That’s a typical sequence of mind-sets one is likely to go through when approaching two no-holds-barred supercars like the wild Porsche 911 GT3 RS and its equally exciting new soulmate, the Lamborghini Gallardo LP570-4 Superleggera. Even Walter Röhrl, the lanky superstar who can beat God around the Nürburgring’s Nordschleife, freely admits that the sharpest street-legal scalpels still stir his stomach whenever he approaches them, ignition key in hand.
Duck your head, limbo in, probe the footwell for legroom, lower yourself carefully into the Sparco tub, stretch out, exhale, and relax if you can. No, the Gallardo cockpit is not made for tall fatsos like me whose Gold’s Gym membership expired in 1972. Which is a shame, because the Superleggera epitomizes luxury in a modern, laid-back fashion – super, yes; leggera (light), less so. Almost the entire passenger cell is lined with black Alcantara, which looks and feels like suede. To reduce weight, the door panels, the transmission-tunnel cover, and the seat buckets are made of shiny carbon fiber. Other nice touches include special instrument faces, body-color accents such as contrasting stitching and piping, aluminum pedals, and a meaty steering wheel with an ever-so-slightly squared-off bottom.
Painted orange metallic, our fully loaded test car was charmingly over-the-top, what with orange weaving in the seat faces and orange brake calipers. To shed the 154 pounds required to bring the power-to-weight ratio down to 5.3 pounds per horsepower, the engineers switched the rear side windows and the backlight to distortion-prone polycarbonate. The high-gloss engine-compartment cover, the rear diffuser, the front splitter, parts of the undertray, and the extrawide rocker panels are baked from carbon fiber. Not exactly essential – but nonetheless available at extra cost – are such attention grabbers as an LED-lit engine bay; cabin and puddle lighting packages; and the stacked, nonadjustable, Countach-style rear wing. All in all, the more radical material mix helps reduce dry weight to 2954 pounds, which isn’t bad at all for a fully loaded, V-10-engined, four-wheel-drive supercoupe.
Our Porsche 911 GT3 RS test car has no rear seats, no air-conditioning, no radio, no apparent noise insulation, no central locking, not even proper inner door handles – instead it has red, pull-to-open fabric ribbons. From the outside, the Porsche looks even gaudier than its brother in arms from Emilia-Romagna, but inside, the ultimate two-wheel-drive 911 is almost as barren and minimalist as a race car. The narrow, thinly padded seats take less than a day to change the complexion of your behind to hurting-baboon red, and the car, both inside and out, is decorated with more RS 3.8 badges, stickers, and decals than the year has months.
This is definitely not a subtle Porsche. In particular, the adjustable, double-decker, carbon-fiber tail appendage with the contrasting winglets is liable to turn heads. The wingwork hates automatic car washes, but, in combination with the aggressively shaped front apron, it provides enough downforce even for courage-testing high-speed autobahn esses. Other changes that differentiate the RS from the regular GT3 include a wider front track (by 0.5 inch), a wider rear track (by 1.2 inches), a rear window and engine-compartment lid made of lighter synthetic material, a neatly integrated ram-air induction scoop, and a pair of larger-diameter tailpipes. Also contributing to the 55-pound weight savings versus the 3076-pound GT3 are a muffler made of titanium and a single-mass flywheel, as well as detail changes like the low-calorie, single-function steering wheel and a composite transmission-tunnel cover.
The tight-fitting Superleggera makes for an intense driving experience. The one-size-fits-few seats are like suction cups, and the instant throttle response launches the car forward like an ejector. The ultraquick steering feels like a high-voltage handshake, the merciless brakes threaten to inflict whiplash injuries, and the suspension holds the road like an unsprung magnetic field. With go-faster stripes and plenty of drag-cutting add-ons, the Superleggera marks the transition from boulevard racer to hard-core supercar. This Lamborghini straddles the line between punishment and reward. Its exhaust system temporarily impairs your hearing, and its ability to rocket you down the road blurs your field of vision. Phenomenal grip and traction make the mighty orange wedge stick to its flight path as if inertia, mass, and g-force were totally negligible dynamic commodities.
In character and configuration, these two supercars could hardly be further apart. Superleggera versus GT3 RS? That’s all-wheel drive vs. rear-wheel drive, aluminum spaceframe vs. predominantly steel, mid-engine vs. rear-engine, V-10 vs. flat six, 5.2 liters vs. 3.8, direct vs. port injection, automated vs. manual transmission, control-arm vs. multilink suspension, fixed vs. variable aerodynamics, about $243,000 vs. $135,050. The Lambo is the quicker car in all departments, but the 911 feels quicker – in part because it’s noisier and looks more raw.
Hugging the tail end of the Porsche’s substantial behind, the most extreme normally aspirated street-legal boxer engine ever conceived in Weissach develops 450 hp at 7900 rpm. Redlined at 8500 rpm, the 3.8-liter unit requires a steroidal 6750 rpm to whip up the maximum torque of 317 lb-ft. Pushing the Sport button frees an extra 35 lb-ft where you need it most – in the 3000-to-6000-rpm range – with an accompanying increase in exhaust sound. The power output of the RS engine is only 15 hp more than that of the GT3, and the peak twist action is unchanged, although it requires an extra 500 rpm. A final drive that’s thirteen percent shorter knocks 0.1 second off the GT3’s 4.1-second sprint to 62 mph, claims Porsche. The larger frontal area and the revised gearing also knock one notch off the top speed, although 193 mph is certainly fast enough.
