New 911 GT3 RS driven
Caution: 9000rpm lat-six being exercised
THERE’S A PARTICULAR sound the GT3 RS makes, just after 8500rpm. It’s a metallic-edged shriek, like an ascending firework overlaid with an old F1 car. It’s one of the best sounds any 911 has ever made, and once you’ve heard it, it’s a rush you’ll keep chasing again and again. And eight and a half is just the start – this new RS’s tacho needle doesn’t meet a solid red line until it reaches the number nine. It’s a sensory overload kind of car, the GT3 RS. Aurally, visually, haptically. If the standard 911 GT3 is the purest driver’s 911 of the current range – no turbos, no rear seats, no mucking about – the RS is its ultimate expression: wider track, wider body (with a few more holes for cooling), a rear wing that looks borrowed from a GT3 R race car, and a similar obsession with lap times.
It’s not the fastest, or the maddest, 911 in the range (the twin-turbo, near-700bhp GT2 RS plays that role) but it is the nimblest, the most agile – and potentially the most fun. That’s why we’re here, in the Scottish borders, to let the RS stretch its legs on the kind of roads it was made for. This is also a curtain call for the current 991.2 generation of the 911 before the spotlight switches to the all-new 992 family, due to make its first appearance later this year. The GT3 RS is the final 991 to get the .2 update, making this the concluding chapter of a 911 generation that first appeared on the front cover of CAR in January 2012.
It’s not going quietly, that’s for sure. Lizard Green is the official launch colour (another eight hues are available), and when I meet the car for the first time it’s so bright I swear I can see a glow on the horizon as it approaches. Subjectively, it looks fantastic, especially with ’70s-style stickers along its flanks. Standard fit (or stick) for the 991.2, they’re the easiest way to tell it apart at a distance from its predecessor, 2015’s 991.1 GT3 RS. There are a few more clues close up – two extra NACA ducts in the CFRP bonnet supply air to the front brakes, and while there’s no missing that rear wing, unless you look closely you might miss its new end plates and supports, making it sit even higher than before.
Both bumpers are new, there are new tail lights, reshaped vents to better channel air, and a broader spoiler lip at the front that works together with wider sideskirts to create a little extra underbody surface area, and therefore more downforce. That’s something the GT3 RS never did lack. The 2015 RS generated 350kg of negative lift at 186mph – as much as the 918 hypercar on paper, yet with drag comparable to the regular GT3. The new car’s reported to possess eight per cent more downforce, and a smidge less drag too. Not a bad effort.
A usable proportion of that downforce gets working early, too, around half from 90mph. And that’s discounting mechanical grip from the giant tyres, which barely fit in the arches. Those stunning centre-lock forged wheels, with flared, curving spokes, measure 21 inches at the rear and 20 inches at the front, giving a slight rake to the RS’s widescreen stance, another ingredient in its serious kerbside appeal. This particular car’s wild lime theme extends to the rims’ edges pinstriped in the same Lizard Green as the body – and half rollcage (a no-cost option as part of the Clubsport package), the dashboard stitching, cotton centre marker in the alcantara wheel, go-faster stripes down the gear selector and fabric door pulls have all gone gecko, too. Nothing so heavy as an interior door handle adds to the RS’s kerbweight, and even the usual hinged doorbins make way for miniature cargo nets.
Stripped it might be, but creature comforts remain – air-con, the 991.2’s latest touchscreen – and the feeling of quality and attention to detail is quite something. You get the impression the designers had as much fun as the engineers. The seats are a particular high point: they’re sculpted carbonfibre shells, clad in a choice of finishes – alcantara in this car, with cleverly graduated perforations growing in diameter until they arrange themselves into a semblance of racing stripes. It’s gleefully over the top, yet somehow avoids being garish.
Turn the key and the engine buzzes into a rattly idle. This is a good sign; it seems a good rule of thumb that the more a 911 sounds like a bag of spanners at tickover, the better it’ll sound when it gets going. Revised induction, exhaust and management electronics have helped the 4.0-litre flat-six’s power rise to 513bhp from the previous RS’s 493bhp, making it the most powerful naturally aspirated 911 yet – although given Porsche’s tendency to underplay its numbers, most customer cars will likely develop even more power.
Gravel rattles in the arches like a rally car as we pull away, a product of the deleted sound deadening compared to regular4
911. There’s something else chattering away, too. From the first hundred metres, it’s clear the steering feel is a marvel. When electric power steering first appeared on 911s it felt a touch numb, wooden, but a lot of current’s flowed under the bridge since then. It’s comparatively light and extremely sensitive, but doesn’t feel nervous or darty. They make potholes big out here, and dodging them is like playing an advanced level in Space Invaders – there’s not a hint of slack, the very first movement of your wrist met with an instantaneous response from the tyres. And quite apart from the feedback flowing through it, the wheel itself feels great, its spokes free from buttons and its rim clad entirely in alcantara, as is the top of the gear selector.
The word ‘selector’ gives the game away; the RS still can’t be specced with a manual gearbox. While the regular 991.2 GT3 offered the option of either a manual or PDK dual-clutch gearbox in response to customer demand, the RS remains PDK-only. It’s not the end of the world: the RS is designed to be the fastest moving object around a track, after all, and PDK’s ideal-shifts-every-time/both-hands-on-the-wheel remit fits perfectly. The six-speed manual gearbox in the regular GT3 is a thing of joy – short-throw, ultra-precise, perfectly weighted to the pedals – but the seven-speed PDK is an emotive thing to use in itself, especially in the RS, with its shorter ratios and swifter shift map than a standard 911. Upshifts at higher revs are dispatched with a metallic ping, like you’re midway through a personal-best game on a pinball machine, and the crisper-than-crisp downshifts feel no slower. When you’re not on the paddles in manual mode, select PDK Sport and it’ll shuffle down the gears faster than a pro card-shark through a deck, and in normal auto mode it’s one of those rare self-shifting gearboxes that actually chooses the right gear, at exactly the right time.
