The 2023 Porsche 911 Dakar Is Great Fun in the Sand

Posted on

“Aired Down a Porsche 911” has yet to appear on any bingo card we’ve ever held, but here we are, deflating our 911 Dakar tires before play begins on the Moroccan sand dune formations called Erg Chebbi. It wasn’t immediately clear how well we would go on the massive sand dunes, a visit that would normally require a rented Toyota Land Cruiser Prado or a local camel caravan outfitter. So far, we’ve traversed the desert hardpan and gaped like tourists in a winding, single-humped dromedary trying to avoid rocks and stele hidden behind a perpetual curtain of dust.

Previously, when we explored dusty cities that seemed to serve as inspiration star wars‘s Tatooine, the kids sometimes wave (those are waves, right?) as we pass in our shiny Land Speeders. Then, at the last checkpoint before the open desert, the local police stopped our three-car convoy, whereupon the lead driver had to hand them over. . . his Instagram handle. (The next day, on the return journey, he will be asked to perform a… launch control launch.)

Turns out the Erg—a dead ringer for Southern California Glamis sand dunes (who plays Tatooine, come to think of it) —literally the Dakar’s 911 sandbox. It makes sense, because the 911 Dakar is basically a quarter million dollar dune buggy based on the mighty Carrera 4 GTS, not the Volkswagen Beetle.

Like the OG dune buggy, the Dakar features a rear-mounted engine, flat-pan floor and wide rear tires that are proportionate to the inherent rear-bias weight distribution of the 911 and provide handy flotation in the sand. The lighter steps mean that its curb weight is only about 20 pounds heavier than the Carrera 4 GTS, so while it weighs around 3550 pounds, it makes a lot less impression in the sand than your average SUV and cuts the base Porsche Macan by about 600 pounds.

porsche 911 dakar 2023


From there this Porsche took the dune-buggy format a few big steps forward due to the GTS’s 473-hp twin-turbo 3.0-liter flat-six engine. The engine’s wide peak torque of 420 pound-feet from 2300 to 5000 rpm is even more critical. In the middle of it, every time we glanced at the tach, usually screaming “I can’t believe I did this at 911!” the engine always grinds it between 3000 and 4000 revolutions, happy when we are in the mountains of dry sand.

Another element that doesn’t fit in all of this is the interior, which, despite its Dakar touches and tasteful trim choices, never misses an opportunity to remind that you’re still in the 911. The microsuede-wrapped steering wheel is one example: The inner wheel is so much constant movement as you see through the sand so the hash mark in the top center seems pointless. Also do the one-piece carbon bucket racing, which punches you like a fist-fighting opponent while you bounce out there. Pro tip: Opt for the heated leather GT Sport steering wheel (no charge) and ditch the hard-shell bucket for the power-adjustable 18-way heated sports seats (another no-cost option).

If you haven’t guessed it, the Carrera 4 GTS also contributes its all-wheel drive system with Porsche Traction Management and Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus. To this, Dakar added GTS options such as rear-wheel steering and Porsche’s Dynamic Chassis Control system of active anti-roll bars, and the combination of all of that, plus the caravan optimization software, provides additional Rallye and Offroad driving modes multiple native gears.

True to its name, Rallye shifts the torque bias to the rear and installs active anti-roll bars and a rear steering system to promote controllable rally-style oversteer on loose, gravel surfaces. But it’s an adaptive system, so they can reel something if the pendulum swings too far. Offroad mode provides a more even distribution of front/rear torque, and can loosen the anti-roll bar and lock the rear differential to maintain progress over uneven terrain. The two modes’ basic torque separation is more like a guideline than an actual rule, as the system has the bandwidth to streamline torque anywhere from 88 percent front to 100 percent rear, depending on where the traction is.

For this, the Dakar has one final ace up its sleeve: increased static ride height, plus a further 1.2 inches of suspension lift. Automatically engaged in Offroad mode and manually selectable in other modes, the system increases the Dakar’s underbelly from a healthy 6.3 inches of standard clearance (1.8 inches more than in the GTS) to a maximum clearance of 7.5 inches. The 911’s short 96.5-inch wheelbase translates to a respectable 19.0-degree breakover angle, which is firmly in crossover SUV territory. This proved useful on sand dunes, where high centering was never a concern.

porsche 911 dakar 2023


But don’t kid yourself. Even with the re-profiled front and rear overhangs, the Dakar’s 16.1-degree approach and 18.2-degree departure angle is too shallow for a truly rocky course. If in doubt, register your passenger as a lookout. A standard surround-view camera can only reveal so much, and there’s a turbo hanging low in the rear corner. Getting in LA, however, should be easy. You don’t even need to use the elevator to clean it.

The lift system uses coil springs that sit over an upgraded version of the hydraulic front-end lift that is optional on the other 911s. A similar lifting mechanism was installed at the rear, and engineers added a more powerful accumulator and pump so the system could maintain a raised posture indefinitely as long as speeds did not exceed 105 mph. To further optimize the suspension for working on rough terrain, the PASM’s front strut and rear damper bodies are longer and tuned for more travel, and the longer springs are also about 50 percent softer than their road counterparts.

porsche 911 dakar 2023


None of this would be meaningless without the tires to match, and Dakar’s bespoke Pirelli Scorpion All Terrain Plus knob does the job. With wheels 19 inches up front and 20 inches behind, the Dakar’s wheels are each one inch smaller than the GTS. And the 245/45ZR-19 front tires and 295/40ZR-20 rear tires are also about an inch taller top to bottom, and that combo gives the rims an extra inch of protective sidewall. The increased air volume inside allows for lower standard pressure, and that helps the Dakar cope better with rough-textured surfaces. Get them to 17 psi on the sand, like we did, and they provide flotation and traction without digging.

On pavement, the Scorpion A/T tires make little noise, and also offer good directional stability and a secure steering response. In fact, Porsche engineers were so pleased with their performance that they backed out of their original plans to offer it as an option and have it standard. Summer tires are optional here, and rightly so. Buyers who will be spending nearly $225K—for an $1800-priced car from the GT3 RS—are probably doing so for the Dakar’s unique capabilities, and this footwear gives them the best chance of using Porsche’s ultimate dune buggy for what it was intended.



Porsche 911 Dakar 2023
Vehicle Type: rear engine, all wheel drive, 2 passengers, 2 door coupe

Base: $223,450

twin-turbocharged and DOHC 24-valve flat-6 intercooler, aluminum block and head, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 182 inches32981 cm3
Power: 473 hp @ 6500 rpm
Torque: 420 lb-ft @ 2300 rpm

8 speed automatic dual clutch

Wheelbase: 96.5 inches
Length: 178.6 inches
Width: 73.4 inches
Height: 52.7 inches
Passenger Volume: 49 feet3
Cargo Volume, Front: 5 ft3
bridle weight (CD approx.): 3550 lb

60 mph: 3.0 seconds
100 mph: 7.6 seconds
1/4-Mile: 11.4 sec
Top Speed: 149 mph

Combined/City/Highway: 18/16/20 mpg

Leave a Reply