996 GT2 road test
The GT2 has long been overlooked, but the time is right for it to shine. Total 911 buckles up for a drive in Porsche’s first water-cooled example
It’s the most affordable GT2, but can the 996 be considered a true 911 performance great?
It is snowing. That’s suboptimal for any photoshoot, and more so when the subject will be a 996 GT2. Apparently the UK is being beaten by the ‘Beast of the East’, a Siberian weather front. So it’s snowing on the M25, London’s hateful orbital motorway. I’m not even at Paragon and I’m thinking of calling it all off: the motorway gantry signs are warning of severe weather and not to travel unless it’s essential.
I’m not sure ‘wanting to drive a 996 GT2’ counts as fulfilling that criteria, but I figure it’s worth pushing on as I’ve yet to receive a call from photographer
Rich Pearce saying otherwise. Oddly, within 20 miles of Paragon’s Sussex location I enter something of a weather oasis, with bright sunshine and no clouds. Perhaps the Beast from the East is fearful of what’s in Paragon’s showroom; after all, the GT2 has something of a reputation. Rightfully, or wrongly, I’m still hoping to find out, and arriving at Paragon I’m immediately struck at how subtle it is.
My last GT2 experience was with the new one, the 991 GT2 RS, on UK roads for these very pages, and the figures the current car produces makes those of its ancestor look relatively mild. For the record, the 3.6-litre turbocharged flat six engine delivers 462bhp and 620Nm of torque. That’s enough for a
4.1 second 0-62mph time, a 195mph top speed and the sort of top-dog status in the early millennium that helped cement the GT2’S legend. Consider that a current 991.2 Carrera GTS develops within 10bhp of that maximum output and weighs only a few kilograms more and you could be hoodwinked into thinking that the 996 GT2 isn’t quite the menace the contemporary tests made it out to be.
That impression is further enhanced by the GT2’S comparatively meek looks, particularly compared to the somewhat overt current model. Based on a
996 Turbo it’s familiar, though GT2 spotters will appreciate the differing front bumper with its top vent, sizeable air intakes either side and more pronounced lower lip with its black leading edge. There are differing lower sills punctuated by alloy wheels which would usually wear GT2 wheel caps – this car instead favouring some stealthier Porsche crests – while there are punctured wings like its
996 Turbo relative. The fixed rear wing is the most obvious change over its Turbo brethren, coming in carbon if Clubsport was specified, saving as much as 2.8kg over the standard item.
The uprights that hold it aloft at the rear are structured as intakes, helping feed cooling, life-giving air to the 3.6-litre turbocharged flat six that resides under the engine cover. If you prised the badge off its rear the GT2 could pass as an aero-enhanced
911 to the uninitiated. That’s arguably a good thing, allowing the 996 GT2 to pass without attracting too much attention. That’s particularly true with Paragon’s immaculate example, painted in Polar silver: the original owner obviously didn’t plan any track activity and negated ticking that Clubsport option. There’s no cage, and the seats are black leathercovered sports items rather than cloth buckets.
There isn’t a race harness or fire extinguisher in sight either. This is a GT2 in the traditional sense of its nomenclature: better specified for grand touring than Nürburgring lapping, even if it’d still be able to do so with real conviction.
Being a 996 GT2 there’s no traction control or stability systems, PSM not arriving with the GT2 badge until this car was replaced by its 530bhp
997 Turbo-derived relation. Here there’s a manual transmission, a six-speeder and the ratios and final drive remain unchanged from the 996 Turbo, but the synchronising rings are made of steel instead of brass for the greater forces being placed upon them by the GT2’S 3.6-litre turbocharged flat six.
An evolution of the 911 Turbo’s unit, the twin turbochargers are revised for higher throughput, pushing the charge pressure up to a 2 bar maximum. There’s a higher compression ratio, yet the engine’s charge air temperature remains the same as the Turbo, thanks to charge air coolers with greater efficiency. The result of that is 462bhp, up 42bhp over the 996 Turbo, torque too growing from 560Nm in the Turbo to a far more assertive 620Nm in the GT2.
That peak power arrives a bit earlier than in the Turbo, too, at 5,700rpm over 6,000rpm, the GT2’S greater twist arriving at a higher 3,500rpm and hanging around until 4,500rpm. For the 2004 model year Porsche introduced some changes to push those outputs higher still. Changes in the electronic engine maps yielded a 483bhp output and torque gaining a further 20Nm for a 640Nm maximum, allowing the GT2 to shave a tenth off its 0-62mph time and add a couple of mph to its top speed, the changes also allowing it to pass ever more stringent emissions tests both in Europe and the USA.
Today 462bhp doesn’t feel like its lacking. Sitting in the GT2 after speaking to Paragon’s staff underlines just how nice an example this one is. With just over 27,000 miles on its odometer it feels new inside. It’s satisfying to sit in an early 2000s car and not have it aged by an ancient-looking sat-nav screen, the centre console here retaining a Din-sized CD player with ventilation and air-conditioning controls above it. There are silver-coloured dials in the familiar
996 instrument cluster, these not even containing a GT2 script to highlight this 996’s alpha status. Only some carbon-fibre trim around the centre console, handbrake lever and the trim strip dissecting the dash top from the bottom hint at this car’s potential.
