Don’t be fooled by the old-fashioned ignition key: one quick twist takes you into the realm of the finest supercars
We have all read road tests of Porsche 911 GT3s: as a sub-brand they’ve been around for 18 years now, and it’s a fairly safe bet that each new generation will arrive clutching a fresh armful of rave reviews, each more breathless than the last, as standard. Some, I must confess, have been written by me.
So let’s try and do the other thing here. Let’s look at this newest of GT3s with a more dispassionate eye and see if by parking one’s natural enthusiasm, something else is revealed: less heat, more light.
And it would seem we have been here before. This second generation of ‘991’ series GT3s appears much like the first, only more so in every direction. It was the same with the 997 series before that and the 996 that started the whole ball rolling, so no surprises there.
The engine has grown in size from 3.8 to 4.0 litres, which would be more noteworthy had the yet more sporting GT3 RS version of the previous-generation car not already done the same. Like the old RS, the new GT3 also has 493bhp, up from 475bhp. There are of course suspension changes because Porsche’s Motorsport department is quaintly unable to release any new product for sale without a thorough re-evaluation of how the power from its engine is going to find its way onto the road. These come in the form of new springs and dampers that sit alongside standard four-wheel steering. For much the same reasons it’s also rethought the aerodynamics package and, as always seems to be the case, found a respectable amount of additional downforce for no accompanying penalty in drag.
And cosmetic tinkering aside, that’s pretty much it, unless you count the reintroduction as a no-cost option of the six-speed manual gearbox that was omitted from the last GT3. But the fanfare over that was sounded when Porsche released the limited-edition manual-only 911R last year, so even this news sounds slightly second-hand.
So you climb in and settle down deep into an optionally carbon racing seat. The cabin is looking old now despite the all-new infotainment system, but the driving position, view out and essential ergonomics are as sound as they are in any other 911.
Here’s a novelty for a smart new car: to start the GT3 you put the ignition key in a hole in the dashboard so you’ll never ever lose it or drop it down the side of your seat. Then twist. Porsche says it’s a mistake to think that just because this is 4-litre 493bhp flat six, it’s the same 4-litre 493bhp flat six found already in the 911R and GT3 RS. This one has a stronger crankshaft, low friction lines and no need for hydraulic valve adjusters. Look, it says, it’ll rev to 9000rpm though that’s no more than the old GT3 and only 200rpm further round the dial than the 911R.
But it sounds different, at least to my not uneducated ear. A little deeper perhaps, and sharper for sure. Select first, joyously with a lever rather than a paddle. Porsche’s standard seven-speed manual is superb these days, but this old six-speeder is even more precise and, of course, rather lighter.
The GT3 drives differently too. Its ride quality is still good, phenomenal you might say for a car with track work as a sizeable part of its brief, but that uncanny ability to breathe with the surface of the road has been replaced by a hunkered, rock-steady stance. Which I prefer depends on what I’m doing.
And the car is noisier for sure: there seems to be more road racket and the engine is definitely louder, louder than I would like at a steady motorway cruise. For a car that has historically made so much of its everyday credentials, this is a surprise.
So now I’m more than halfway through my word count for this story and feeling quietly pleased with myself for not once lapsing into hyperbolic overdrive. Not yet at least. But now I have to tell you what this new GT3 is like to drive the way its charmingly nutty creators intended. And that makes the job a whole lot harder.
The experience is dominated by the engine, and in the realm of the standard GT3 that’s a new development. It steals the show on the road in the same way as the downforce-laden chassis of the GT3 RS steals the show on the track. And Porsche is right: this engine is different, stronger in the mid-range and with a final phase between 7000-9000rpm when it’s hard to understand how its shattering scream can be legal. It may lack the outright power of a turbocharged Ferrari or McLaren engine, but for sheer exhilaration they cannot come near, even at close to or more than twice the price. In all calmness I must tell you I know of no other engine in production that’s as sharp and exciting at the top end as this. And there is a reason for this: ancillaries aside, this engine is now identical to that used in the Carrera Cup race car.
But the chassis is more capable still. The fact is that if you’re careful and do so sparingly, there are places where you can feel the full thrust of the engine without having to hire a racetrack. But you’ll never experience all its chassis can do on the public road not, at least, if you’re a sane and responsible adult: there’s just too much grip.
Yet even at the sensible limit of the public road and nowhere near that of the car itself, the GT3 offers a driving experience of rare quality and purity. Forget what you might read elsewhere: 911s with electric power assistance still don’t steer as lucidly as their hydraulically assisted forebears, but of all things with a claim to supercardom, today only McLarens feel more naturally connected to the road.
The result is a car offering point-to-point driving pleasure of a calibre unapproached by any car costing remotely similar money. It is a more tightly focused car than the last GT3, powered by arguably the finest engine on sale, but it would be remiss of me not to point out that a price has been paid in refinement over a long distance and I’d advise existing GT3 owners who use their cars as daily drivers to make sure they’re happy with this new, less compromising approach before automatically signing up.
For myself and after almost 1200 words of measured judgement, I’d just like to say I’ve rarely wanted to steal a car more than this GT3. On the right road it has genuinely addictive qualities, insofar as when you reach the end, you may find yourself almost literally unable to resist turning around and doing it all over again. Ultimately and from a Porsche such as this, you really can’t hope for any more.