"The real question will be whether the new GT3 feels alive like the old one, and whether it has the same kind of driver involvement. If the new car allows me to drive harder in the corners, I'll love that. But if it's too distilled unless you're at 10/10s, maybe not." That's what a Porsche collector named Darren told us as we drove his 2011 911 GT3 RS 4.0 shortly before heading to Germany for the launch of the new GT3.
Darren is a Porsche guy. He's owned several iterations of the 911 GT3 and also has a Carrera GT that he purchased new. He regularly runs his Porsches hard at track days. Darren is always looking for what's coming next from Porsche. He's the type of buyer that Porsche thinks about when they develop a new 911 GT3.
It's safe to say that his questions about the new GT3 are widely shared. The latest, 991-based 911 GT3 is sea change for this model, and Porsche forums went berserk as technical details trickled out earlier this year. A dual-clutch PDK gearbox, rear-wheel steering, and electric power steering on a GT3? How dare they? Andreas Preuninger, head of the GT3 program, kept telling those who questioned the logic of these new features: "Shut up and drive the car."
He was right. Exploring the 9000-rpm redline and pushing the GT3 through the high-speed corners in the mountains outside Stuttgart was all it took to realize that the GT3 is one of the most impressive cars on the planet when pushed hard. The direct-injection, 3.8-liter flat six is visceral, flexible, and extremely rewarding in the upper reaches of the tachometer. The sound is addicting and the performance is truly staggering. Porsche quotes a 0-60 mph time of only 3.3 seconds and a top speed of 195 mph. On the twisting and damp mountain roads, we saw an effortless 160 mph. There is no doubt that Darren would really like this car.
Ironically, much of this brilliance is due to Porsche's impressive integration of the technologies that lit up the forums. The GT3-specifc PDK is without a doubt the best dual-clutch gearbox on the market. The closely stacked gear ratios and shorter final drive perfectly match the 475-hp engine. The shift speeds are insanely quick and the gearbox gives you tons of feedback when driving fast. It doesn't matter if you are using the unique paddle-neutral setup -- pulling both paddles to select neutral and then releasing for instant, glorious burnouts -- or banging off an upshift while crossed-up in a lovely drift. The gearbox always does what you want, when you want. It's that good.
The GT3 also sets a new benchmark for electric power steering systems. The rear-wheel steering helps to give the GT3 incredible nimbleness at low speeds, while adding stability at higher speeds. You don't actually feel the rear-wheel steering doing its job -- it just works. The resulting balance is truly astounding. The biggest specific change in the handling dynamics compared to the earlier GT3s is the insane amount of front-end grip. In the older cars, you had to really mind the front tires and be patient getting back on the power exiting a corner. That's no longer the case with the new GT3. Plant the throttle early and the car just tucks and rockets out of the corners.
The new electronic rear differential is also a key part to this cornering attitude. For example, the computer clamps down the differential under braking for increased stability then progressively unlocks the diff as you wind on more steering lock, minimizing understeer and helping the GT3 turn through the corner. Powering out of a bend, torque is instantly juggled between the rear wheels. A perfectly programmed stability control system assists in this torque dance, especially in low-traction situations. The systems all work brilliantly together, especially in the damp conditions we met in Germany.
So what's not to like? That's the big question. While extremely good overall, the new electric steering system filters out that last bit of feedback at lower speeds compared to the old hydraulic system. A bigger issue is the PDK gearbox, at least for the purist. Yes, the PDK is an amazing gearbox and makes the new car faster, but we miss the heavy, positive clutch and the firm shift action that made the six-speed manual so brilliant in older GT3s. We also miss the fact that previous GT3 models felt truly special at all speeds, not just when pushed. And the unfortunate truth is that you can't drive the GT3 on the roads in America as hard as we drove it on the roads in Germany.
Still, there is no doubt that Porsche hit the nail on the head in nearly all areas with the latest GT3. The impressive integration of the new technology, though, has changed where the car fits in the market. Previously, the GT3 was a niche, focused 911 for the hardcore Porsche nuts; it's now a Ferrari 458 or McLaren MP4-12C killer -- it's that good. And at $131,350, it's about half the price of the Italian and the Brit. It's also not that much more than a 911 Carrera S, which now starts at $99,850.
While we still pine for a manual gearbox and that last bit of purity in the new GT3, there is no doubt that this is an absolutely fantastic automobile. Darren now has a big decision to make.
Go to page 2 for advice on how we'd spec a Porsche 911 GT3.