Driven at last, the Porsche 991 GT3

Welcome to the long-awaited and much hyped 2013 911 GT3. It’s fair to say that we’ve all been itching for the GT3 version of the ‘991’-generation 911 ever since we first saw the Carrera in 2011. In large part, this is down to the anticipation of a new version of the iconic performance Porsche. But it’s fair to say that we were also keen to know whether the 911 GT3 could offer a more intimate driving experience than the sometimes aloof-feeling standard car.

Engine:                           3799cc flat six, direct injection
Max power:                    468bhp @ 8250rpm
Max torque:                   324 lb ft @ 6250rpm
0-60 mph                      3.5 sec (claimed 0-62mph)
Top Speed:                    195mph
Price:                               £100,540.00
On Sale:                         October 2013

There are no shortages of technical highlights.  First off, the engine, which is a new direct injection 3.8-litre flat six that produces 468bhp at 8250rpm, and revs out at a dizzying 9000rpm. In an era when every rival manufacturer seems to be rushing to forced induction, it’s a remarkable confirmation of Porsche’s continued commitment to both natural aspiration, and producing power through revs.

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More controversial is the decision to only offer the GT3 with a clutchless gearchange, with Porsche’s seven-speed PDK gearbox coming as standard as the only transmission choice. That makes it the first two-pedal GT or RS Porsche road car. The overall gearbox ratios have been reduced compared to those in the standard 911, meaning that the GT3 reaches its top speed in seventh gear rather than sixth. The gearbox also features a strange ‘paddle neutral’ function – which we’ll probably end up just calling Hooligan Mode. When both gear-shift paddles are pulled together the gearbox will disengage both of its clutches, letting go effectively ‘dumping’ whichever clutch controls the appropriate gear. It serves as a basic form of launch control, but can also be used on the move, enabling the GT3 to be ‘popped’ into power oversteer at low speeds.

And of course the new GT3 uses the same electrically assisted steering as the basic 911, a system that we haven’t gelled with so far. The GT3 gets unique software and a stiffened-up front end, while at the back it gains an all-new electro-mechanical rear-steer system. At low speeds this turns the rear wheels in the opposite direction to those at the front to improve response; above 50mph the rears turn in the same direction as the fronts to increase stability.

Steel brakes are standard, but buyers can opt for Porsche’s Ceramic Composite Brakes – a £6248 option, which also reduces unsprung mass by about 5kg a corner.

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How does it drive?

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We won’t try and spin out the suspense: the new GT3 is brilliant. Good enough to answer pretty much every substantive criticism of the standard 991 when we first drove it, and a car that looks set to raise the bar by several notches.

Porsche’s decision to stick with natural aspiration has been entirely justified by the new engine, which is more than good enough to stand comparison with the old Metzger unit of the 996 and 997 GT and Turbo models. It lives to rev, starting to pull really hard at around 5000rpm and then giving its all from 7000rpm – the point by which most of its rivals have given up. From there to the 9000rpm redline the engine feels as quick as anything, with a howling soundtrack that seems to have come straight from the track. And the ratios of the PDK gearbox are carefully selected to keep the flat six in this zone when you’re in full attack mode.

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The PDK itself works extremely well. It features a ‘Sport’ mode to sharpen gearchanges, and which will still work when the gearbox is left in ‘drive’ – revving the engine out to its redline and changing down aggressively to keep it in the zone. Alternatively you can take control yourself via the two paddles behind the steering wheel, which are smaller and nicer-feeling than those of the standard 911. The gear selector can also be switched to a manual channel, but one where you have to pull back to change up and push forward to change down – the opposite of the standard 911, but what a ‘proper’ race car does.

The steering is vastly better than in the standard 911. There’s more weight, but also proper communication – it feels like most of the ‘noise’ that Porsche so assiduously filtered out of the Carrera’s helm has been allowed to return, and the car is far better for it. The GT3’s steering wheel tells you both when the front tyres are at their limit of adhesion, but also passes back messages about the surface you’re passing over.

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The rear-steer system is almost invisible. Knowing it’s there you will feel a very slight sense that the car is turning around a pivot point further back than usual at low speeds, but when you add velocity it vanishes. The GT3 is fitted with Dunlop Sport Maxx tyres as standard, which generate colossal grip. The car’s overall handling balance remains neutral right up to the limit, with levels of grip at both ends beautifully balanced. With the stability and traction control off the car will oversteer, but you don’t need to drive it sideways to feel that you’re getting the best from this remarkable chassis.

Two-mode PASM active dampers are fitted as standard, and in their softer setting the GT3 rides impressively well, even on rougher road surfaces.

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The inevitable comparison will be with the ultimate version of the previous 911 GT3 – the 997.2 RS 4.0. And on first impressions the new car is every bit as good as its seminal predecessor. It won’t be as quick in a straight line, but over a lap of the Nordschleiffe Porsche claims the new GT3 is five seconds quicker, thanks in large part to its rear-steer system. And with the tiny number of 4.0s out there still swapping hands for substantially more than the new car’s £100K pricetag you could say it looks like a relative bargain.

But the GT3’s other achievement has been to effectively reset the performance car sector. It doesn’t matter how much you’ve got to spend – you will struggle very hard to find any car that offers a more rewarding driving experience than this one.