There are first world problems. And there are first class, five-star, penthouse level problems, such as choosing which new Porsche 911 to buy.
But then there are those amalgamated variants that pinch various elements from each 911 pillar, creating missing links, and misfits of sorts, to fill the gaps within the range or to create extremes.
Want a GT3 in more road-going trim and conventional manual gearbox? That’s 911 R. Want the rear-driven Carrera From Hell with a Turbo heartbeat? That’s GT2. Then there was the Sport Classic, essentially new 911 goodies with old school styling and panache.
Dizzying choice? Try this...
Porsche Australia currently has 34 different 911 variants on its price list if you include all nameplates, body styles and transmissions, but even then, real choice is further complicated as not every variant is available at any given time. Officially at least, there are no Rs, GT3s, GT2s or Sport Classics in the 2017 range. It’s often a case of get ‘that one’ while it’s hot, or wait until it lobs.
Available for order for some time but arriving in Oz mid-year is the new 2017 911 Carrera GTS, which is offered in different flavours: a choice of coupe or convertible, either in rear- or all-wheel drive, plus an all-paw-only Targa-top version. Any of the five can be had with a standard fit seven-speed conventional manual or optional ($7390) seven-speed PDK dual-clutch gearbox.
Conveniently, today’s GTS slots neatly between the regular Carrera and the tree-topping Turbo, in everything from technical formula to pricing. Simple really.
Complicating matters, though, is that this recently resurrected nameplate – resurfacing after decades in last-gen 997 Carrera – represents a slight, if crucially repositioned concept, compared with the older 911. Before now, the old, naturally aspirated GTS logically slotted in between the old Carrera and GT3 with which it shared a naturally aspirated heartbeat. Geeky minutia, one might argue, but that’s precisely the centre around which the ever-expanding 911 universe revolves.
Both GTS generations are easy to validate as 'Super Carreras', but the old GTS wasn’t essential meant as a GT3-alike racecar-lite experience dressed in street wear (cue 911 R). Now that regular Carrera stock – and indeed the whole current 911 range – is turbocharged, the risk that the new GTS might be perceived as a poor man’s or woman’s Turbo is a more likely scenario. It impacts expectations and, of course, review evaluation.
As the 911 range middle man, the GTS gets a boosted version of Carrera’s 3.0-litre flat-six rather than a detuned 3.8-litre engine from the Turbo. Yet it’s nestled between Turbo-like wide-body hips in either rear- or all-paw-driven variants. In the GTS sandwich, then, it appears as if the bread is thick but the meat is thin.
To a point, raw numbers suggest the GTS is positioned a little closer to Carrera than Turbo territory. All GTSs get 331kW/550Nm, a measureable if unsubstantial 22kW/50Nm lift from Carrera S and 59kW/100Nm higher than base Carreras. The jump up to Turbo, though, is 66kW/150Nm, and there’s a significant 96kW/200Nm deficit in the leap up the Turbo S.
Not surprisingly, the pricing skew more or less matches the model line hierarchy: an all-paw GTS Coupe with PDK ($302,490) is around $28k pricier than a dual-clutch Carrera 4S Coupe ($274,650), yet you’ll need an extra $82k-odd to sneak into the entry Turbo ($384,600). In fact, compare any two of the 34 different 911s you like, and Porsche’s precision in variant positioning mirrors its reputation for fine engineering.
Again, a little pity, if ever so slightly, for the buyer flush enough to cross-shop 911s.
Then you eyeball performance. The aforementioned Carrera 4 GTS with PDK, the quickest GTS available, nails 0-100km/h in just 3.6 seconds. Sure, that’s 0.6sec off Turbo pace, but it’s nearly as quick as a Turbo just one generation old. Remove one’s head buried in 911 geekdom, and 3.6sec is, as an outright measure, very bloody quick.
Parked up in pitlane at the little known Killarney Race Circuit, not far from South Africa’s Cape Town, is a broad selection of GTS test cars, yet I’m not drawn to the quickest of the bunch. Instead, I elect the fastest GTS (312km/h v-max), which also happens to be the most affordable: the rear-drive manual Coupe with steel brakes, priced from $279,000 list.
