REVIEWS: 2008 Porsche 911 GT2 - Lean Mean Machine

December 1, 2007
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0712 01 Z+2008 Porsche 911 Gt2+tail View
In the case of the latest Porsche 911, the GT suffix stands for anything but Gran Turismo. Guaranteed Trauma is more like it, at least when the beast is not treated with due competence and caution. The new 911 GT2 combines elements of the GT3 (lightweight components, rear-wheel drive) and the Turbo (turbocharged engine, stability control), resulting in the fastest roadgoing Porsche ever.
The GT2 looks about as subtle as a smiling Count Dracula. The front end combines 911 Turbo overtones such as the bright LED turn signals with new extralarge air intakes that are required to cool the brakes and the heat exchangers. The side view features beefed-up sills, ground-hugging aprons, and a set of prominent intake and brake-cooling inlets. But the most butch view is, without a doubt, the rear, which boasts more vertical slats, a pair of large-diameter exhausts, and a fixed biplane wing. The latter increases the downforce at high speeds and incorporates two circular ram-air induction scoops.
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On the autobahn, the GT2 sports as much overtaking prestige as police, fire department, and paramedic vehicles combined--with lights flashing and sirens wailing. When lesser cars step aside, the GT2 can reach 204 mph. But you want the tarmac to be dry, reasonably smooth, and--ideally--arrow-straight. And you'd better get used to the car's high-speed potential in installments. In this Porsche, even 150 mph feels mind-bogglingly fast. The noise level is intense, the chassis copies every detail of the road surface, the steering is a live wire covered with gray Alcantara, and directional stability is a challenge even when the wind speed is zero.
But like every 911, this car knows what it's doing, and it requires surprisingly little assistance to maintain the chosen flight path. Trouble is, it takes the driver days, if not weeks, to build up the confidence this car requires. There is so much information available to the eyes, ears, palms, fingers, legs, feet, and seat of the pants that the senses are soon overloaded. Velocity is a drug, and like every drug, it clouds and clarifies at the same time. In the GT2, one needs to learn a fresh set of responses, because, unlike the Turbo, this 200-mph 911 has only two driven wheels. The lighter GT2 turns in with more vigor, decelerates with enhanced determination, and corners with added sharpness. Most important, rear-wheel drive will never pull you out of trouble. And we all know that pushing out of trouble seldom works.
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Further narrowing the increasingly slim line between drama and trauma are the semislick Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires. On dry blacktop, this footwear might make sense for rich amateur racers who don't mind buying a new set of rear tires every two months. Even in the rain, the 325/30YR-19 rear rubber is OK--until there are wall-to-wall puddles on the road. Then the GT2 suddenly starts water skiing, even at speeds as low as 60 mph. Would it not be a good idea to offer at least the option of less extreme tires?
So we didn't see 200 mph. But we out-accelerated just about every mechanical device that crossed our route. Over the first fifty yards or so, the 530-hp, 3175-pound GT2 is actually not quite as quick as the 480-hp, 3572-pound 911 Turbo Tiptronic. From 0 to 62 mph, it's a dead heat at 3.7 seconds each. From 0 to 124 mph, however, the rear-wheel-drive GT2 will beat the four-wheel-drive Turbo, clocking 11.2 seconds against 12.2 seconds. And by the time these autobahn guerrillas pass the 185-mph mark, the GT2 will have carved out an impressive advantage. On damp ground, the GT2 will spin its wheels in first and second gear, especially between 2200 and 4500 rpm, when maximum torque of 502 lb-ft comes in. The closely related 3.6-liter 911 Turbo engine can deliver just as much torque, but it's available only for about ten seconds in over-boost mode.
