A Salute to Driving for Fun

Heritage is a blessing and a curse in the automotive industry.

It gets ignored, erased, dusted off, stretched, fabricated, bastardized, and exploited on a whim. Porsche has been a better caretaker of its heritage than most: the 911 is stubbornly moored to a layout that most other carmakers hurled into the darkest locker of automotive history decades ago. Staying the course for close to 60 years has earned it the luxury of building cars like the 2023 911 Sport Classic. This limited-edition 992 off-shoot is a commemoration of past models that contributed to the 911 folklore.

Unlike the 997-generation Sport Classic from 2009, which was limited to 250 examples and not sold on our side of the pond, the 992-based model will see a 1,250-unit run and is headed to the United States as a 2023 model. Excluding company insiders, I was among the first drivers to slip behind the wheel.

2023 Porsche 911 Sport Classic Review Specs

  • Base price: $273,750 ($1,450 destination charge included)
  • Powertrain: 3.7-liter twin-turbo flat-six | 7-speed manual | rear-wheel drive
  • Horsepower: 543 @ 6,750 rpm
  • Torque: 442 lb-ft @ 2,000 to 6,000 rpm
  • Curb weight: 3,468 pounds
  • Seating Capacity: 4
  • 0-60: 3.9 seconds
  • Top speed: 195 mph
  • Cargo volume: 4.6 cubic feet
  • EPA fuel economy: Not yet rated
  • Quick take: The Sport Classic is not your average heritage-soaked limited-edition model; it’s a completely new flavor of the 992-generation 911.
  • Score: 9/10

Mix and Match

On paper, the Sport Classic is a potent cocktail of existing bits served with a large side of nostalgia. Part of the firm’s Heritage Design series, and identified as such by a badge on the decklid, it’s powered by a 3.7-liter, twin-turbocharged flat-six borrowed from the 911 Turbo and detuned to 543 horsepower at 6,750 rpm and 442 pound-feet of torque between 2,000 and 6,000 rpm. For context, the engine in the Turbo posts figures of 572 at 6,500 and 553 from 2,250 to 4,500 rpm, respectively. Put the pitchfork down: Porsche has an excellent reason to leave a few horses in the barn.

While the Turbo ships with all-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission (and you can’t have it any other way, even if you ask nicely), the Sport Classic is only offered with rear-wheel drive and a seven-speed manual transmission. It’s the most powerful stick-shifted 911 in the range, and creating it required detuning the engine to ensure that the cavalry doesn’t cause a five-alarm panic in the gearbox.

Several distinct styling cues set the Sport Classic apart from other 911 models, including twin stripes that run down the center of the car, a double-bubble roof panel, a “60” graphic on each door (buyers can choose a different number or remove it entirely), and a ducktail spoiler that caught a ball set rolling by the 911 Carrera RS 2.7 in 1972. The hood, the roof, and the decklid are made with carbon fiber. Center-locking 20-inch front and 21-inch rear wheels with a Fuchs-like design add a finishing touch to the look, and the Sport Classic eschews the air scoops chiseled into the Turbo’s punched-out quarter panels. 

Porsche took several trips to the heritage well to create this car—even the Sport Gray Metallic paint is a nod to the 356—but its designers didn’t Xerox the past and call it a good job well done. That’s key to the Sport Classic formula: It puts a twist on a familiar theme without replicating it.

There are numerous ways to configure the Sport Classic: buyers can order Sport Gray Metallic, black, Agate Gray Metallic, Gentian Blue Metallic, or request a Paint-to-Sample color. Porsche told me that over 85 percent of the cars that have been configured so far are ordered in Sport Gray Metallic, however, because that’s the color shown in press images (and in this gallery) and it’s how folks know the car.

Ronan Glon

Unless you go really far down the Paint-to-Sample rabbit hole (and please send photos if you do!), the Sport Classic is relatively subtle. I drove it through small, picturesque German towns at about noon and none of the folks enjoying a meal in the sun knocked over their glass of dunkel to leap onto the road and take a photo. I would have—with 1,250 planned globally, what are the odds of ever seeing another one? But it’s one of those “if you know, you know” cars rather than an exuberant, Instagram-friendly special.

