Unbearable. Four syllables, and all it takes to describe how it feels to drive the 2015 Porsche 911 GT3… well, at least at legal speeds on public byways choked with mundane machinery. Yet seek a deserted stretch of favorite canyon road, or find a green flag at the club circuit, and my descriptive of the new rear-engine coupe quickly changes to just a single syllable: Bliss.
2015 Porsche 911 GT3 Test Drive
Porsche offers more than two dozen variants of its celebrated 911 model, but the GT3 — encapsulating five decades of Porsche expertise in building cars that perform extraordinarily well on the street and on the track — stands detached. It is relentless and uncompromised. Finding such a fierce and edgy model in a showroom selling vehicles for public consumption is equivalent to discovering that cheetahs are sold alongside lap-cats in your neighborhood pet store.
Purists were understandably concerned during the new GT3’s gestation. First, the 991-based platform was larger and more polished than its predecessor, suggesting that the new arrival would be civil where its predecessor was positively anti-social. Second was an announcement that sent shock waves through the enthusiast community: Every single new GT3 would leave the factory with a 7-speed PDK dual-clutch automatic gearbox — not a single manual transmission to be had. The GT3, long regarded as one of the most engaging sports cars, threatened to be losing qualities that had made it a magical automobile.
Judgment day arrived when a brilliant Racing Yellow GT3 — more vibrant than the sun at high noon — was dropped in my driveway shod with four brand-new Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires and a full tank of fuel. (Next time you see a falling star, make a wish; some do actually come true.)
Unlike many of Porsche’s press cars, which arrive overburdened with options so as to demonstrate the model’s full range of features, the winged coupe came configured properly for an enthusiast, sporting just two excellent options: carbon-ceramic brakes (PCCB) and LED headlights (PDLS). The window sticker’s as-tested $145,785 seems a reasonable bump over a GT3’s $130,400 base price.
At first glance the GT3 appears to be a standard 911 Carrera S with an aggressive aero kit. But a bit more investigation reveals the GT3 to be 1.7 inches wider than its sibling, the unique front and rear fascias designed to improve air supply to the radiator, cool the brakes and improve downforce. (A front axle lift system is available, and recommended, but it was not fitted to my press car.) The distinctive fixed rear wing, mounted on a decklid modeled of composite carbon fiber, offers adjustable pitch settings for track use.
The primary construction material in the unibody GT3 is steel; lightweight aluminum is used for the roof, doors and wing. According to Porsche the entire shell is 13-percent lighter than the previous model, and chassis torsional rigidity is up by 25 percent. At each corner are artfully forged 20-inch central locking aluminum alloys wrapped in gummy Porsche-spec Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires. The staggered fitment — 245/35ZR20 up front and 305/35ZR20 in the rear — fills each well with watchmaker precision.
Assemble the components into a single puzzle, and the new GT3 emerges as one of Porsche styling’s best work.
Inside the Cabin
Subtle differences within the cabin differentiate the GT3 from its less aggressive siblings. Most noticeable is the absence of the tiny rear seats; this helps save weight and eases the installation of an available bolt-in roll cage (bonus: the carpeted space behind the two front passengers adds several cubic feet of cargo capacity). Other distinctive elements include minimalist, but very comfortable and supportive, sport bucket seats, yards of soft synthetic Alcantara upholstery, and a gray-faced tachometer with a startlingly high redline.
Twist the key in the switch mounted as is traditional to the left of the steering wheel, and the naturally aspirated flat-6 barks to life with a throaty roar, sending deliberately strong vibrations throughout the cabin (standard GT3 kit includes electronic magnetorheological engine mounts, which range from soft to firm based on driving behavior). The ruckus is unusually deep for a six cylinder, and the bass tones are accompanied by a bright metallic reverberation that hints at precision, race-bred componentry buried only a few inches ahead of the twin center-mounted exhaust tips.
