Earlier this year, my wife and I took a road trip through Germany. We started with a factory tour of the Porsche factory in Leipzig and drove a Macan GTS on track and off-road.
While the factory tour was fun, we had more to look forward to. We were given keys to a factory-supplied 2022 Porsche 911 Carrera S and sent on our way to explore Germany.
The legend of the Autobahn
When you ask a Canadian automotive enthusiast about the German Autobahn, the conversation will proceed in a familiar way. The first thing they will tell you is that there are no speed limits on German highways. They will describe a mythical place where drivers are free to explore the upper limits of vehicle performance with no fear of retribution from the local constabulary. They will wax poetic about how the Germans know a thing or two about driving and how our driving in Canada is dreadfully slow, plagued with speed enforcement and bad drivers and is the worst place to own a high-performance car.
To an average Canadian listener, the concept of German driving appears utterly removed from reality. How can German people — a civilization synonymous with order — tolerate such madness on their public roads?
Having covered 2,000 kilometres on German highways, I can tell you that the reality of the Autobahn is not as fantastical as you were made to believe. However, it is still awesome.
For starters, the German pavement quality does not disappoint. High-quality pavement makes high-speed driving possible. Throughout my journey, not once did any of the Porsche 911's 20-inch front wheels or its 21-inch rear wheels fall prey to a pothole. There were simply none to speak of. Outside of construction zones, both highways and back roads were spotlessly clean with immaculate asphalt. Those backgrounds you see in automotive press images? That pavement is real, and so is the scenery.
Furthermore, centuries-old German towns will awe you with the quality of their cobblestone and building construction. Average hotel rooms will delight you with immaculate floor-to-ceiling tilework. This is a country where folks take pride in their construction. Building and infrastructure artisanship were outstanding everywhere we looked.
Contrary to widespread belief, the Autobahn is not entirely de-restricted. When approaching towns, in construction zones or in areas with any traffic complexity, you can be assured that a speed limit will apply. Throughout our time on the Autobahn, I spent more time driving within speed limits than outside of them. When I did come upon limit-free zones, I slid into the far-left lane and unleashed all 443 horsepower the Carrera S had to offer. Seeing 250km/h plus on the instruments — legally — was every bit as satisfying as one can imagine. Sadly, these moments of acceleration rarely lasted more than a few kilometres, and they always ended with me squinting at a speed limit sign in the distance and trying to scrub to legal speed before I entered the new zone.
While German police are not as interested in speed enforcement as ours — and not once did I see anyone pulled over — photo radar exists, and I strived to obey the rules.
Braking over and over from 200-plus down to 120 was not particularly fun. After the novelty of pinning the throttle wore off, cruising at around 170 to 180km/h in restriction-free zones made smoother progress. Around 180km/h is where the 911 felt entirely at ease, humming along quietly and efficiently. For the record, the German authorities maintain an advisory speed of 130km/h. If you do not feel confident and safe or the conditions do not allow it, do not go any faster.
The reality of the Autobahn is that it is not too dissimilar to Canadian and American highways, with one exception: the passing etiquette of its drivers. Once a pass is completed, a German driver will always clear out from the far-left lane and allow others to continue passing. Not all Canadian drivers follow this practice. We have too many left-lane campers, driving side-by-side with other vehicles while cruising in the left lane, oblivious to the rolling blockade they have created behind them. In Germany, I was frequently within a fast-moving convoy on the far left, passing slower-moving traffic to our right. Each time we passed a column of cars, the lead driver would move back to the centre lane, followed by the next, until only the fastest-moving drivers remained in the far-left lane. In other words: until only my Porsche remained. These passing columns functioned exactly like well-trained groups of road cyclists riding in a perfect paceline. Bravo!
The 2022 Porsche 911 Carrera S
The car we drove was an eighth-generation 911, debuted in model year 2020, and referred to by the factory as generation 992.