Inside, the Sport Classic treatment brings gorgeous houndstooth (or “Pepita” in Porsche-speak) inserts in the seats and door panels, plus leather upholstery offered in either black or Classic Cognac. There’s also a numbered “911 Sport Classic” badge on the right side of the dashboard to remind passengers of what they’re in. The rest is mostly standard 911 fare, so the driver faces an analog tachometer flanked by a pair of seven-inch thin-film transistor (TFT) screens and the middle part of the dashboard is dominated by a touchscreen for the infotainment system, which features an intuitive interface and clear graphics.

Standard 911 fare isn’t a bad thing; fit and finish are outstanding, the seating position is comfortable, and the controls are right where you expect to find them—if you’re used to driving a Porsche, at least. This heritage model also maintains one of the most longstanding pieces of Porsche tradition, which is a left-hand ignition placement. The touchscreen replaces most of the switchgear in the cabin but there are a few buttons below it (including one that raises the front axle to clear bumps) and on the center console.

Seven Gears, Three Pedals, and Two Turbos

Pairing the Turbo’s engine with a manual gearbox injects a great deal of involvement into the driving experience. Porsche’s dual-clutch automatic is excellent—so excellent that you don’t have to think about what it’s doing. That’s the whole point of deleting the clutch pedal. Adding it back in forces the driver to pay more attention to the engine (it’s quite chatty in the 911!) and to let the transmission become the copilot. The arguments against the stick shift are principally valid: they’re a pain in the ass in dense traffic, and a computer shifts much faster than a human on a track. But the Sport Classic is neither a commuter nor a race car. It’s a salute to driving for fun, and it’s better with a manual gearbox. 

Managing a crew of seven gears can sound disorientingly excessive, like playing one of those batshit double-neck guitars. But it’s not: the seventh gear is there solely to keep the engine’s revolutions low at highway speeds, so it’s sleeping in a far-off corner of the shift pattern in most driving conditions. The first six speeds are well spread out, and the shifter feels precise to operate with relatively short throws. This is the same basic unit that Porsche puts in other 992 variants, so we know what to expect from it by now.

I didn’t miss the 29 horses that didn’t get invited to the Sport Classic party because this flat-six has a distinct personality that’s not solely defined by its horsepower output. Besides, at 3,468 pounds, the Sport Classic weighs precisely 167 pounds less than the Turbo, and ultimately 543 horsepower is plenty. Sure, its 3.9-second zero-to-60-mph time is 1.2 seconds slower than the Turbo’s, but it’s not like there’s an air-cooled flat-twin back there. Power delivery off the line still feels nearly immediate—and that’s before you realize that there’s a trace of turbo lag that’s just perceptible enough to be entertaining. 

As the flat-six’s smooth tune permeates the cabin from behind the rear seats, I realize that the Sport Classic is, in many ways, a throwback to the Turbo variants of previous generations, before all-wheel drive entered the equation. It’s not nearly as vicious or hardcore as, say, the 930 (or even the 993), but it’s from the same mold: tremendous power in a package that’s lively to drive, even if it’s not on a track.

It’s not just the flat-six that the Sport Classic shares with the Turbo (mind the capital T) members of the 911 range. Much of the hardware and software beneath the sheet metal comes from the Turbo S, like the Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) system that slashes 0.39 inches from the ride height, and the carbon-ceramic braking system. On the tree-lined roads that slither through the Black Forest, the Sport Classic takes corners with a “don’t worry, I got this!” attitude. It’s sure-footed, tight, and it quickly inspires confidence in spite of the fact that it does not attempt to hide its rear-biased layout. Porsche’s suspension wizardry keeps body roll largely in check, but the trade-off is a ride that’s tolerably pegged on the comfortable side of firm, even with the “normal” driving profile engaged. 

The other menu items are “Wet,” “Sport,” and “Sport Plus.” The first is a clever feature that I’m told helps prevent hydroplaning, but I couldn’t test it because the clouds above me decided to hold it in. Think of “Sport” as “Hot” in Taco Bell’s hot sauce pecking order. It stiffens the suspension, makes the exhaust louder, and tweaks the dynamic engine mounts, among other changes. It also summons an Auto-Blip function that blips the throttle when downshifting, though this feature can be turned off—I found it beyond annoying and kept it off, but some of my colleagues loved it. “Sport Plus” is “Fire”—the suspension becomes even firmer and the throttle response gets more sensitive. “Individual” lets drivers create their own driving mode; e.g., the Normal exhaust note and the Sport suspension firmness.

