Zuffenhausen, Germany - Speed matters when you're talking about supercars. The base Porsche 911, which is pretty sweet and very fast, will run to 174 mph, and the 911 Turbo tops out at 189 mph. The new 911 GT2, however, is capable of reaching 196 mph. To some people, of course, acceleration matters even more than outright speed. The Carrera 2 can sprint from 0 to 62 mph in 5.2 seconds, and the 911 Turbo beams you there in a supernatural 4.2 seconds. The GT2 shaves another 0.1 second off that time. On paper, the GT2 would hardly seem to justify its $69,000 premium over the Turbo, but on the road, it's a different matter entirely.
Even Porsche insiders admit that the GT2 is a very specialized vehicle. "Unlike the 911 Turbo, the GT2 is not a perfect everyday car," says senior project manager Hartmut Kristen. "Don't get me wrong--this is a great long-distance cruiser. But it's a car that needs the right weather and road conditions and calls for a driver with plenty of experience. It's a great car to have in your garage for that special Sunday morning or for a long weekend at the Nrburgring Nordschliefe." Kristen explains the GT2's mission and its position within the 911 family thus: "The GT2 should do for the Turbo what the GT3 has done for the naturally aspirated 911. It is even more powerful than the Turbo, and it is a lot sportier, as well as more raw-edged. This is not a centerline product. Instead, the GT2 is the ultimate 911 for serious drivers."
On the day of my drive, I hopped out of a Carrera 4 and into the GT2, feeling instantly at home: It has the same instrument panel and interior layout (the test car's Kevlar trim is, fortunately, not compulsory) and the same sport seats (racing buckets are a no-cost option). Even the engine sounds familiar. There is a characteristic rasp at idle, an angry yell when you floor the throttle, and a trademark full-bodied roar above 5000 rpm. The clutch is a little heavier than those in other 911s, though, and the shift-lever action feels different because the GT2 has a quicker and lighter cable linkage in place of rods.
We're off, and wow, this Porsche accelerates as if someone had pushed the fast-forward button. First gear stretches only to 39 mph, a speed that arrives so fast that the tach needle hits the 6750-rpm limiter before the dopey driver (me) has selected and engaged second gear. Second takes the GT2 to 73 mph, and this time I'm ready for the upshift when it is due. Third stretches to 106 mph, with fourth being theoretically good for 133 mph. Like every 911, the GT2 has a six-speed manual transmission, but, considering the massive maximum torque of 457 pound-feet that is on tap between 3500 and 4500 rpm, a four-speed gearbox would have done just as well. Unlike the GT3's engine, the twin-turbocharged six-cylinder does not depend on high revs to deliver the goods, producing instant power in any gear, at any revs, or at any throttle position.
The top-of-the-line 911 puts 41 more horsepower on the road than the 220-pound heavier, 415-horsepower Turbo, but it does without all-wheel drive and PSM (Porsche Stability Management) skid control. The only traction control, apart from the driver's right foot, is provided by a mechanical (instead of brake-activated) limited-slip differential. The locking ratio under a trailing throttle is a high 60 percent, which drops to 40 percent under power. The only problem is that the torque transfer between the rear wheels given by the mechanical diff is too abrupt; the car feels as if it wants to snap back from the course you've chosen. This 911 isn't about smoothness or balance but is a hard-edged, uncompromising, bobbing and throbbing, street-legal racing car.
To escape traffic, we headed for the Black Forest, which is renowned for its great driving roads. When we got there, we found plenty of empty space--but also some black ice and light snow later in the day. We were looking for warm tarmac and hot tires. With 456 horsepower at our disposal, it wasn't hard to breathe fire into the state-of-the-art Pirelli P Zero Rossos, but the car's handling ranged from benign to venomous. The Rosso is the latest iteration of the famous asymmetrical Italian high-performance tire. It offers creamier breakaway characteristics, better hydroplaning behavior, and a more compliant ride. Porsche chose 235/40ZR-18 tires for the front and 315/30ZR-18s in the back. This arrangement combines super-glue roadholding with superbad hunting on substandard surfaces, especially under braking. On smooth roads, however, the directional stability is exceptional for a car with a 38/62 percent front/rear weight distribution.
