The Porsche 911 Carrera GTS is the pinnacle of Porsche’s naturally aspirated rear-wheel-drive Carrera range.
Sure, you could get a heavier all-wheel drive Carrera 4 GTS, or even the wind-through-your-hair Carrera Cabriolet, but none will match the Carrera GTS’s power-to-weight ratio.
The extra bonus is that this test car is fitted with a seven-speed manual gearbox. To test it out, I had to hit the road and find a twisty stretch of black top. This meant passing through the town I grew up in and collecting my friend along the way.
I grew up in a town where it was socially acceptable to drive a car that was higher at the front than it was at the back. It was socially acceptable to have a concert-rivalling car sound system and it also wasn’t frowned upon to gather en masse and blare them.
As a result of this, my friend considers his 2015 HSV GTS to be the king of the road. My goal for the day was to change his mind with the Carrera GTS, a car naturally more fitted to the task.
While the Porsche 911 range starts from $208,600 plus on-road costs, the 911 Carrera GTS demands a $268,700 price tag in this seven-speed manual form. Throw in an extra $7390 if you want the self-shifting dual-clutch PDK version.
That extra $60,100 up from the entry-level 911 buys you a considerable chunk of research and development, along with a bigger engine. Under the (rear) bonnet is a 3.8-litre six-cylinder horizontally opposed naturally aspirated engine.
Producing 316kW of power and 440Nm of torque, the fairly efficient engine consumes 9.5L/100km on the combined cycle with the seven-speed manual gearbox and 8.7L/100km with the seven-speed automatic gearbox.
From the outside, the 911 design is unmistakable. The Carrera GTS takes this even further with stunning black highlights and 20-inch alloy wheels from the 911 Turbo S — these wheels even come with a very cool central locking device.
The Carrera GTS hunkers down even further thanks to an extra-wide 44mm rear track in comparison to the Carrera S. This extra width works with the 305mm wide rear (and 245mm wide front) tyres to hold this car flat and steady through corners.
Subtle ‘GTS’ badges are placed on the rear and side flanks, reminding everybody that this is more than just a Carrera S. The black-on-white colour combination looks brilliant in this specification and is only further topped by red embossed Porsche brake callipers on metallic cross-drilled rotors. You can even option carbon-ceramic brakes, but you’ll need to fork out an additional $19,990 for that option.
You also have the ability to be a true Porsche driver by manually raising the rear wing. It automatically deploys at 120km/h and retracts at 120km/h. The wing acts both as an aerodynamic aid and a cooling aid depending on ambient and engine temperatures.
Interestingly, when operating in its normal driving mode, the engine runs at a temperature of around 105 degrees celsius. When Sport or Sport Plus is engaged, the car works to cool engine operating temperature to around 85 degrees to cater for better performance and thermal management.
The only storage compartment outside of the cabin is at the front of the car. Clicking the ‘trunk’ button on the key accesses it. When it pops open, it reveals a 125-litre storage cavity. It’s deep enough to store a suitcase or bags of shopping, making it both useful and convenient — people also give you funny looks when you load things into a space normally reserved for an engine.
While the 911’s exterior is stylistically entirely convincing, the interior often divides opinion. Some call it ‘classic’, while others refer to it as a splatter of buttons.
Porsche has buttons for the sport modes in the central tunnel, along with buttons for the idle stop features, the spoiler, suspension modes, stability control, exhaust and in our test car, the sunroof.
This trend continues further up the tunnel where the heating and cooling controls are located. Again, there are buttons for the seat heaters and each individual climate mode.
The entertainment system comprises a seven-inch colour touchscreen that manages the satellite navigation and the vehicle and audio settings. It’s a high-resolution screen, but usability isn’t fantastic. There are a number of menus and navigation can be difficult while on the move.
Usability aside, the 12 speaker sound system is brilliant. There is plenty of bass and the higher frequencies are clear and precise. Audio can be streamed via Bluetooth or the USB/auxiliary sockets.
A secondary 4.6-inch TFT colour display resides alongside the rev gauge and displays everything from navigation to trip computer data. There is even a lap timer nestled in one of the menus. The lap timer works in unison with a dashboard-mounted stopwatch that activates at the push of a button and forms part of the Sport Chrono package, which is standard on the Carrera GTS.
Part of the ‘classic’ appeal for me is the older style gauges for engine and oil temperature. Instead of using a digital display, they are traditional analogue gauges and give the 911 an appeal that is unmatched by today’s other sports cars.
There are some negatives, though. Even on this, one of the top-specification Carrera models, there are blank buttons on the central tunnel. This looks cheap and tacky. The rear seats are essentially un-usable unless you are a small child. Even then, there is barely any legroom behind the first row of seats. On the plus side, they are there if you ever need to carry anybody legally in the rear.
There is also a distinct lack of modern active safety technology. While the Carrera GTS comes with the safety essentials like electronic stability control, traction control and six airbags, there is no heads up display, blind spot monitoring or autonomous emergency braking.
As you turn the key and the engine fires to life, it’s impossible to mistake this for anything other than a Porsche. The engine’s throaty rasp at idle is meaningful and stirs the right emotions. While it’s not like a traditional V8 muscle car, the note is deep enough and offers a harrowing howl as you plough through the rev range.
