The GTS is the Goldilocks 911, taking the best that the range has to offer and ditching the worst
No one manages a model’s passage through life better than Porsche. You might think the various versions come along as and when they’re ready, that Porsche puts all its efforts into producing the best car it can and only then turns its attention to how it can be improved yet more. Nothing could be further from the truth: this new 911 GTS may be arriving in the UK 18 months after the second-generation 991 on which it is based first showed its face, but it’s been in the product plan from the start, its arrival carefully timed to coincide with that part of the process when interest in the launch model Carrera and Carrera S starts to wane. The GTS exists to spice it all up a bit.
And at first it’s just a little hard to see how that’s going to happen. Indeed, cosmetics aside, you could almost call the GTS a specification-optimised Carrera S. It has a 444bhp version of Porsche’s 3-litre twin-turbo flat six, a worthwhile 30bhp improvement but one you can have just as easily by ticking the power upgrade box on the Carrera S options list. It has PASM active suspension management but so can a Carrera S, and lowered sports suspension on the Coupé version that, once more, is available to any Carrera S buyer who wants it. True, all GTSs have the wider body usually reserved for four-wheel-drive 911s, making this the first wide-bodied rear-drive 911 in a while, but only if that’s what you want. You can have your GTS with four-wheel drive if you like, coupé, cabriolet or Targa suspension, manual or PDK transmission. Goodies like rear-wheel steering, carbon-ceramic brakes and active roll bar control remain on the options list as they do for all lesser 911s.
But at least it has a look of its own. It has the centre-lock wheels hitherto only available on Turbo and GT models and a new front spoiler said to increase downforce (but as Porsche is not saying by how much, it’s safe to assume it’s not a great deal). Even so it’s balanced out by a new lip on the rear wing. Otherwise from the black wheels, smoked glass and black sports exhausts on the outside to the Alcantara trim and GTS badging, it’s all accessories and no additional substance.
A disappointment then? Well, you can’t make that assumption until you’ve driven it.
Here I need to insert a caveat necessary for all people who read about modern 911s: I can’t simply tell you what a GTS is like to drive. You might as well ask what Britain is like to someone who’s only ever been to Basingstoke. Even within this new model band there are GTSs and there are GTSs and a four-wheel-drive automatic GTS Targa feels far more different to a rear-wheel-drive manual GTS coupé than said coupé feels to a bog-standard Carrera S.
So for now, join me in that manual GTS coupé, power directed to the rear wheels alone as Butzi Porsche originally intended.
It’s interesting to remind yourself just how civilised a 911 is these days. Sure, we were always happy to put up with a certain robust quality to the ride and refinement of old 911s, but it’s been a while since there’s been a need for that. Inside, the controls are state of the art, you can swipe at the infotainment screen as you might at your smart phone, zoom into the navigation map simply by squeezing your fingers closer together. You can listen to the radio on long wave, medium wave, FM, DAB or, indeed, the internet. This 911 has apps.
And it has an engine that has 20 per cent more torque at just over 2000rpm than the motor of the last generation GTS offered at almost 6000rpm. Indeed it’s so effortless you grow suspicious of the fact. Surely it can’t be meant to be this easy? Should what you get out of this car not be proportional to what you put in? Is the fact that 911s always forced us to make an effort not the very reason they were always so engaging to drive in the first place? I don’t want any car to do it all for me, let alone a 911.
But then something else. A clear road, an even clearer growl from the flat six, spat out through those blackened pipes. Thrust. Proper, eye-opening thrust. The engine may be good low down, but it is magnificent high up. It’s here where the bigger turbos do their best work and it’s not just because they offer more power. They also offer a less linear response,
a sense of power building, always building, not notably flattening off even when past its 6500rpm peak and heading past 7000rpm where normally aspirated 911s used to do their best work. It sounds better than any water-cooled turbo 911 and feels better too. And it’s fast, the 4.1sec it takes to hit 62mph being far more a function of limited traction and manual shifts. A far heavier Carrera 4 GTS with PDK and the same engine needs no more than 3.6sec to do the same.
Suddenly the car is alive and so are you as all your limbs start moving faster, stabbing a brake here, kicking a throttle there. The shift quality of a gearbox once so disappointing is now so good I’d take it over PDK every day on a decent road. But seven is still too many gears for my slow, small brain to manage. I try to think of it as six, with an unusually high first. It makes more sense that way and the engine has the torque to maintain the deceit.
And then the corners, flinging themselves at me and this 911. The purists will look askance, but I like the fact that 911s don’t understeer any more. And I like even more the fact that the upgraded engine has the torque to make the rear axle really show its mettle. You don’t get that in any other 911 – not in normally aspirated GT3s nor four-wheel-drive Turbos. Long before any passenger would notice even a slight reduction of lock, you can feel the rear tyres reach the edge of the adhesion circle and notify you that now you must balance longitudinal acceleration against lateral grip because you can no longer have more of one without less of the other.
The trick is not to think of the GTS as an up-spec S, but a Turbo with all issues removed. Its engine is sweeter than a Turbo’s, its body narrower, its kerb weight lighter by 145kg, its price reduced by more than £30,000. The figures say the GTS is slower than a Turbo, but I’d bet plenty that around an even moderately twisting racetrack it would be quicker.
In summary then, a simply specified GTS is the optimum 911 of the current generations, GT3 machines aside. It takes the best of the cars below it, omits the worst of those above it. And, as you may have noticed, as a result I was somewhat taken with it too.
Engine 3.0 litres, 6 cylinders, turbocharged
Power [email protected]
Torque 405lb [email protected]
Transmission seven-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power to weight 291bhp per tonne
Top speed 193mph