First Drive: 2018 Porsche 911 GT2 RS — Holy $#!^
Meet the greatest performing 911 of all time
PORTIMÃO, Portugal—Less than 10 miles into a drive on roads near the Algarve International Circuit, you realize the laughter circulating inside the cockpit of the 2018 Porsche 911 GT2 RS is as valid a verdict on the new Turbo as any empirical VBOX or drag-strip data would provide. It begins with a little smile during the triple-digit approach to a braking zone, gestates into giggles as you fly around a long, constant-radius right-hander fast enough to bend your neck like licorice, and finally breaks into full-on snorts as the car comes off the corner and accelerates into oblivion for about the 23rd time in the past three minutes.
Holy. Blanking. Lucifer.
"We said, OK, let's make [the car] with 666 horsepower, so that's the number of the Beast, and that was how we began on the project almost three years ago," Porsche GT boss Andreas Preuninger said appropriately earlier in the day, a grin of his own spread across his face. The comment was the cutesy sort that elicits chuckles, but there is a stark difference between looking at the GT2 RS's impressive array of performance hardware and statistics and imagining you know how it will feel and drive, and then actually experiencing the sum of its parts when let off the leash here in the Portuguese wild.
In terms of the engineering formula for the quickest, fastest series-production 911 in history, Preuninger's triple-pronged brief to his team was straightforward: Deliver a lightweight design, depth-charge explosive power, and perhaps most importantly—and certainly most appreciated by the hands and feet responsible for manipulating the wheel and dancing on the pedals—a level of drivability to keep the decades-old "widow-maker" nickname for early 930s from attaching itself to the latest resurrection of the rear-drive 911 Turbo.
To bring the standard 2018 911 GT2 RS's weight in at its official 3,241 pounds, Porsche—after binning the regular 911 Turbo's all-wheel drive and rear seats, of course—installs carbon-fiber wheel-arch vents, hood, mirror covers, front fenders, and rear fender air intakes and also crafts part of the rear fascia from the same material. The standard RS comes with titanium mufflers and exhaust and a magnesium roof, but opt for the $31,000 Weissach Package and you get a carbon-fiber panel above your head. Other standard weight-saving measures include a front fascia made from lighter polyurethane, while the front and rear windows are made from Gorilla Glass, a solution Porsche says is unique and offers the same weight as equivalent panels made from polycarbonate. And if you disassemble the interior, you will find little to no sound-deadening material throughout.
As is the manufacturer's tradition for lightweight versions of its cars, nylon loops replace interior door handles, and the hardest of hardcore customers can elect to delete the air-conditioning system (don't do it) and the in-dash screen/stereo unit, the latter option only being available until U.S. law mandates all new cars built from May 2018 onward include a backup camera, which in Porsche's case necessitates the video/stereo/communications screen. Choose the 40-pound-lighter Weissach Package introduced originally for the 918 Spyder, and in addition to the carbon-fiber roof, your car will come equipped with carbon-fiber front and rear antiroll bars, carbon tie-rod end links, carbon shift paddles, and magnesium BBS wheels (24 total pounds less unsprung weight). If you're a European buyer, Porsche swaps the steel interior rollcage for a titanium version; U.S. regulations mean American-market cars are cageless.
Sounds great, you say, but what about that devil of an engine? It's based on the 3.8-liter unit used in the 911 Turbo S but gets larger turbochargers (with Porsche's variable turbine geometry) capable of providing up to 22.5 psi of boost. The crankcase features different machining, the main bearings are a new design, the forged pistons are stronger and feature a new dome geometry, the exhaust manifolds boast diameters increased by 30 percent per cylinder, and the compression ratio decreases from 9.5:1 in the Turbo S to 9.0:1. Output exceeds the original 666-hp target, with power peaking at 700 hp at 7,000 rpm, while torque reaches 553 lb-ft between 2,500 and 4,500 rpm. The final, monster numbers were no surprise to Preuninger.
"I wanted to have a seven in front of that horsepower figure, always," he says. "But [the initial target is] always three years ahead of schedule, of production. You don't want to harass the engine guys too much with targets they think they can't give you, they can't fulfill. At the end of the day, they always can. I know that, but they don't. So … right?"
Right. Riiiiiiight. With a power-to-weight ratio of 4.63 pounds per horsepower, Porsche's official, often conservative acceleration numbers say the RS will bang from 0 to 60 mph in 2.7 seconds, 0 to 100 in 5.8, and 0 to 124 in 8.3. The quarter mile passes in 10.5 seconds, all the way to an electronically limited top speed of 211 mph. Without the limiter—something about saving the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires—top speed would be about 221 mph.
The initial swallow of the GT2 RS formula comes on the 2.9-mile, 15-turn Algarve road course, which is a tarmac ocean of surf in the form of significant elevation changes and blind-corner approaches. Never having driven this circuit previously, the idea of riding the first waves in a 700-hp turbocharged rear-drive 911 should be an intimidating notion. Surprisingly, though, the stentorian powertrain is not what stands out immediately.
As you expect from modern Porsches, the stopping efficiency provided by the carbon-ceramic brakes (16.1 inches in front, 15.3 in the rear) is astounding and consistent, yanking the car down from 175 mph on the front straight to about 65 mph into Turn 1 with exceptional stability and zero drama. And while we earlier in the day gulped over the spec chart's power and raw speed numbers, we perhaps underappreciated the GT2 RS's aerodynamic and suspension-tuning figures.