Why? In my opinion, a fat-hipped, rear-driven, conventional manual GTS coupe seems the largest departure from comparable Carrera/Turbo pillars, the most ‘alternative’ GTS on offer and, theoretically, the most streamlined driver’s variant.
Sadly, it turns out that my yellow test car has optional PDK. However, given I’m tasked with chasing down a Porsche instructor in his superior Turbo S, a little quick-shifting dual-clutch help is a welcome ally. For the record, removing the front driveshafts only penalises 0-100km/h stats by just 0.1sec, as some deficit in accelerative drive is countered by a saving of 45kg of kerb weight (1470kg plays 1515kg).
Even before it’s fired up, there’s one element of GTS that really attracts: its looks. The more aggressive front fascia – said to produce less lift than a Carrera S – to the blackout detailing; from the gorgeous GT3-esque centre-lock 20-inch rims to the impossibly squat stance suggested by the wide rear guards sans a rear wing, the GTS is a markedly meaner aesthetic in the company of the more bejewelled, mature, brightwork-savvy Turbo S. It is one mean looking machine.
Six balls out, red-misted laps of an unfamiliar circuit only clarifies some of the 911 GTS picture, though it’s a large and important section projected with absolute clarity. This is an incredible car, and in a multitude of ways.
In full Sport Plus attack mode, it sounds surprisingly rich and glorious, and initially I’m caught nudging the 6700rpm rev-limiter because, sonically, there’s enough of the old naturally aspirated bark, and enough high-rpm gusto, to fool me into thinking the engine might scream a couple of grand higher.
That’s no foul. It just needs some initial driver recalibration to leverage the 3.0-litre six’s force-induced mid-range for maximum pace, which isn’t all that intuitive when you’re flat-pinned while desperately trying to chase down a 3.8-litre Turbo S. And, for that matter, a ceramic-braked Carrera 4 GTS Coupe making it a party of three.
There are three big braking moments (without brake markers) around a single lap where the ceramic-braked Turbo S ahead flashes its taillights under maximum ABS stopping power. Initially, I allow three or four metres of ‘grace’ to haul up my steel-braked GTS, which pitches hard on the nose and squirms just so to inform me it's hit maximum deceleration without robbing itself of poise or control. By the last lap, I reduce the buffer to about a metre, such is the standard six- and four-piston braking hardware’s power, consistency and durability. Bravo.
Through the middle of the corner, it feels wide and planted. The GTS sits flat and drills itself into the hot-mix, generating incredible grip from a new specification of Pirelli P Zero Corsa tyre which Porsche claims improved GTS’s Nurburgring Nordschleife lap time – a claimed 7:26 best – by four seconds compared with its benchmark rubber in development.
The general dynamic character of the rear-driven GTS is quite interesting. It’s ‘rounder’ in response than the edgy and frisky GT3, but buries itself into the track and hangs on with the ferocity of a Turbo. Yet, it is patently lighter on its feet and more playful, much like a Carrera S. It’s an amalgamation – there’s that word again – of its stablemate’s positive traits, producing a distinctive and very enjoyable flavour.
Yes, the electromechanical, variable-ratio steering design gets 911 traditionalists in a huff, but in present application it provides inspired accuracy and feedback. It’s not, however, as razor-edged in precision as, say, a GT3, though this is something of a blessing: a front end with a little more evenness, requiring slightly more driver input, is a godsend in a Carrera-Turned-Up-To-Eleven forcing all its drive from the rear while plying Turbo-like cornering g-forces.
Too hot? Those 245mm front tyres will gently scrabble wide, but the nose responds and tightens to even the most progressive throttle lift. Push the friendship – as can happen mercilessly chasing Turbos – and even a decent tail swing is met with a soft ESP buffer that’s so beautifully calibrated that it seems not pull any torque from drive.
What is truly eye-opening is the corner exit drive those 305mm rears generate and how stable the rear remains while doing so. From entry to exit, on all evidence, the rear-driver seems just as quick as the Carrera 4 GTS and, lap after lap, pretty much on Turbo S pace pedalled by an ace. It does so differently and, for my money, more playfully and potentially more enjoyably.
