Safari all the things! The sports-car-to-rally-car movement has reached its peak as big automakers like Lamborghini and Porsche launch off-road supercars. First up is the 2023 Porsche 911 Dakar.
Let’s get right to the point. It’s awesome that a mainstream company like Porsche is bringing a production vehicle like this to market. Make no mistake, the 911 Dakar is a plaything/flex for the wealthy.
Sure it will smooth out the potholes in LA traffic, but for the daring, it will also be good fun on back roads and in the dunes. Will it ever really go further off-road than a forest service road or sandy beach? Doubtful, but Porsche’s volcano-climbing antics might lead some to think so. Do note that the car that drove up the volcano was a full-on race car and not much like the production 911 Dakar at all.
Let’s dive into what’s to like and not like about the Porsche 911 Dakar. Oh, and dive into why if I was looking for an off-road sports car and had money to burn it probably wouldn’t go towards one of these.
2023 Porsche 911 Dakar
Let’s first talk about all that is right with the 2023 911 Dakar.
First up is impressive power — 473 horsepower and 420 pound-feet of torque — and speed — 3.2 seconds from 0-60 and a top speed of 149 mph. Sure many other Porsche 911 variants are faster, but none will be faster off-pavement.
That power is put in check with some cool new driver assistance tech oriented towards off-pavement adventures. First up is two new driving modes — Rallye Mode and Off-Road Mode. Rallye Mode is rear axle biased and for loose fast surfaces while Off-Road Mode is all about traction and tackling rough terrain.
No modern sports car would be complete without launch control either, and the 911 Dakar offers “Rallye Launch Control.” Whether the perfect rally stage starts or just impressing your friends this computer aid helps you get quick acceleration off the line while on loose surfaces, allowing up to 20% wheelspin.
Handling on and off road should be pretty spectacular with the 911 Dakar’s pedigree, AWD, rear-axle steering, and specially formulated tires (Pirelli Scorpion A/T Plus).
The ride-height lift system/ground clearance of the 911 Dakar has its pros and cons. First, it’s impressive to see a factory sports car get a 2- to 3-inch lift. It’s also impressive that it can stay at its tallest setting — it’s adjustable — at up to 105 mph. What’s not so great is that it only has a ground clearance range of 2.75 to 3.930 inches — consider a normal crossover has 7-10 inches of ground clearance.
Because of that better-than-sports-car, worse-than-SUV ground clearance the 911 Dakar has impressive underbody armor. Full belly skid plates will surely be used often. The stainless steel front lip skid and side skirt protection pates will also likely get used quite a lot. Most impressive to us is the side skirt protection, which is basically rock rails. Have you ever seen a factory sports car come with rock rails?!
We also can’t overlook the cool accessories Porsche has on offer for the 911 Dakar. The roof even has a 12v outlet so that roof-mounted accessories can be easily powered, including the awesome roof basket with integrated lights — which is rated to carry up to 92 pounds of gear. While all is not great with the basket full of accessories — more on that later — the Porsche-branded MAXTRAX Minis are pretty awesome.
OK, now that we’ve talked about the bling and why the 911 Dakar is an awesome machine that is highly unusual to be built by a big manufacturer, let’s dive into the things we’re not so impressed by with Porsche’s creation.
First up, no three-pedal option. That’s right, the world’s first factory off-road Porsche sports car has a flappy paddle gearbox only. A car like this should be about driver engagement and the driving experience. A manual transmission helps on those fronts but is not available on the 911 Dakar. This just goes to show that this car will mostly be about showing off around places like Beverly Hills in stop-and-go traffic, not actually hooning around on back roads. Yes, I know, the PDK transmission is way faster at shifting gears than any human with a manual gearbox, but in this car, for its designed use case, it doesn’t make sense to me to have no manual option.
While the 3,552-pound curb weight is impressive when you consider it’s less than 100 pounds more than a 911 Carrera, it is still a substantial figure. Performance and durability on the track and in the desert rely on a combination of light weight, power, and strong components. The 911 Dakar is just missing the truly lightweight part of that equation.
One way Porsche already saved weight on the 911 Dakar is to strip it of back seats. Yep, this is a two-seater, so no bringing the kids on your spirited off-road romps.
Styling of the 911 Dakar is something that will take some time to get used to for many, like myself. The black plastic wheel arch cladding in particular really cheapens the look of the car in my opinion. The height of the front and rear ends is also a bit distracting from the classic lines and proportions of the 911, and are super busy.
The Rallye Design Package is what Porsche expects about 80% of buyers to choose, versus a single-color painted car. The livery really does make the car look more rally car and less lifted road car with all-terrain tires. The “Roughroads Porsche” graphics are a weird way to get around paying royalties to Rothsport Racing, which the livery is a homage too, and feel forced.
Both full bucket seats and adaptive sports seats plus are on offer, both give great support and look amazing, but sadly the headrest stitching just says “911,” with no reference to the special “Dakar” model they are being fitted into.
The 19- and 20-inch wheels are no doubt needed to clear the big brakes and suspension components. The issue is that they are awful for off-road use. Oh, and the car would look so much better if it had smaller wheels and more tire sidewall.
The Porsche branded fuel and water cans in a custom holder on the roof while cool to have, look super cheap. The exposed hardware on the mounting system is the opposite of what you’d expect out of a Porsche Design product — they probably didn’t design it. Also, the dry bag in the basket seems kinda forced and thrown in there. Why wasn’t a sleek designed hard case custom fit to the basket designed? Details matter on a $250,000 vehicle.
911 Dakar: Availablity & Pricing
The 911 Dakar is expected to start hitting dealerships in Spring 2023, although most/all will likely be presold. Porsche has already announced that production will be “limited to 2,500 units globally.”
Listed starting price for the Porsche 911 Dakar is $222,000. That is before options — you’ll likely want a bunch of them. Oh, and before dealer markups/”market adjustments” — which will no doubt be sizable.
Should You Buy a 911 Dakar?
If I had $300,000 to $500,000 — an honestly appropriate range for what these cars will actually sell for on the market — for an off-road rally/safari style sports car, I wouldn’t buy one of these. While the 2023 Porsche 911 Dakar is an impressive offering from a major manufacturer, there are just better options on the market already for engaging off-pavement driving experiences.
While a factory warranty would be nice, if you have this kind of money and actually want to use one of these cars off-road, you’re not going to be overly concerned with that. You’ll also likely have your own mechanic, or at least one on call, to fix this machine when you find that one G-out that snuck up on you or the tree that leapt out into the road.
I’d first dive into designing my own build with Russell Built (@Baja911 on IG). A Safari Sportsman build, which would be relatively equivalent in off-road capability to the Porsche 911 Dakar, can be had for under $200,000. I’d go further though, with a full crazy Baja 911 build with 365 horsepower with 310 foot-pounds of torque, a 2,800-pound curb weight, 13.5″ of wheel travel, and a manual transmission. Is there a more engaging off-road drive this side of a trophy truck?
Another great option are the Keen Project cars, which run generally between $120,000 and $200,000. Leh Keen for sure was instrumental in popularizing the 911 Safari in modern times with his colorful builds and customers who actually use the cars to tear up gravel and dirt back roads.
Porsche 911 Safari
The 911 Safari market has plenty of players these days, which is why Porsche itself has jumped into the market with their own product. It’s a trend that the brand just couldn’t ignore, as there is big money to be made.
Do I want a go in a 911 Dakar? Yes, yes I do. How fun would this machine be this winter on a set of snow tires?! Is there a better winter weather commuter — price and availability notwithstanding?