Halfway around the world, crowds gather at the Shanghai auto show to examine the curiously shaped Porsche Panamera. The first sedan in Porsche’s sixty-one-year history looks like a big, stretched, hand-blown 911 – and decidedly unlike anything else on the road. The mere existence of the Panamera is a blow to Porschephiles, proof that their beloved brand’s focus is slipping away. Its awkward styling is salt rubbed deep into the wound, and naysayers vilify Porsche boss Wendelin Wiedeking, who, as the story goes, had the roofline raised so he could fit his egomaniacal – and very tall – self in the back seat. Oh, how those purists groan.
But these cries of sorrow fall upon the deaf ears of a small group of journalists terrorizing small towns in the Swabian Alps with excessive horsepower and speed. None of them care about diesel-powered Cayennes or hunchbacked Panameras. Any talk of Porsche selling out is handily drowned out by the 8500-rpm wail of the best sports car in the world, the 2010 GT3.
Of all fourteen roadgoing 911 models, the GT3 is the most potent distillate of Porsche’s original mission – the ultimate everyday supercar. Let the poseurs have the Turbos; let the old men drive the base 911 Carreras and their wives the convertibles: this is the 911 that won’t sit in Los Angeles traffic or idle impatiently in the sweltering South Beach heat. This is the 911 without a sunroof. It’s the 911 that, above all 911s, is meant to be driven flat out.
In fact, 70 percent of GT3 buyers take their machines to the racetrack. The other thirty percent, one assumes, have just gotten lost on the back roads on the way there. The GT3, remember, is a homologation race car, and like all homologation cars, it’s built for the street only so its manufacturer can take it racing. Unlike many cars with conflicting missions, it performs exceedingly well on both road and track.
The GT3’s second appearance in the 997-chassis 911 includes the visual makeover that freshened the Carrera models last year. And, as in those more street-focused models, the changes aren’t merely superficial. The GT3 hasn’t gained an ounce, but its engine has been bored out from 3.6 to 3.8 liters. It might now be the same size as the powerplant in the Carrera S, but the only thing the two engines share are their alternators and air-conditioning compressors. The Carrera engine uses a two-piece block, whereas the GT3’s is a further evolution of the race-proven GT1 flat six, which uses a separate crankcase and cylinders, seven oil pumps, and eight main bearings. It doesn’t receive the directfuel injection found on the Carrera powerplant – adapting that technology to the race engine would require extra expense.
Sucking in an atomized air/fuel mixture the old-fashioned way, the flat six now revs to 8500 rpm, 100 rpm higher than before and 1000 rpm past the Carrera’s redline. It produces 435 hp, an increase of 20, thanks not only to the additional 197 cc but also variable valve timing on both the intake and exhaust tracts. Although the 3.8 retains its predecessor’s impressive specific output of 115 hp per liter, it’s been tuned for more midrange punch, making it more lively at around-town engine speeds. Despite the variable valve timing, a four-stage intake manifold, and a two-stage exhaust system – all of which help fatten the torque curve – the GT3’s engine still needs to be revved to extract its full firepower.
The six-speed manual Getrag transmission (Carrera manuals are manufactured by Aisin) is a high-efficiency unit that allows for the replacement of individual gears to suit the speed requirements of different racetracks. Shift effort is very high – in fact, a little unpleasantly so in traffic – due to the transmission’s more durable steel (instead of conventional brass) synchronizer rings and a shifter whose throws are only about half as short as those in the Carrera. According to Porsche engineers, the effort will relax as the transmission breaks in, but even still, the heavy shifter is matched in feel to the heavy clutch.
Purists might notice that we didn’t mention the PDK. Indeed, Porsche’s dual-clutch transmission isn’t available on the GT3. As good as it is (and it’s one of the best), real Porsche racing cars don’t have transmissions that can shift by themselves, and engineering appropriate longevity into a sequential race box for use on the street would be too difficult, so this 911 keeps a real manual. We applaud Porsche’s engineers fortheir decision.
Like before, the GT3 comes standard with PASM suspension, which uses recalibrated computer-controlled Bilstein dampers that are continually, and steplessly, adjusted during driving. The system has two modes – normal and sport, the latter giving slightly better performance only on the smoothest tracks. Multiple upgrades were made to the suspension, including increasing the front spring rate and size of the rear antiroll bar. The brake discs on all GT3s now measure an enormous 15.0 inches in the frontand 13.8 inches out back, with aluminum hubs that eliminate five pounds of rotatingunsprung mass. Carbon-ceramic brakes are, as before, an expensive option, but they savean astonishing 44 pounds overall.
