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Exclusive: 2019 Porsche 911 First Ride

Exclusive: 2019 Porsche 911 First Ride

LA Auto Show, late November. That's when you'll see the next-generation Porsche 911, which is already known to the Porsche faithful by its internal code name: 992. Yet we've been in the new car already, albeit disguised — at least as much as you can hide the iconic shape of a 911.

Our sneak preview materialized when we heard that some Porsche personnel would be coming to the San Francisco Bay Area to shake down a few preproduction 992 models prior to the LA launch. We met them there and managed to hitch a ride in a convoy of Carrera S coupes.

So, is the 992 a worthy successor? The definitive answer will have to wait for our full testing in the months to come.

But you can learn a lot about a car from the passenger seat. Especially one as hotly anticipated as the latest Porsche 911.

Exclusive: 2019 Porsche 911 First Ride

Back to Cali
San Francisco and its surrounds were chosen for their diverse topography and weather, as well as for the "aggressive" — Porsche's word, not ours — driving style of the locals. The factory drivers, meanwhile, were evidently assembled as an all-star team. We had Alex Ernst, testing team leader; Andreas Pröbstle, project manager for the 718 and 911; Matthias Hofstetter, director of powertrain product lines for the 718 and 911; and August Achleitner, vice president of the 718 and 911 product lines, who is often referred to as "Mr. 911."

There's nothing these gentlemen don't know about the 992, and we tapped them up for as much as they were willing to say. We were also treated to some suitably enthusiastic driving to get a taste of what this new 911 is all about.

Does It Still Drive Like a 911?
First things first — as much as we can tell from the passenger seat, the answer is yes. We sat alongside every driver on Porsche's team at various points on the route, and it's clear the 911 has lost none of its urgency, the turbocharged low-rev punch and still-enthusiastic quest for revs delivering huge, immediate pace.

Exclusive: 2019 Porsche 911 First Ride

The chassis is a great match, too. You can feel the suspension coping with the vagaries of the regional tarmac, riding with real composure while maintaining excellent control. The flat-six sounds good, too, particularly the U.S.-specification exhaust, which does without European cars' exhaust filter. For once, American buyers get something cool that Europeans can't have.

We emerge more eager than ever to get behind the 992's wheel. The LA Auto Show can't come soon enough.

Familiar Face, More Moxie
Let's be honest, the 992 was never going to look too different. The 911 is a formula that's endured since the 1960s, and with over a million cars built, Porsche isn't about to meddle with it. Recessed rear lights aside, this is all familiar 911 stuff in form and function.

Exclusive: 2019 Porsche 911 First Ride

Having said that, the 911 must also outperform the car it's replacing, which is exactly what it'll do. The Carrera S model's turbocharged flat-six engine retains its 3.0-liter displacement, but improvements to the intake, turbos, intercooling, injection system and exhaust give it an imposing 450 horsepower and 391 pound-feet of torque. That's 30 more horses than the outgoing Carrera S and on par with the 991 Carrera GTS, but with greater efficiency. It's also enough to ensure a 0-60 mph time comfortably under 4 seconds and a top speed in excess of 190 mph. You'd have had to buy a 911 Turbo not long ago for that kind of performance.

As for the standard Carrera, it should offer around 385 hp when it joins the model line next year. The LA debut of the 992 is entirely focused on the Carrera S and 4S coupe, specifically with the PDK automatic transmission.

No Manual ... and a Hybrid?
Rest assured, a three-pedal setup is on the way. It'll be offered across the entire Carrera range when that standard Carrera arrives after the S. The lineup will include both coupes and cabriolets from next year, while the Turbo and other amped-up variants should follow quickly after. There'll be a Targa and a GTS, but we'll be in for a slightly longer wait for those. The whisper is the Turbo will have in excess of 650 hp when it comes.

Exclusive: 2019 Porsche 911 First Ride

The 992's PDK automatic is big news. Unlike the manual, which remains a seven-speed unit, the PDK gains a ratio to become an eight-speed gearbox. This version of PDK been re-engineered from the transmission in the Panamera, with "Mr. 911" Achleitner admitting that they have "prepared this car for a hybrid solution in the future." To wit, the transmission has space in it for an electric motor.

As powertrain guru Hofstetter put it, "the car is ready for hybrid. We can't change the wind, but we can set our sails in the right direction." Achleitner added: "The whole car in its layout, its structure, is prepared for a hybrid solution in the future. We will not do it right now, because we are not yet satisfied with the performance, especially of the batteries."

Incremental Improvement
Weight has been a key consideration, with the 992 anticipated to weigh much the same as its predecessor despite the changes. Revised engine mounting improves stiffness, which should be particularly beneficial in the convertible. The Carrera S upgrades to standard staggered wheel diameters, with 20-inch front wheels and 21-inch rears wearing 245/35 ZR20 and 305/30 ZR21 tires, respectively.

Exclusive: 2019 Porsche 911 First Ride

All Carreras will be also wide-bodied, which means there will be no differentiation in width within the Carrera lineup, regardless of specification. The rear width matches that of the outgoing GTS, while the front track is actually a bit wider. This tweak, says Achleitner, enables the 992 to achieve greater cornering force without needing stiffer roll bars, also allowing for a softer rear roll bar.

Agility, usability and driver appeal remain core to the 911 ethos. Achleitner underlines this, noting that "everyday usability is very important for us, hugely important. We are unique, we sell real cars, not computer games that are simulated. You have to have feel. That is essential with our cars."

Details That Make a Difference
Like the outgoing car, the 992 will offer PASM adaptive suspension and the option of rear-wheel steering. Notable extras include Porsche Surface Coated Brakes (an economical alternative to carbon ceramics), a Sport Chassis that lowers the 992 by 10 mm, and the Sport Chrono Pack, which adds items such as active engine mounts and greater configurability in the driver settings.

Exclusive: 2019 Porsche 911 First Ride

In addition to the familiar Normal, Sport, Sport+ and Individual driving modes, there's now a "wet mode" in all Carreras. The 992 will automatically prime its rear wing's angle of attack, as well as the stability and gearbox control systems, if acoustic sensors in the front wheel housings detect water on the road surface. This is necessary, says Achleitner, because the 911 "is light and rides on wide tires." Should the driver want full assurance when such conditions threaten, wet mode can be selected manually.

Convenience is improved with keyless entry and ignition (finally) standard in all 911s. The exterior door handles even pop out to greet you when you approach. Glancing around the preproduction 992 interior, it's evident behind Porsche's camouflage that the central touchscreen is larger, its operation and look being very similar to that of the Cayenne.

What's the Bottom Line?
We'll be able to fill in the rest of the details when the 911 is officially revealed next month, and of course when we drive it soon thereafter. Our early access reveals, though, that Porsche hasn't messed with the core appeal of its rear-engine icon, even if underneath it's quite a significant step forward.

Exclusive: 2019 Porsche 911 First Ride