The 2016 911 GT3 RS is the most track-focused road car that Porsche currently builds, but what's it like to drive on the road?
I’ve got the right pedal pinned to the firewall, the tachometer is nudging 8800rpm and I can’t hear myself think… welcome to the sound and fury of the Porsche 911 GT3 RS experience.
This is the most track-focused 911 that Porsche currently builds and it certainly looks like it has absolutely no place on public roads, even though it is very much road-legal. What’s most impressive is that nothing you see on this car is just there for show.
Porsche’s approach to constructing these highly specialised editions of its legendary 911 sports car has always been to reduce weight, add power and sharpen cornering capability in the time-honoured quest for faster lap times.
With this latest version, it’s aerodynamics that play the key role. That huge, unmistakable rear wing is fabricated in carbon-fibre and manually adjustable across three angles of attack. More importantly, it delivers a confidence-boosting 220kg of downforce at 300km/h.
There’s more aero mastery up front too; the heavily pronounced front splitter working in concert with the louvered front guards, generates another 110kg of stability-inducing downforce at the same speed.
Like almost everything else on this car, weight-saving measures have been taken to the extreme. Much of the bodywork is exotic. The bonnet, engine lid, and front guards are carbon-fibre.
The roof goes one step lighter – it’s a specially sculptured, one-millimetre-thick slice of super-lightweight magnesium, which shaves 794 grams off the carbon-fibre equivalent.
Weight-saving measures have also been applied to the car’s exhaust system, which is made of titanium, resulting in another saving of around four kilos. And for those owners bent on more serious track work in their GT3 RS, the standard battery can be swapped for a lighter Lithium-ion rechargeable battery. Even the windows (side and rear) are special lightweight versions made from polycarbonate.
The race-inspired treatment of the GT3 RS runs a lot more than just skin deep. There’s a significant level of hard-core racing technology underneath this car to help keep it nailed to the tarmac, even when driven at ferocious pace.
For starters, it uses the same springs and anti-roll bars from the GT3, though the electronic dampers have been specifically tuned for higher loads for the GT3 RS.
The front suspension is fully-adjustable across camber, castor and ride height, as it would be in a full-blown Porsche Carrera Cup car. Both front and rear anti-roll bars are adjustable too. There's also an electronically controlled limited-slip differential.
Apart from the wider front and rear tracks (by 5cm and 3cm respectively) the RS also gets rear-wheel steering from the GT3 for even sharper and more predictive handling.
For the first time, the extra-wide body comes from the 911 Turbo, as no other version was capable of housing the formidable 21-inch rear wheels and equally massive 325/30 Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres - but only just, it seems. So wide, in fact, that I couldn’t get my index finger between the rubber and the rear guard.
Clearly, the GT3 RS is a car with serious intent, but climb aboard and it’s nothing like what you might expect from Porsche’s most formidable road-legal racer; this is definitely no stripped-out track-day 911, and it’s a real surprise.
Almost the entire cockpit is upholstered in high-end Alcantara and supple leather, as well as plenty of beautifully finished carbon-fibre inlays across the dash and centre console.
The carbon-fibre backed seats are truly race car-like, with a look and feel that suggests custom moulding. Despite the heavy bolster, they’re trimmed in a blend of body-hugging Alcantara and premium soft-touch leather and offer a good deal of comfort, even after a few hours behind the wheel.
The same such quality applies to the 918 Spyder-inspired three-spoke steering wheel – again in Alcantara, but with the mandatory centre marker in contrasting yellow.
You’ll also find the usual tech suite, including climate control air conditioning, satellite navigation and a quality sound system.
However, there are plenty of optional extras available, like the Black Bi-Xenon headlamps with Porsche Dynamic Lighting System for $3390, or the Sport Chrono package with Porsche Track Precision App and Laptrigger support at $3390.
Our tester was also fitted with the optional six-point racing harnesses for $1150 – well worthwhile for track work, but entirely pointless for the road.
Yet, it’s another piece of specialised kit that points to the true race-going nature of this car, along with the half cage and simple door-pull straps, which presumably shave off even more of those precious grams.
Otherwise, the RS cockpit is pretty much standard 911-generation fare with Porsche’s familiar five-dial, part-TFT instrument cluster and neat console bridge. However, there is one exception, the Pit lane speed function button, which you won’t find on any other 911.
Truth be told, this thing had me utterly hooked, simply from a visual standpoint, long before I ever climbed in and fired up the 368kW/480Nm 4.0-litre flat-six. There are no turbochargers or any other system of forced induction attached to what is dangerously close to a full race-spec Porsche engine.
This is 911 engineering evolution in it’s purest form, generating one of the most intense engine notes this side of a works 911 RSR racer.
It doesn’t fire instantaneously as you turn the key – but a few turns-of-the-crank later and it erupts with a viscous bark, before settling into that unmistakable flat-six burble. I can also hear some transmission rattle at idle, a bit like the Nissan GT-R in that regard.
