Porsche has beaten Lamborghini to the off-road sports car punch.
After waiting months for confirmation from Porsche, we can officially confirm that it will introduce the Porsche 911 Dakar as an all-new off-road variant of the 911 sports car family at the LA Auto Show on 16 November.
Porsche says the name is a nod to its 1984 Paris-Dakar Rally victory in a modified 911. That particular 911 was the first to be equipped with an all-wheel-drive system, and these days we can't imagine a 911 range without the 4S and the blistering AWD Turbo models.
Porsche also claims it will be the first two-door sports car to offer outstanding off-road capabilities, though Lamborghini is working on a direct rival, the Huracan Sterrato.
Porsche's teaser release is light on mechanical details. Instead, the focus is on the hectic testing process the 911 Dakar had to complete before going on sale. Typically 911s are developed on the proving grounds in Weissach and the Nurburgring. The Dakar underwent the same testing process, but Porsche also moved beyond its in-house off-road testing facilities.
The 911 Dakar was subjected to over 6,000 miles of off-road testing. The car also underwent over 300,000 miles of testing under extreme conditions. The Chateau de Lastours test track in southern France was used to test the car's handling in rally-like conditions. As you can see in the images, the Dakar will happily get its tail out and jump like an overly-enthusiastic NBA player.
"I knew what a 911 could do on the road," said Porsche works driver Romain Dumas, "but I was absolutely stunned by how well the car performed here on the loose."
Naturally, Porsche also had to let rally legend and Porsche brand ambassador Walter Rohrl have a go. Rohrl tested the Dakar in icy conditions in Arjeplog, Sweden. The thick ice of the frozen lakes offers Porsche test drivers the ideal basis for an approximately 90% closed compacted snow surface.
The 911 Dakar can pull some serious angles on a slippery road and left Rohrl massively impressed by its capability.
"The car is incredibly fun to drive," said Rohrl. "Everything works so precisely and calmly. No Porsche customer will believe all the things you can do with this car before they've driven it themselves."
Finally, the Dakar also had to conquer the terrain closely associated with its name. The car was driven up 50-yard dunes in Dubai and Morocco in 113-degree Fahrenheit heat. According to Porsche, its testing team was relentless.
"The 911 Dakar delivered a commanding performance even in the desert," says Frank Moser, vice president of the 911 and 718 model lines. "Especially here, the 911 Dakar can make the most of its conceptual advantages - the combination of low weight, higher ground clearance, a powerful rear-mounted engine and the short wheelbase make for an exhilarating driving experience. I was able to experience it myself on test drives in the Sahara."
But the off-road performance is only one part of the story. Being a 911, it also has to handle well on tarmac. To this end, Porsche gave it to Jorg Bergmeister to test. "I wouldn't have thought that a vehicle with such ground clearance and all-terrain tires would still feel like a Porsche 911 on asphalt," he said.
"At first, I didn't have the nerve to push the car to its limits. But I am very satisfied with the handling on loose surfaces. Even the ABS is optimized for braking on gravel. It's amazing how much traction the off-road tires deliver. The car is a blast to drive," said development driver Lars Kern.