Compared to the previous 991.2 generation, it has grown in dimension. Size-wise, it approaches what I consider a grand touring car. Vehicular dimensions are funny: whether a vehicle feels large or small depends on the relative size of vehicles from that era. Today, this 992 feels correctly sized. It is large enough not to be overly dwarfed when surrounded by modern trucks and yet small enough to squeeze along the tightest European driveways, if only just. Park it next to a 993-generation 911 from the 1990s, and the current car looks oafish and enormous. For our road-trip purposes, this chunky 911 was both airy and accommodating inside, especially with the optional glass roof. Its front trunk had enough room for two carry-on luggage, and the rear seats provided additional storage for smaller items.
Performance in the Carrera S was without fault. Its steering delighted me with perfect calibration, offering feedback and precision in equal measure. I felt a direct mechanical connection between my palms and the front tire's contact patches, giving me confidence in its front grip. The rear-wheel-steering option was helpful and intuitive, making short work of tight corners and imbuing the 992 with a feeling of agility and light-footedness that contradicts its dimensions. As in all Porsches with the PDK dual-clutch automatic gearbox, shifts were satisfying and involving while being supremely easy to operate.
TLDR: this 992 S is as quick and capable as the previous generation GT3, if not as thrilling.
The most remarkable thing about current Porsches is their uniformity of experience. Having stepped out of the 2022 Macan GTS at Leipzig and into the 911, I felt immediately at home. It was easy to match my driving position between the two cockpits, and their control relationships are identical. Everything from the upright dashboard to the side mirrors to the steering wheel to the throttle and brake calibration felt familiar and distinctly Porsche. These traits are consistent even when you jump into one of the brand's electric vehicles: the Taycan.
I have only two criticisms of the Carrera S, both of which I have experienced in other 992s. Firstly, there is some crosswind instability at higher speeds. Above 160km/h and heading into a crosswind, the driver experiences some lightness and nervousness in the steering. The problem is not enough to force the driver to slow down much, but it does not feel as dialled in as it usually does and requires concentration. Secondly, I am troubled by the wheel gap above the front wheel on any 992 that is not a turbo or a GT3. This may have to do with the move to a smaller front wheel compared to the rear. After generations of 911s with perfect ride-heights and wheel offsets right from the factory, this is a bit of a disappointment. Yes, this weird gap may be purely cosmetic, but this is a rare visual misstep from Porsche.
Eventually, we made our way to the small town of Nürburg, which is home to the most famous racetrack in the world: the Nürburgring. I have wanted to come here for as long as I can remember.
While the Nürburgring consists of two separate circuits, which can be combined, the more historical one is the Nordschleife or the North Loop. Imagine a long and narrow 21-kilometre ribbon of asphalt that winds its way up and down the Eifel mountains. The driver is tested with a never-ending barrage of the most devious corners with no margin for error. This is where legends— cars and drivers — are made. The North Loop is a proving ground for car manufacturers to accelerate the development of vehicles and brag about their latest lap times. If a vehicle is good on the Nordschleife, it will be good anywhere.
I rented a race car and instructor from the fine folks at Ring Freaks and completed two guided laps. It was an astonishing experience. I have spent countless hours driving this same track on the simulator using iRacing and Assetto Corsa. While a sophisticated, PC-based modern simulator with a direct drive wheelbase and haptic feedback gets you 80% of the way there, there is still the missing 20% which must be experienced first-hand. The sensation of g-forces, the fear of going wide and the constant stress of navigating slower cars and faster ones on a road just wide enough for two abreast are just some of the challenges and thrills of driving on the Nordschleife. The experience was both electrifying and life-affirming. Due to the risks and consequences, I highly recommend having a good instructor for the first laps of your Touristenfahrten. It is not for the faint of heart.
What else to see (and drive) when in Germany
Cars were not the only thing that kept us busy during our trip to Germany. We visited the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site, walked along the remains of the Berlin Wall, ran laps around the massive Munich Olympic Park, visited the BMW Welt museum, spent the night in a charming medieval town called Rottenburg ob der Tauber and drove along the Rhine River. Germany is a fascinating country, and we had a wonderful time exploring it.
To see more of our trip, please watch the accompanying video.