3.8 Liter Jewel
Hung aft of the GT3’s rear axle, and all but invisible without using a hoist, is a all-new 3.8-liter reciprocating jewel, a Porsche Motorsports-developed direct-injected flat-6 based on the standard Carrera’s block (it is not built from the famed Mezger flat-6). VarioCam variable valve control optimizes combustion, and a race-bred dry sump lubrication system maintains a steady flow of oil — essential for a car expected to see track time. Special care was taken to minimize weight: hollow valves, forged aluminum pistons and titanium connecting rods help lower mass and support the stratospheric 9000-rpm redline. This magnificent engine develops 475 horsepower and 324 lb-ft of torque, an output of 125 hp/liter — which means, if you’re not familiar with the ratio, such power from a naturally aspirated engine this size is astonishing.
Pulling the Alcantara-wrapped aluminum PDK lever into drive readies the gearbox, but there are two other small actions the driver can initiate before departure. First, a press of the console-mounted “Exhaust” button opens silencer flaps for a more ferocious roar. Then, a press of the PDK “Sport” button seems to inject 1,000 mg of caffeine into the GT3’s bloodstream.
The high-revving engine has ample torque to move the coupe quickly off the line, but it doesn’t boast the brutality of large displacement or forced induction. It’s not a stomp-your-right-foot burn-out champion, like the supercharged Corvette Z06 or the turbocharged McLaren 650S, but instead prefers to whirl in a turbine-smooth rush that picks up the tempo as quickly as the spinning tachometer. The flat-6 really pulls hard once it hits 4500 rpm and the intake manifold switches to shorter runners, speeding airflow into the combustion chambers. Porsche quotes a 0-60 sprint of 3.3 seconds with the help of launch control (easy: hold the brake, floor the accelerator, let go, hang on) and a top speed of 195 mph. I bet it does better.
Around town, obeying the rules, the GT3 behaves like an anxious three-year-old at the mall holding hands with Mom — it would rather be doing anything else. It is a chore to keep the tachometer on the left side of the dial, difficult to keep speed aligned with other traffic, and nearly impossible to keep my mind from daydreaming about wide-open throttle down the Mulsanne Straight. The ride is firm, road noise is abundant, and creature comforts are minimal (the interior mirror doesn’t even automatically dim). The Porsche literally seethes with evidence that it has another calling.
Determined to find that mission, I cancel a mid-week lunch appointment and head for the infamous Mulholland Highway, overlooking Malibu.
Underpinning the new GT3 is a sophisticated independent suspension with impressive — and standard issue — aids to tenacious road holding: Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) variable damping; rear-wheel steering, whereby two electro-mechanical actuators turn the rear wheels up to 1.5 degrees either in the opposite (low-speed) or same (high-speed) direction as the front wheels to “virtually” shorten or lengthen the wheelbase and enhance handling; and Porsche Torque Vectoring Plus (PTV Plus), which offers an electronically controlled fully variable locking rear differential with selective braking at the rear wheels for improved traction and turn-in.
Witness the Fury
With windows down and air conditioning off to better witness the machine’s fury, I initiate my test with a deep dive into the first corner. The PDK gearbox senses the hurried pace and increased g-forces and immediately drops two gears as I tap the brakes. The tachometer climbs to 6000 rpm as I hit the apex and press my right foot to the floor. The rear end wiggles ever so slightly, easily corrected with a few degrees of countersteer, and the GT3 rockets out of the corner.Corner after corner, the engine never leaves its comfort zone, screaming giddily between 5000 and 9000 rpm without skipping a beat.
The engine sprints to 9000 rpm, emitting a throaty wail that’s sure to disturb any dozing coyotes in the area, the PDK cracks off a rapid upshift, and my head remains pinned against the embroidered “GT3” on the seatback – the shift feels transparent to the acceleration curve – as the engine starts its climb back up from 5000 rpm.
Screaming at 9000 RPM
Corner after corner, the engine never leaves its comfort zone, screaming giddily between 5000 and 9000 rpm without skipping a beat. I am awed by the immediacy of the power delivery, not a hint of delay between throttle and deafening clamor echoing off canyon walls.
My derrière is acutely aware that the engine resides way back there, but there is no off-throttle snap oversteer or absence of balance through the turns. Instead the GT3 sets itself up brilliantly, without any hint of body roll, and the suspension keeps the tires glued to the dusty asphalt (some of the roads above Malibu aren’t very smooth, so I ran with dampers dialed to soft). I scraped the underside of the rubber chin beneath the nose a few times on the tight sections of one canyon road (no visible damage), but the suspension — always under the watch of PASM — never bottomed out.
