Weissach faced a difficult brief but has come up with clever answers | by Andrew Frankel
Engine: 3.8 litres, 6 cylinders
Power: 475bhp 8250rpm
Torque: 324Ib ft @ 62500rpm
Transmission: seven-speed auto double clutch, rear-wheel drive
Top speed: 196mph
Economy: 23mpg CO 289g/km
A few weeks ago, just before I was due to drive the new ‘991’ version of the Porsche 911 GT3, I went for a long run up the road in its predecessor, the second-generation version of the 997 GT3. I’d like to say I did it in the interests of research and it’s true it did occur to me that the experience would help me benchmark the new car. But that’s not why I drove it. I drove it because I could.
GT3s are like that. At least they have been until now. I’ve said before both here and elsewhere that the old GT3 was my favourite road car and, as large swathes of countryside flowed with extraordinary rapidity beneath its centre-lock wheels, I found no grounds to modify the opinion. It was epically, momentously, spectacularly good fun to drive.
The problems facing those charged with engineering its successor looked almost insuperable, and the fact the standard was already so high was barely the start of them. The next issue was that the future GT3 would have to be based on the new 991 platform and that forced a couple of highly undesirable hard points upon the team. Firstly it would have to sit on a wheelbase fully 100mm longer than that of the 997, thereby compromising the defining characteristic of the car that has distinguished it from every rival it has faced over half a century of production. Simply put and all other things being equal, the longer the wheelbase, the less agile your car will be.
The second feature the Motorsport division was powerless to change was the fact the 991 comes with electric steering. I’ve ranted about this before, not least because the fuel savings put forward to justify robbing a car of its steering feel equates to a free tank every 40,000 miles. Big deal.
Thirdly, Porsche was no longer going to be able to use the old Hans Mezger-designed motor that, among its many and varied claims to fame, includes Porsche’s most recent Le Mans win in 1998. Instead it would adapt the new direct-injection engine used in lesser 911s, something designed primarily to reduce manufacturing costs.
And then there was the issue that Porsche could have avoided, but didn’t. Ever since the first GT3 was built in 1999, every one of them has been fitted with a six-speed manual gearbox. No longer: the new GT3 has paddles.
But as I drove the old GT3, a final problem arose, one to which I couldn’t see even the geniuses of Porsche Motorsport finding a convincing answer. Simply put, one of the reasons the old car is so good is that, in certain regards, it’s actually not very good at all. Like almost all old 911s, it not only likes to hop and skip its way down a decent road, it also has a fundamental handling imbalance that means it’s inclined to exhibit generous slip angles at both ends. Part of the joy of driving it is utilising those tools Porsche puts at your disposal – flawless steering and telepathic throttle sensitivity – for dealing with these quirks. You feel that whatever skill you may possess is contributing to your safe, fast and sublimely entertaining progress from one point to the next. I thought it inherently unlikely Porsche would seek to retro-engineer these faults into the new car.
And they haven’t. The new GT3 marks the biggest departure for the sub-brand since its conception nearly 15 years ago.
The numbers are impressive, stupendously so you might say. The new engine still displaces 3.8 litres but, compared with the old GT3, its power has risen 40bhp to 475bhp, more than enough to offset its modest 35kg weight gain. It develops that power at 8250rpm, but is happy to rev to 9000rpm. It’s enough for the GT3 to hit 62mph in 3.5sec or, put another way, just 0.1sec more than a new 911 Turbo (despite lacking the Turbo’s all-wheel-drive traction).
As you approach it certainly looks the part. Drop down into the seat and you’ll be comforted by the fact it is still resolutely a two-seater, the alcantara-rimmed steering wheel and the very familiar cabin. The engine might be cheaper to produce but it sounds no less promising when you fire it up.
It still feels wrong to pull back a gear shifter than push forward a stick, but at least when you knock the suede lever across into its sequential plane, it requires you to push forward to change down. All other two-pedal Porsches do the reverse and, to the man or woman who got that particular modification signed off, you have my respect and admiration.
As does the car. It expands the ability envelope to a level never seen before at this price point, and in this regard it is a triumph. And you can forget the figures, for in the real world this car is far faster even than they suggest. Its performance is so accessible it makes an old GT3 look inept and, yes, slow. The nose doesn’t bob, the front end has the bite of a sabre-toothed tiger and in the quick stuff there is a level of stability beyond that of any road-going 911 of my experience. It has a four-wheel steering system that, by turning the rear wheels in the opposite direction to the fronts at low speed and the same direction at high speeds, effectively shortens or lengthens the wheelbase according to need.
Indeed the GT3 provides such confidence it will lap a difficult circuit in a faster time than a theoretically quicker car that doesn’t provide such reassurance. The brakes are perfect, the steering as linear and accurate as you could wish. And if you were ever to be converted to the ways of the double-clutch transmission, this would be the car to do it for you. The new GT3 is a magnificent achievement of which all those at Porsche Motorsport who made it should rightly be proud.
And you know what’s coming next: the qualifier that explains why, in the case of GT3s, more is somehow less. And why, despite all this car’s outlandish talents, I still prefer the old one. Except I don’t feel that way. Not exactly, at least. There is a lot about the new car I like less than the old – the lack of a third pedal and its synthesised steering feel in particular. But there are also things I prefer. It’s better looking, more civilised when you’re not in a hurry, far less likely to mug you when you get it wrong and it possesses an even better engine, which I’d never have expected.
I’d probably still choose the older car for its transmission and the charm of its sometimes cussed ways. But one of the first rules of journalism is to write not for yourself but your reader: and it is my hunch that for most people most of the time – even GT3-minded people – this car is actually an even finer exponent of the GT3 art than the last.