Porsche’s 911 GT3 first arrived in the U.S. in 2004. The lightweight, track-focused 911 quickly earned a following with hardcore car geeks and was only offered with a manual gearbox. Ten years later, Porsche made a rather polarizing move: It switched to a PDK dual-clutch gearbox as the sole transmission offered on both the 911 GT3 and the even more spartan 911 GT3 RS. Row-your-own-gears enthusiasts screamed bloody murder. Porsche justified the controversial move with data showing quicker lap times and increased performance due to the seven-speed paddle-shift ’box. But that didn’t silence certain buyers.
At this month’s Geneva motor show, Porsche proved it has not forgotten traditional high-performance 911 worshipers with the introduction of the $185,950 911 R. A six-speed manual replaces the PDK gearbox, and there’s no fixed rear wing, an extroverted staple of GT3 models since inception. The R is a 911 in the theme of the Scion FR-S/Subaru BRZ, with fun and raw enjoyment trumping ultimate lap times.
Those interested in this type of focused Porsche model tend to be fanatical about the details. As a result, I put on my full Porsche geek hat and dug into all those details with a fine-toothed comb.
Body and Styling
— The 911 R is an old-school, hot-rod collection of parts from other Porsche models. The overall body-in-white is from the narrower, standard 911 GT3. Porsche’s 911 GT3 RS gifts its carbon fiber hood and magnesium roof panel. Carbon-fiber front fenders were molded specifically for the 911 R as the 911 GT3 RS has wider fenders with vents, and the standard 911 GT3 carries aluminum fenders. The front bumper is stolen from the GT3 but is fitted with a unique front splitter, likely for aerodynamic balance. The engine cover is from a 911 Carrera — including the retractable spoiler — but gains a 911 R-specific aluminum rear grill. Porsche also fitted a new underbody splitter beneath the engine, key to aero balance due to the loss of the large rear wing.
— The German company offers either red or green top stripes for the 911 R at no charge, as well as old-school Porsche decals and stripes for the lower sides of the car. The latter $675 option is available with “Porsche” in black, red, or green but can only be fitted to the car by the factory if you choose European delivery — picking up the car in Zuffenhausen or Leipzig, Germany. Yes, you can buy the side decals from your local dealer if you want to act like you picked your car up in Germany but not make the trek over the ocean. Alternatively, you can go with the subtle “sans stripes” setup, to compliment the two standard colors offered: GT Silver Metallic or a non-metallic refrigerator-like hue Porsche simply calls, White. Additionally, you can pay $6950 and special order Black, Racing Yellow or Lava Orange.
Wheels and Tires
— The 20-inch wheels come directly from the GT3, including the center-lock setup. PCCB carbon-ceramic brakes with yellow calipers are standard; you cannot choose the GT3/GT3 RS standard steel brakes with red calipers. The matte Platinum Silver paint used on the standard 911 R wheels is unique to the car and meant to copy the unpainted look of the original 1967 911 R’s wheels. Alternatively, you can spend $675 to have the wheels painted Platinum Satin — the same grey color as the standard wheel on the GT3 and GT3 RS — or high-gloss black.
— Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 or Dunlop Sport Maxx Race tires are fitted to the 911 R, identical in spec and size to the tires on the 911 GT3. Some enthusiasts hoped for the less track-focused Michelin Pilot Super Sport tire, which is more road friendly. But Porsche insists you’ll have no trouble drifting and sliding the car on the stickier rubber.
— While the R’s body is from the 911 GT3, the engine is the 4.0-liter taken out of the back of the 911 GT3 RS but with an air intake system similar to that of the GT3 due to the lack of ducts in the rear fenders. Redline on the 911 R is 8,600 rpm, as opposed to the GT3 RS redline of 8,800. The titanium sport exhaust system from the RS — with sport button for extra aural pleasure — is also used, perfectly complimenting the further loss of sound deadening material on the 911 R versus the 911 GT3 RS.
— This is the big story here. It’s the first application of a manual gearbox to the 991-generation GT3/GT3 RS engine. The six-speed setup is based on the seven-speed manual used on the standard 911 Carrera, but it’s nearly 7 pounds lighter and an impressive 44-pound savings compared to the seven-speed PDK in the GT3 and GT3 RS. Porsche also touts fantastic shift feel, with short throws.