To move the center of gravity even closer to the ground, the engineers lowered the suspension of the GT2 by three-quarters of an inch. But with yours truly, the photographer, and all the camera gear on board, the center of gravity actually hit the road hard whenever the surface got bumpy and when the car stretched its legs in the wake of a brow or a humpback bridge. But then, this 911 doubles as a weekend racer; the suspension allows one to adjust the camber in front and the ride height, camber, and castor in the rear, in case you want to use slicks. The suspension was, by and large, taken over from the GT3, but the spring and damper rates are even tauter. Porsche has used zero-compliance uniball joints in place of some rubber bushings. Through high-speed autobahn esses, this rock-hard and rock-solid setup is great, but on secondary roads, the front end pitches too much. Particularly through fast, undulating corners, the nose of the car tap-dances like Fred Astaire, and even a tight grip on the steering wheel cannot overcome unwanted sidesteps. "You must trust the GT2," says Kristen. "Maintaining the chosen line can be hard work, but in the end the car will always deliver and pull through."
Like the tires, the Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes (PCCB) are at their best when they have reached their working temperature. Drilled, ventilated, and larger in diameter than the iron rotors of the 911 Turbo, the ceramic discs are straddled by powerful six-piston calipers in the front and by four-piston calipers in the back. Fed by large cooling ducts, these brakes respond more quickly (especially in the wet), are virtually immune to fade, and are 50 percent lighter, totally corrosion-resistant, and, allegedly, almost indestructible. Thanks to a 25 percent higher coefficient of friction, the initial bite is so tenacious that you have to tighten your neck muscles when you engage the center pedal. From 190 to 0 mph, PCCB reduces the stopping distance by 29.5 feet, or about two car lengths.
On a couple of occasions, we managed to push the 3600-cc boxer engine right up to the redline in fifth, shifted into sixth gear at 160 mph sharp, relished the awesome urge when the two turbos kicked in again, and watched the digital boost pressure readout jump back to the 14.5-pounds-per-square-inch maximum. Between 0 and 80 mph, there is hardly any difference between the Turbo and the GT2. But, as the engine and road speeds in-crease, the rear-wheel-drive car enters a class of its own. From 0 to 125 mph, for instance, the GT2 is a staggering three seconds faster than the Turbo, needing just 12.9 seconds to get there. From 0 to 100 mph, the GT2 will run with a Ferrari F40 or F50(!).
Like the over-the-top 911 GT1, the GT2 flat-six uses a lightweight split crankcase, high-strength Nikasil-coated pistons, and dry-sump lubrication. Like the 911 Turbo, it features VarioCam Plus, which is Porsche-speak for variable intake valve lift and timing. On paper, both Turbos average an identical 18.2 mpg. In real life, however, our GT2 returned a less impressive 13.0 mpg--and that was without really trying.
Despite a monstrous rear wing and a low-riding front air dam, the drag coefficient of the GT2 has increased to 0.34 from the Turbo's 0.31. This increase results mainly from the bigger air intakes that channel more air to the brakes and to no fewer than three radiators and two intercoolers. The key aerodynamic improvement over lesser 911s is the larger center intake that guides air through the main radiator before sending it through a full-width duct to vents between the nose cone and hood. This substantially increases front-end downforce and, at the same time, reduces the amount of air that passes between the road and the floorpan by an impressive 60 percent. The ground-effects front end pays off at speeds of 80 mph and above, tying the nose down in a thoroughly convincing manner.
Unlike the Spartan GT3, the 3175-pound GT2 is kitted out with air conditioning, full leather trim, a CD stereo, power windows and door locks, and driver and passenger front and side air bags. To save weight, the rear seats have been replaced by an uneven but carpeted shelf that occasionally acts as an on-board echo chamber. The spare tire is also conspicuous by its absence, the trunk accommodates a token 3.9 cubic feet, and the fuel tank of the U.S. version can swallow only 16.9 gallons. Priced at $179,900, the GT2 is not a limited-edition special. If the demand justifies it, Porsche can build up to 900 units a year until the end of 2005, when the 911 Turbo will be discontinued.
There are some pretty rational arguments against the GT2. For the same money, for instance, you could get a Carrera 2 and a Turbo. Plus, the GT2 is really too demanding to use as an everyday car. I actually prefer the now superseded naturally aspirated GT3, but perhaps I'm getting old. On the other hand, there is nothing as satisfying as getting it right in a car as raw and visceral as the GT2. And when you sit down and look at the numbers, this car's performance is right up there with the hyper-expensive supercars of the Nineties such as the Ferrari F50 and the Jaguar XJ220. Since it's so much more wieldy and usable than those machines, maybe it's not so irrational after all.