Porsche takes a Carrera and piles on the power and options to create the GTS. What transpires is an impressive machine, although not one we’d necessarily recommend

What is it?

A fettled, faster, more distinctive version of the naturally aspirated Porsche 911 Carrera. Unfortunately, following the launch of the new turbocharged Carreras on 7 September, it’s also a car that currently no longer exists on the new market. 

Still, it’s worthy of further investigation. After all, there are numerous nearly new examples in the classifieds and, more importantly, the GTS is – or was, more accurately – one of the rapidly diminishing number of turbo-free Porsches. 

It was developed to offer buyers more punch, poise and pose factor than a Carrera S, without the compromises that they’d otherwise have to endure in the track-orientated GT3. The GTS still has four seats and a decent kit list, for example, and it’s available with manual or PDK dual-clutch automatic transmission and the option of four-wheel drive.

Prices for the GTS also straddle the divide; when it was launched it was some £10k cheaper than a new GT3, but £7.5k more costly than a Carrera S. You get a lot of extra kit for your money, so it’s not an unjustified premium. 

First and foremost is the fitment of Porsche’s Powerkit, granting a hike of 30bhp over the standard Carrera S and bringing total output to 424bhp. This is achieved via a completely redesigned intake system, smoothed intake ports in the heads, reprofiled intake cams and new valve springs. All of this bolsters the engine’s volumetric efficiency, granting it more power, while its acoustics have been improved considerably with the addition of a sports exhaust system.

The underpinnings have received upgrades, too. The GTS, even in two-wheel-drive form, benefits from the wider rear track of the all-wheel-drive 911, in order to improve stability. Porsche’s active damper system, known as PASM, also makes it onto the list. This represents another upgrade over the Carrera S, and the GTS additionally sits 10mm lower. This is all wrapped up with the addition of torque vectoring and a series of steering and suspension tweaks, aimed at delivering a more engaging drive than the standard 911.

Refining the Porsche’s capabilities further is the fitment of the Sport Chrono package, which includes dynamic engine mounts. These improve traction and thus acceleration by cutting the engine’s vertical movements under heavy loads, helping stabilise the rear axle and resulting in more uniform traction.

Inside you’ll find bespoke Alcantara trim and sports seats, while the exterior benefits from the wider Carrera 4 bodywork. Smart, matt black forged aluminium 20in centre-lock wheels and other black details complete the look. Suffice to say that it’s a fine-looking machine. Specifying a Carrera S to a similar extent would cost within a few grand of this, but you won’t have the wide body kit, the additional power or interior tweaks.

This particular example of Porsche’s ‘Gran Turismo Sport’ 911 is the most expensive of the GTS line, commanding a not insignificant £98,679 thanks to the fitment of PDK and four-wheel drive. 

Alarmingly, that’s before options. All in, once you’d accounted for this test car’s ceramic discs, sports bucket seats, leather trim and myriad other upgrades, it would set you back £114,005. Still, that’s some £35k less than a nearly new GT3, the prices of which have shot through the roof due to their desirability and rarity.

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What's it like?

Eminently tractable, even at higher speeds. So much so that you really have to work at keeping it within legal limits, a feat made even harder by the utterly addictive, redline-focused flat six slung out the back. There’s so much traction and lateral grip on offer that you really can take liberties with this car, only reaching the limits of its capabilities in track conditions, but that’s not to say that it’s devoid of entertainment at more sensible speeds.

That’s partly because its weighty, accurate and linear steering delivers a constant patter of feedback through your palms, with an increasing amount of information arriving as the speed and cornering angle increases. Furthermore, it’s not a completely strait-laced affair, as there is an element of playfulness here. Wind on the throttle out of a junction, or coming off a roundabout, and you can revel in the sensation of the rear stepping sideways slightly in a smooth, controlled fashion. You’ll have to really get on it to get the tail to stay out, or swing free at higher speeds, as otherwise the electronics and drivetrain will work to reel things in, but even at lower speeds this mobile, engaging nature gives the car an energetic, engaging feel.

All of this is tied together neatly by responsive and easily judged controls: the long-travel throttle allows for easy metering of power, while the (admittedly slightly numb) carbon-ceramic brakes provide ferocious stopping power without being overly aggressive around town. It’s a very stiff car, though, make no mistake. With the suspension in Normal mode the ride is just about tolerable, but in Sport mode you’ll feel every dip and crack in the asphalt. This hyperactive chassis setting is quite engrossing during enthusiastic drives as it adds to the full-on experience, but on a longer journey the GTS is likely to leave you feeling quite jaded, even in Normal mode. A relaxed, well-rounded tourer this is not, something emphasised by the prominent tyre roar and the pronounced engine note that typically ranges from loud to “I’m sorry, did you say something?”.

The centrepiece of this car remains its 3.8-litre naturally aspirated flat six. Turn the key and it fires into a guttural, surprisingly baritone idle. As the revs climb above 2500rpm its noise deepens and hardens, before rising to a ferocious howl as the redline approaches. It isn’t devoid of torque, as even at lower revs and in higher gears it will pull with vigour, but it’s definitely an engine that needs to sing in order to get the best out of it.

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Fortunately, the rapid-shifting PDK gearbox means it’s not trouble at all keeping the engine scorching along. Pull the tactile aluminium shifter paddle and the next gear is engaged in but a moment, accompanied by a bark from the intake system as the engine shifts through its rev range. Peak power is produced at 7400rpm, before the engine nudges into its limiter at 7800rpm, and it never takes long to get there. It feels like it would happily spin far beyond that, too, but it does have to endure for the duration of the three-year, unlimited-mileage warranty, so a little mechanical sympathy need be applied. 

