CAPE TOWN, South Africa — It’s tempting to compare the new 2017 Porsche 911 Carrera GTS to the last turbocharged rear-wheel drive 911 rated at 450 horsepower. Remember it? Yep, that’s right, the 993 GT2. You know, the gnarly homologation car with riveted-on wheel arches, a massive rear wing, and a reputation for hastening the claiming of life-insurance policies. (So the legend goes, anyway.) But this comparison would be absurd.
The 2017 911 GTS is way faster than that old car. The lightweight, hardcore, and edgy 993 GT2 would need somewhere north of 8 minutes to get around the Nürburgring. The new and eminently useable 991 GTS? Try 7 minutes, 26 seconds. Or, should you fit the optional new Pirelli P Zero Trofeo tires, make it 7 minutes, 22 seconds.
I’m going to reiterate how nuts this is because it’s worth processing the information. So here’s some more context: Today’s 911 GT3 RS with 500 hp and more aerodynamic addenda than star Formula 1 designer Adrian Newey’s go-kart — well, maybe not — beats the GTS by only 2 seconds at the ’Ring. And remember, the GTS is a sort of mid-range 911, designed to sit between the Carrera S and 911 Turbo. Pricing starts at $120,050 and might make you wonder why you’d ever need anything more. For a few dollars extra you can buy it as a four-wheel drive version. You know, a four-wheel drive, 450-hp, rear-engined Porsche. Like a Porsche 959. Only faster, naturally. Much faster.
In fact, the GTS can take many forms. Two- or four-wheel drive in coupe or Cabriolet body styles or an exclusively four-wheel-drive Targa model. As before, the GTS package consists of a number of mild upgrades, but previously those have resulted in a car that is greater than the sum of its parts. The latest model adopts forced induction for the first time in line with other 991.2 models, but it gets higher capacity turbochargers and a little more boost. The Sport Chrono package is included, allowing you to switch between Normal, Sport, Sport Plus, and Individual drive modes. Additionally, you can prime the car for a short burst of maximum acceleration by hitting the Sport Response button, essentially a push-to-pass function.
There’s also a sport exhaust and less sound deadening to enhance the car’s character. The 3.0-liter, twin-turbo, flat-six engine produces 450 hp at 6,500 rpm and 405 lb-ft of torque from 2,150 to 5,000 rpm. Throw in some sexy satin-black detailing and center-lock wheels, and you’ve got the GTS formula. However, you need to be picky to get the pure essence of the GTS. Go for a Cabriolet or Targa and you don’t get the 0.78-inch lower suspension, instead making do with the 0.39-inch lower PASM adaptable sport setup of the Carrera S. You need a coupe for the full experience then. In fact, you need a rear-drive coupe as it offers the more aggressive suspension, and it’s the only 911 to offer rear-wheel drive in combination with the 1.7-inch wider Carrera 4 bodyshell. Clear? Yes, picking your way through the 911 range isn’t the work of a moment these days.
For the record the Carrera 4 GTS starts at $126,950, the Cabriolet is $132,350, and the four-wheel drive Cabriolet and the Targa 4 GTS require $139,250. Rear-wheel steering and the torque-vectoring rear differential are additional options you might want to consider if you want the ultimate GTS spec. That Nürburgring lap time was set in a Carrera GTS so equipped and also benefitting from carbon-ceramic brakes and the PDK dual-clutch gearbox. We approve of the heinously expensive brakes as they improve ride quality, fade resistance, and increase agility by reducing unsprung weight and cutting rotational inertia. Don’t worry about PDK, though. It’s faster, sure, but as we’ve already discovered via that lap time, the GTS is so capable that giving away a tenth or two here or there isn’t really a problem, and the seven-speed manual ’box is, for many, more enjoyable to use.
