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17 May 2024

The 911 for every occasion

Is the 911 Dakar the daily driver you never knew you needed?  

The cynics among us could be forgiven for greeting the 911 Dakar with a little scepticism when it was launched last year – another limited-edition model, this one restricted to just 2,500 examples worldwide, depicted in early promotional imagery amid dramatic deserts and snowscapes. From a British perspective, this was a lifestyle statement for someone else entirely. But the opportunity to drive the Dakar on home soil has thrown up an unexpected counterpoint: there may never be a 911 better suited to the UK’s unique driving environment than this.
 
The Dakar found inspiration in the 953 rally car with which Porsche won the Paris-Dakar in 1984. This was a period 911 SC that received a unique all-wheel-drive system and considerably greater ground clearance, was lightened, stiffened and equipped with a 3.2-litre, air-cooled flat-six delivering 300bhp. As is so often the case with Porsche, the process was to build on an already excellent initial premise and make a world-beater.
 
Today’s car follows a reassuringly similar philosophy. By no means intended for competition, it nonetheless takes the existing available technologies of Porsche’s series and GT cars and adds various bespoke developments to arrive at a unique and remarkable new offering. The Dakar is, in essence, a lifted 992 Carrera 4 GTS with a £173,000 sticker price – a daft idea on paper that turns out to be anything but. 

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The first thing anyone notices about the Dakar is its increased clearance; some 50mm more than normal in standard road setting, with a further 30mm available in either ‘Off Road’ or ‘Rallye’ modes. This brings the total clearance to 191mm – the same as a Cayenne – but, due to the 992’s already imposing stance, the addition of an aggressive new body kit and substantial all-terrain tyres, this extreme new appearance is entirely cohesive. The Dakar looks right, far more so than the Lamborghini Huracán Sterrato, thanks perhaps to Porsche’s rich rallying heritage. But credit where it’s due, Porsche’s designers have hit the sweet spot with the modern-day Dakar. It’s neither too little, nor too much. 
 
The standard 992 bodyshell is clad in robust protective trim. Covered sills and wheel arches extend into new, taller front and rear spoiler treatments, both of which incorporate stainless steel skid plates to shield the car’s underside from the sort of approach and departure angles ordinary 911s can only dream of. To reinforce the message, both front and rear bumper sections are fitted with bright red reinforced aluminium towing eyelets.
 
Other striking visual elements include a carbon fibre reinforced plastic (CFRP) bonnet with the same tell-tale nostrils as the GT3 and a unique fixed rear wing, also in CFRP and finished on this car in matt black. The Dakar also benefits from a standalone wheel design that owes something to the original Fuchs alloy, black spokes here set into a bare rim and shod in 19- or 20-inch Pirelli Scorpion all-terrain tyres. 

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Inside, carbon sports seats and RaceTex dominate a familiar 911 cabin, although the rear seats have been deleted as standard and replaced by an optional half roll cage. There are a few nice touches around the cabin, such as black aluminium pedals and footrest and a numbered plaque, this one declaring the car to be 0236 in the build run. Considering the implied end usage of the Dakar, it’s surprisingly posh inside. No heavy rubber floormats, for instance, or surfaces less luxurious than you’d find in a pure road car. Perhaps this is a good thing. More on that in a mo.
 
We started our test drive offroad, on the sort of sandy, pot-holed bridleway beloved of greenlaners in first-gen Discos. At low speed, the Dakar devoured it, the ride height and plentiful torque enabling measured yet confident progress. But this sort of slow and occasionally uncomfortable going doesn’t do justice to the Dakar, highlighting instead the absence of a local savannah where that curious blend of clearance and performance could be better explored. Officially, this car is capable of hitting 105mph while in full lift, longer springs and softer damping allowing it to lollop serenely over surfaces that would be terminal for an ordinary 911. An experience for another day and another continent.
 
For the most part, the average Dakar will seldom be found far from the tarmac, so that unlikely all-terrain ability has to be matched, if not bettered, by its road manners and real-world performance. Incredibly, Porsche has more than found the mark here too. By shedding the rear seats and using lightweight glass, battery and all that CFRP, the Dakar is only 10kg heavier than the equivalent all-wheel-drive GTS, with the same 480PS delivered via eight-speed PDK. The latter car hits 60mph in 3.3 seconds on its way to a top speed of 192mph, while the Dakar takes just a tenth more on the sprint and is limited to 149mph to mitigate for those knobbly tyres. None of that makes a difference day-to-day, whereas things like ride comfort and ground clearance (when you’re in a low-slung sports car) almost invariably do.


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And that’s where this test arrives at its improbable GB-centric revelation. Far from being wasted on our congested, temperate shores, the Dakar is truly in its element. The tall tyre wall and increased suspension travel combine to create a ride quality unheard of in sports car circles and considerably better than that of many performance-oriented SUVs. And despite the all-terrain tread on those chunky Pirellis, there is noticeably less road noise than you’d experience in a GT3 Touring, for example. Although the tyres and chassis set-up sacrifice a noticeable degree of immediacy in both steering and braking feel, it’s a trade-off many would consider worth making for what is surely the ultimate all-rounder in Porsche’s vast gallery of contemporary 911s. 
 
There is a curious gruffness to the engine note, but it’s something that seems to suit the character of the car. Driven firmly in its on-road settings, the extra height and attendant body roll serves to underscore that playful, slightly roughish nature. The Dakar is a major departure from the tied-down 911 we now know, but not to the extent that you feel unable to probe it.

In fact, slightly old-school dynamics are an asset in a world where even a basic Carrera has more than enough power and mechanical grip to quickly achieve unrealistic speeds. Which is not to say that the Dakar is slow; rather that its leftfield approach to performance is the more entertaining. So, meanwhile, there is no other 911 that will traverse a heavily pot-holed British B-road without a trace of hesitation, that will iron out every imperfection without sacrificing its inherent sure-footedness, and that will do so with a compliance and refinement you simply can’t find in any other contemporary sports car. In other words, the Dakar is your ultimate daily driver. You’ll have to pay over the odds, but you won’t regret it.
 

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