A bit of chip tuning was all it took to squeeze an additional 10 hp out of the Gallardo’s engine, which now delivers 562 hp at 8000 rpm and an unchanged 398 lb-ft at 6500 rpm. By reprogramming the thrust mode of the E-gear transmission for 5000 takeoff revs and an absolute minimum of wheel spin, Lamborghini claims that it has shaved 0.3 second off the 0-to-62-mph acceleration time, which is listed at 3.4 seconds. The top speed remains the same at 202 mph. Although Lamborghini still offers the classic manual transmission complete with chrome gate, polished golf-ball shift knob, and wonderfully positive action, the take rate has dropped to less than two percent. How come? Because there are no tangible performance or efficiency benefits (the stick-shift car is actually seven percent thirstier), and because the E-gear’s paddleshift operation makes it a lot easier to expertly cut that torque pie into six even slices. Unlike the out-of-breath gearing preferred by Porsche, Lamborghini opted for the more relaxed pulse rate provided by longer gears.
The Superleggera is, in fact, quite civilized and can be ordered with navigation, a high-end stereo, Bluetooth connectivity, a front-end lift system, and a rearview camera. The Lambo will happily entertain the street café crowd at 25 mph in first gear all the way down the main drag. It doesn’t balk at extensive stop-and-go frustrations, and it will, at the push of a button, perform one head-turning race start after the other. As soon as the road is clear, it begs for the Corsa program, which raises the stability control threshold and quickens the shifts. This is arms-forward, head-down, hips-back stuff: every full-throttle upshift sends a brief judder through the aluminum monocoque and makes the nineteen-inch Pirellis leave their initials on the tarmac in first, second, and occasionally even in third gear.
The GT3 RS is a comparatively ancient design that is still sensationally young at heart. The white, winged warrior with the blinding red lettering makes for a fascinating blend of archaic and intoxicating. Archaic because of the indecently heavy clutch, the bony six-speed transmission, and the hard-to-modulate, on-or-off optional ceramic brakes. Intoxicating thanks to the wailing six-cylinder chain saw, the seismographically intuitive steering, and the masterfully balanced chassis, which can still dance as professionally along the limit of adhesion as the very first Carrera RS 2.7. True, the seven-speed PDK gearbox available on other 911s would be quicker, more convenient, more efficient, and much higher tech, but the old-fashioned manual box is a more spontaneous and immediate tool, and the considerable effort it demands matches the substantial travail of all the other controls. And we’re not just talking steering, brakes, tires, and engine here, but also eyes and ears and brain and bravery. Especially brain and bravery.
The 911 plays a catchy jam session of new and familiar tunes. Idle speed is erratic and uneven, the lightweight flywheel hums along like a tipsy, out-of-tune supporting act, and the multivocal intake and exhaust systems deliver a particularly noisy version of their trademark shouting match. It’s this aural background that makes the Porsche feel fast even before you’ve dared to engage first gear. The RS is kind of an unplugged GT3, and since it depends on even higher revs to deliver, the impression of warp speed becomes almost physical as you work that resinous gear lever through its gate. Although even 4500 rpm sounds illegally fast, this engine needs to be whipped past 6500 rpm before it explodes, and if you haven’t seen 8000 rpm, you’ll never understand the moral conflict that hard-core Porsche Turbo fans go through after having tasted a drop of GT3 RS blood.
But guess what? It’s the pricier Lamborghini that makes you work harder, sweat earlier, and fear more sustainably. For a truly uncompromising driving machine, look no further than this tarmac peeler. This car is stiff, edgy, impatient, and aggressive, a corner-greedy pothole-hater that’s ready to pick a fight and is always on the prowl. Like the 911, the Superleggera needs to be pushed to shed idiosyncrasies like the lumpy low-speed ride, the grotesque tramlining, and the initially passive handling. But as soon as the wide track, the long wheelbase, and the low center of gravity push open that critical velocity window, minor inputs yield major effects. This is a beautifully modulated car gifted with sensuous steering, sensational speed-induced stability, an almost feline feeling for the complexities of the pavement, and a magic maneuverability that pivots around an interplay of invisible axes as though inspired by an M. C. Escher drawing. True, the Superleggera scribes an embarrassingly large turning circle, and its brittle front axle lacks the compliance that Porsche has thankfully rediscovered for the GT3 RS. But the Lambo’s brakes are more progressive, torque feed is much more seamless, and being really quick doesn’t automatically require grand gestures and superhuman saves.
The winner? Take the Porsche if you are brave enough or good enough. Take the Lamborghini if it fits your size and style. In terms of overall competence, both contenders score a solid ten. In terms of value for money, however, you may be better off with a base 911 GT3 or a no-frills Gallardo LP560-4. Quite a bit better, in fact.
Porsche 911 GT3 RS
450 hp at 7900 rpm
317 lb-ft at 6750 rpm
0 to 62 mph in 4.0 seconds*
193 mph top speed*
Lamborghini Gallardo LP570-4 Superleggera
562 hp at 8000 rpm
398 lb-ft at 6500 rpm
0 to 62 mph in 3.4 seconds*
202 mph top speed*