2018 Porsche 911 GT3 first drive: Impractically perfect
You might think hanging a 420-pound, 500-hp 4.0-liter hunk of flat-six over the back wheels of the 2018 Porsche 911 GT3 would make it hard to handle at speed (or otherwise). You might also think adding rear-wheel steering would accentuate that skittishness. You, and probably some physicists, would be wrong on both accounts. Sure, on cold tires, in the morning around a roundabout, the race-bred GT3 can, and will, slide its tail sideways without warning. It IS still for the hardcore. But exiting a sweeper at 80 mph with foot to floor? It’s planted like an old oak tree, even over the shiny, red-and-white curbing at Circuit Guadix in southern Spain. Like we said, it IS for the hardcore.
The GT3 is the track car from the track car brand. It’s been 18 years since the first 911 GT3 premiered and since then it’s gone from hiding a 355-hp 3.6-liter flat-six to today’s 500-hp, 911 GT3 Cup-derived 4.0. It’s the only naturally aspirated 911 you can buy right now.
Peak power is at a screaming 8,250 rpm while all 339 lb-ft of twist are available at 6,000 rpm. The seven-speed PDK-equipped GT3 is faster than the stick, with a sprint time of 3.2 seconds using launch control; the six-speed manual takes 3.8 seconds. The GT3 doesn’t get a seventh manual gear like the Carrera; Porsche tells us that’s because the GT3 doesn’t need a cruising gear. It’s not for cruising. The PDK car takes 11 seconds flat to get to 124 mph, which we can basically verify after hammering down arrow-straight, desolate back roads near Granada. Terminal velocities (197 mph, PDK; 198 mph, 6MT) are achieved in top gear for both.
The GT3 gets redesigned front and rear bumpers made of lightweight polyurethane and carbon fiber. New front air blades force air to the brakes and the fixed rear wing is about an inch higher, which puts it right on the horizon line when on a flat road, unfortunately. The total package makes 20 percent more downforce than the outgoing model while keeping the same coefficient of drag. It’s about two inches wider and one inch lower than the 911 Carrera. A straked rear diffuser hides just under the back end, cleaning airflow underneath.
Porsche’s Active Stability Management system is standard and controls the damping on the MacPherson strut front and multilink rear suspension. Auxiliary springs help keep tension on the main springs in back, helping the car stay composed “after rapid and complete deflection,” like when flying over the crest of a hill. The rear steering system works like similar systems from other manufacturers: It uses actuators to angle the wheels up to 1.5 degrees depending on speed. Below 31 mph the rears turn opposite the fronts; above 50 mph they turn the same way for quick lane change maneuvers, on the track or off.
On startup, the GT3 revs up and sends a few pops out the back before settling into a crunchy, metallic flat-six idle. Porsche did a good job with the Carrera‘s exhaust, hiding most of the boost noises, and the Macan V6 with its flat-six impression, but nothing is quite like the true wail of a naturally-aspirated Boxer engine. The GT3’s version makes for smooth and strong acceleration early and exhaust-wailing frenetic dashes near its 9,000-rpm redline. Torque stays even when paddling through the gears, and there’s plenty of power to pass on the highway even in the PDK’s 7th gear. Once you’re at speed, you can quiet the exhaust with a console-mounted button — at 80 or so it drones enough that you’ll need to yell at your passenger to have a conversation.
Early morning drifts and redline runs notwithstanding, the GT3 is surprisingly normcore on the street. The softer mode of the adjustable suspension is tight and controlled, but never seems harsh. The tighter setting, which some of the Porsche drivers confessed to not even using, ratchets up the stiffness about 25 percent, but even it only crashed hard over the worst parts of the mostly perfect Spanish roads. There’s barely any nose lift, brake dive or sway in either setting, and the available front-axle lift ($2,590) can help you clear any steep driveways or speed bumps.
Circuit Guadix has a half-mile front straight, which really puts the pressure on the 16.1-inch front, 15.4-inch rear optional ($9,210) carbon ceramic brakes. They seemed to relish the burden, bringing the coupe from 130ish to 50ish before the right-left-right-left opening salvo of turns. Where old 911s got scary and sketchy, the GT3 never misses a beat. There were a few moments of lift-off, ahem, correction at corner entrances, but half the time it just sort of pointed the car where it needed to go. There’s no real sense of the weight in the back during the sweepers, and the car never danced around no matter how hard I hit the clampers.
