorpion knobbly tyres, stainless steel underbody cladding, unique carbon spoiler, the GT3’s nostriled carbon bonnet, suspension raised by 50mm over a standard 911 on sports suspension (plus a lift system that can raise it another 30mm for “ambitious off-roading” up to speeds of 105mph) it looks subtly spectacular.

And that’s before you’ve taken a brave/stupid pill and played with the paint, added the beautifully-integrated roof rack with spotlights embedded in the leading edge, and the official roof tent. Word of caution, those last two accessories look wonderful out here in the desert… probably a bit much around Basildon.

Go on then, give us the tech headlines.

The Dakar’s basis is the 911 Carrera 4 GTS, which means a 3.0-litre twin-turbo flat six with 475bhp, an eight-speed PDK gearbox and 0-62mph in 3.4 seconds on a dry flat surface, although a new Rallye launch mode lets you live out your WRC fantasies in low-grip conditions by allowing 20 per cent more slip. You get rear-wheel steering and two new driving modes: Rallye, which sends 80 per cent of the power to back wheels and Offroad, which prioritises a more even torque split for maximum traction and defaults to maximum ride height.

While the lift-kit, off-road tyres and rear-steering add weight over a GTS, the deletion of any active aero, GT3 engine mounts and bonnet, carbon bucket seats, no rear seats, thinner glass and a lithium-ion battery all trim things down to a respectable 1,605kg – just 10kg more than a GTS. Long story short, this isn’t a Friday afternoon job, Porsche has put the work in to justify the price. Only 2,500 will be built costing £173k before options.

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Where did you drive it then, the Coventry ring road?

Not exactly. We’re in the middle of the Moroccan desert, surrounded by sand dunes: a rolling mass of deep powder intent on burying you and shrubs that seem innocuous, but are hard as granite beneath. Fair play to Porsche for greenlighting this location. Then again, if you’re going to launch a new rough and tumble 911, best to prove it can do what it says on the bootlid. Essentially, we’re in a place no 911 has any right to play in.

But this is a Porsche, it still needs to do the meaty bit in the middle - to be tactile to drive, rudely rapid and take care of the daily stuff. We get a chance to drive it on the road between airport and dunes and I was concerned it might float and wobble, but despite spring rates slackened by 50 per cent there’s still a tautness to the body control, underpinning by an unfamiliar suppleness. The steering still chatters, the tyres are no noisier than winters, the exhaust seems a little raspier – that could just be in my head. If you already rate non-GT 911s as comfortable conveyances this is, predictably, even better.

And what’s it like on the sand?

Hilarious. Rallye mode, everything off, raise the suspension and go nuts. Sideways has never been so easy, simply pick an arbitrary point and keep your foot in to keep sliding. Back it in with a bit of speed and four-wheel drift your way around, kicking up great rooster tails of dirt, the engine pinballing off the limiter in second, then third. Would sir like more angle? Take a tighter radius, give it a flick and you can hold it on the lock stops until your heart’s content. It’s pure video game stuff; silly, pointless but utterly joyous and addictive.

Once the deeper sections start to cut up and the ruts get bigger, you’re slamming into them sideways, wheels bouncing into the air, but we keep going, keep lobbing, keep abusing and it doesn’t just absorb the punishment, it revels in it.

Could you use more power?

Of course, but you don’t need it. Speed out here is momentum, linking your slides, keeping it clean and out of trouble and, crucially, having confidence in your car. It’s actively encouraging me to throw new and interesting shapes. This is entertainment in its purest form, you’re not rewarded for accuracy and smoothness, the more liberties you take, the more the car responds. It’s my kind of driving: fast, loose and driving talent is a nice to have, not a prerequisite.

What about in the really deep stuff?

Offroad mode, everything off and four-fifths aggression is your friend here, you want to surf the surface, not burrow into it, and carve out languid arcs. How can a Porsche 911, the same car capable of morphing into the downforce-obsessed, track-hugging GT3 RS, be capable of this? The breadth of its abilities are just mad. It’s genuinely unstoppable… until we pop a tyre off the rim. To be fair, they were deflated down to 1.2bar for grip, and we were smashing around with all the sympathy of an Alcatraz prison guard.

Clearly, there are cars that are tougher and can go further in the Dunes (hat tip to the Land Cruisers picking stricken journalists out like buried Hot Wheels models in a sand pit), but are any of them more fun? Not sure they are.

What’s the interior like?

Like a 911 GT3. The carbon bucket seats are worthy of note - not just lightweight, but they lock you in place when you’re pinging around off-road and are relentlessly comfortable. There are no back seats, and optional roll cage and the rest is familiar 911 ergonomics and build quality.

Is there a downside?

Apart from the fact it costs £50k more than a Carrera 4 GTS and numbers are limited, I’m struggling to find one. It’s a car that takes terrible conditions and turns them into opportunities. There’s fun to be had in the sand, snow, mud, gravel and I’ve got a suspicion it’ll be highly entertaining on a wet racetrack, too. It encourages you to go places, to use your purchase properly, and even if you don’t you’re left with a hipster-spec Porsche that’s a joy to use every day. The only puzzling part is why it took Porsche so long to build it.

Main carousel photography: Olgun Kordal

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