Some track days get washed out. I love driving in the rain, but there’s a big difference between a damp track and a full monsoon. Something akin to the latter pushed through Georgia when contributor Preston Lerner attended a Porsche track event at Road Atlanta late in 2015.
The Porsche 911 GT3 RS and Cayman GT4 both come equipped with dry weather-focused tires — not the setup you’d want when temperatures are cold and rivers of water are flowing across the circuit. Luckily for me, a Porsche-collecting friend recently purchased a brand-new GT4 and GT3 RS, and he invited me to have a go in both cars at a dry and warm Grattan Raceway near Grand Rapids, Michigan.
The GT3 RS looks more like a race car than a street car. Slap some numbers on the side, and it’s ready for Le Mans. The giant rear wing really is over the top, though, no matter how much of a motorsports freak you are. The ultra-wide 911 Turbo body shell and giant alloy wheels and 918 Spyder-sized rubber in back are anything but subtle. Both the Cayman GT4 and GT3 RS carry matte-black exterior details and standard anthracite-gray wheels. The GT4 makes do with conventional five-bolt wheels and the customary gold Porsche badge recessed into the hood, while the GT3 RS uses racing-derived center-lock wheels, trick vents on the top of each front fender, and a gloriously simple Porsche decal in place of the gold badge, on its carbon fiber hood. My friend added the $9,210 PCCB carbon-ceramic brake option to his RS, but he stuck with the standard steel rotors on the GT4 for a simpler, more focused setup for the less-expensive car.
Ah yes, the price. Both the GT4 and GT3 RS are road-going track cars, but with a big price gap between them. The mid-engine GT4 starts at $85,595, while the GT3 RS has a base price of $178,195. For more than twice the price, the GT3 RS has 115 more horses, a close-ratio seven-speed dual-clutch PDK gearbox, rear-wheel steering, and an electronic limited-slip differential (eLSD). But the track-focused 911 is nearly 200 pounds heavier than the GT4. The GT3 RS had better be sensational given the substantial premium.
Thankfully, it is. The 4.0-liter engine in GT3 RS is from the gods. Sure, its redline is 200 rpm lower than the standard 911 GT3’s, but its larger powerplant adds a welcomed bump in midrange torque along with a slightly edgier character. Part of that edginess is the glorious intake sound. On the 911 Turbo, the gaping hole in each rear fender feeds an intercooler. On the 911 GT3 RS, the same openings nourish the 8800 rpm naturally aspirated flat-six engine with much-needed oxygen. Wiggle the precise throttle pedal with your right foot or auto-blip downshift the PDK gearbox, and you’ll get delicious, growling intake music. All those shifts, either up or down through the ratios, are rifle-trigger precise and fast. Porsche has taken the dual-clutch gearbox to new levels with the GT3 RS. It’s no doubt the best of its kind on the market today and perfectly complements the rev-happy engine, rewarding those who understand how to ring the last bit out of the naturally aspirated powerplant. My only wish is for larger shift paddles. They’re just a bit small and too far inboard on the Alcantara-covered steering wheel.
But Grattan isn’t just about accelerating quickly in a straight line. There are corners, 12 of them in 2.0 miles, to be precise. The GT3 RS has double the downforce of the old and highly-collectible 997 edition of the 911 GT3 RS 4.0. You feel this aero grip even on Grattan’s relatively low-speed corners. The giant 325/30R-21 back tires and rear-mounted engine also contribute to the insane traction and flawlessly delivered stability control you feel in the RS when exiting corners. You can turn off the PSM stability and traction controls completely or leave just the wheelspin-limiting traction control active, but I decided to respect my friend’s new toy and leave the safety systems turned on. After my first proper hot lap, I was glad I didn’t play with the buttons. I had been turning fast times in a 2013 Ford Mustang Boss 302S factory race car just before driving the GT3 RS. Going deep into corner two in the rear-engine RS, I felt a strong interruption from the PSM as the rear end popped out of line under heavy trail braking. It wasn’t scary, but it also wasn’t what I had expected. Unless your skills are fully up to spec and you have a good amount of time behind the wheel of the RS, keep the stability control active. You’ve been warned.
Going from the GT3 RS and its Atari gearbox into the more analog Porsche Cayman GT4, the mid-engine car instantly felt smaller and more nimble. I felt more involved, mostly because of its clutch pedal and perfectly weighted six-speed manual gearbox, and the conventional mechanical LSD. You feel the diff locking up under braking, and the transition from deceleration stabilization to lock-up while powering out of a low-speed corner isn’t as progressive as the eLSD setup in the other Porsche. You get more feedback through the steering wheel in the GT4, and there’s more understeer at the limit. I never felt any understeer in the GT3 RS. I’d love to play around with the adjustable sway bars on the both the GT4 and GT3 RS and see what difference it would make in the handling dynamics.
The GT3 RS is no doubt the better, faster track toy, but the GT4 is often more fun. I was able to lay down some seriously quick laps and felt more comfortable right from the start. Other than the probably fixable understeer, my only complaints about the GT4 are that the gearing is too long, and the engine lacks the sparkle and high-rpm pull of the GT3 RS. Both issues surely have to do with the price point of the GT4. The gearbox carries the same ratios as other Cayman models and the 3.8-liter engine is straight out of a 911 Carrera S. I’d love to drive a Cayman GT4 with shorter, closer-ratio gearing and see if the pedestrian-for-a-Porsche engine comes alive.
My day at Grattan gave me a lot to think about. Is the 911 GT3 RS twice the car of the Cayman GT4? No, it’s not. Is the 911 GT3 RS worth nearly $200,000? Yes, it is. Having driven a plethora of high-end cars on both the road and track, the GT3 RS is one of the most impressive cars I’ve ever experienced. The engine is breathtaking and so rewarding to rev. Its track pace is simply amazing. Compared with its Italian competitors, the GT3 RS is a steal. But $200,000 is still a lot of money.
Which brings me to my dream Frankenstein’s monster of a Porsche. Take a Cayman GT4 and fit the 475-hp, 3.8-liter engine from the standard 911 GT3 and mate it to a close-ratio six-speed manual. Some chassis fiddling would sort out the handling, so we’ll stick with the cheaper mechanical LSD.
What would this monster cost? The standard 911 GT3 is $131,395. The Cayman GT4 RS—seems like a fitting name—would lack an eLSD, PDK, center-lock wheels, rear-wheel steering and other extras found on the GT3. I’m thinking the Cayman GT4 RS would be priced in the $100,000-$110,000 range, and it would be an absolute riot on both the track and the road. With the right tires, it would even be fun on a rain-soaked circuit. Come on Porsche, build the Cayman GT4 RS. We need a Porsche with a mid-mounted 9,000 rpm engine and a manual gearbox. Don’t you think?