2014 Porsche 911 GT3 Second Drive
"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.
Optioning the 911 GT3
A little help negotiating the order book.
As with any Porsche, the options list for the 911 GT3 is extensive, and it pays to study it all in detail before ordering. Here are our recommendations for spec based upon our experience with the car, studying the options list, and speaking with multiple Porsche engineers in Germany:
Andreas Preuninger, head of the GT3 program at Porsche, told us that the PCCB carbon ceramic brake setup is the most important option to add to the car. These brakes bump the front rotor size from 380 mm to 410 mm -- and the parts are shared with the 918 Spyder. The increased steering precision and damper control due to the near-40 pounds savings in unsprung weight easily justifies the $9210 cost, in the opinion of Preuninger. Additionally, the PCCB setup has excellent wear characteristics on the road. Still, PCCB components wear at about the same rate as the standard steel setup during heavy track use. The high cost of PCCB pad and rotor replacement is a matter of consideration for a small number of Porsche owners. Due to this, Porsche offers a unique steel rotor and a brake pad setup for PCCB-optioned cars, available through the parts department at Porsche dealerships. Owners can then fit this steel setup to their GT3 for track days, helping keep the costs of wear items in check. Again, this setup is for owners who drive their cars very hard at the track and on a regular basis. Most owners do not need to bother with this setup but the option is there for the few that do. It's impressive that Porsche thinks about details like this.
-The GT3 come standard with center-lock 20-inch forged aluminum wheels (20" x 9" front and 20" x 12" rear). While there is only one wheel design offered, they are available in three colors. Standard is a gorgeous titanium grey, which was fitted to nearly all the press cars in Germany. Buyers can opt for traditional silver-painted wheels ($325), which are also very nice. The optional $685 black wheels are, unfortunately, a high-gloss setup and in our (and a few Porsche engineers') opinion, not a good cosmetic fit for the GT3.
-While you can't specify what tires are fitted to the GT3 from the factory, we learned some details about each of the two offerings from Porsche. This info will help owners with tire decisions when it comes time to fit new rubber. As far as sizes, the front tire is a 245/35YR-20 and the rear is a 305/30YR-20. The Michelin offering is the new Pilot Sport Cup 2 (which is also fitted to the new Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Black Series). It's the newest iteration of Michelin's most focused road tire and it offers loads of dry-weather grip, combined with far better wet-weather characteristics than the old Pilot Sport Cup tire, which was used on the 997-generation 911 GT3. Porsche said that around 80% of cars will be fitted with the Michelin tire from the factory. The other tire offered on the GT3 is the Dunlop Sport Maxx Race (seen also on the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG Black Series models equipped with the track package). This tire trades a very small amount of ultimate grip and endurance at the track for slightly better wet weather handling. Porsche assures us that the differences are very minor. Our test car in Germany was fitted with the Michelin tire. The feedback and dry grip were astonishing. The tire also performed flawlessly in damp conditions. The only time where you sensed the limitations of such a focused, ultra-high performance tire was when dealing with deep, standing water. There just isn't enough tread-depth to deal with large puddles. It's a perfectly acceptable tradeoff given the grip offered at all other times.
-At launch, U.S. cars are offering two seats and the Europeans can choose from three different seats. The optional carbon fiber sport bucket seats that graced the majority of cars on the German press event are not available in the USA. They are aggressive and very similar to the seats that were offered in the USA in the later 997-generation cars like the 911 GT2 and GT3 4.0. This newest iteration of that seat unfortunately doesn't meet U.S. safety regulations, due to the design of the side airbags. Luckily, purists looking for a hardcore seat aren't left out in the cold. Porsche is developing a new sport seat for worldwide sales. Look for those to be added to the U.S. options list within the next six months. The seat will be offered in both the GT3 and the new 911 Turbo. It does not have a folding backrest like the outgoing seat -- nice for access to the rear storage area -- but it will offer power height adjustment. When we questioned Porsche regarding the weight of the power mechanism, they told us that the setup is as light or lighter than a manual setup due to the advancements in brushless electric motors. Keep in mind that these optional seats have a fixed backrest and offer far less adjustability compared to the standard sport seats plus or the optional $2635 adaptive sport seats plus. Figure the upcoming sport bucket seats will cost around $4000.
-White and silver always look great on a 911 GT3. The new Rhodium Silver Metallic is a light silver, with a small hint of blue. It's very nice and costs only $710 above the solid (non-metallic) black, red, white or yellow. Another excellent hue is the classic GT Silver Metallic, but it costs $3140. If you're feeling more extroverted, try one of Porsche's paint to sample colors. Mexico Blue or Riviera Blue both look great on the GT3. Paint to sample is $5500 and can delay the build time of the car. Then again, the upcoming GT3 RS may be a better candidate for a funky, fun color setup -- it's coming next year, is confirmed to be PDK only, and may also feature a carbon fiber roof panel.
-Front Lift System: If you live have a steep driveway, don't forget to order the front lift system. It isn't cheap at $3490 but the system only adds around 13 pounds and saves the cost of replacing front splitters.
-Optional Fuel Tank: Porsche offers a no-cost larger fuel tank, 23.8 gallons versus the standard 16.9 gallons. Adding this option is a no-brainer. The GT3 is a thirsty car when driven hard and the added range of the larger fuel tank is handy. The weight difference is minimal. Porsche engineers told us that if you are concerned about this, just don't fill the tank to the brim at the track. Why offer two fuel tanks? The reason is that right-hand drive cars must use the small fuel tank due to packaging constraints. As they had two fuel tanks in the parts bin, Porsche decided that they might as well offer both tanks sizes in left-hand drive markets. The larger fuel tank also takes up no additional front luggage space.
-Delete Model Designation: The badging on the back of the GT3 is far less busy than a standard 911 -- which reads a bit like a novel. Still, it's still nice to have the option to tick the box to have the rear of your GT3 simply say: Porsche. That is, unless your ego needs more than a large rear wing to tell the world that you indeed bought a 911 GT3 and not a regular 911.
-Other Miscellaneous Options: There are tons of items you can add to the GT3, essentials and frivolities such as: LED headlights ($3110), voice control ($595), leather-covered rear view mirror ($675), keys painted to match your car ($335), yellow seat belts ($340), the smoker's package (no charge!), and personalized and illuminated door sill guards in carbon fiber ($1610). At least the optional smoking package is no-charge. Even so, Porsche doesn't offer the GT3 with items like a sunroof or keyless entry/starting (Porsche Entry and Drive). If this news bothers you, the upcoming 911 Turbo may be a better fit.