For the first time, the GT3 is available with stability control. This version of the system was developed specifically for this track-ready 911 and can be partially disabled, leaving only traction control (which was available on the previous GT3), or it can be switched off completely. It’s programmed to intervene early and gently, rather than late and abruptly, so it’s less likely to interrupt a driver’s rhythm on the track.
Another first for the GT3 is center-lock wheels. One large nut, similar to those used on the Carrera GT, replaces the conventional five bolts on each wheel. Porsche claims that the change was made to help racers change their tires more quickly and to reduce weight (it saves more than five pounds). One drawback is that the nut must be torqued to more than 365 lb-ft, which is a difficult task. A torque-multiplying wrench is available – but it comes at an additional cost, of course. As does a set of spare wheels, which, thanks to the unique mounting design, can be purchased only directly from Porsche.
Form truly follows function with the GT3, so although some touches look boy-racerish, they’re all functional. For example, the vertical slits in the rear bumper help evacuate heat from the engine compartment. The wide rear spoiler incorporates ram-air intakes for the engine. And the center grille atop the front bumper is used to pull air through the center-mounted, third radiator, creating downforce in the process.
In fact, that downforce is the biggest difference between this GT3 and the previous model. Porsche claims that the last GT3 exerted about 65 pounds more pressure on the road when traveling at 186 mph than it did when standing still, whereas the new GT3 allegedly produces 220 pounds of downforce at that speed. More significant, almost 90 of those pounds are over the front axle, where there were almost none before and where a 911 Carrera would experience significant lift. The result is dramatically increased stability at very high speeds – the GT3’s front end no longer wanders at speeds approaching its 193-mph terminal velocity.
One new item will help the GT3’s behavior when launching from rest: optionalmagnetorheological engine mounts firm up quickly in response to high engine loads.
The more rigid connection reduces the chance for axle hop on aggressive clutch-dump launches, helping the Porsche jump off the line more quickly.
But remember – this 911 isn’t really about its 0-to-60-mph time. Unlike the videogame-like or even Porsche‘s own 911 Turbo, it doesn’t accept better numbers if they come at the expense of driver involvement. The only other roadgoing car this visceral, direct, and communicative is the Lotus Elise. Where the Lotus fails – in its ability to attract drivers other than the hardest of the hard-core – the Porsche shines. The GT3 is, plainly put, the most successful marriage of racetrack prowess, roadgoing pleasure, and, yes, luxury in the automotive world.
Around town, the GT3 shows off its climate control, touchscreen nav, and beautifully crafted, Alcantara-lined interior. It even features a front-end-lift system to protect its low front spoiler while pulling into gas stations and driveways. On the back roads, its accurate and talkative steering gives the driver the ability to place the car within millimeters of his desired trajectory. The ferocious bark of its flat six – a sound track straight out of the good old air-cooled days – warns of its arrival thousands of feet in advance. And on the track, the 911’s logic-defying ability to put power to the ground and its unflappable brakes complete the package. You can be as upset as you like at the arrival of the Panamera. Go ahead and cry your eyes out over the arrival of a diesel-powered Cayenne.
But, when the same company that builds those four-doors also makes a car like the GT3, there is simply no way to argue that Porsche has lost its way.
The GT3 isn’t concerned with numbers, unless those numbers happen to be lap times at the Nürburgring Nordschleife. Porsche über-driver Walter Röhrl can manage laps consistent to within about a half-second on the thirteen-mile Green Hell.
Here are some approximate lap times to show how the GT3 stacks up against the rest of the Porsche lineup.
- 911 Carrera: 8:05
- 911 Carrera S with Sport package: 7:56
- 911 Turbo: 7:50
- 911 GT3 (2008): 7:45
- 911 GT3 (2010): 7:40
- 911 GT2: 7:32
- Carrera GT: 7:31
Base price $113,150
Engine: 3.8-liter DOHC 24-valve flat-6
Power: 435 hp @ 7600 rpm
Torque: 317 lb-ft @ 6250 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Steering: Power-assisted rack-and-pinion
Suspension, front: Strut-type,coil springs
Suspension, rear: Multilink, coil springs
Brakes: Vented discs, ABS
L x W x H: 175.6 x 71.2 x 50.4 in
Wheelbase: 92.7 in
Track, f/r: 58.9/60.0 in
Weight: 3076 lb (per manufacturer)
Fuel Mileage: 15/22 mpg (est.)