by Karl Furlong
Over two decades ago, the Porsche Cayenne set new benchmarks for sporty, agile handling in the traditionally rugged SUV segment. The new Porsche 911 Dakar coupe looks to be precisely the inverse of the Cayenne, and aims to rewrite the rulebook for sports cars in demanding off-road environments. This is a mostly barren segment, with only Lamborghini attempting to achieve the same goals with its raised and rugged Huracan Sterrato. But Porsche has a rich rally history to draw experience from, most notably emerging victorious at the 1984 Paris-Dakar rally - and the new 911 Dakar is the product of this heritage. With ground clearance increased by over three inches, off-road tires, and a dedicated Rallye mode, it'll go where other 911s simply can't. But it's still a stunningly quick sports car, with the 473-horsepower twin-turbocharged boxer-six engine enabling a 0-60 time of just 3.2 seconds. More expensive than the Turbo S, our review of the dune-bashing 2023 911 Dakar reveals that it has an even broader spread of talents than that mighty 911.
The 2023 Porsche 911 Dakar is an all-new arrival in the USA. Almost pricier than the GT3 RS, it sits near the top of the 911 range but serves an entirely different purpose than its track-bred sibling. Based on the Carrera 4 GTS, the Dakar is all about transferring the sports car experience to off-road environments, and its raised ride height, all-wheel-drive system, and off-road tires are all part of that goal. Many other changes - the engine mounts from the GT3, rear-axle steering, and a special launch control system for loose surfaces - have resulted in one of the most hilariously enjoyable 911s, but what remains is the boxer-six engine that still makes it an exceptionally quick sports car.
Very nearly the most expensive 911 in the entire range, the starting price of the 2023 Porsche 911 Dakar is $222,000 MSRP before a $1,450 destination charge. A few options later, and the price of the new Porsche 911 Dakar will swell to almost $270,000. That's close to the expected price of the V10-engined Lamborghini Huracan Sterrato. The cheapest 911 will cost $100k less, so unless you really need an off-road 911, one of those represent better value. There are no other Porsche 911 Dakar trims or models, so only your choice of options will affect the price.
See trim levels and configurations:
3.0L Twin-Turbo Flat 6 Gas
The Carrera 4 GTS is the starting point for the Dakar, but Porsche needed to go further to endow this wild 911 with its off-road capabilities. Compared to the 4 GTS, the Dakar's ride height was increased by 1.96 inches, and a front and rear axle lift system adds another 1.18 inches of right height up to 105 mph. Rear-axle steering is standard, stone guards were added for the rear axle wishbones, and engine mounts from the 911 GT3 were installed. Comprehensive software alterations were also made for the new Rallye and Offroad driving modes, both designed specifically for off-road use.
On normal roads, the raised body and all-terrain tires, along with softer springs, have not dispensed with the tautness that is a hallmark of the 911 range as a whole. You can sense increased pitch and dive when accelerating or braking, but it's not enough to unsettle your progress. It's still enjoyable, tactile, and supple enough for everyday use, and the chunky tires aren't overly noisy either, if not as quiet as the regular 911's rubber. It's off-road where the 911 Dakar does its best stuff, though.
The powerful boxer-six engine's 473 hp and solid 420 lb-ft of torque is perfect for clambering up surprisingly tall dunes. It'll slide all day long in this environment, and maximum traction is guaranteed by the Offroad mode when the high clearance is automatically activated. Maximum approach/ramp breakover/departure angles of 14.2/16.2/16.4 degrees, respectively, are reminders that this is still a sports car with lower limits than an SUV, though.
Over looser surfaces, Rallye mode creates much more of a rear bias for the AWD system, making it effortless to elicit power slides over gravel that'll quickly leave the Dakar's body a dirty mess, but the driver smiling. The torque vectoring system and responsive steering further aid responsiveness and control so that the Dakar feels as at home here as a GT3 does on the track. The car's breadth of talents is truly remarkable.
The Dakar is a surprising and exciting addition to the 911 stable. It makes the initial absurdity of taking a 911 off-road seem like the most natural thing in the world once you experience it, and we can hardly give it greater praise than that. On-road compromises are few, and while you do lose the practicality of the small rear seats, what you gain is a dune-bashing, gravel-conquering sports car that thrills its driver as much as a GT3 does on the track. Even though the underpinnings aren't drastically different to that of the Carrera 4 GTS, the reality is a 911 that feels shockingly confident over loose terrain. The boxer-six is as capable here as it is in road-biased 911s, and the new off-road driving modes do exactly what Porsche promises. Plus, it also looks different enough from normal 911s to steal attention from them. At GT3 RS prices, the Dakar is certainly not cheap, but it also isn't directly comparable to that or any other 911. There aren't many Porsche 911 Dakar competitors bar the outrageous Lamborghini Huracan Sterrato that can pull off similar off-road tricks but accompanied by a V10 bellow. Still, Porsche has given 2,500 lucky customers more than a taste of its rally heydays, and what they've come up with is the most multi-faceted 911 yet.
With a base price of $222,000, there is little point in being conservative with options. For that reason, we'd immediately tick the box for the Rallye Design Package, even though it costs as much as a brand-new Mazda MX-5 Miata on its own. We'd also go for the more comfortable and versatile adaptive sports seats, a no-cost option, and the cool Porsche Design sub-second clock for $1,120. The surround-view camera is useful at $1,430, and the $3,980 Burmester sound system is a lot better than the standard Bose unit. In this configuration, the 911 Dakar will cost $257,020 including destination.
The most popular competitors of 2023 Porsche 911 Dakar: