For the last fifteen years or so, if you wanted to race a Porsche in the perfect digital world you only had a few options. Option A was whatever Need for Speed title was out at the time and option B was the occasional Forza game, but only if Turn 10 were allowed to include them. For reasons unknown to science, Porsche and EA Games entered an exclusive deal around the time that Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed came out that escalated into a cancerous contract. No other publisher could use Porsche in their game unless EA allowed them to. As you could imagine, many great racing titles were left out for far too long.
That changed this week. The contract allegedly expired earlier this year and Porsche seemed eager to partner with somebody else to bring their brand to a new player base. That brings us back to Kunos Simulazioni’s Assetto Corsa, a racing sim which signaled an end to contractual tyranny with the release of the first of three officially-licensed Porsche expansion packs. It’s Porsche’s first new game franchise in over a decade.
A total of eight Porsches made their way into Assetto Corsa this week through the first expansion pack and a free bonus. Quick details and “driving” impressions on each of the new Porsches added to the game are past the jump.
This is a whole new way to experience Porsche, and unless you can afford to track these cars in real life, it’s the best way.
The first Porsche Pack goes for $6.99 on Steam and includes seven cars plus a bonus car (added to the base game for free). Sim racing’s first taste of Porsche in twelve years starts with the new Panamera Turbo (bonus car), 718 Cayman S, 911 Carrera S, 911 Carrera RSR 3.0, Cayman GT4 Clubsport, 918 Spyder, 935/78 “Moby Dick”, and the 917/30 Spyder. Pricing on the two other packs should be about the same, but there’s also an optional $15.09 season pass will get you these cars plus everything the other packs will bring as well by the end of the year.
Assetto Corsa doesn’t do everything right, but it delivers a very good driving experience to those with a steering wheel and wonderful attention to detail with the car models and sounds. I feel like they’ve gone above and beyond for this Porsche pack as each of these eight cars are among the highest quality of any prior expansion pack they’ve done. Every car feels solid, they all feel and perform very differently, and this first pack provides some great cars to get us started.
This is what we’re working with here:
Porsche Panamera Turbo (bonus car)
This is technically a free bonus car and not a part of Porsche Pack I, but right now this is the only way to drive the all-new, second-generation Panamera Turbo. It’s absurdly quick. This “four-door 911” is powered by the new 4.0-liter twin-turbocharged V8 with 550 horsepower and 567 lb.-ft. of torque, the sound of which is very nicely recreated in the game. It has straight line speed backed up by four wheel steering and a well-sorted chassis, meaning this two-ton luxury saloon can actually take corners in an enjoyable manner.
You definitely feel the weight of this thing, but it stops well, handles very well, and goes like you’d expect a Porsche to go. Porsche test and development driver Lars Kern completed a lap around the Nordschleife in only seven minutes and 39 seconds with this thing (in real life). In short, it’s a free car that should definitely be experienced. It even has a fully modeled retractable three-piece wing! Don’t skip this one.
Porsche 718 Cayman S
Porsche’s lovable Cayman was just launched with a new 2.5-liter turbocharged four cylinder engine, which depending on who you are, is either the worst or best thing they’ve ever done to it. It produces an impressive 350 horsepower, but the glorious flat six noises are gone in favor of an engine that farts and just sounds uninspiring. Sound is something Assetto Corsa absolutely nails on almost every car, and unfortunately that streak continues with the 718.
Nevertheless, it’s a good car to get started with when you play this expansion for the first time. It feels very light on its feet and almost a little twitchy, but it still makes for a great car to learn a course with. It doesn’t surprise you, it doesn’t try to kill you, and it’s only there to help you have fun. It’s a solid car, even if it does get a bit outclassed by some of the other cars in this pack… okay, all of them.
Porsche 911 Carrera S
The first modern 911 included in the game is the brand new 991.2 Carrera S with the twin-turbocharged flat six. It gets 420 horsepower to play with, a super fast PDK gearbox, Sport Chrono, rear-axle steering, torque vectoring, and everything else you need to go fast. Porsche’s most historic model has more computers helping you out than it’s ever had before, but when you race this thing it still feels like you’re the one doing it all. It only takes a few corners to fall in love with it. It has tremendous pulling power from any gear, it has great stability if you drive it well, and unlike the other turbocharged car I just talked about it actually sounds pretty nice.
I wanted to test how well the car’s driving dynamics were modeled into the game. The problem was that I’ve never driving an actual 911 before, so I asked someone who’s driven plenty. I asked our resident Porsche nut, Bradley Brownell, for some advice on how to Porsche. “Brake in a straight line, let off the brakes, turn in, accelerate through the corner… It’s all about weight transfer. If you brake in the middle of the corner, the weight shifts forward off the rear wheels, you lose traction, and the pendulum effect pulls the back end around.”
Can confirm: the pendulum effect is real. That’s the only way to drive the 911 Carrera S or any rear-engine car in the game. This car with its modern driver aids is a bit more forgiving of people who push its boundaries the wrong way, but it responds well to properly-managed weight transfer and finesse. Real-world driving techniques have an impact on how well this car performs and it was even more helpful on some of the older cars which I’ll get into.
Porsche 911 Carrera RSR 3.0
This Porsche expansion pack strikes a great balance between old and new with a fine selection of historic race cars, the first of which is this 1972-73 911 Carrera RSR 3.0 from the Group 4 days. Old school air-cooled flat six power, a light and lively chassis, and practically no downforce by modern standards means driving this car is pure joy. The weight transfer techniques mentioned above are absolutely crucial to driving this car successfully because it is far less forgiving. But when you get it right, holy mother of Butzi it’s absolutely perfect in the best possible way.
It’s everything you could ever want a virtual old school Porsche to be. The brakes love to keep you guessing as to whether or not you hit them early enough, the back end loves to swing out just a little mid-corner, and the sounds this thing makes will keep you coming back for more. Every noise you hear from behind the virtual wheel, from the glorious induction noise to the crackles from the exhaust every time you lift, is simply wonderful. Kunos went above and beyond getting the sound right with this car.
In short, this is the car you drive if you want to have the best time. I was grinning ear to ear when I survived my first lap with it around the Nordschleife.
Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport
Moving on to the first and so far only modern race car they’ve added, the Cayman GT4 Clubsport is a track-only version of the Cayman GT4 destined for customer racing in various series. It shares a lot in common with its road-going counterpart (which is also coming to the game at a later date) including the 3.8-liter NA flat-six with 385 horsepower, electromechanical steering, and many other suspension components which get borrowed from the 911 GT3. Obviously it’s been stripped of unnecessary mass and fitted with a larger wing and more aggressive suspension settings, but it’s also been equipped with a six-speed PDK for quicker shifts.
This car serves as the ultimate companion in your quest for speed. It just does everything you want it to do and it doesn’t fight you. It has mid-engine balance and maneuverability, race car levels of grip, and enough power to get you out of corners quickly with little drama. This car serves as living proof that digital race cars can be communicative as long as you have a steering wheel. There’s never any guess work with this car, just total predictability and sublime performance. Load up a practice session with this car and the Nordschleife endurance course and enjoy.
Porsche 918 Spyder
The holy trinity of supercars is complete in Assetto Corsa with the addition of the 918 Spyder, the ultimate road-going Porsche. This joins the LaFerrari and McLaren P1 in the highest class of road cars and it’s fast enough to trade punches with them all day. Power comes from an RS Spyder-derived V8 with 608 horsepower and electric motors which bring system power up to 887 horsepower. The hybrid system creates an all-wheel-drive setup which provides incredible traction – enough to go 0-62 mph in 2.6 seconds – and it makes the car insanely fast pretty much anywhere.
I was thinking this would be the most exhilarating car to drive in this pack, but surprisingly I really don’t enjoy this as much as I thought I would. Around tracks like the Nordschleife it feels like it’s constantly trying to swap ends and I think that comes down to the steering in this car. It feels hyper active, so much so that any little input you make throws off the balance of the car. It’s less obvious on bigger tracks, but the 918 driving experience in a nutshell is insane speed, brakes that don’t feel powerful enough for said insane speed, incredibly twitchy steering, and random acts of oversteer or understeer. Obviously, I’ve never driven the real thing and I never will so I’m hoping this just comes down to me not getting used to it. Perhaps someone with a better steering wheel than mine can figure out how to make more precise inputs and keep it under control. I just ended up losing patience and went back to the other cars in this pack.
Porsche 935/78 “Moby Dick”
One of the most famous cars in this pack is the legendary 935/78 which was given the nickname of “Moby Dick” for its wide bodywork and massively long tail. It was specially designed for the FIA Group 5 endurance series and raced throughout the late 70s with varying degrees of success. It went to war with a 3.2-liter flat-six engine, two intercooled turbochargers, new water-cooled heads, and greatly improved aero. It remains the most powerful factory-produced 911 ever with 845 horsepower. Because it’s a turbocharged car from the late 70s, you better be paying attention when the boost kicks in.
This car has the second highest learning curve of all the cars in this pack. It has a rear-engine layout so you need to manage weight transfer in the same way the Carrera S and RSR require, but there’s a new challenge to take on in the form of hyuuuge turbo lag. If you aren’t pointed in a relatively straight line, the boost will get you out of shape or swap ends completely. It’s intimidating and a bit frustrating, but do enough laps and it’s possible to become perfectly in tune with it.
I got to a point where I could plan my corner exits around the boost and have the timing down almost perfectly. Brake in a straight line, turn the nose in, gently apply power to maintain speed and start building boost, track out while gently adding throttle, finish straightening out, and whooosh. When you get the timing right, it’s one of the most enjoyable cars in the game. After a session around Spa Francorchamps with a top speed of ~180 mph on the main straight and some tail-out on boost action, I think it became my favorite car of the pack.
Porsche 917/30 Spyder
I have a nickname for this car. I call it “assisted suicide”. The 917/30 Spyder was a CanAm racer with what may have been Porsche’s most powerful racing engine ever, if not the world’s most powerful road racing engine ever. It ran with a 5.374-liter flat-twelve with two massive turbochargers which could produce upwards of 1,500 horsepower or more, though they typically raced with only 1,100 horsepower. However this game’s 917/30 is set up, it’s ferocious. It’s absolutely mental. Mark Donohue was pretty much unbeatable with this car even amongst stiff competition from McLaren and Chevrolet.
I call this car “assisted suicide” because it has huge amounts of power and turbo lag like the 935/78, only much more of it. The 935/78’s boost will cause it to swap ends if you aren’t pointed reasonably straight; the 917/30’s boost will murder you to death if you even think of summoning its power when it isn’t ready for it. This one has the highest learning curve by far but it’s best on bigger tracks like Spa, Silverstone, and Monza. Figuring out the timing of the boost isn’t so bad and you can figure it out as easily as with the 935/78, but simply timing for the boost still isn’t enough. If you use an inch more throttle than you’re supposed to, it will light up the back tires – even in a straight line – and turn you into a passenger. It takes throttle discipline and patience to drive this car successfully. If you spend time with it though, you can learn to love it – even if it tries to kill you.
So there you have it. Porsche’s return to sim racing is stellar, relatively inexpensive, and has absolutely been worth the wait – it’s just a shame we even had to wait. Two more Porsche Packs are planned for release in November and December. Pack I is out on PC now while console players need to wait a few more weeks. Pack II will add more potent road cars like the 911 GT3 RS and Cayman GT4 along with racing legends like the original 718 Spyder RS, 962c long tail, and even the more modern 919 Hybrid. That one will be incredible. Then there’s Pack III with even more race cars, including the 917 K, 2017 911 GT3 RSR, and 908 LH. It also has the current 911 R, Bradley’s favorite. I’ll add impressions on those additional cars as I can.
Welcome back, Porsche.
[Lead image © Kunos Simulazioni | other images captured in-game | Source: Steam]