2023 Porsche 911 Dakar review
The Porsche 911 Dakar is essentially a jacked-up, off-road version of the world’s most famous sports car. We test it to the limit to discover if it’s more than just a frivolous toy...
On sale: Now Price from: £173,000
When you think of Porsche off-roaders, your mind probably jumps straight to the brand’s formidable Porsche Cayenne SUV and perhaps even the smaller, albeit less off-road capable Porsche Macan. But you might be surprised to learn that it’s the brand’s 911 sports car that has the richer off-road pedigree.
Flick through the history books and you’ll note that legendary racing driver ‘Quick Vic’ Elford won the world’s first ever rallycross race back in 1967, at the wheel of a borrowed 911. We can’t imagine the dealer was very happy when he returned it. And there was also a time when Porsche dominated the Paris-Dakar rally, first conquering it in 1984 with a 911 (codenamed 953) and then in 1986 with the 911-based 959 supercar.
Since then, Tuning specialists Tuthill, Ruf and The Keen Project have produced countless road-going 911 ‘Safaris’, inspired by those legendary rally cars, but it’s taken until now (perhaps in response to the Safari trend taking off on social media) for Porsche’s board to give the green light for the brand to build its very own rally-raid special.
Named the 911 Dakar (the Safari name was already taken by Indian brand Tata, sadly), Porsche has essentially stripped down a ‘regular’ 911 Carrera 4 GTS to prepare it for a life of off-road abuse. The most obvious change is the 60mm lift in the ride height over the GTS, which can be raised to 90mm at the push of a button, just in case you’ve got yourself beached on a sand dune.
The keen-eyed amongst you will have also noticed that the Dakar is sitting on a set of rugged off-road tyres. Designed especially for Porsche, these Pirelli Scorpions feature a double carcass to prevent punctures, while also benefiting from a whopping 9mm of tread depth to ensure that they dig into loose surfaces.
Factor in standard-fit rear-wheel steering, stainless steel underbody protection, a set of beefy tow hooks, a pair of larger radiators from the 911 Turbo, carbon-backed seats from the GT3, a carbon fibre rear wing and an optional roll cage and you have a sports car that should, in theory at least, be able to take whatever you can throw at it.
It looks pretty special too. And that’s before you’ve started exploring options. Porsche will sell you everything from an official roof tent to a range of rally-inspired liveries. In fact, Porsche reckons that the £18,500 ‘Rallye Design Package’ fitted to our test car, channelling an iconic livery worn by its race and rally cars in the 1980s, will be taken up by 75% of customers.
What’s it like to drive?
As we mentioned earlier, the Dakar is based on the Carrera 4 GTS, and it shares that car’s 473bhp 3.0-litre twin-turbo flat-six petrol engine, mated to a quick-shifting eight-speed PDK dual-clutch automatic gearbox. This combination takes the Dakar from 0-62mph in just 3.4sec, although – if you want to live out your Jacky Ickx rally fantasies – a new Rallye launch control mode allows the same sprint in around 5sec on dirt.
That might not sound lightning quick, but trust us, the way it digs into a loose surface and fires itself off the line is genuinely astounding. And although the noise of rocks and debris pinging off the bottom of the car is a bit disconcerting at first, you soon find that you’re having too much fun to care. In ‘Rallye mode’ (where 80% of power is sent to the rear wheels) you can simply throw the car into a corner, at any speed, nail the accelerator pedal and slide your way around, kicking up massive rooster-tails of dirt behind you.
It feels as if you’re driving a rear-wheel drive rally car right up to the moment that you need a bit of extra drive – at which point the clever four-wheel drive system steps in and slingshots you out of the bend. It’s in this mode, on a smooth, loose surface, that the Dakar feels most in its element. It’s just a shame that the UK doesn’t have the kind of empty, wide-open fire roads that dominate the landscape in the Middle East and southern California. What we have instead are muddy, lumpy green lanes. So how does the Dakar get on when the going gets really rough?
Well, the first thing you have to do is select the aptly named ‘Offroad mode’. This raises the car to its highest ride-height setting and splits all that grunt evenly between the front and rear wheels in order to maximise traction. In this mode Porsche claims that the 911 can take on the same size off-road obstacles as the Cayenne SUV can, not that you’d ever know from behind the wheel.
Sitting low in carbon-backed GT3 seats, peering out over the tall bonnet, you can’t help but wince as you wade through water crossings, tackle deep ruts and descend dauntingly steep hills, but on our off-road test route (designed to test military vehicles), it didn’t get stuck once. Part of this is down to its tyres and the clever four-wheel drive system, but we also suspect that the Dakar’s relatively light weight (a Cayenne weighs nearly half a tonne more) helps it to scramble its way out of sticky situations.
That light weight should also benefit it on the road, too, but there is no hiding the fact that the Dakar’s suspension is significantly taller and 50% softer than a regular GTS. However, this, as it turns out, is no bad thing.
We were only given a brief drive of the Dakar on the public road, but we found it to be wonderfully approachable. Compared with the GTS, the Dakar pitches and leans a touch more when cornering, helping you to judge exactly what’s going on underneath you. And if you go beyond the limit of grip (which is rather easy to do, since the Pirelli Scorpions don’t grip as tenaciously as the standard car's P Zeros), the sensations through the seat tell you immediately, giving you time to react. So, while the Dakar is unlikely to be the quickest on a smooth track, at regular road speeds, it’s arguably more engaging than the car it is based on.
So are there any downsides? Well, the off-road biased rubber does drum up a bit of road noise, but Porsche offers the option of bespoke Pirelli summer tyres if you want to head out on a long-distance road trip. Then there is also the small matter of cost – which we’ll come onto shortly.
What’s it like inside?
The interior of the Dakar will be familiar to anyone who currently owns a 911. The only real differences over a GTS are the wonderfully supportive carbon-backed bucket seats and the deletion of the rear seats. In their place you can specify a roll cage, but we do wish that Porsche offered an option to keep the rear seats, especially for owners who have children.
You also get an understated build-number plaque on the dashboard, and if you opt for the Rallye Design Package, you benefit from an interior lined with Race-Tex (Porsche’s own version of faux-suede Alcantara) and leather.
For more details on the rest of the interior, head over to our comprehensive 911 review.
Next: Porsche 911 Dakar verdict and specs >>
Page 1 of 2
Best electric cars 2023
Sales of electric cars are booming, and no wonder: the best are quiet, cheap to run and smooth to drive. But which are the brightest sparks – and which are the loose connections?
Used Mazda MX-5 long-term test
The Mazda MX-5 is a firm favourite with those who want fun in the sun, but what’s a used one like as your only car? We have four months to find out