The genius of the Porsche 911 Dakar on the road

03rd April 2023
Simon Ostler

Since it was first revealed, the Porsche 911 Dakar has only really been seen and experienced in the desert. In its Rothmans style livery with big spotlights and knobbly off-road tyres, it’s difficult to comprehend how this car will translate when it’s distributed to the masses and starts appearing on public roads in the not-too-distant future. Now though, we have had a very early look at what this car will offer on the road, and some of the results are pretty surprising.


Just in case you missed it, the Porsche 911 Dakar is a raised-up, reinforced off-roading variation on the Porsche 911. It’s still very recognisably a 911 in shape, but there are some key differences.

The 911 Dakar is based on the Carrera 4 GTS. With the same basic chassis make-up and powertrain, which includes Porsche’s sweet sounding 480PS (353kW) 3.0-litre flat-six maxing out at 7,500rpm. The view from the driver’s seat is similar, too, except in the Dakar the whole thing is swathed in Alcantara or ‘race tex’ in Porsche speak. You have the same Alcantara steering wheel, with carbon-fibre bucket seats and the standard Porsche dashboard with touchscreen infotainment and climate control. There is the option of more comfortable 18-way adjustable sports seats for drivers who prefer a more leisurely experience, but that is pretty much where the similarities end between Carrera and Dakar.


It's a car that has been engineered for extreme off-roading. The Dakar has already been put through some pretty serious testing in properly harsh conditions, so the question of how it would behave on the road was an interesting one. Would it retain any of the fabled Porsche characteristics at all?

Well, first things first, let’s just say this is absolutely not a typical Porsche 911. For a start, the 911 Dakar has been raised up by 50mm over the standard Carrera 4 GTS, and can be lifted by a further 30mm in off-road mode. It’s a substantial difference, but there is no doubt Porsche has put in some serious work to try and make this car feel like it still delivers on the road. It’s also still some 280 lower in overall height than a Porsche Macan, with 40mm less ground clearance, so it’s not as tall and ungainly as a typical crossover. But does it feel like a 911? Well, kind of.


What’s surprising is that despite the raised-up stance of the car you’re still sat pretty low down in the 911 Dakar, which is strange because everything feels very high around you, more so than the Carrera. The hunkered-down position does go some way to retaining that sportscar feel, at least when you’re at a standstill.

Perhaps the biggest change on the inside is the enormous roll cage that has replaced the rear seats. This is a conscious decision made by Porsche to lean on the rallying heritage of the Dakar, so wave goodbye to any ideas that this might be a 911 for the school run. It isn’t. What it does indicate however is that the Dakar saves a bit of weight, to the point that the rally special only weighs 1,605kg, just 10kg more than the Carrera 4 GTS. That’s quite something when you take into account all of the additional engineering and strengthening that’s taken place.


All of this translates into a slightly strange experience once you get out on the road. The rear-wheel steering makes it highly manoeuvrable at slow speed, and it feels much like any other 911 when you’re just pootling around town. Pick up a bit of speed though and the Dakar shows itself for what it is. There is far more suspension travel than you get in a standard 911, which makes for a wonderfully smooth ride, but also dampens down the feedback you might normally expect. It tends to wallow in the more extreme dips and furrows that you come across, that extra spring takes a bit of time to settle itself.

The steering also feels less involving than a typical 911. It’s lighter, and ever so slightly less responsive, but this is a minor detail, and considering a standard 911 is near perfection in this regard, the Dakar is still pretty good in the grand scheme. This is where it starts to feel a little unfair to compare the 911 Dakar to the standard 911 experience if you’re looking at performance in the traditional sense. You’re further away from the road surface, so of course it’s going to feel less engaged, less nimble, less active. This is not a sportscar as we’ve come to know them.


But that does not mean the 911 Dakar is any less capable. In fact, there’s plenty here to suggest that this car might actually be the most capable 911 ever. Where it might not translate the same feel to the driver, the work that’s going on behind the scenes is quite incredible.

The four-wheel-drive system is top notch. On a miserable day, on some pretty treacherous roads with standing water, leaves and mud strewn all over them, everything is kept perfectly in check. Even with a push of the ‘Sport Response’ button, which delivers the full whack of 480PS (353kW), there's barely a hint of a squirm or loss of traction. A mere shrug of the shoulders as you make astonishing progress.


Whereas in a standard 911, you might reconsider giving it a boot full if the weather was a touch dodgy, here there is no such hesitation. The power goes down without a fuss, and despite the lesser feel from the steering, you can point the Dakar at an apex and it will get you there. Considering the extra ride height, there’s no discernible body roll to throw you off course either. Everything remains poised and balanced, pretty much at any speed within the bounds of the law.

From that point of view, this is quite possibly the most exhilarating off-roader we have ever driven on the road. And that’s the way the 911 Dakar should be considered, because it is a genuinely impressive feat of engineering that delivers an incredibly rare experience. If you want a genuinely capable car that can be driven quickly on any given day, regardless of the weather, then this might just be the new number one pick.

It's expensive at £173,000, but quite honestly if that’s within your budget then the 911 Dakar is one to watch. And that’s before we even consider its off-road capability, which quite honestly is even more jaw dropping. But we’ve covered that already.

  • Porsche

  • 911

  • 911 Dakar

  • Dakar

  • Review

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