I wasn’t sure what to expect of the GT3 RS away from the track, and in the spirit of proper urban testing, I’m in the thick of Sydney’s peak hour crawl, travelling north. But that’s the beauty of this thing, it’s like driving any other 911, only there’s a good deal of mechanical noises that make their way inside the cockpit. That’s the race-bred purity built into this car, and frankly I can’t get enough of it.
As much as I want to resist the urge to knock the beautifully formed shifter over to the left (for full automatic transmission), it just makes more sense in this kind of stop/start traffic.
Easy does it with the throttle though, as you can feel this thing itching to be let off its leash. That said, the PDK gearbox is a clever bit of kit, quickly learning that I’m in traffic and dialling back the aggression, accordingly.
Ride comfort is better than expected too. Like the GT3, the RS gets adaptive dampers, and while it could only ever be described as decidedly firm, there remains a liveable level of pliancy in the suspension for everyday driving. Remarkable stuff, when you consider those humongous 21-inch centre-lock rims and low-profile rubber down back.
About to merge onto the F3 and I’ve got clear road ahead, so time to wind things up a tad in auto mode at 100km/h. I’ve also hit the ‘loud’ button for the exhaust, just to get a tasty treat of what’s in store for when we get off the freeway and into some high-speed corner work.
It’s loud, even at 4000rpm. But the real symphony begins as the tachometer needle climbs above 7000-8000rpm, where the exhaust note morphs into a serious acoustic assault.
Right from the get-go, it feels much sharper than the GT3 - something I wouldn’t have thought possible given the latter’s already hard-core positioning.
The hair-trigger throttle response matches anything I’ve ever driven on track, including factory-prepared endurance racers. In short, there’s more on tap from anywhere in the rev range and pedal travel seems shorter and more precise.
Standard stoppers on the GT3 RS are steel, but clearly Porsche has specced the car with high-friction pads, because there’s a scuffing sound whenever you depress the brake pedal, and they have similar characteristics to the optional $21,590 carbon-ceramic brakes, at least before you get some real heat into them.
With our exit fast approaching, I’ve pushed the Sport PDK button for a more heightened driving experience. This version of Porsche’s dual-clutch (PDK) gearbox may as well be hard wired to your primary motor cortex. It’s just dropped down three gears in what seemed like a split second, with each downshift accompanied by a perfectly timed blip of the throttle – in auto!
Now it’s time for some proper manual shifting, using the lightweight metal paddles that feel more like handcrafted surgical instruments.
They’re cold and austere, but the precise shift action and speed of the shift itself is like no other road car I’ve ever driven – not even the McLaren 675LT can match the GT3 RS’s race car theatrics when you’ve got the right pedal buried and having a proper go.
Low-down punch feels noticeably more muscular than the GT3, even though the engine taps out at 8800rpm compared to the GT3’s 9000rpm. I doubt you’ll pick the difference, but either way, this is another Porsche engine that’s best heard near the red zone.
The windows should really be down for the full GT3 RS surround-sound effect, but we’re moving too quick for that, so I settle for the in-car experience, which is still pretty bloody spectacular.
This is a road car that makes you feel like a Porsche Cup Car racer, so you end up banging up and down through the gear ratios – mesmerised by the combination of a screaming flat-six, precise F1-style shift speed and the rapidfire throttle blips. It’s an absolute rush.
But it won’t belt you in the back like a Lamborghini driven in ‘Corsa’ – it’s nowhere near as aggressive as that. Even full-throttle upshifts are smooth and don’t unsettle the car, as they tend to in the Lambos.
Grip levels are mind-boggling. There’s a moment when you think, “Geez, I’m coming in too hot”, but then the Michelins bite and you suddenly realise you’re nowhere near the limit of the RS’s downforce or tyre adhesion, and you’re back on the throttle, winding things up again before the next corner.
It’s like the more you pitch the car, the more downforce you get on the front axle, while that big rear wing and those super sticky tyres (20 per cent more than those on the GT3) also keep the rear end in check.
The GT3 RS’s agility is simply stupendous. Everything – balance, lateral grip, poise under acceleration and braking loads, all work as one on this car. The net effect is a devastatingly fast car, but not necessarily just for the racetrack.
It can be equally rewarding at street-legal speeds, as you string a series of well-cambered bends together with a car that talks to the driver on so many levels.
The smaller 360mm steering wheel (taken from the 918 Spyder) feels perfect, but it’s the electric power-assisted steering itself that sets it apart from any other 911, for its more acute feedback and cat-like quickness.
There are faster cars – at least in a straight line – like the McLaren 650S and Ferrari 488, but if we’re talking bang for buck, I can’t think of anything that provides the kind of intense thrill, on or off the track, as the Porsche 911 GT3 RS.
But this is a car that simply cannot be measured by numbers alone. It’s that rare combination of a precision instrument created by the finest race-bred engineering on the planet and an intense emotional driving experience, made all the more enjoyable because of that same go-fast engineering, which makes it all so easy.
There’s nothing quite like it.
Officially, there’s no limit to production of the latest GT3 RS, but in reality only around 2000 will ever be produced. And at $387,300 plus on-roads, all are likely spoken for.
Click on the Photos tab for more Porsche 911 GT3 RS images by Mitchell Oke. Videography by Mitchell Oke.