First Drive Twofer: Porsche 911 GT2 RS and BMW M3 GTS

Greg Pajo

Driving pleasure doesn't get much more involving than this. The Porsche 911 alerts your sixth sense even in basic Carrera form, but you can, of course, upgrade according to your budget: Carrera S, Turbo, Turbo S, GT3, GT3 RS. Last in line is now the GT2 RS, which musters an awe-inspiring 620 hp. BMW tells a similar story, with the six-cylinder 3-series models meeting their master in the V-8-engined M3, which in turn is eclipsed by the brand-new 450-hp GTS. Both top-of-the-range coupes are track-oriented, featuring adjustable wings and suspension elements along with race seats and roll cages. On the road, they feel firm, look loud, and make a fair bit of noise, but if you don't mind extra tramlining and a harsh ride, these German sportsters are perfectly acceptable everyday stimulants from spring through autumn. Feel inclined to sign on the dotted line? Hold your breath. After all, the $245,000 Porsche is limited to 500 pieces, and BMW will assemble only 136 units of the fire-orange GTS, which costs about $140,000 in Europe and, unlike the Porsche, will not be sold in the United States.

Wednesday morning, Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen, Germany. The thermometer reads 82 degrees in the shade, and the one essential factory option our red 911 GT2 RS lacks is air-conditioning. "This car is for purists, and purists are used to suffering," comments chief vehicle line engineer August Achleitner, grinning broadly. I may be a purist, but by midday I'm sweating like a pig -- needlessly, because my broad six-foot, eight-inch frame carries enough surplus calories to outweigh four or five A/C units. Never mind. In this lofty pseudo-competition segment, every pound counts.

That's why Porsche will supply the GT2 RS on request with featherweight half-blind halogen headlamps instead of the much brighter bixenons. For the price of a vacation in Mauritius, you can also have a banzai lithium-ion starter battery and a pair of carbon-fiber front fenders, which together shave some 33 pounds off the total tally. All in all, Porsche engineers took more than 150 pounds out of the car that now sports plenty of dark-gray carbon-fiber body panels, spoiler lips, skirts, air intakes, and trim. There's no doubt about it: this is a very special-purpose vehicle conceived to outperform all previous 911s, including the 959 and the legendary GT1. While marveling at the tailor-made piece of ascetic engineering, though, I do wonder whether I am good enough to make full use of all these go-faster mods.

The temples throb and the discs rattle as too much man tries to bond with too little seat. Squeezing my bum into the one-size-fits-others carbon-fiber bucket adopted from the Carrera GT's is difficult enough, but fastening the seatbelt is downright painful. The driver environment is, shall we say, minimalistic. Climate controls are as basic as it gets, the inner door handles are made of red fabric loops, most cladding consists of carbon fiber, the radio slot is a gaping black hole, and the buttonless suede steering wheel sports a yellow straight-ahead marker at twelve o'clock. Right behind the torture-chamber Recaros spreads the spiderweb roll cage. The token carpets are mouse-fur thin, and the three polycarbonate rear windows distort like a large gin and tonic. While previous top-of-the-fear-ladder 911s used to be dressed in coal-mine superblack, our GT2 RS features an almost gaudy red-over-charcoal interior with contrasting Alcantara trim, real power windows, and a wafer-thin roof.

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