The seating position is literally perfect. The steering wheel sits neatly in the hands, while the gear lever and pedals are intuitively placed for easy and seamless shifts, even when attacking corners.
As you would expect from such a sporting vehicle, the clutch is quite heavy and the gearshifts tight and short. This combination gives you a genuine feeling of involvement. Two excellent features are the rev-match (in Sport Plus) on downshifts and anti-stall.
If, for example, you are in third gear wanting to shift to second and have Sport Plus mode active, the electronics will immediately determine the correct engine speed for a seamless match between the flywheel and driveshaft speed. The result is not only a heel-toe-esque blip on downshifts, but also a perfect, stutter free transition to a lower gear.
Further to this, an anti-stall feature will immediately restart the car if you accidentally dip the clutch or cause the car to stall — or so I have heard, because I never stalled it. Well, only once, but it was on purpose.
Unlike a conventional five- or six-speed manual, the seven-speed manual in the Carrera GTS has an extra gear beyond sixth. It looks bizarre, but is quite clever in its use. You can’t accidentally engage seventh gear if you are driving too slow and you can’t accidentally grab a much lower gear from seventh. The seventh gear gate only opens from fifth or sixth gear, removing any confusion.
Being a naturally aspirated engine, the bulk of its power and torque is produced high in the rev range. Peak power hits at 7500rpm, while peak torque occurs at 5750rpm. This should give you an idea of how much noise the Carrera GTS makes when it is being driven at its limits.
Noise is further amplified thanks to a two-stage resonance intake manifold. It uses seven switchable valves that cause the air passing over the intake tract to oscillate at certain speeds, resulting in higher torque lower in the rev range. The air filter also features a speed-dependent switchable resonance volume to alter intake acoustics.
The engine’s torque curve is fairly linear from around 3000rpm. It then doesn’t begin dropping off until around 6500rpm. It’s a genuine orgy of noise, soul and emotion throughout the entire rev range. Throttle response is razor sharp in the regular driving mode, but becomes even edgier as you progress through the Sport and Sport Plus modes.
When mated to the seven-speed automatic gearbox, the Carrera GTS will complete the 0-100km/h dash in just 4.0-seconds. Coupled to the seven-speed manual, that figure increases to 4.4-seconds.
Despite moving to electrically assisted steering for the 991 Porsche 911, there is no way to tell you are steering a non-hydraulic rack. Unlike some manufacturers that dull down steering, Porsche has retained an impeccable amount of feel at the straight on position, along with during turn in. Communication through the steering rack is second to none and it always needed to be for Porsche to retain success with the 911.
By this point, my friend was pretty impressed with the design and noise made by the Carrera GTS. We then came across a mountain pass — his life was about to change.
Until now, he had complained about the lack of features and price. He thought that while it looked and sounded great, it wouldn’t be much quicker than his HSV GTS through corners. The silence from his side of the cabin after the first two corners was the only evidence I needed of his conversion.
While remaining firm, the Carrera GTS turns in with the precision of a brain surgeon. It slices through corners with phenomenal pace, mainly thanks to the rigid chassis, dynamic suspension and huge amount of rubber on the road.
The other element that helps it push through corners with such speed is Porsche Torque Vectoring (PTV). The system works by applying a braking force to the inner rear wheel during cornering. This allows a greater amount of drive force to be directed to the other wheel, which induces an additional rotational pulse around the vehicle’s vertical axis.
The speed of the electrically assisted steering rack works well when negotiating fast switchbacks and tight corners. The car remains steady and stable as you change directions at speed.
For the most part, the rear end is always planted — mainly thanks to the bulk of engine sitting over the rear wheels and its low 1425kg kerb weight. This character trait gives the driver added confidence, but can make the rear a little snappy if you change direction in a hurry and throttle on too hard.
The standard brakes do an incredible job of continuously pulling the Carrera GTS up. The front-end features 340mm rotors with six-piston callipers, while the rear uses 330mm rotors with four-piston callipers. The brake pedal is firm with cross drilling used to help dissipate heat during harder driving.
Away from the luring bends of a mountain pass, the Carrera GTS is easy to live with day-to-day. When driving in the vehicle’s comfort mode, the ride is firm, but pleasant. It responds well to bumps in the road and undulations. The front splitter is just a little too low for our liking (it will graze most driveway entries and exits).
Visibility out the front, rear and sides is pretty good considering the car’s low ride height and sporting nature.
To my friend, the Porsche 911 Carerra GTS is now more than just a wealthy realtor’s car. He now understands that the Porsche 911 is an iconic design and engineering masterpiece for a reason. The quality and engineering is still unsurpassed today — no matter how many attempts the competition takes at dethroning it.
It has also been a revelation for yours truly. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed really driving a car this much. The engagement through the chassis, pedals and gear stick is truly surreal. It’s only bettered by the blissful exhaust note and stunning design.
If I had $300,000 to spend on a luxury sports car, the Porsche 911 Carrera GTS would be all mine, even with the quirky seven-speed manual.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser. Note the interior images are of an automatic Carrera GTS.
Update 22/06: The story was updated with some more detail around the Carrera GTS's thermal management.