Like its predecessors, the new Porsche 911 GT3 has been developed to provide a platform for Porsche’s lucrative clubsport motor racing activities. However, this car also stands on its own as a road car. It is simply sensational.

It stirs the senses on many different levels. For a start, there is the styling. To look at the new third-generation 911 GT3 is to know immediately that it is no ordinary 911 Carrera S. There is a satisfying menace to the appearance that shouts Le Mans, Spa Francorchamps, Monza.

European editor
History may well remember this generation of Porsche 911 GT3 as one of the all-time greats

Unique touches include a deep new front bumper with a trio of sizeable air ducts and prominent splitter, a further duct ahead of the bonnet, new exterior mirrors and a subtle sill element beneath the doors.

The rear is dominated by a giant wing, with a ram air intake for the rear-mounted engine and a new rear bumper with vertical air ducts. The basic bodyshell is shared with the 911 Carrera S, with aluminium for the wings, roof, doors and engine lid. Compared with its predecessor, the new 911 GT3 is 118mm longer, 44mm wider and 35kg heavier, at 1430kg. Torsional rigidity has risen, by 25 per cent.

So it’s heavier, but friendly, too. The two-seat interior fully reflects the progress made in other 991-series 911 models in its high-quality dashboard, centre console and trim. There are unique instruments, including a big central rev counter red lined at 9000rpm. The substantial seats are fashioned from carbonfibre and the pedals from aluminium. Tick the right boxes on your order form and you’ll even get twin-zone air conditioning, like that applied to the early pre-production prototype we’ve been handed for the day.

Slot the key into the ignition and the new Porsche 911 GT3 fires with a bark every bit as attention-grabbing as that of its predecessor. There is a mischievous pulse to the engine at idle, a nod to the motorsport-derived engine and its performance-enhancing trickery. Press a button on the centre tunnel to engage Sport, and the familiar bass-heavy rumble hardens in character and increases in volume.

Gear lever into Drive and we’re away with a fleeting nudge of throttle. The steering feels urgent and beautifully weighted. The dual-clutch gearbox automatically picks up second and then third as we run up the hill from Zuffenhausen, showing a new user-friendly disposition to the Porsche road-racer. Given its narrow sporting focus, the latest 911 GT3 rides with great composure with its adjustable dampers set to Comfort at low speeds.

As we hit the autobahn, a searing surge to the far side of 155mph reveals another thing: a truly mighty engine. From 3.8 litres, it produces a wonderfully sonorous 468bhp at 8250rpm and torque is 324lb ft at 6250rpm. Subjectively, there is far more mid-range shove and greater flexibility than in its predecessor. The inclusion of direct injection for the first time also provides a new level of smoothness, high-end determination and an exhaust note that begins to assault your inner organs as you set sight on the 9000rpm limiter. Although meeting only Euro 5 emission standards, it is also claimed to return over 22.0mpg on the combined cycle. And no, it doesn’t come with anything as mundane as automatic stop-start.

The latest Porsche Doppelkupplung (PDK) is no ordinary dual-clutch gearbox, but one developed specifically for the rigours of sports car racing. The shift quality is remarkably smooth yet has a rifle-bolt action at the business end of the dial. Revised gearing, said to be 15 per cent shorter than the old 911 GT3’s, combines with added shove and scary traction to endow Porsche’s latest road-racer with an official 0-62mph time of 3.5sec, eclipsing its predecessor by 0.4sec. Top speed is 196mph.

Porsche has provided the new 911 GT3 with what it calls a paddle neutral function. When you pull both shift paddles, the clutches of the gearbox open, essentially placing it in neutral. When the shift paddles are released, the clutches engage again, as if you’re dumping the clutch on a conventional manual. Doing this at standstill with the stability control switched off and the engine buzzing near the red line results in a burn-out of monumental magnitude, followed by startling straight-line acceleration once traction has been restored. Alternatively, it can be achieved on the run.

The steering is also completely new and rather special. The front electro-mechanical system is a development of the 911 Carrera S’s and, as on the upcoming 911 Turbo, it works in conjunction with an electro-mechanical rear-wheel steer system. Up to 37mph, it operates the rear wheels in the opposite direction to the fronts, enhancing low-speed agility. Above 50mph, the rear wheels are operated parallel to the front wheels for added longitudinal stability.

What we discover, once we turn off the autobahn and head across undulating valley roads, is that the complex steering system imparts a much calmer feel without any distinguishable trade-off in overall response compared with the conventional hydraulic arrangement of old. There is also exquisite, wonderfully consistent weighting. And the rear-wheel steer? Frankly, if Porsche had not revealed its existence, we may never have noticed it. Which is just the way it should be.

We’ve only scratched the surface of the Porsche 911 GT3’s potential dynamic boundaries here on public roads. To experience this car at its best you need a circuit, because its ability to carry big speeds through corners without any premature breakaway on road-legal tyres is quite remarkable, as exemplified by Porsche’s claim that the new car has already successfully lapped the Nürburgring in 7min 25sec – 2sec faster than the even more focused Porsche 911 GT3 RS 4.0.

What the Nürburgring won’t be able to reliably reveal is the overall excellence of the new 911 GT3’s ride. Its deftly tuned chassis has pothole-defeating absorption during compression and outstanding rebound control. The brakes – with 350mm carbon-ceramic discs all round – are no less compelling. They provide huge and unstinting stopping power with superb levels of modulation and impressive feel, even before they’re up to proper operating temperature. I can’t think of any other road car with such outstanding stopping ability.

Our day driving the new Porsche 911 GT3 reveals a significantly faster, even more responsive yet more accessible and astonishingly user-friendly car than its predecessor. Its breadth of ability is quite remarkable and very much at the root of its appeal. You can now comfortably drive it to work in automatic mode, yet it has lost none of the customary track-derived qualities when you switch into Sport and give it all it is worth on a deserted country road. The emotional appeal is a big part of what makes this car so exciting. It is one of Zuffenhausen’s all-time greats.