One trend that the 911 hasn’t been able to escape is the tendency for cars to get bigger with each generation. With the door mirrors folded, the Sport Classic stretches 74.9 inches wide. Big, you say? That’s around two inches wider than the 997-generation Sport Classic and about two inches narrower than a first-generation Chevrolet Tahoe (y’know, the boxy ones from the 1990s). I realize that this is largely inevitable: Cars get bigger to remain compliant with ever-stricter regulations, not because they spend too much time in a Burger King. But the end result can be startling on a narrow road with a guardrail on one side and a jumbo-sized tractor barreling the other way. Outside of encounters with farm equipment, though, the Sport Classic tends to drive like a much smaller car than it actually is, due in part to the standard rear-wheel steering system, which works its magic in the background and feels natural.

Speaking of the steering: it’s sublime. It’s crisp, well-weighted, and it provides just the right amount of feedback. Striking this balance was easier said than done in a car that carries most of its weight over the rear axle, but that’s also what heritage is about. It’s not just getting to bring back decades-old styling cues every now and again; it’s doing something for long enough that you get really, really good at it.

Worth It—But Good Luck Getting One

Pricing starts at $273,750, including a $1,450 destination charge. That’s a good deal more than the 911 Turbo S, which tops out at $222,150 in Cabriolet flavor, but it’s in line with previous limited-edition 911 variants. Keep in mind that the 991-generation Speedster cost $275,750 in 2019 and Porsche had zero trouble selling the 1,948 examples it built. Besides, this is the only way to get the Turbo’s engine with rear-wheel drive and the seven-speed stick, and that combo alone is bound to alleviate sticker shock.

For the money, Porsche offers a long list of standard features such as the Sport Chrono package, the aforementioned front axle lift system, a sport exhaust system, LED headlights, 18-way power-adjustable front sport seats with a memory function, a heated steering wheel, a 12-speaker Bose surround-sound system, and navigation. There is even a car cover included in the price. The list of options is longer than Herman Melville’s Moby Dick: buyers can add a surround-view camera, night vision technology, lane-keeping assist, ventilated front seats, and a Burmester sound system, among many other features.

This is not an exercise in one-upping the competition, whether it’s internal or external. Porsche isn’t worried about buyers cross-shopping the Sport Classic with a competitor’s model. There will be 1,250 enthusiasts in line to get one, and I’ll be damned if one of them thought, “Hmm … let’s see what McLaren offers for the same price,” for even a second before signing the dotted line. Buyers know exactly what they’re getting, and they also know that a limited-edition 911 is one of the better investments out there. Cars like the Sport Classic transcend traditional rivalries because they’re designed as collectibles.

If you miss your chance to get one, keep an eye on what Porsche’s Exclusive Manufaktur department is up to. This is number two of the four Heritage Design models planned (the first one was the 2020 911 Targa 4S Heritage Design Edition), so we’re only halfway down the classic-inspired limited-edition road.

Ronan Glon

Generally, I’m skeptical of limited-edition models. Many come off as a half-hearted attempt to move the deck chairs on a sinking ship. Once the marketing gloss wears off, you’re left with an overpriced car that doesn’t feel particularly special. 

I didn’t get this impression with the 911 Sport Classic: the retro-themed styling cues inside and out are anchored to legitimate heritage and not overdone, and bolting the 911 Turbo’s flat-six to a seven-speed manual transmission is the automotive equivalent of beer and pretzels. It’s an instant perfect match. This is not the quickest nor best-handling evolution of the 992-generation 911—and it wasn’t designed to wear either crown—but it’s one of the purest and certainly one of the most enjoyable to drive. It’s a shame, then, that only a small handful of drivers will get to experience it. 

Paradoxically, that’s also part of its appeal.

Ronan Glon

An American automotive journalist and historian, Ronan Glon is based in France. His work has appeared in Autoblog and Digital Trends.

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