You can punch the selector lever itself forwards to shift down or pull back to shift up if your hand position means you can’t get to the shift paddles, but the RS requires so little lock to get around tight turns, you hardly ever need remove your thumbs from the neatly shaped dimples at quarter to three on the wheel. That’s due largely to the GT3 RS’s rear-wheel steering, a refined version of the system fitted to the previous car, and various other 911 variants.
It works uncannily well. Some high-performance cars with rear-steer – Merc-AMG’s GT R, for example – can take a little while to tune into, and occasionally feel peculiar, the car’s overall yaw rate out of sync with your inputs to the wheel. The GT3 RS doesn’t. It feels natural straight away, the only unusual manifestation of the swivel-hipped rear axle an occasionally slightly floaty (but not unpleasant) feel to the steering. You notice it too in the surprisingly tight, city car-like turning circle, where the rear wheels turn in the opposite direction to the fronts to help spin the 4.5m long RS around in an improbably small amount of real estate.
At higher speeds, the rear wheels turn minutely in parallel with the fronts, effectively lengthening the wheelbase for increased stability. That’s something the GT3 RS has in abundance. With adaptive dampers, dynamic engine mounts stiffening and unstiffening to transmit loads as effectively as possible, torque vectoring and an electronically controlled locking differential, not to mention all that aero, there’s so much going on behind the scenes to put each and every horsepower through the rear tyres effectively. Suspension settings are now similar to the GT2 RS, with spring rates hugely increased versus the regular GT3, and a whole bouquet of rose joints deployed front and rear.4
The engine warmed through, the road unfurling into fast, pothole-free sweeps ahead of the louvred front arches, another upshift pinged away, you could be mid-stint in the Nürburgring 24 Hour. The brake pedal’s position presents itself to your left foot as readily as your right, and it’s full of feel. The ABS can be triggered comparatively early, but the pedal is so easy to modulate, you can hold it just on the threshold of intervention. Front-end grip is colossal, and there’s huge traction out of corners, too. And there’s something spookily right about the gear ratios; not too long, not too short. Brief straights disappear in one lunge towards the redline, 4.0-litre flat-six shrieking through its new titanium exhaust like a banshee mic’d up to a Marshall stack. Every degree you flex your Achilles tendon nets another rpm. That linearity (and that sound) is why the GT3 doesn’t have turbos, the last remaining 911 to hold on to natural aspiration. On a circuit some chinks might appear in its armour – it must have some – but on the road, it’s mighty. As much as the GT3 RS has the ability to consume the road ahead like a video set to two-times speed, you can enjoy those same sensations at a relatively gentle pace, flowing down the road, enjoying all that sensory feedback – the sound, the touch-points and all those messages from the chassis you’re constantly plugged into. And you never miss an apex, because the steering and front-end grip are so good. This particular car was fitted with Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s, although many customer cars will be fitted with Dunlop Sport Maxx Race 2s, which promise comparable performance.
The thinner glass and lack of sound deadening means the cabin echoes a bit, and on coarser surfaces you might need to raise your voice to chat with a passenger, but otherwise almost everything that makes the regular 911 such an usable sports car still applies. The ride is surprisingly supple, even with the dampers in the firmer mode. The seating position is low-slung, but vision past the upright, relatively slim windscreen pillars is good and you quickly feel comfortable. Up ahead you can just
nd about see the tops of the front wings, glance in the mirrors and you can see those giant rear arches either side. As for the wing, it’s so high you look clean underneath it. There’s still decent space under the front luggage lid, and it’s so light you fear you’ll throw it over the roof when you first lift it. The carbon shellback seats should be a one-size-fits-some compromise, but they’re surprisingly comfy over a long journey, helped by electric tilt adjustment for their base, and they can be heated as an option.
As the GT3 RS ticks cool, it’s another chance to drink in its details: the new titanium tailpipes, gradually turning a deeper shade of blue with use; the gigantic composite brake discs (the full-house PCCB ceramics are a further £6k option); the three sections that make up the magnesium roof (carbon is an option as part of the Weissach pack, together with magnesium wheels); the scoops in the rear arches to ram air into the giant rear airbox. They’re an easy way for 911 spotters to clock the RS at a distance if they’ve missed the stickers, another being the extractor slats over the front wheelarches, contributing to front-end downforce.
On the sense-of-occasion scale, the GT3 RS is like a royal wedding on Christmas day. Is it worth the near £30k premium over a regular GT3? The vanilla GT3 is still a very special experience to drive, and in some ways a purer one than the excess-all-areas RS, which is harder, faster, stronger. But jumping in the RS is like seeing the road through new lenses, where everything’s sharper, faster, and responds as fast as you can think.
By pushing the boundaries of the 911’s platform with the GT3 RS, Porsche has stretched the envelope of what’s possible for 911-kind to achieve in terms of dynamics. The GT3 RS is one of the greatest driver’s cars on sale, maybe even the greatest. It sums up everything we love about Porsche, because it engages every sense in a way few other cars can.
A titanium megaphone for 4.0 litres of lat-six to shout down. Lovely
Part-cage is a no-cost option. Essential for full RS vibe
RS just did 6:56.4 at the ’Ring. Quite quick at Kielder too
4.0-litre can’t go all the way to 11, but gives it a damn good go
Looks like it’s just driven o a track; feels totally at home on British B-road
Perfect seat, alcantara rim, and lots and lots of glorious noise