Firing up that Gt1-derived flat six immediately dispels any pretence of civility. The rear cabin, devoid of seats and some soundproofing, fills with a deep, bassy resonance. For a turbocharged engine it’s particularly vocal, notably more so than its 996 Turbo sibling, the flat six’s timbre overlaid with a rousing intent. Any thoughts as to the weather have dissipated, the sunshine around Paragon’s showroom releasing us from the meteorological malaise we encountered on our journey down. Even so, the intention isn’t to go too far. On the way down I’d discovered some roads that would give the GT2 a good chance to reveal its abilities, well within our weather oasis. Paragon’s Mark Sumpter warns it’s prudent to get some heat into the GT2’S tyres before exploring what it’s really capable of.
With the need for a splash of fuel, Pearce and I head off tentatively, with Sumpter’s warning at the fore. He’s not wrong, the first squeeze of the accelerator having the rear squirm momentarily as the cold tyres struggle to find purchase on the similarly frigid Tarmac. It’s a quick, tantalising reminder of the GT2’S forceful reputation, and its alltoo-obvious lack of electronic driving aids lending a helping hand when you’re not paying attention.
Immediately I like it; it’s unanaesthetised by modernity, yet there’s performance that’s utterly contemporary. Keeping it below 3,000rpm and shortshifting up the ‘box quickly, it’s a relatively easy car in traffic. Only the heavy clutch pedal with its relatively high and abrupt bite might cause some difficulties for some, but for others, myself included, it’s all part of the immersive engagement that defines it. There’s a need for prudence, not so overtly focused as to utterly dominate the proceedings, but definitely a need for respect. I’ll admit that I’d been a little bit reticent about the GT2’S reputation, though Paragon’s people all said that along with the Carrera GT that was sitting behind it in the showroom when I arrived, it’s one of a handful of Porsche that requires you to be on point.
With some fuel in the tank, and as much heat through it as UK traffic and roads allow, there’s some time to revel in the GT2’S nuances. There’s feel at
the steering wheel, but the 996 does demonstrate how well the GT department has advanced its frontaxle responses. It turns in, but there’s a lightness to the nose that’s initially unnerving, a touch of push that you need learn to push through before you start putting the power on. A touch of trail braking helps, but you need to be gentle when you roll off the brake so as not to unduly unsettle the GT2’S stance. The ride is surprisingly civilised for something with such focus, the suspension coping well with the rolling topography that defines UK road surfacing, though it is beaten by the occasional ripple and bump of broken surfaces, manhole covers and the like. It’s not jarring, just apparent, that not entirely surprising given the GT2’S remit.
That suspension can be tailored to suit, too.
Riding 20mm lower than a Turbo, the anti-roll bars are adjustable, the springs are able to be replaced for racing items while there’s also the possibility to tweak the geometry for the use of racing rubber. Within those wheels are PCCB Carbon Ceramic brakes, this being Porsche’s first production sports car application of its lighter (around 50 per cent), consistent friction-braking system.
There aren’t any hair-raising hard middle pedal moments today, the conditions not conducive to it, though the brakes bite with conviction and fine pedal feel. The discs lighter weight – reducing the unsprung mass by 16.6kg – is obvious too which, combined with the GT2’S crash dieting, sees it tip the scales some 150kg lower than the 996 Turbo, a sizeable proportion of that reduction a result of the loss of the Turbo’s standard four-wheel drive.
Today, it could be argued, that four-wheel drive might be useful, the weather catching up with us when we’re doing some static and detail photography, when snow arrives at our shoot. The snow is brief, but it’s bitterly cold, and the once dry but cold road has a lubricating layer of moisture on it between the GT2’S rear tyres and the surface beneath them.
Pearce is unfazed, but with his frozen digits in mind I’m quick to do the driving photographs, the first time the GT2’S full force makes itself known, underlining that it’s something very special indeed. It’s a quick car sub 3,500rpm, but when those two turbos really start working the GT2’S performance is in a different league. That it feels forceful today when the numbers associated with it have been hugely surpassed by its GT relatives and nearly matched by the most potent current Carreras is testament to the GT2’S legend. The rear wheels lose their battle for grip and I’m applying quick corrective lock as I gingerly back off the accelerator to allow the rubber a chance of finding traction.
It initially shocks, frightens even, but then you find yourself wanting the hit again, pushing the accelerator down to the floor for the glorious sensation of rushing, thundering pace, allied to the need to be on top of things should it all get too much for those rear wheels. It’s exciting, the GT2 a thrilling, demanding drive that asks more of its driver than any modern 911, even those with an RS badge. Yet there’s a duality of purpose here that allows it civility, making this a car you can genuinely use… with a few provisos. Snow being a fine example of when you might want to park it.
With under 1,300 built it’s a rare car, too, and with interest in the GT department’s most unhinged, turbocharged flagship at a peak now there’s no question that demand is rising for the original cars that preceded it. That it so clearly defines what the GT2 stands for today is revealing, it a car that’s beguiling not because of its fearsome reputation, but rather the demands it places on you.
In a world where a Gt-division car can be enjoyed by many, the purity and potential lunacy of the 996 GT2 only gets more appealing as it ages, these cars looking undervalued alongside their more common GT3 and GT3 RS relatives. The time has arguably come for this often-overlooked anomaly that offers a beguiling mix of modernity and big performance. It’s a forceful reminder of why we love driving, and there’s little out there that delivers a more decisive blow.
ABOVE This GT2 Comfort has all the interior appointments of its 996 Turbo brethren. However, its savage performance is a marked difference to the Turbo’s civility
ABOVE It’s long lived in the shadows of the 911’s overall history, but it appears the GT2 has a lot to look forward to