Fog hung like a damp curtain in the cool morning air off the Adriatic Coast. As we crunched our way across a gravel driveway, a slight breeze cut a swath through the vapor, offering a fleeting glimpse of the new Porsche 911 GT3, the object of both our immediate attention and our overriding apprehension. This nervous attentiveness would be the theme of the day, because the GT3 is not a car for people who suffer from attention deficit disorder, nor is it a car for wimps.
Had the GT3 actually been draped, it still would have been easy to make a positive identification. The front fascia, borrowed from the GT3 Cup racer, features three radiator intake scoops. Curvaceous sills run along the lower flanks. But the car's crowning glory is its rear spoiler, perched like the upper wing of a German warplane.
The GT3 is likewise poised for action. It's a featherweight, tipping the scales at a mere 3050 pounds. A limited-slip rear differential helps put the power to the pavement, and ABS helps bring things to a halt, but there are no other stability or traction aids. The suspension is tuned to a range somewhere between hard and solid. Springs are painted bright red. Brake calipers are painted bright yellow. And there we were on a misty winter morning, preparing to unleash this race-bred beast on public roads. Damp, foreign public roads.
It was the Saturday before Ash Wednesday, and most of Italy's populace was still in bed, recovering from the previous night's revelry. This meant open stretches of early-morning autostrada, so, with the sun beginning to burn off the haze, we made a beeline for the highway. Using the entrance tollgate as an impromptu green flag, we ran the needle up the tach, gripped the wheel, dropped the clutch, and noted an almost disappointing lack of tire noise. The car launched-instead of howling its tires-from a dead stop. We'd expected more drama, but the reward was pure action, the result of the rear engine's location.
Minus the Carrera's rear seats and most of its sound-deadening material, the GT3's engine is always audible as its wail resounds through the cabin. Timing and breathing make all the difference. Through the use of VarioCam variable intake valve timing, there's more torque on hand (up from 272 to 284 pound-feet), 80 percent of it available from 2000 rpm. Without resorting to turbocharging, Porsche engineers were able to increase the 3.6-liter unit's output to 375 horsepower (60 more than the base Carrera and 20 more than the previous, 1999 GT3) using the old race-proven equation: Revs equal power. The engine now redlines at 8200 rpm (compared with the Carrera's 7300 rpm). A dry-sump lubrication system features five pumps and a separate oil tank, allowing the car to endure long periods of lateral g's.
The bottom line is a 0-to-62-mph time of 4.5 seconds, which is slightly better than that of the previous iteration. If you want a swifter 911 than the $100,667 GT3, it'll cost you: $16,300 more for the three-tenths-quicker Turbo, $81,800 more for the half-second-quicker GT2.
Our short-range sprint left no doubt that the factory performance claim is honest. But the six-digit sticker price pays for a lot more than first-gear acceleration, and subsequent ratios provide continuous high-rev power delivery. The GT3 reaches 100 mph in 9.4 seconds, and we watched the tach needle pull almost as quickly past 120 mph in fourth as it did back at the tollbooth. Then it was up to fifth, and the increasingly blurry landscape distracted us from our fascination with the digital speed readout.
It's amazing how peripheral vision begins to streak at 160 mph. Fifth gear seemed to last a while longer-the tach still moved but at a more methodical pace-and the engine was pretty loud at whatever speed we were traveling. At 159 mph, with the lever pulled into sixth, it was marvelous to feel a normally aspirated engine with a mere six cylinders produce so much power.
Perhaps the reason for the engine noise was the notable lack of wind noise. The slick 0.30 drag coefficient is the same as that of the Carrera, but less air makes its way under the car, thanks to a one-inch-lower ride height and a low front spoiler lip. The result is zero lift, for good high-speed stability, which we verified repeatedly. At high speeds, the obnoxious rear spoiler becomes a guardian angel watching your back. Like everything else on the car, the spoiler is functional, significantly increasing downforce over the rear axle.
Several ventures into sixth gear were required before we found enough steady, traffic-free, runwaylike pavement to attempt a top-speed test. The faster you go, the more planted the car becomes, which is a good thing to keep in mind while pinning the pedal to the floor for extended periods.
The GT3 does more than go straight, of course. The Michelin Pilot Sports (235/40ZR-18 fronts, 295/30ZR-18 rears) are mounted on wide wheels (8.5 inches up front, 11.0 inches at the rear), and they maintain adhesion almost effortlessly. What's happening to the front contact patches is transmitted directly through the GT3's three-spoke steering wheel via Porsche-patented magic, although we noticed some kickback on a couple of rutted secondary roads. The race-tuned ride, courtesy of adjust-able anti-roll bars and firmed-up springs and dampers, was predictably harsh over the bumps, but it probably would feel right at home on a racetrack. Height-adjustable spring plates make it easy to lower the car even more, but for road use, the factory setup is low-and stiff-enough.
We were moved-both literally and figuratively-by the GT3's accelerator but positively dumbfounded by its brakes. The GT3, equipped with optional ceramic composite rotors, will change the way you think about stopping distances. Pouncing from turn to turn up and down the steep Passo di San Boldo, our test car's brakes never exhibited the slightest fade. Although the inner-vented and cross-drilled ceramic rotors have a tendency to squeal when clamped by the six-piston front and four-piston rear monoblock calipers, they scrubbed speed effortlessly, hairpin after hairpin. The ceramic rotors are lighter than the standard metal items by almost 40 unsprung pounds, which is the difference between playing basketball in cement boots or in a pair of Nike Air Zoom Ultralights. The ceramic rotors also will lighten your piggy bank by $8150, but it's money well spent.
Money not so well spent would include the $28,000 worth of other options for the GT3, most of which add weight. The few performance-oriented upgrades, such as the roll cage, will not be available outside Europe, sadly enough. Americans also won't be able to delete the air conditioning or radio, such is our love for staying cool and listening to tunes. The real tragedy, however, is that the lightweight one-piece Recaro seats have not been certified for use in the States. (There's nothing to stop you from importing and installing them yourself.) Our advice: Deny your desire for gray or brown natural leather ($4430) and the carbon fiber trim package ($6220), and splurge on the ceramic brakes. Performance never goes out of style, and those bright yellow calipers will add a lot of charm. Of the 2500 GT3s that Porsche is scheduled to build, 750 have been allocated to North America. We'd love to see them all wearing yellow calipers.
We'd also love to jump behind the wheel of a GT3 and run it to top speed every day, although such practice is not officially recommended by our cardiologist. But it's infinitely more satisfying than an early-morning jog, and there's less chance of being bitten by a canine.
The GT3 may be the sharpest normally aspirated 911 you can buy, but it comes across as a puppy, albeit one with a Rottweiler's teeth. Like the GT2, this car is proof that Porsche still builds 911s that satisfy the purist without pandering to a wider audience.