How many cars can you think of that have their engines sat over the rear wheels? Exactly.
2010 Porsche 911 GT3 RS, flat-six, petrol, six-speed manual transmission
How many cars can you think of that have their engines sat over the rear wheels? Exactly. As a direct descendant of the Volkswagen Beetle, the Porsche 911 has flown in the face of conventional wisdom for more than 46 years by having its motor at the wrong end and Porsche has spent untold millions battling the laws of physics over the decades, trying to stop the weight of that big engine causing a pendulum effect.
Having the engine in its arse, though, is what gives the 911 its unique charm. And in these days of so many bland, characterless cars, that’s a huge selling point. There’s no other driving experience quite like it and the legendary RS variants, from the now hallowed 2.7RS of 1973 on, have always offered the purest, simplest, most exciting and rewarding hit. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the latest – and, for some, the greatest: the GT3 RS.
It’s a homologation special and exists to ensure Porsche can take the GT3 racing, for the rules state that a certain amount of roadgoing examples must be built and sold for a car to qualify in motorsport. So the new GT3 RS is as close as you’ll get to a road-legal racing 911 and, as you’d rightly expect, it’s stunning in every respect.
Its engine produces a mighty 335.6Kw and powers the RS to 100km/h in four seconds flat and onto a maximum of 310km/h, which is quite astonishing for a normally aspirated unit. Apart from sheer oomph, key to the 1370kg GT3 RS’s prowess on a race track is lightness. Everything unnecessary is junked so if you want luxury look elsewhere, like a 911 Turbo. Rear seats? Sat nav? Stereo? Forget it (although you can spec these items if you really want) – you can even spec a lithium-ion battery instead of the conventional lead item because it saves 10kg. In fact you should feel guilty just sitting in it.
The 3.8-litre, flat-six engine is a direct descendant of the one that took Porsche to victory at Le Mans in the 1990s and here it revs like a superbike thanks to its strengthened, lightweight internals which include a single-mass flywheel and new inlet and exhaust systems. Inside the cockpit are two deep, carbon-backed bucket seats and what appears to be black-painted scaffolding behind them. Everything about this car makes you want to point it in the direction of the nearest race track.
The GT3 RS has masses of grip – in the dry, at least. The weight of that engine over the rear wheels, shod in Michelin Pilot Sport Cup rubber means traction is as high as it gets, and this makes for truly electrifying acceleration. Outside, the RS sits lower and has a wider body than other 911 models with extended front arch lips like those fitted to the mental GT2 RS, giving it a 26mm wider front track, race car poise and attitude by the truck load. And just check out that adjustable, carbon rear spoiler – it provides 170kg of downforce as the car approaches its top speed, which is twice that afforded by the normal GT3’s item.
The GT3 is already a truly brilliant car so what makes the RS a more tempting proposition? Certainly not its top speed, which is slightly lower than the GT3’s thanks to its lower gearing, which Porsche says makes it more suited to track use. It’s pointless looking at numbers here, though. Because Porsche’s GT department views the development of these cars like the Vatican views religious doctrine – it’s a very serious business indeed. So what the RS offers is just a few percent more of everything that makes the GT3 so great and, to be honest, it’s doubtful that Porsche can get much more from this model because, at 3.8-litres, they’re already pushing the limits as to what the flat-six is capable of offering – at least when it comes to capacity.
Sitting in the Spartan cabin, there’s none of the tactility you get in a normal modern 911. The plastics are nowhere near as nice to touch, there are no door pockets, not even door release handles – instead there are fabric pullers either side. There’s still central locking and electric windows but the rear window is plastic and there’s precious little in the way of sound-proofing.
Clutch in and turn the key. The sound is instantly gratifying but press the Sport button at the base of the centre console and the exhaust note becomes a deep, uneven rumble – quite at odds with the character of the rest of the range. It’s old fashioned, politically incorrect and absolutely wonderful.
My few days with the GT3 RS are being spent in the Snowdonia National Park in the wilds of north Wales. Snow is threatened, which gives me three to four days of relatively favourable conditions before the roads become impossible with the Porsche’s track-biased tyres. This time of year, the stunning routes here are barren which means plenty of opportunity to give the RS its steam. I’m getting giddy at the mere thought of it.
The first thing you notice is the gearchange. It’s notchy and requires a firm shove, particularly at low speeds, unlike the slickly precise experience afforded by its normal brethren. The front tyres struggle for purchase at low speeds, too, even in the dry and every single piece of road detritus ping-ping-pings against the wheel arches as you drive. For a passenger unfamiliar with the allure of an RS it can all be a bit much but these are the reasons we love these cars so much. It’s back to basics in the best possible way.
As the speed piles on, the cabin is filled with a delicious, hard edged howl from the new, titanium exhaust – you can hear absolutely everything that’s going on within that thoroughbred engine and it actively encourages you to rev it hard, all the way to the redline in every single gear. It’s between 6000 and 7000rpm that you find the RS’s sweet spot; it’s where the extra few percent over the GT3 become apparent. And when it comes to grip, there’s less understeer even than the regular GT3 thanks to its wider front track, giving the RS a wonderful feel of chuckability.
The steering is as delightful as you’ll find on any current production car and I cannot think of any other vehicle that delivers information to its driver with such instant feel. It’s almost telepathic in the way it steers and goes but perhaps the biggest surprise is that, despite its stiff suspension set-up, it remains civilised and actually more comfortable than the Turbo S I drove recently in the Scottish Highlands.
With every mile the GT3 RS demolishes, the smile on my face becomes broader. It’s laugh-out-loud fun and I feel a sense of disappointment every time I have to stop, for whatever reason. It’s the kind of car that you find any possible excuse to drive. Need something from the garden shed? You’ll want to climb in this thing, fire it up and drive those few metres – it really is that good. Downsides with this car? The optional (at no cost) lightweight headlamps are fairly useless, in warmer climes than this the air conditioning would be sorely missed and the graphics adorning the side panels are a bit boy-racer but that’s about it.
The GT3 RS is a raw, visceral supercar that won’t appeal to everyone. But if hardcore purist thrills are your poison then look no further. That you could still use one of these for the daily commute is the car’s greatest trump card – when it comes to offering all things to all men it doesn’t get better than this. When I handed back the keys to Turbo S I felt no pangs of desire to own one but the GT3 RS keys will have to be prised from my dead, lifeless hands. Two words sum up this extraordinary Porsche: want one. I can’t wait to see how they manage to top this but somehow I just know that they will.