On track, the jury is out on the all-paw GTS’s prowess. But I will admit this: for my personal money, there’d have to be a very good reason not to opt for the rear-driven GTS version. I not only couldn’t find that reason, I cannot even fathom one.
If there’s a lingering question as I pull back into pitlane, it’s how, if at all, the Porsche Torque Vectoring system and mechanical rear differential lock standard in the manual RWD models drives differently to the PTV Plus and electronically controlled diff design exclusive to those PDK equipped.
Moving from track to road, I climb out of what I consider the most desirable GTS into the least, which is the Targa 4 GTS.
The difference? Bar the signature curved rear glass, weight is a hefty 1605kg though acceleration, Porsche claims, is an identical 3.7sec for 0-100km/h. Meanwhile, top speed is only 306km/h. If there’s another notable spec disparity, it’s that the Targa (and the Cabriolets) get Porsche Active Suspension Management while the version of the same for Coupes has a ‘sport’ suffix, which is 10mm lower and, presumably, sportier in tune.
Threading vertical rock face and a cliff drop into the ocean, driving on the wrong side of the car, doesn’t allow a pace with which to compare the nuanced differences in weight, drive configuration, dynamic smarts or, truth be told, the basic suspension tune. But the overbearing message the Targa 4 GTS is sending through is that it’s closer in feel and character to the rear-driven Coupe than I’d expected.
The possibly more pliant ride quality still maintains the fidgety rippling effect of any 911 variant you can name: it permeates up through your spine and nibbles away at the steering wheel. It is a sense of true connection to the road, and while I’m sure Porsche could engineer it out of the 911 equation, you’d lose an essential, if arguably unrefined, trait of the breed.
On the move, self-shifting in Normal or Sport, the PDK calibration is nothing short of superb. It’s so smooth, so clever at nipping up and down the ratios, seemingly never leaving you short-changed on instantaneous drive or pulling too many rpm with unwanted fuss.
As the road winds up into the mountains, the Targa 4 GTS can also pile on pace, retard speed, and hook through corners without breaking its own sweat and with the minimum of driving inputs. The extra weight and all-wheel drive might affect the bristling edges of driving enjoyment – maybe – if only by mere shades. It’s more potent, alive and downright quicker than I was realistically expecting.
It’s not all gushing plaudits, though. The 911 GTS range coincided with a South African drive of the new second-generation Panamera, an utterly and entirely different animal, and where the younger, recently made-over five-door grand tourer trumps the two-door sports car by a fair margin is in interior design. That is, interior design outside of core layout, which remains mostly brilliant, and driver ergonomics that are simply world leading.
The GTS cabin is barely any different to other 911 versions and they’re all increasingly showing their age. The seat centres and steering wheel are now dipped in Alcantara, which suits the vibe perfectly, but bar some decorative stitching and a smattering of GTS logos little separates this, the priciest GTS ($323,990), and the most basic 911 Carrera ($217,500).
The button-laden centre console and almost rudimentary infotainment system functions quickly and recognises handwritten inputs, but it looks and feels old hat against the slick, modern minimalism of a Panamera.
Similarly, the great feeling steering wheel is festooned with buttons and the wheel-mounted manettino-style drive mode dial looks and feels cheap and plasitcky. That said, there’s is a very nifty Porsche Track Precision App integrated into the seven-inch touchscreen system, allowing all manner of downloadable telemetry-based racetrack information to your smartphone.
Value is such a fluid concept when applied to a range as broadly encompassing as the 911, where there’s so much choice and there’s something for nearly everyone who wants a piece of the iconic nameplate. For instance, Sport Chrono and launch control is standard – fine if you want or use it – though all-wheel steering, which is optional and enhances both handling and manoeuvring, might suit other buyers better.
From a broader perspective, if it’s simply the wide-body effect you’re after, you can have a more basic 911 package with plus-sized waistline in the regular Carrera 4 Coupe and save a bomb staying out of GTS territory. But as I discover, the GTS is certainly a different enough experience to warrant its premium. Point is, within the 911 universe, the GTS seems right on the money.
For what ingredients and effect it adds to the 911 format, there’s a lot to like about this latest GTS recipe. It manages to avoid coming across as an overpriced and overloaded Carrera and a Turbo-lite all at once, and is satisfyingly better than the sum of its parts.