BALINGEN, Germany — Porsche’s most radical 911, the new GT3 RS, is all about emotions. Here’s proof: After about 200 hard-charging nonstop kilometers on a busy autobahn, deodorant switches to overload as fingers cramp over the suede-rimmed wheel, and eyes burn from attempted clairvoyance. Is that van going to pull out? How to read the stoplights that just disappeared over the brow? Has highway maintenance finally smoothed the corrugated approach to the Bärental bridge? At an indicated 158 mph in fifth gear on the 2016 Porsche 911 GT3 RS, these things matter. And there are two more gears to go.
At precisely 8,800 rpm, the PDK gearbox on the GT3 RS grabs sixth gear. Even at this speed, where drag and rolling resistance try to dominate the equation, forward thrust remains almost undented during the blitz-fast upshifts. Sixth expires at 185 mph, and although the boxer engine keeps on pushing in seventh, the digital count is now slowing down. We see, very briefly, 188 mph, just short of the Porsche’s 193 mph top speed. A 475-horsepower GT3 without the RS kit will do 196 mph. How come, Andreas Preuninger?
“Because Vmax is not what this car is about,” replies the man in charge of the GT and RS models. “It was engineered and set up for the racetrack where 300-plus-kph straights are a rarity. What matters on the circuit is mechanical grip and downforce. The new 911 GT3 RS can lap the Nurburgring Nordschleife in 7 minutes, 20 seconds. ’Nuff said.”
Fast and faster
We’re on the Stuttgart-Singen motorway, heading for the Swiss border. The lava orange Porsche clears the fast lane as effectively as a cop car on an emergency mission. Hard to believe that LED headlamps cost extra; you really appreciate them at night when the standard bi-xenon light cones struggle to keep up with the car’s pace. Installed free of charge are four of the world’s best brakes. True, at the cost of a new Dacia Logan, Porsche will fit even more potent carbon-ceramic stoppers that may buy you a 10th here or there in competition antics. On public roads, however, the standard steel rotors are all it takes to Frisbee your wig to the top of the leather-clad dashboard.
The RS is like a drug on the autobahn. This Porsche packs “Gran Turismo,” “Need for Speed,” and “Forza Motorsport” in one amazing hyperfast machine. In this fantasy world, every vehicle you swoosh past racks up bonus points, and every ticked-off exit kicks the game to a higher level. You want facts, not fiction? Then start with checking out the acceleration: 0-60 mph in 3.1 seconds, 0-124 mph in 10.9, 50-75 mph in 2 seconds flat. Impressive, but not more impressive than other freshly acquired talents. Like mustering 728 pounds of downforce at 186 mph — 243 pounds up front where the low-riding air dam pushes the nose down and 485 pounds in the rear where the adjustable wing splits the air flow right at the driver’s eye level. These two aerodynamic devices are assisted by black ventilation louvers on top of the front wings, reducing lift by 30 percent, Porsche says, while at the same creating a ram air effect for the turbo-style lateral intakes.
Emotion is rarely a numbers thing. Instead, it’s a quality you can see, sense, hear, smell, and taste. Which is why 155 mph in the GT3 RS feels notably more thrilling than 205 mph in a Bentley Continental GT Speed. In contrast to older 911s — like the notoriously wayward 996 C4S, which combined random directional stability with erratic cornering manners — the 2015 GT3 RS has confidence written all over its widebody silhouette. The coupe with the boy-racer add-ons is attentive and super-agile, eager and yet composed, precise and unexpectedly forgiving. What makes all the difference is the compelling mix of aero balance, feedback at the limit, and intuitive control via steering, throttle, brakes and tires. This 911 happily carved through a 112-mph bend at 124 mph, held its line no matter what, and steered and decelerated with all four wheels. This delicate balance deserves applause for its transparent interaction of input and response, and for its utterly reassuring poise. When you must swerve suddenly or brake really hard at a pupil-widening pace, the latest, magic-compound Michelin Cup tires seemingly fuse with the tarmac. Very convincing indeed.
Quenching the thirst
It’s only 2 p.m., and we already need fuel. Wherever speed restrictions are in place, the RS does oblige and slip into grumbling cruising mode, which is exactly what it takes to match the official European-cycle average consumption of 12.7 liters per 100 kilometers. With your Dr. Jekyll mask on, though, the thirst almost instantly soars to 16.0 liters and more. Not bad for a street-legal race car; not exactly trend-setting for a high-end 911. Having said that, even burning five-star juice at a leisurely pace is an emotional experience. At part-throttle, the naturally aspirated flat-six breathes in loud through its side-mounted lungs. Under trailing throttle, a chafing, grinding, and scraping jam session behind the seats makes you wonder what our barely broken-in 911 GT3 RS might sound like after a couple of years.