Porsche seems to have mastered electric-assist steering in the new GT3. Recalibrated from standard Carrera calibration, it is perfectly weighed, and it’s loaded with feedback, and the aggressive ratios means hands never have to leave the wheel, even in the tightest of corners. The brakes deserve a mention, if only to make the oft-repeated compliment that they’re completely free of fade and drama. The GT3’s ABS has been tuned with a very high threshold to allow more driver-initiated modulation, but even those with untalented right feet will discover the brakes may be used at 100 percent of their capacity, corner after corner, without any sign of distress.
Close your eyes and visualize a vehicle dancing confidently on its rear wheels, and you’ll have a good sense of how the GT3 feels going through twisty sections at speed. The front end feels light, but understeer is nonexistent even though most of the Porsche’s weight seems concentrated over those two massive and very sticky rear contact patches. A slight turn of the wheel initiates an immediate reaction, and the back end follows — obediently. Mash the accelerator, and the rearward weight bias helps put the power down instantly and without wheelspin. Slam the brakes and the weight over those rear tires buries them into the pavement. The advantages of a rear-engine sports car are many, especially at the hands of a skilled driver.
Quite frankly, I did not expect to enjoy the new GT3 as much as I did. I’ve sampled many cars with more horsepower, quicker 0-60 times, faster top speeds, higher cornering speeds and much louder exhaust systems, and while those qualities tickle my emotions and raise my brows, they don’t capture my automotive enthusiast’s soul. Ultimately, only one aspect of a car does that — trust.
Regardless of how hard I drove it, the GT3 never made me feel uneasy, nervous, concerned that it was incapable of following and completing my orders — or that I was incapable of driving it as it should be driven. It is a perfectly balanced machine, not in terms of mass but in capability. Its engine is perfectly matched to its curb weight, which is perfectly matched to its brakes, which are perfectly matched to its suspension, which is perfectly matched to its chassis. It is rare to find such a polished and well-rounded driving instrument.
Most late-model supercars are defined by their massively powerful engines, which unfortunately at times leaves the rest of the vehicle playing a supporting role. In contrast, the Porsche GT3 is the sum of equally capable components methodically selected to work together as a single precision team. This harmony of balance, and seamless integration of technology, means the GT3 may be pushed through its operating envelope with minimal anxiety and no worry about one component of the vehicle reaching its limit before the others. It’s trite but true: The GT3 has no Achilles’ heel.
Porsche’s decision to drop the GT3’s manual gearbox was not a malicious attack on the joy of driving but a step towards increasing speed, reducing lap times and refining driver skill. Hands-on experience demonstrates that rowing your own gears is suitable for everything below 8/10ths, but when pushing against a clock, most automated gearboxes are smarter, faster and more accurate than any human. Fitting the 991-based GT3 with a PDK wasn’t a sales and marketing ploy; it was a deliberate decision by the engineers in Weissach to decrease lap times.
Improper for Daily Driving
The GT3 is very, very good, easily one of my all-time favorites — but it is not without blemishes as a street car. Throwing the Porsche around an open corner and commanding shifts just shy of 9000 rpm is intoxicating, but traversing the traffic and congestion between those moments is uncomfortable, noisy and frustrating. A capable track car, even though tuned for the street (the GT3’s true definition), is as improper for daily driving as football cleats are for grocery shopping. If you don’t own a season pass to the local track, check out the superb 911 Carrera GTS, a few solid ticks down on the intensity scale.
Is there anything else like it? Maybe. I put the Chevrolet Camaro Z/28, Dodge SRT Viper TA and Ferrari 458 Speciale in the same category as this focused Porsche. Each is a single-mission automobile, brilliant in its proper competitive environment even if there are far better choices for the daily commute.
The GT3 is not a car for everyone, but it is the perfect machine for a few. The ideal owner is someone who understands Porsche’s winning racing heritage and will park the coupe in the coveted third bay in the garage. On the weekends they will run the snot out of it, frequenting twisty canyons, club events and challenging racing circuits. Taking it all in stride, and likely wailing just shy of its 9000 rpm redline, the GT3 will over-deliver and absorb their soul.