Review update: 2020 Porsche 911 S flirts with perfection

The idea isn’t perfect. Build a sports car with the engine hanging off the tail behind the rear axle. Sure, that weight gives the rear tires lots of grip, but it creates a moment of inertia that can send the tail skittering if corners aren’t taken with care. Not exactly the recipe for stability in a car that will be driven hard on racetracks and canyon roads.

Apply almost 60 years of engineering to that concept, though, and you have the 2020 Porsche 911, a sports car that’s as close to perfect as I’ve ever driven.

I spent a day during the pandemic driving a 2020 Porsche 911 S instead of slaving away at the office and experienced the ways the car is perfect and imperfect. Here’s what I learned.

2020 Porsche 911 S

2020 Porsche 911 S

Hit: Perfect seating position

The 911 offers a low-slung seating position that makes you feel as cool as the blown away rocker in the 1970s Maxell ad. The difference is the Porsche sport bucket seat, which certainly offers more support than that Le Corbusier chair. Even with just 6-way adjustments (4-way power), the seat offers an ideal driver’s position for any body type thanks to a generous range of travel. The gearshift for the 7-speed manual transmission sits slightly high, but it’s in perfect alignment to rest your arm on the center console as you rifle through the gears. The steering wheel telescopes forward and back to set the right arm angle for best control, and the tachometer sits front and center to easily monitor the revs and shift points when sending it on the track.

Miss: Bathtub feel

The only complaint I have about the seating position is more of a complaint about modern design. Beltlines started rising almost two decades ago to create a lower, chopped-roof look, but that meant hanging an elbow out the window became uncomfortable. The feeling is particularly noticeable in the 911 as the door panels rise high and the car wraps around you. The doors rise so high that it feels like you’re sitting in a bathtub.

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Hit: Perfect steering

That perfect steering-wheel position is accompanied by perfect steering feel. Porsche is one of just a handful of automakers that do electric-assist power steering well. It’s rock-steady on center, quick to react, predictable, and it tells you what those low-profile 20-inch front tires are doing. This is how steering should feel.

 

2020 Porsche 911 Carrera S, Circuit Ricardo Tormo, Valencia, Spain, January 2019

2020 Porsche 911 Carrera S, Circuit Ricardo Tormo, Valencia, Spain, January 2019

Hit: Perfect stability

Part of the reason for the fantastic steering is the suspension is just so dialed in. On the road or the track (as we learned during last year’s Best Car To Buy testing), the 911 is unflappable. It always feels hunkered down. It feels as stable and serene going 70 mph through a sweeping bend as it does cruising down the highway. That 62 percent rear weight bias is exceptionally well controlled, without a hint of a tendency toward oversteer. The 911 is so solidly planted that it takes extraordinary measures to get it out of sorts

Hit and miss: Ride quality

Given the 911’s extra-sensory handling, it rides as well as could be reasonably expected. It never beats up passengers, even in Sport+ mode, and would make a comfortable companion for a cross-country trip. However, some high-end sports cars ride better, like the Aston Martin DB11 and Lexus LC 500. I’ll take the minor tradeoff for the 911’s sharper moves.

Hit: Prodigious power

I’ll stop short of calling the Porsche 911 S model’s 443 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque perfect, but it’s certainly prodigious and better than advertised. Power arrives low in the rev range, the big 305-mm rear wheels hook up efficiently, and the 911 blasts from 0-60 mph in just 3.3 seconds and tops out at 191 mph. If Porsche told me it had 550 hp I’d believe it. The twin-turbo 3.0-liter flat-6 also makes the right throaty sounds that help define the 911.

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2020 Porsche 911 - Best Car To Buy 2020

2020 Porsche 911 – Best Car To Buy 2020

Miss: Infotainment

Porsche is getting closer with its infotainment systems, but they still need some work. The touchscreen is nicely sized, close at hand, and quick to react. It has a clean design, and additional control icons “wake up” as your hand approaches the screen. I take issue with the size of the icons, some of the control menus, and the ease with which some functions can be performed. Apple CarPlay exacerbates the icon size issue because its interface uses only part of the screen. A Silicon Valley approach would help here instead of the logical German mind.

Hit and Miss: Too expensive and not expensive enough

The car I drove had a $114,650 starting price, including $1,350 for destination. With a smart smattering of options that included a sport exhaust system and a Sport package with adjustable dampers, it stickered at $121,950. That’s too rich for my blood but worth every penny. The 911 S offers performance unmatched by sports cars at twice the price like the DB11 and Bentley Continental, but the cost of entry means it’s for the elite.

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2020 Porsche 911 Carrera S

Base price: $114,650

Price as tested: $121,950

EPA fuel economy: 17/25/20 mpg

The hits: Perfect seating position, perfect steering, perfect stability, prodigious power.

The misses: Infotainment, bathtub feel, expensive.

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