— Porsche fiddled with the gear ratios, but the 911 R still appears cursed with gearing that’s far too tall, a problem that seems to dilute a bit of the fun in all modern Porsche models equipped with a manual gearbox. Sure, the R is light by today’s standards — at 3,021 pounds — and has a rather potent 500 horsepower and 338-lb-ft of torque, but 87 mph at redline in second gear is too tall for the road. That’s 4 mph faster than the already-too-tall gear in the Cayman GT4 and a dramatic 10 mph faster than the beloved 2011 911 GT3 RS 4.0 — a car with roughly the same power output but coming in 23 pounds lighter than the 911 R. The latest 911 GT3 redlines at 77 mph in second gear, and the RS version hits 75 mph. Imagine if Porsche would have given the 911 R a top speed of, say, 180 mph — versus 200 mph — and tightened up the ratios to suit.
— The story dramatically improves when we turn to the clutch. The standard dual-mass flywheel loses the centrifugal pendulums, reducing mass and increasing engine response by roughly 5 percent. But the big story is the optional $3,650 single-mass flywheel with reinforced 9.0-inch clutch. Those of you who remember the lovely clutch rattle of past 911 GT3 RS models will feel right at home. The clutch and flywheel combo is designed to compromise vibrations and sound entering the cabin for better bite and feel as well as an 11-pound savings in rotational mass. The engine spins up faster thus fitted, especially at low rpm. It’s a must-have option for the 911 R. Unfortunately, it looks to be a delayed option. Production of the 911 R begins in May, and cars will begin arriving here in July. The single-mass flywheel option is said to push back orders to September arrival in the U.S.
— The rear-wheel steering system along with the accompanying electrical parts that come standard on the GT3 and GT3 RS weigh around 29 pounds. As a result, you’d think a car like the 911 R would ditch the high-tech setup to help the readout on a scale. Porsche tried this in the prototype stage, but it says engineers and test drivers immediately missed the agility and the high-speed stability. So, it stayed on the 911 R.
— With the loss of the PDK gearbox, Porsche PTV Plus electronic limited-slip differential also goes away as the hydraulic pump on the dual-clutch gearbox also runs the eDiff. It’s the same on all manual-transmission equipped 911 models — no eDiff. A mechanical limited-slip differential with 22 percent lockup on acceleration and 27 percent on deceleration is fitted instead. Lap times will surely suffer but, again, the 911 R isn’t about lap times. Hopefully, some of the raw feel of the less-sophisticated differential will help the 911 R hark back to the older 911 GT3 models. Plus, the simpler setup saves weight.
— U.S.-market cars don’t get the polycarbonate rear and side windows like the European 911 R. Conventional glass adds just more than 7 pounds to R models coming to our shores, but Porsche lists the weight the same as the Euro car.
— Carbon fiber is the only interior trim offered on the 911 R. It’s identical to the standard trim on the 911 GT3 RS, but the R gains a plaque on the passenger side with the specific build number of the car out of the total 991 worldwide production run.
— The 911 R gains green gauges and a uniquely finished 14.1-inch sport steering wheel as well as the carbon-fiber shell seats from the GT3 RS fitted with a combo of leather and houndstooth cloth. Black leather is standard, but you can also spec $1,940 Tarpan Brown leather, an interesting but slightly “I’m trying too hard” retro touch. You can also get a full leather package, covering the dash in dead cow skin.
— You can choose 18-way power adaptive sport seats at no-charge, but do that and you lose the fabulous cloth bits on the standard seats. If you want the touring seats, perhaps buy a 911 Turbo instead.
— Neither a stereo system nor air conditioning is installed as standard equipment on the 911 R. You can add both at no charge, adding 44 pounds. The audio system comes with navigation and Porsche’s Online Services including web radio, weather and news feeds – some might call it overkill for a car like this. You can also pay an extra $1,590 for a Bose surround sound system and $1,120 for satellite and HD radio.
The Really Bad News
–The 911 R will be nearly impossible to get. Unless you’re a Porsche VIP (you bought a 918 Spyder new and still own the car), prepare to be disappointed. Figure around 350 cars for the U.S. market. The VIPs will likely snap up around 250 cars — they get first right of refusal on all special Porsche models. That only leaves somewhere around 100 cars to be distributed to the 186 Porsche dealership in the U.S. Also, some 911 R examples will no doubt end up in brokers’ hands, trading for well above MSRP. A shame.
But Wait, There’s More — and it’s Good News
— All news is not bad for those who are desperate for a GT3-engined 911 with a manual gearbox. Porsche knows there is small but loud group of buyers who don’t want the manual transmission to go away, especially in the U.S. The facelifted and turbocharged standard 911 Carrera and Carrera S are landing at dealers starting this month. There will eventually be GT3 versions of that updated car, likely starting in early 2018, but contrary to some speculation the next-gen GT3s will not be turbocharged. Andreas Preuninger, Porsche’s GT project director, recently told the British magazine, AUTOCAR, that the standard 911 GT3 will be offered with a manual gearbox and will also keep the glorious, high-revving, normally aspirated flat-six. But he also said there won’t be another 911 R.