Friday is here, and so is the mailbag. The question this week has to do with the Porsche 911 Dakar, and the different philosophies of two hallmark German brands.
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Mike, I loved your piece on the new 3.0 CSL, and agree with your points; M missed the mark. How come BMW has never really made a decent sports car, or special car? Porsche can churn out a million of them, like the new 911 Dakar, that seem more desirable and much cheaper than BMW M’s asking price on this CSL.
Keith, you were one of many that emailed me in agreement over that CSL. While the price is a concern, it seems like most are upset because of the design, or lack thereof.
To answer this, we have to go back in time a little.
Why can’t BMW make a decent sports car?
Well, not just BMW. All the famous brands have tried their hand at dethroning a 911. None have succeeded. Let’s use the example of a BMW Z4.
The latest version of the Z4, the G29, is by itself a good car. In M Performance trim, it’s quick, well-appointed and fun to drive. There’s no true M version, but even when there was (with M3 guts), it was never as good as a Porsche.
The latest Z4 also falls short when compared to its platform-based brother, the Toyota Supra. The Supra just feels better to drive, more nimble and responsive. BMW seems to have tuned the Z4 more for boulevard cruising than back road barnstorming. Why BMW made this decision is odd to perhaps you and I, because they have other cars that can perform the GT role better. But to them it made sense because of the demographic that attracts the car (cough, older, cough).
The writing is on the wall for the Z, and it’ll be gone by 2024, another failed attempt to take some sales away from Porsche. But look back from the Z1 through the Z8 (even the i8), and you’ll see famous sports cars, but not necessarily good ones.
BMW’s lone exception is the M1, a car designed with a great deal of help from Lamborghini.
“Z” you later
Why did the Z fail? Because it’s not a sports car. Oh sure, two seats, swoopy styling, and a powerful engine might give it the credentials of one, but tasty ingredients don’t always equal a delicious cake.
The Z4 is based on BMW’s CLAR platform, and it’s shared with pretty much everything else in the lineup. That means the platform isn’t optimized for a sports car. Not when BMW has to worry about pinning an X7 on it as well. Compromises are made and the result is a car that’s fine, but not Porsche levels of involvement.
Porsche takes a different route, with unique layouts and engine for both the Boxster/Cayman and 911. But they got there by accident.
Hear it for the rear
The first time I drove at an HPDE event, I was in my E92 M3. My instructor, a fellow BMW guy, asked if I had looked at anything else aside from the M when purchasing.
“A lightly used 996 911 4S”, was my response.
“Bah, you made the right choice. This thing won’t try to kill you.”, he told me as he patted the dashboard. He was right, the M3 was easier to drive at the limit. Maybe that’s changed.
Born in the 60s as a rear-engine car, Porsche sort of became stuck with it. A rear-engine car isn’t optimal from a weight distribution standpoint (that’s why the Boxster/718 has the engine in the middle). So over the years, they’ve added enough electronics to the chassis to help stabilize it and get rid of that widow-maker moniker.
The things that may have annoyed Porsche before have now made the 911 an icon. Its rear-engine layout prevents it from sharing a platform with any other Porsche. Remember too that Porsche is now owned by Volkswagen, so there’s plenty to pick from, like the R8 and Huracán. Dubbed MMB, it allows the modern 992 911 to have drivetrain, transmission and engine options galore.
Speaking of engines, the 911 has always had a flat-six. Nothing else sounds like it, and nothing else in the Porsche lineup has one, save the 718. More mainstream cars like the Panamera and Macan have more common engine types like a V-6…yawn.
The modern Z4 gets a B58 inline-six. Nice? Very. Special? Well…
The Porsche 911 Dakar
There have been so many special versions of the 911, you’d need a warehouse to fit them all together. But this latest one seems like Porsche knew they were going to steal BMW M’s spotlight. And it’s not even a traditional sports car.
Perhaps recognizing that they can stand apart by going off the rails (literally), the Porsche 911 Dakar just feels cool, doesn’t it? This special edition draws inspiration from the Dakar Rallies of yore, and features more ground clearance than a typical 911.
Porsche is known for their details, so this car has plenty of go with show. Stiffer engine mounts from a GT3, all-wheel drive, all-terrain tires, a roof rack, 473 horses, and a suspension that self-adjusts ride height based on road conditions.
Underneath, this 911 gets stainless steel skid plates and side protectors, with tires that are more resistant to puncture. Despite the added protection, the Dakar weighs just 16 lbs more than a Carrera 4 GTS.
Other things are coming too, like the Lamborghini Huracán Sterrato, that follows a similar off-roading concept.
D(akar) for Different
Back when I had the 328 as a daily, I often wished it had a button on the dash to turn it into an M3 at a moment’s notice. That’s fantasy, but Porsche is coming closest to that idea with the Dakar.
It’s safe to assume that the Dakar wouldn’t be the first 911 purchase for someone. Might not even be their second. But if you love the 911, it’s easy to add this car as a way to still be in one, while ensuring it feels different from the others you already own.
Price? $223,450. Hey, it’s Porsche. But before you go, ask yourself this question. For $760,000, would you rather have a BMW 3.0 CSL, or a 911 Dakar, a 911 Turbo S, a 911 GT3, and $100,000 left to put gas in all three?
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