PORSCHE G T 3
Damn-near perfect on road and track, the 991-gen GT3 needs no introduction. Now it’s back, faster and tighter than ever, so has the best become harder to beat?
The 991.1-generation 911 GT3 dominated its rivals on both road and track. Now it’s been further honed with more sophisticated suspension, improved aero and a 500bhp 4-litre flat-six. The real question, though, is has Porsche made the 991.2 GT3 any more rewarding to drive? We head to the UK’S best road and track to find out
THE LITTLE BLUE LIGHT WITHIN THE instrument display tempers your enthusiasm. So do the still-hard front tyres, which scud lightly across the cold road surface as you pull out of the hotel car park. The fat rear tyres too, which slip a degree until the electronics catch them. When a car is as hyped as the new Porsche 911 GT3 – when the guy who oversaw its development, and has been integral in every other GT3 before it, has declared it the best one ever – the first urge you feel when at long last you get to drive it, after countless months of spy photos and studio shoots and motor show reveals, is to pull the damn pin and set the thing off.
But the engine and gearbox are cold. The tyres have no heat in them and the roads up here in Snowdonia are still slick with morning dew. So you exhale deeply to try and force the anticipation to drift away, willing your shoulders and legs to relax into the bucket seat. You’ll have to wait just a little longer. But as you pass the national speed limit sign on the edge of town and ease the GT3 cautiously up to 60mph, you already know so much about it. You’re starting to understand just how good it is.
The steering, for one thing, feels superb. You may only have guided the car through a handful of sweeping bends, but right away you know how direct it is and how precisely it allows you to place the car on the road. You’ve felt the small wheel rim chatter lightly in your fingertips as the cornering forces have built gently and waned away. You’re so impressed by the steering in those first few moments, in fact, that you’ve already declared it the best, most intuitive electrically assisted setup you have ever encountered.
And then there’s the provenance. You try to stay objective and assume nothing, but it doesn’t get you very far because you know oh-
so well this new GT3 is the latest in a long line of completely brilliant sports cars, themselves developments of an already sensational machine. And you know Porsche’s Motorsport department doesn’t get this stuff wrong.
You’ve only driven it a mile or two and you haven’t once stretched the engine beyond 3000rpm. But you know it already. The new 911 GT3 is some kind of wondercar.
The technical details might well be familiar to you by now, but they bear repeating because there are three or four very significant headlines that demonstrate how different this new GT3 is to the version that came before it; that show it’s no half-hearted midlife refresh. The engine, for instance, is no longer a 3.8-litre flat-six but a 4-litre. It’s a heavily reworked version of the unit found in the GT3 RS and 911 R, combining the power output of that engine – a conservative 493bhp – with the head-spinning 9000rpm red line of the 3.8 in the 991.1 GT3.
This is also the first GT3 available with a choice of transmissions, Porsche having reintroduced a manual option after switching exclusively to PDK on the previous model. The six-speed manual might well be the purists’ choice, but it won’t arrive until a little later in the year so the car we’re testing today has the latest seven-speed twin-clutch item.
Andreas Preuninger, Porsche’s head of GT cars, and his team have worked hard on the chassis too, retuning the dampers and fitting helper springs on the rear axle for the first time. The aerodynamics, meanwhile, have been honed so expertly that the car now produces 20 per cent more downforce than before with no increase in drag. The overall downforce figure – 155kg at top speed – is now a match for the 997-generation GT3 RS.
The little blue light has disappeared. The needle in the engine oil temperature display has climbed halfway through its arc and the tyres feel malleable now, warm enough that they can press into the road surface rather than slip across it. It’s time to pull that pin.
With 339lb ft at 6000rpm compared with 324lb ft at 6250rpm, the new 4-litre engine is more torque-rich than the old 3.8, but it’s the area beneath the torque curve, rather than the peak output, that makes the real difference. Open the throttle from 2500rpm and the thing just starts to pull, even in third and fourth gears. It may well be a high-revving, normally aspirated motor, but it’s got muscle. The car accelerates like an overloaded freight train freewheeling down a sharp descent, picking up speed gradually at first, the pace then building exponentially as the engine passes 5000rpm, the sense of panic the same as the thing starts to run away from you as though you’ll never stop it. Then the engine note hardens at 7000rpm and the rev-counter needle explodes around the dial, engine speed rising so quickly and ferociously you swear something is about to blow up. Over the final dash to 9000rpm it sounds like a bandsaw cutting through stone, and the intensity of the delivery doubles while the acceleration becomes unbearable.