“It’s all in the plan,” claims grandmaster Preuninger. “This a truly uncompromising car that begs to be mastered. It embodies the exact opposite of autonomous driving. What we did here is push out the boundaries of high-mech. This involved removing a lot of weight, reducing tolerances, sometimes opting for extreme solutions. At such an ambitious level, trade-offs are inevitable.”
Perhaps the restless idle-speed clatter, the angry upshift clonk, and the embarrassingly noisy brakes are all part of the grand let-us-overwhelm-you plan then.
Why is the RS version — at $176,895 — a crippling $45,500 more expensive than the GT3? Because Porsche will build only 2,000 examples, and because all that weight-saving costs a lot of money. Special features that send cost controllers straight into a coma include a magnesium roof, thin rear windows baked of polycarbonate, a rear-end panel made of polyurethane, as well as carbon-fiber wings and lids. These and other measures reduce the grand total to 3,131 pounds complete with the cage, modified drivetrain and bigger wheels. Having said that, the weight advantage over the standard GT3 is a relatively scant 33 pounds. This is due to the cabin reinforcements, the turbo body, and the larger wheels. Like the 918 Spyder, this rear-engined Batmobile is fitted with 265/35R-20 tires at one end and 325/30R-21 rubber at the other. “The brakes are pure GT3,” explains Preuninger, “but the ultra-high-performance tires and the 10-arm wheels are bespoke. Making room for them was a difficult task. The packaging is so tight, you could not get a leaf in there.”
About those tires ….
We ran the GT3 RS up and down the Swabian Alb to find out how the bigger and wider Michelins affect ride, handling, and roadholding. Through second- and third-gear corners in particular, tire management was an unexpected issue. To generate enough front-end grip essential for prompt turn-in and reassuring bite, it is imperative to warm up all tires evenly. We did not. Instead, we switched off traction control and ESC, eager to start playing. The result was plenty of early understeer. The tire-pressure monitor reflected the issue: While the front Pilot Sports went up marginally by about 1.5 pounds per square inch, the rear gumballs jumped by almost 6 psi. On a circuit, we would have returned to the pits. In the middle of nowhere, we took a break to cool down man and machine. Second time happy? Absolutely. As long as the nose stays on course, you can play the rear end like a trophy trout. In the wet and on cold blacktop, you should pussyfoot the semi-slicks to avoid snap oversteer, but on dry and smooth surfaces breakaway is surprisingly smooth and manageable for a 500-hp, rear-engine sports car. Even when you hurl a lot of momentum towards an apex, all it takes to stop the nose from running wide is a shovel-load of oomph as you flick the wheel.
The seven-speed PDK gearbox boasts a new feature called paddle-neutral. You guessed it: Pulling both shift paddles simultaneously opens both clutches, which interrupts the torque flow from engine to transmission. To re-engage drive, release the paddles and then brace yourself for a kick in the butt that almost hurts with TC/ESC switched off. Even though it can also act as an extreme version of launch control, paddle-neutral is not just a marketing-driven gimmick. For a start, it helps to curb understeer by momentarily cutting out the push from behind. There is also on-demand torque punch, which in combination with an aggressive turn-in maneuver destabilizes the rear end to an extent that freezes the grin on your face. As always, timing is of the essence. After all, there is up to 338 lb-ft of torque waiting to test the law of physics. Although the peak twist action comes at a busy 6,250 rpm, there are 258 lb-ft on tap at a much more leisurely 3,000 rpm. Pushing the key-marked PDK Sport delivers late upshifts and super-early downshifts. Fine for the track but irritatingly restless on the road.
Keeping it special, as always
Speaking of racetracks, you may want to impress your buddies with a stab of the pit-speed button, which is also quite useful when traveling through populated areas. As we have said before, what Porsche sells is not just high technology but also pure emotion. Everything on the 2016 Porsche 911 GT3 RS is there for a purpose, but the application is always special. Like the thin-rimmed steering wheel with the yellow straightline marker. The clamshell buckets derived from the 918. The tasteful mix of black and gray Alcantara, carbon fiber, and lava-orange stitching. The massive spiderweb rollcage doubles the car’s street cred but is actually a pain in the behind when you live with it. For a start, it is tricky to stash stuff through the metal maze onto the rear luggage plateau and secure it there, and it is virtually impossible to clean the inside rear window. Another debatable detail is the aerodynamically important but cheekily protruding chin spoiler, which flies low enough to turn hedgehogs into skinheads. Even though Herr Preuninger claims the required spare part is priced attractively, it may in the long run be cheaper to specify the several-thousand-dollar, optional pneumatic front axle lift, which increases the clearance by a potentially crucial 1.2 inches.
