The latest-generation Porsche 911 GT3 loses 'Mezger' engine and a manual transmission - for better or worse?
When you’re testing the mettle of genuine hardcore sports cars more at home on the track than on the road, few can go head-to-head with the revered Porsche 911 GT3.
It’s been that way since 1999, when the first example, based on the 996-series 911, rolled out of Porsche’s Stuttgart-Zuffenhausen factory and became an instant icon, on and off the track.
The GT3 has since enjoyed a hugely successful racing career, with dedicated track versions winning a slew of championship and endurance races, including six outright wins at the 24 Hours Nurburgring and seven wins in the GT class of the American Le Mans Series.
It also takes centre stage in the popular Porsche Carrera Cup series and international Porsche Supercup, usually run in conjunction with Formula One events.
Perhaps even more so than its predecessors, this latest-generation Porsche 911 GT3 road car is unlikely to be confused with any of its 911 brethren, including the range-topping Turbo S. From any angle, this is a sports car with serious race-going intent that’s hell bent on letting you know about it.
For a start, there’s that unmistakable, oversize fixed rear wing that generates increased downforce, along with a large ram-air intake for the rear-mounted engine. The signature GT3’s can-size exhaust pipes – centrally mounted - are there too, along with a new rear bumper with vertical air ducts to help with the car’s improved aerodynamics.
There's also an all-new design up front, with a deeper front bumper incorporating triple air-ducts and a new headlight design and side mirrors. The latest 20-inch wheels are now made of forged aluminium. Even at standstill, the GT3 looks properly hunkered down on its massive 305/30 series Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 rear tyres.
However, there’s still a degree of commonality between the $245,200 Porsche 911 Carrera S Coupe and the $293,600 GT3. The body shell is shared, with extensive use of aluminium for the guards, roof, doors and bonnet.
Compared to the previous model, the new GT3 is longer, wider and 35kg heavier, though the payoff is torsional rigidity - up by around 25 per cent.
Like all 911s, you’ll need a good set of knees to get low enough to climb aboard, but once in, you’ll find one of the best driving positions in the business – low slung, snug, and ready to tackle serious track-work at serious speeds.
Inside, the GT3 pretty much mirrors any other Porsche 911 – meaning it’s more comfortable than ever before, with high-quality materials and beautifully executed trim all round.
The differences are subtle; the exception being the Alcantara-trimmed steering wheel and proper racing-style buckets fashioned from carbon fibre and complete with a four-point harness. They’re part of a $7790 Club Sport pack for the GT3, which also adds an on-board fire extinguisher and roll cage.
Porsche purists will have to live with the fact that the GT3 no longer uses the highly acclaimed 'Mezger' engine, named after Hans Mezger, the acclaimed Porsche engineer responsible for the marque’s road and racing successes from 1950-1980’s and still a feature on the Porsche Cup cars.
Fire the engine up though, and any such concerns will be largely forgotten.
It’s still a naturally aspirated 3.8-litre flat-six, but this one gets direct direction, makes 350kW of power and 440Nm of torque, and redlines at an astonishing 9000rpm.
It’s actually a derivative of the powerplant in the rear end of the Carrera S, but with Mezger elements, such as titanium connecting rods, forged pistons and the carry over race-bred dry sump lubrication system.
Porsche claims it will rocket the GT3 to 100km/h in 3.5 seconds with a top speed of 315km/h.
There’s a predictable bark on start-up, which quickly settles down to a wonderfully bass-heavy, mechanical chatter at idle. You can tell this is no ordinary Porsche 911; it’s a car that is equally suited to pit lane, as it is to Pitt Street.
No need to dispense with the barrage of electronic nannies; according to Porsche Sport Driving School boss, Tomas Mezera, “it will help you rather than hinder you”, but you’ll want to tap the Sport button on the centre console for that full surround sound experience as the tempo rises, the pitch changes and the exhaust morphs into that classic flat-six Porsche howl, only way more visceral with the GT3.
At 8200rpm, when you’re flat stick down the main straight, this thing sounds like a full-blown GT racer, and that’s inside the cockpit with a helmet on. From outside, it makes hearing protection positively mandatory.
I rate the new seven-speed PDK as the best dual-clutch gearbox on the market and an essential high-speed supplement for the GT3.
It's also the GT3’s sole transmission and proves itself time and time again on track with shorter, closely spaced gearing from third to fifth.
At full tilt, the shift action is blindingly quick, but perhaps more remarkably, it’s also smooth and refined even in the Sport/manual mode. That certainly helps when you’re traveling at a frightening pace and needing to pull a couple of gears in rapid-succession before a right-hand hairpin.
Whereas the previous GT3 was lauded for its touch-sensitive hydraulic steering, the new car gets an electro-mechanical system, with a few performance-enhancing add-ons.
It works in conjunction with rear-wheel steering, which, if I were honest, you wouldn’t know is there. At low speed, the wheels turn in the opposite direction for increased agility. Press on above 80km/h, and the rear wheels turn in the same direction as the front for added stability in the curves.
Does it work? The answer is an undeniable yes in terms of how fast the GT3 is on track.
In concert with the sensational Michelin Pilot Sport 2 rubber, the grip levels and potential cornering speeds for the GT3 are off the charts; it doesn’t seem to matter how hard you push, the GT3 is telling you it wants to go harder.
The steering weighting is perfect and there’s loads of quality feedback through the steering wheel too. You know exactly where the front tyres are tracking at all times, as well as any surface irregularities. It’s brilliantly reassuring and inspires massive driver confidence at big speeds.
It’s the same story when it comes to chassis balance, and the GT3 represents a masterclass in this dark art. Turn the nose in and it all feels perfect, like you’re hard-wired to the chassis, and thinking you could easily carry more speed and still keep it on the black stuff. One more lap, please, Tomas.
While Porsche Carbon-ceramic brakes are optional, the standard steel rotors measuring 380mm all round with six-pot up front and four-pot down back are stupendous.
The GT3 is able to wipe off huge speed with ridiculous ease - and brake fade is simply non-existent in this car, even after countless track sessions.
Dual-mode electrically adjustable dampers are fitted as standard, and while the suspension seemed to deal with the occasional high curb (on track) with enough bump-absorbing ability, we’ll have to wait until we road test the GT3 for the complete picture.
The fifth-generation of the Porsche GT3 is no less intimidating than the rest of its lineage, the big rear wing, demonic engine note and 9000rpm redline, upholds its fearsome reputation as a Porsche racecar for the road.
Perhaps more remarkably though, this new version is actually noticeably less harsh, offering huge performance in a package that is as easy to drive as a Porsche Boxster.