Compared to the 911 GT3 RS with which the GT2 shares wheel carriers and multipiece control arms, the front spring rate increases by more than 100 percent, with antiroll-bar stiffness dialed back by about half to compensate, a setup Preuninger likens to a 911 Cup race car. The rear spring rate is up by 30 percent, but the antiroll-bar rate remains the same as in the GT3 RS due to the GT2's heavier engine. For the first time on a production Porsche, bushings and joints previously composed of rubber are now of the steel ball-joint variety, stiffening the suspension and sharpening the chassis' responses. Serious track drivers will benefit from adjustable toe, camber, caster, antiroll bars, and ride height settings. As for the aerodynamics, manipulated in part by the oversized and adjustable carbon-fiber rear wing as well as a tunable front splitter, at 211 mph the car benefits from about 750 pounds of total downforce. Dial the wing up to its maximum angle of attack, and the figure, Porsche says, rises to almost 1,000 pounds.
All of this is readily apparent on the track, where the GT2 RS demonstrates a fine but obviously 911-style balance, perhaps more so than most other contemporary 911s. The rear end will step out if you lift abruptly or trail off the throttle enough to unload it, but you'll have to drive in a reasonably ham-fisted manner before you'll describe it as snappy—at least at the pace we were comfortable maintaining. We'll have to put a pro driver in an RS to get an ultimate sense of its on-limit behavior, but as evidenced by the car's 6 minute, 47.3 second lap of the Nürburgring—the all-time production-car record after besting the 6:52.01 set by Lamborghini's Huracán Performante—Porsche Motorsport's influence goes beyond "effective" and straight into the seventh circle of "devastating." Despite its lack of all-wheel drive but thanks to its rear-engine layout and the widest tires ever employed on a factory 911 (325/30R-21 rear, 265/35R-20 front), the GT2 RS suffers no lack of traction, and the engine's continental shelf of a torque curve means you can shift early and still pull out of corners stronger than almost anything else on the block. Go to the gas pedal too aggressively, and power oversteer is surely on tap, but it feels easy to control as opposed to always being on the verge of biting you.
Out on public roads, however, is where the GT2 RS's madness really hits home. On open, empty racetracks, you don't notice outright speed as much as you might expect, but real-world settings have a way of snapping the big picture into focus. That's why laughter accompanies the sweep through that constant-radius right-hander, the type of corner that bores you to tears in most cars. Here, though, the entry speed is high, but rather than protest with even the smallest of wiggles or an understeering push, the 911 simply digs in and hangs on all the way through as if its wheels are wrapped in flypaper rather than rubber.
Preuninger says he wanted the car to "really feel like a turbo," rather than the industry trend of turbocharged engines that try to mimic normally aspirated ones, and while the throttle response isn't GT3 sharp, neither is it laggy in any meaningful way. And when you stand on it, the momentum this Porsche generates in a straight line, the amount of lateral grip it produces, and the way it strings together a twisting stretch of road quite literally demand you adjust all of your perceptions about time and distance, about braking points and turn-in speeds, about what is physically possible. The GT2 feels like it's been gifted the gravity of a black hole, sucking the world through the windshield and into your face at approximately warp 9. Hustling it up to speed is effortless yet breathless and thrilling, so much so that we're hard-pressed to think of a street-car experience that trumps this one. Maybe a McLaren 720S plays in this league, but the list of eligible contenders is painfully short.
This level of performance brings compromises, of course, but none should deter customers who drive the GT2 RS every day. The stiff suspension and its mounts, and the dearth of sound insulation, mean a lot of road noise infiltrates the cabin, so at times you find yourself speaking louder than usual to carry on conversations. The low ride height, relatively limited wheel travel, and aggressive shock damping likewise make not for a wholly uncomfortable ride, but don't expect to feel like you're cruising in anything resembling a grand tourer. The ride quality is absolutely good enough for a daily driver, but it never lets you forget you're piloting or riding in something special.
To the point, nothing about the 2018 GT2 RS pretends to be something it isn't. Preuninger and his team have created the most outrageous driver's 911 of all time. Where the standard Turbo S takes criticism for being too good, too refined, and nowhere near raucous enough, this car addresses those knocks by a factor of five. Its engine sounds alone—whistling and hissing turbos, deep rumbles and pops on the overrun—tell you immediately this is an entirely different proposition, and not by chance: Preuninger examined an old 935 race car to measure its exhaust system, to see how Porsche could bestow upon this GT2 RS some of the character from a bygone turbo era.
Everywhere you turn, it seems, you find something like this, something to geek out on—for example, the 1.3-gallon, carbon-fiber tank in the front trunk that holds distilled water used to spray the intercooler. This keeps intake charge temperatures down and engine power at its full potential. On a warm day at the Nürburgring, the water supply should last about four laps, but Porsche doesn't expect drivers to use much of it on regular roads. So Preuninger smiles when he checks our tank at the end of the day and finds the water level has dropped, proving the GT2 RS got a workout. "OK! That's pretty good, not bad," he says.
We want to say the same to him and his team, but somehow that just doesn't quite cover it.
2018 Porsche 911 GT2 RS Specifications
|ENGINE||3.8L twin-turbo DOHC 24-valve flat-6
700 hp @ 7,000 rpm, 553 lb-ft @ 2,500-4,500 rpm
|TRANSMISSION||7-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|LAYOUT||2-door, 2-passenger, rear-engine, RWD coupe|
|L x W x H||179.1 x 74.0 x 51.1 in|
|0-60 MPH||2.7 sec|
|TOP SPEED||211 mph|