Will the GT3 RS at a later stage be available with a manual gearbox? The man in charge shakes his head.
“No. This model is as close as you can get to a race car without losing the roadworthiness certification,” Preuninger says. “A car like this deserves not only a very special engine and the best chassis but also the fastest transmission.”
Lengthening the stroke by 4 millimeters increased the engine’s displacement from 3.0 to 4.0 liters, which in turn unleashed 25 extra horses and an additional 15 lb-ft of torque. Other modifications worth mentioning are a high-strength crankshaft inspired by the 919 Le Mans race car, the free-flow air filter, and the redesigned large-diameter exhaust, which is at best a half-decibel short of disturbing the peace. Although its 8,800-rpm redline falls 200 rpm short of the GT3’s power summit, the RS engine sounds even meaner, rawer, more mechanical. When we talk about emotion, the potpourri of stimulating scents plays an important role: sweat on suede, variations of hot metal, acidic brake dust, the slightly bitter smell of agitated rubber, the eternal duet of combustibles and lubricants.
No cops, no radar traps, no incidents, no lunch. For the second time on this busy Tuesday, the fuel warning light comes on, reminding us to head back to Stuttgart. What exactly makes the RS Really Special? From an investor’s point of view, it is of course the fact that the entire production run has been sold, which portends zero depreciation as the worst-case scenario. Enthusiasts will appreciate that this RS is clearly the rowdiest and raciest incarnation of the breed. It is, from memory, even more complete than the legendary 500-hp, 997-based GT3 RS 4.0, but it might ultimately not be quite as involving.
An imperfect beast
It is, predictably, not a 911 without fault. The infotainment system is dated, assistance systems are conspicuous by their absence, and the ergonomics can only be described as second rate. Even though there is enough space in the empty steering-wheel spokes to relocate the damper and traction/stability controls, you must still fiddle with buttons in the center console. While the ride quality ranges from good on the autobahn to acceptable on back roads, the PASM suspension hates transverse ridges, manhole covers, and level railway crossings. Although the line that separates sound from noise often blurs when hardcore sports cars are concerned, the GT3 RS in pedal-to-the-metal mode is a clear case for an ear specialist.
Since both GT3 variants are sold out, the question whether the RS might be worth the extra $45,500 is hypothetical. On the other 364 days of the year, the standard GT3 is probably all you would ever ask for. But on that one magic summer Sunday morning at 5 a.m. on a special stretch of road, a dedicated driver will without a doubt relish the difference, marginal as it may be. The fat price premium is not the only downside the extra dash of emotion entails. In addition, the highly desirable overdose of roar and grunt and g-force is tied to a puerile wing, vulnerable rims, and the prissy ground clearance. Perhaps there is a case to be made for yet another 911 derivative, for a car every bit as emotional as the 2016 Porsche 911 GT3 RS but more practical as well as more affordable. Imagination paints a spoiler-less, limited-edition lightweight special based on next year’s face-lifted 991, powered by a 450-hp non-turbo engine mated to a close-ratio manual transmission and priced between the GTS and GT3. How about naming it the 911 Clubsport or simply 911R?
2016 Porsche 911 GT3 RS Specifications
- Base Price: $176,895
- Engine: 4.0L DOHC 24-valve flat-six/500 hp @ 8,250 rpm, 339 lb-ft @ 6,250 rpm
- Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
- Layout: 2-door, 2-passenger, rear-engine, RWD coupe
- EPA Mileage: 14/20 mpg city/hwy
- Suspension F/R: Struts, coil springs/multilink, coil springs
- Brakes F/R: Vented discs/vented discs
- Tires: Michelin Cup 265/35 ZR 20 (Front), 325/35 ZR 21 (Rear)
- L x W x H: 178.9 x 74.0 x 50.8 in
- Wheelbase: 96.7 in
- Headroom (first/second/third row): N/A
- Legroom (first/second/third row): N/A
- Shoulder Room (first/second/third row): N/A
- Cargo Room (behind third/second/first row): N/A
- Weight: 3,130 lb
- Weight Dist. F/R: N/A
- 3.3 sec
- 1/4-Mile: 11.2 sec
- Top Speed: 193 mph