If you aren’t quick enough on the draw, the engine will crash into its rev limiter, the freight train colliding with the foot of a mountain. Pull the gearshift paddle just as the needle nudges against the ‘9’, though, and the upshift is savagely quick. Then it all happens again. There’s a drama and intensity right at the top end that makes the old 4-litre in the GT3 RS and 911 R feel like a soft and fluffy turbo unit. This new motor is much stronger throughout the rev range than the 3.8 too, but whereas this engine explodes over the final 2000rpm, the smaller unit did so over a more concentrated, more intoxicating final 1000rpm.
I adore the chuntering from the flywheel at idle and low speeds, the thud-hiss from the gearbox pneumatics as you pull for a gearchange. The whole car drips with purpose and the PDK transmission is more responsive and more immediate than ever.
This particular car is fitted with the no-cost Clubsport package, which adds a rear roll-cage, a fire extinguisher and a six-point harness for the driver. It’s also got optional carbonfibre bucket seats (£3324), which are brilliantly supportive and also very comfortable, even after several hours on the road. The smaller, 360mm GT steering wheel, meanwhile, is a big improvement on the 380mm item in the previous GT3, which always felt unnaturally large, giving the impression you were heaving the car from one corner to the next. The smaller helm actually makes the car feel more nimble.
In fact, the entire steering system is so well executed that you soon forget you’re using a complex mechanical apparatus – one that includes rear-axle steering – to guide the car.
‘ The GT3 accelerates like an overloaded freight train freewheeling down a sharp descent’
‘ Once the Michelin Cup 2 tyres are warm, they find so much grip on a dry road you’d swear you were on slicks’
It’s so precise and so well weighted that you just seem to think the car through corners rather than consciously steer it. There is feedback too, and the sense of connection it affords you to the front axle gives you so much confidence. You’re never left guessing how much grip the front tyres might find.
There’s the same radiant quality in the damping, just as there is in every Porsche Motorsport product. In fact, the PASM damping is so effective that it feels less like the car is riding on springs, dampers, wheels and tyres and more like it’s sitting on a thin pocket of compressed air, somehow making it feel both strapped down to the road surface and floating half an inch above it. There’s pliancy and such brilliant body control that you can drive any given road as though it’s two-dimensional, stretching out before you and twisting one way to the other, but completely flat, without bumps, potholes, compressions or crests.
It goes on. Once the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres are warm they find so much grip on a dry road that you’d swear they were racing slicks. Not once in 250 hard miles do I feel the car understeer, and only when the road surface really bucks and weaves hard, sending the car skywards just as I stand on the throttle pedal, do I see the orange traction-control light blink.
Traction is one of the Porsche 911 GT3’S ace cards. That’s not at all unusual for a car that slings its engine right out over the rear axle, but with its helper springs – which give a few millimetres of plush suspension travel before the main springs begin to compress – this new GT3 finds traction where just about every other rear-wheel-drive car would scrabble for grip. The rear end is so beautifully composed now.
On the roads of Snowdonia, the drivetrain, steering and chassis all come together to deliver the most complete performance car driving experience of any car on sale. In the way it picks apart a weaving road such as the B4391 between Bala and Ffestiniog, the new GT3 is almost impossible to criticise, but it’s also enthralling on an emotional level. The intensity of the soundtrack, the rawness of the power delivery and the tactility of the steering – of the entire chassis – mean it connects with you, drawing you so close to it that you’re almost removed from the real world for a moment.
With evening coming, I put the pin back in and head down from the hills, and this gentle run gives me time to contemplate the GT3. I said it was almost impossible to criticise, but I’m struggling to find any flaw at all. I would prefer a manual gearbox, but that’s simply a case of ticking a different box on the order form. Philosophically, I think a car of this kind should move around a little beneath you rather than being glued to the road; you should be able to play with the balance, perhaps use the power to bring the rear axle around. With its composed rear end and vast cornering grip, you’re taking enormous liberties to make the GT3 behave like that. But only in quiet contemplation does that thought occur. Out on the road, I didn’t wish for any more playfulness.
So the new Porsche 911 GT3 is without vice as a road-going performance car. Perhaps we’ll unearth some desperate shortcomings at Anglesey’s Coastal Circuit.
Left: GT3 now sports a higher rear wing, along with a redesigned front apron and ram-air intakes above the engine; yellow calipers denote fitment of optional carbon-ceramic brakes