Porsche’s dual-clutch transmission feels a little obtrusive here, however. Left to its own devices, in gentle driving, it performs well. It does have a coasting mode – it disengages the clutches and idles the engine – to improve efficiency, which leads to some infrequently annoying pauses and a lack of engine braking at points, but it’s otherwise responsive and swift. Roll on the throttle, however, and the transmission can often be too keen to drop one, two or three gears, leaving you with several thousand revs on the tachometer, countless decibels from the tail and little in the way of acceleration. Sometimes you’d rather just have it hold one gear, so you can better utilise the engine’s ample torque reserves.

This poses somewhat of a conundrum. The Porsche is best enjoyed in Sport Plus mode, where the engine and chassis are at their most responsive, but not to an overbearing extent. However, in this mode the gearbox clings onto the lower ratios with aplomb and, similarly, will drop several gears in an instant. Eventually, you just relent and put it in manual mode. It’s at this point you start wondering whether you should have just bought a manual instead, because the gearbox only appears to cope well with two extremes – flat-out and cruising – and little in between.

The saving grace, outside of sheer ease of use in traffic, is its launch control mode, because it’s so easy to use. Switch into Sport Plus mode, stand on the brake pedal, then pin the throttle pedal to the floor and hold it. The engine will stabilise at about 6500rpm, at which point you’re free to release the brake. It’s a sure-fire way to get near the Porsche’s claimed 0-62mph time of just 4.0sec, over and over again. It’s also one tempting reason, thanks to that repeatability and automation, that you might want to opt for the PDK. The four-wheel drive system also helps boost traction without corrupting the steering and, on the motorways, a modicum of power is shuffled to the front axle to improve stability.

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All in, this is a more exciting, engaging proposition than a Carrera 4S, albeit one that's predictably less comfortable and noisier. Otherwise, the 991’s fine credentials remain relatively unchanged. The neatly trimmed interior still offers that glorious view over the peaked wings and plunging bonnet, and the optional sports seats offer plenty of support. It’s great that the 911 still gets an analogue speedometer and tachometer as well, as these offer up so much more information – current indication, rate of change and remaining scale – than numerical digital readouts.

You can even fit two people in the back, at a stretch, although they’ll face a rather inelegant climb over or under the front seat belts. Still, they’re useful to have in a pinch, as is the relatively spacious front storage area under the bonnet. Similarly, a 64-litre tank grants a potential range of 400 miles if you average the claimed 31.0mpg. You may well hit that figure, too; during a 200-mile test, including some high-speed circuit driving, our GTS clocked up an impressive 24.1mpg.

That said, there are still a few 991 foibles that annoy, and even more so when you consider that this commands a hefty price tag. There’s nowhere convenient up front to put your phone, the column stalks have a horrible action, and frankly feel broken, and the interface and control layout for the media system could be far better. You don't get cruise control as standard, either, but at least the kit list includes DAB radio, dual-zone climate and sat-nav.

Should I buy one?

You can't buy a new one any more, unfortunately. As mentioned, the launch of the new turbocharged 991 Carrera has ended the brief life of the GTS model for the time being. Those looking for their naturally aspirated kicks, as a result, will have to look to the secondhand market. 

If you're prepared to fork out for a used GTS, though, we'd suggest you steer away from this four-wheel-drive version. Save the money and buy the rear-drive version; it’s got plenty of traction anyway, is lighter, less complex and purer as a result. Unlike the Jaguar F-Type R, this is not a car that really needs any extra help putting its power down. Go for a manual version, too, if you can.

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Only those who regularly contend with ice, snow and inclement conditions otherwise need apply for a four-wheel drive GTS, and they won’t be disappointed. That said, many would be equally well served by the less expensive Carrera 4S, which is still a fine machine and delivers a comparable - although slightly more restrained - experience.

Alternatively, and this is what I’d be more inclined to do if I were in the position, put down £55k on a new Cayman GTS. Similar thrills, a more evocative, focused experience and a more compact, easily enjoyed package.

2015 Porsche 911 Carrera 4 GTS PDK review

Location Surrey; On sale Not any more; Price £98,679; Engine 6 cyls, 3800cc, naturally aspirated, petrol; Power 424bhp at 7400rpm; Torque 325lb ft at 5750rpm; Kerb weight 1565kg; Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch automatic; 0-62mph 4.0sec; Top speed 188mph; Economy 31.0mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 212g/km, 37%

Matt Prior

Matt Prior
Title: Editor-at-large

Matt is Autocar’s lead features writer and presenter, is the main face of Autocar’s YouTube channel, presents the My Week In Cars podcast and has written his weekly column, Tester’s Notes, since 2013.

Matt is an automotive engineer who has been writing and talking about cars since 1997. He joined Autocar in 2005 as deputy road test editor, prior to which he was road test editor and world rally editor for Channel 4’s automotive website, 4Car. 

Into all things engineering and automotive from any era, Matt is as comfortable regularly contributing to sibling titles Move Electric and Classic & Sports Car as he is writing for Autocar. He has a racing licence, and some malfunctioning classic cars and motorbikes. 

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bowsersheepdog 10 September 2015

0 - history in record time

Gone before the review comes out - that's what I call built-in obsolescence.