As for getting the car pointed right, even with electric power steering the GT3 is sublime to pilot on the endless Sierra Nevada (version 1.0) mountain roads. It’s weighted corrections are instant with the rear steering, which comes in handy when getting a little too enthusiastic on a two laner as another car rounds the oncoming bend. It doesn’t so much swerve as crabwalk to the side.
At the track, hitting the 19 or so apexes was really just a matter of looking through the turn and letting your hands follow. The steering wheel tightens up considerably around the sweepers at 5-6 and 13, where Porsche put a cone gate to keep us on the racing line. Midcorner corrections work the same as on the street. Pointing a little wide of the proper line? Give a quick 15 more degrees of input and get back on there. I left the traction control on as instructed and only felt the slight pullback of the system two times all day, both on corner exits. These systems — both the traction control and the PDK shift strategy — are so sophisticated that only the most professional, or insane, drivers could do better without them.
The Porsche Doppelkupplung transmission, the company’s version of the dual-clutch gearbox, makes for instantaneous changes on the street and track. PDK Sport mode doesn’t quicken the shifts (there’s no need), but instead changes when they take place. On my last track run of the day I didn’t touch the paddles at all. The GT3 kept the revs high, downshifting two and three times when necessary, and held gears until at least peak power, usually further. Additionally, it has a feature called paddle neutral that puts the car in neutral when both paddles are held. This can be used on the track momentarily to send some cornering force forward, like when understeering in the wet, and it also works from a standstill letting the driver “determine the preferred acceleration characteristics.” Translation: Do a burnout.
The new 911 GT3 Cup race car joined the Porsche Panamera E-Hybrid at the Paris auto show on Thursday. Its four-liter flat-six now makes 485 hp, and the whole package tips the scales at just 2,645 …
After using both manual and PDK cars, and even with my penchant for lap times, I’d still pick the zero-dollar 6MT option. It. Just. Feels. Right. It comes with a mechanical rear diff as opposed to electronic and it saves 37 pounds. Stickshift throws are of medium weight and medium distance but the gates are easy with just a teensy hangup at the neutral point. Sport mode adds automatic rev matching in the manual cars. The third pedal has a good bit of spring to it and the catch point is near the middle. My only complaint here is that the shifter itself doesn’t have that satisfying metallic tink-tink sound. It sounds plasticky.
The GT3 has three seat options but I only tested the full buckets ($5,200), which have carbon-shelled backs and no angle adjustment. It does, of course, move fore and aft, and Porsche added a height adjustment for shorter drivers. It forces you into the correct driving/racing position and I was grateful for it. I spent three or so hours on the road with no fatigue or pressure points.
Alcantara is strung about the cabin liberally and the five central gauges keep all the important info in the driver’s field of view. The small duplicate nav screen is especially useful when your passenger is fiddling with the radio. There are no back seats, just small shelves, though I did see a photographer hunched back there for a few minutes. The front trunk will fit two full backpacks, or maybe a small carry on. The hardcore have no need for luggage.
If practicality isn’t a concern, the naturally aspirated GT3 is the 911 to buy. The rear seats in the Carrera are laughable anyway and once you start piling options on the $105K 911 S model, you quickly close in on the GT3’s base price of $144,650. Granted, you can do the same with the GT3 — the brakes, seats and front-axle lift will set you back $15,000 — but you wouldn’t have to. It undercuts some rivals like the Audi R8 and Acura NSX by $18,000 and $12,000 respectively, but the Mercedes-AMG GT S is $10,000 cheaper. That said, the GT3 is the only one that offers rear-wheel drive AND a manual transmission. And if you’re hardcore with your track days…you have to pick it.
On Sale: Order now
Base Price: $144,650
Drivetrain: 4.0-liter H6, RWD, 6-speed manual or 7-speed PDK
Output: 500 hp at 8,250 rpm; 339 lb-ft at 6,000 rpm
Curb Weight: 3,116 lb (6MT); 3,153 lb (PDK)
0-60 MPH: 3.8 sec (6MT); 3.2 sec (PDK)
Pros: Sublime on the track; doesn’t feel sketchy at the limit
Cons: Rear wing impedes rearview visibility