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Every 911 is an anachronism, thanks to the position of the engine and what it does to the weight distribution. Within this archaic layout, which dates back to Ferdinand Porsche and thus almost to the Austro-Hungarian empire, the six-speed manual gearbox feels even older than the environment it works in. The lever movements feel emphatically mechanical, and the clutch is much too heavy. Like the BMW M3, the new GT2 is crying out for a dual-clutch paddleshift transmission, which allegedly will appear next year. Short-legged and yet evenly spaced, the six-speed must be stirred regularly for optimum results. First is good for 49 mph, second takes you to 81 mph, third maxes out at 110 mph, fourth runs out at 141 mph, and fifth will want to hand over the baton at 172 mph.
The GT2 is the first Porsche fitted with launch control. How does it work? Engage first gear, depress the clutch, and floor the throttle. Instead of hitting the limiter at 6750 rpm, the tach needle will stabilize at 5000 rpm. Now drop the clutch. What follows is a noisy--and smelly--conflict between torque and traction control. Since the flat six loves to rev, a red arrow flashes at about 6000 rpm to give you (just) enough time to shift up. Traction is enhanced by a limited-slip differential. Porsche Stability Management (PSM) allows you to choose among three settings: fully active, PSM off, and PSM and traction control off. PSM off is the best compromise between grin and spin. Like a Formula 1 car, the GT2 in this setting modulates wheel spin without usurping the driver's control over drift angle.
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The GT2 not only eclipses the Turbo in terms of power output, it is also far more melodious. The stereophonic turbocharger whine, wastegate whistles, and intake resonance become almost physical above 5000 rpm, and the note emitted from the new titanium exhaust system evolves from a low-tech clatter at idle to an incredibly dense, multivocal, high-rev implosion that's loud enough to make guardrail rivets pop as the GT2 rushes by. Prick your ears, and you may even be able to decipher the nine oil pumps that feed the dry-sump lubrication. Listen closer, and you can perhaps hear the new intake plenum that's been replumbed for added intake-charge cooling. Check out the digital gauge, and watch the boost pressure climb to 20.3 psi. These may be little things, but they add up to a measurable gain in performance that, according to Porsche, allows the GT2 to lap the Nrburg-ring in seven minutes and thirty-two seconds--that's Carrera GT territory.
Like the body and the drivetrain, the base 911 chassis underwent plenty of fine-tuning. Ride height was lowered by 1.0 inch, the rear track was widened by 0.6 inch, and the active dampers were stiffened mercilessly. The rubber suspension attachments were re-placed with metal, the rear-axle crossmember switched from steel to aluminum, and the kinematics were modified for reduced understeer. In addition, the antiroll bars, the springs, and the wheel-camber mounts are now adjustable.
0712 06 Z+2008 Porsche 911 Gt2+wheel View
To reduce weight, the doors and the trunk lid are made of aluminum, and there are no rear seats. (The same is true of GT3 models.) Europeans can specify the no-frills Clubsport kit, complete with a roll cage, a six-point harness, and a fire extinguisher at no extra cost, but customers in North America won't have that option. Carbon-ceramic brakes and navigation are included in the U.S. list price of $192,560. Is the GT2 worth $84,200 more than a GT3 with cast-iron brakes? Is it $56,660 better than a 911 Turbo with carbon-ceramic brakes? Yes and no. For the ultimate thrill--which occasionally equals the ultimate scare--rear-wheel drive is obviously still a must for 911 superheroes. And 530 hp is bound to be more desirable than the 415 hp or the 480 hp of the GT3 and the Turbo, respectively.
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But what marks the prime tangible, repeatable, inimitable, decisive difference between the GT2 and lesser versions of the 911 is its exceptional clarity of motion. Performance is instant, linear, and seemingly inexhaustible. Handling is intuitive, ultrasharp, and totally uncompromising. Get it right, and feel like the king of the road. Get it wrong, and prepare to spend years restoring your damaged ego. The steering and the brakes work in total harmony, with no artificial preservatives added. Mastering a seemingly awkward engineering concept at its highest level is rewarding, rejuvenating, and reassuring. The GT2 is that and more. But like all special 911s, it's definitely not the right Porsche for poseurs or pretenders. If you can't face the challenge, get a Lamborghini or a Ferrari instead and show off in second gear, up and down the boulevard.

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