A few laps of the fabulously disheveled Killarney Raceway near Cape Town, South Africa, prove the above conclusively. I try a PDK-equipped Carrera GTS, then a manual Carrera 4 GTS, and finally a Carrera GTS with a stick. The first few laps are as much about learning the track as the car, but the GTS immediately feels different to a standard Carrera. Those bigger turbos don’t seem to increase lag much at all, but they certainly give the engine a more ferocious and exciting top end. The 3.0-liter twin-turbo engine really wants to rev. Allied to the fabulously intuitive four-wheel steering system that works effectively to reduce understeer, the usual 911 traits of simply exceptional traction and an incredible sense of what the car is doing underneath you produce a devastatingly fast and precise package. The ride over ragged curbs seems pretty good too, though I suspect the coupe will ride firmly out on the street.
The second stint in the Carrera 4 GTS is equally enjoyable, maybe even more so. There are those who don’t care for all-wheel-drive 911s, but in this latest 991-generation platform I think they’re superb. There’s a shade more understeer but also a slightly looser feel to the car on the way into corners if you trail brake, and there is more of an opportunity to slide the car from mid-corner to exit. You need to react quickly to read the car, and it’s a slightly edgier experience on the limit (counter to what you might expect), but it’s so satisfying. And this car has a manual ’box, upping your work rate and massively increasing enjoyment. PDK might be faster but simply having to think about each gearshift makes you tune into the sounds and sensations the car provides.
The final few laps in the car with all the “right” pieces — rear drive, manual gearbox, rear steer, torque-vectoring differential — has me completely sold on the GTS, at least on the track. The engine really is fantastically angry and yet so precise in its delivery. The bangs and pops add to the excitement, and even the purist in me can admit that you rarely miss the smooth, sweet music of the old normally aspirated engine. Most of all, though, it’s the way the GTS uses its power that’s so impressive. It feels light on turn-in, neutral mid-corner, and so willing to adjust its balance to your whims. There’s just a magical fluidity to 911s, and the GTS is right on your side. I was concerned the wider track would enhance stability but reduce the trademark lithe agility, but the GTS confounds those expectations.
Sadly, we couldn’t try any coupe GTS models on the road, instead having to piece together the full picture with Cabriolet and Targa cars of various configuration and specification. If you were taking notes earlier you’ll remember these cars don’t feature the 0.78-inch lower suspension, which somewhat muddies the waters. The most representative car I could find was a rear-drive Cabriolet with a manual gearbox, and I have to say that winding up and over the Franschhoek Pass was pretty sensational. On the road you tune into the finer details, and I’m afraid the purist reappeared and did miss the honey-smooth howl of the old normally aspirated car. But judged against the standard Carrera and Carrera S models, there’s no question the GTS is faster and much more satisfying to rev out. Those bigger turbos just bring some attitude and sharpness.
I still miss the wriggling, writhing steering from 911s of old, too. But set against other electric power-steering systems, Porsche gets it mostly right. The GTS might not fizz with steering feedback, but there’s enough to feel immersed in the action — and to understand that on the road the GTS is well within itself and executing your demands perfectly. Grip levels are high, and yet the car doesn’t feel so locked-down that you lose interest. Porsche managed to balance outright ability and an inclusive, symbiotic feel like nobody else. And, of course, it nailed the details like brake feel and control weights. That’s why you should stick with the manual transmission, so you get to interact more with the car and appreciate its fine attention to detail.
The GTS is pretty damn compelling. A Carrera GTS isn’t quite as lunatic fast as a Turbo S but it’ll still hit 60 in 3.5 seconds (3.9 seconds for the manual) and exceed 190 mph. It’s not quite as agile or involving as a GT3, but it feels so at home on a track. In fact, it feels at home everywhere. Of course, this versatility is the very foundation of the 911’s appeal. The GTS package simply and expertly enhances its broad spread of talents. I suspect you’d feel at home in the 911 GTS too, wherever you live and maybe for the rest of time.
2017 Porsche 911 GTS Specifications
|ENGINE||3.0L twin turbo DOHC 24-valve flat-six/450 hp @ 6,500 rpm, 405 lb-ft @ 2,150-5,000 rpm|
|TRANSMISSIONS||7-speed manual, 7-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 4-passenger, rear-engine, RWD/AWD coupe or convertible|
|EPA MILEAGE||18-20/26 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L X W X H||178.3 x 77.9 x 51.0 in|
|0-60 MPH||3.5-3.9 sec|
|TOP SPEED||192-193 mph|