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Track-day special enters its third decade in wickedly purposeful Mk7 form

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The Porsche 911 GT3 still feels like a recent development in the near-six-decade history of the sports car on which it’s based. But what a reputation it has carved out for itself since Weissach’s very first, 996-generation GT3 homologation special emerged in 1999.

There might not be a more sought-after performance derivative anywhere else in motordom than this. The GT3 has become the kind of car that dealers get allocated in mere handfuls; that are offered to only the most favoured customers; that are collectable like little else at the price; and to which the normal rules of depreciation, which usually make cars like the GT3 more accessible to the rest of us, hardly seem to apply.

The 992-generation 911 already has lightweight aluminium body panels. The GT3 adds a bonnet in carbonfibre- reinforced polymer (saving 2.5kg) and composite plastic side-window glazing (saving 4.7kg)

And here comes another one. The new 992-generation GT3 represents a major technical departure for the track-ready 911. Porsche’s GT division describes it as having been “developed closer to motorsport than any other GT3 before it”, and the evidence of exactly what is meant by that, which we’re about to describe in the usual detail, is written all over its bodywork as well as underneath it.

This car has a level of track- devoted purpose unknown to its predecessors. It’s absolutely no half-measure. Truly specialised and uncompromising, it’s the sort of car that a firm like Porsche might make if it knew that the clock was ticking on hardcore, truly driver- and track- focused, piston-engined cars of its ilk, and that the good old days had been suddenly numbered.

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No statement of such has been made by Porsche, of course. As far as we know, its plans for the GT3 continue indefinitely – and let’s hope they do. But this car has an emphatic, hierarchy-upsetting presence about it. Read on to find out why.

The 911 line-up at a glance

The Porsche 911 model range only gets more complicated with time. There are cloth- top cabriolet and four-wheel-drive versions of all Carrera models. The only variants not offered are a rear-wheel-drive Targa and either a Turbo or an entry-level Carrera with a manual gearbox. Expect more GT versions in time as well.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Porsche 911 GT3

DESIGN & STYLING

2 Porsche 911 GT3 2021 RT hero side

There’s quite a lot more menace to the appearance of the 992-generation 911 GT3 than any of its predecessors had. There’s a certain beauty about the car’s new ‘swan neck’ rear wing but even more visual savagery. For some tastes, there will simply be too much aggressive aerodynamic attitude here than ought to have been wrought on the typically pure surfaces of a fast Porsche 911.

Downforce is the reason the car looks the way it does. The rear wing is adjustable through several pitch settings, and even in its mildest factory-default position, it helps this car to develop 50% more downforce than any regular GT3 has had before. Turn it to its steepest setting and put the front splitter at its most aggressive and the car can develop 150% more downforce than its predecessor had when moving at 124mph – nearly 400kg of the stuff.

Scoops at the leading edge of the bonnet increase the cooling efficiency of the radiators, but they also help to manage the flow of air over the front of the car. The 991 GT2 RS had something similar but slimmer and less aggressive.

Porsche couldn’t have added all that extra pressure onto this car’s bodywork, though, without first having radically redesigned its suspension. The MacPherson struts of the regular 992 have been replaced by the first double-wishbone front axle ever adopted by a road-legal 911, while the 992’s five-link rear axle has been widely redesigned to better deliver four-wheel steering. Both axles now maintain first-rate control of wheel camber when the car is cornering hard, and (partly because of its inclined struts) the front one specifically makes the GT3 much more resistant to dive under braking.

Along with all of the above comes an increase in the spring rate of the suspension to support all of the extra vertical load being heaped upon it. Up front, the steel coils of the fully adjustable coilovers are now twice as stiff as they were. The staggered wheel rims (20in in diameter up front, and 21in at the rear as well as 12in in width) are bigger than any fitted to a GT3 before.

The dry-sumped naturally aspirated 4.0-litre flat-six engine is carried over from the 991 largely unchanged, but it now develops 503bhp at 8400rpm and 347lb ft of torque at 6100rpm. The new stainless steel active exhaust it blows through weighs 10kg less than the old car’s despite integrating two new petrol particulate filters.

Downstream of the engine, buyers can choose a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic gearbox (which comes mated to a torque- vectoring, electronically controlled rear differential) or a six-speed manual (which is hooked up to a conventional mechanical slippy diff).

Buyers can also choose to have the car in standard, 2+2 trim; in two-seat trim with the Clubsport package (including roll-over bar with mountings for a six-point harness, a fire extinguisher and preparation for a battery isolator); or with the Touring package (which, among other styling tweaks, deletes the huge rear wing). Our test car was a PDK Clubsport.

INTERIOR

13 Porsche 911 GT3 2021 RT cabin

The cabin is configurable to a degree: it can be as darkly purposeful or as obligingly habitable as you care to make it. Our test car’s certainly looked and felt pretty hardcore, with the optional carbonfibre bucket seats first seen in the 918 Spyder as well as the Clubsport package.

Those bucket seats need to be berthed with a little care, but they’re reasonably well padded and pretty comfortable over longer trips. Although they have a fixed backrest angle, they also have electric cushion height adjustment, which several testers made use of. Raising the seat just a little makes the bonnet and front wings easier to gauge, even if it achieves less to improve over-the-shoulder visibility, which is restricted by both the roll-over bar and the large endplates of the rear wing.

The optional front-axle lift system uses sat-nav geofencing, so it knows when you’re approaching your driveway and lifts the nose automatically. It also logs locations where the car has grounded and can automatically lift its chin in future to prevent a recurrence.

In front of the driver is a GT3-specific instrument cluster that has an analogue rev counter marked invitingly all the way to 10,000rpm; and to the driver’s left is a much larger gear selector lever than other 992 Porsche 911 PDKs have, intended to be easy to grab and use like a racing car’s sequential shift lever during circuit driving. The logic is sound, but there is a slightly cheap look about the lever and a plasticky feel to its action, both of which are at odds with the cabin’s otherwise supremely high-quality, tactile feel.

The GT3 is a little short on the 911’s typical standard for oddment space. Its door pockets are slim and small and they don’t tilt or expand. A removable cupholder is offered for the driver on the transmission tunnel, while the front passenger gets one that extends from the dashboard.

Available cargo space is somewhat reduced in Clubsport spec, because you can’t simply throw soft bags over your shoulder into the back. The car’s ‘frunk’ is just large enough for a couple of soft holdalls and helmet bags or one medium-sized suitcase.

Infotainment and sat-nav

The 911 GT3 gets Porsche’s 10.9in widescreen PCM touch display as standard. It’s easy to navigate using the screen itself, because there’s a scrolling column of menu shortcuts on the driver’s side of the screen, allowing you to hop between modes really simply. You can also use one of the smaller knobs lower on the centre stack to scroll around the system if you prefer, although the recessed placement of the display is well supported by nearby anchoring points for your arm so you may not feel the need to.

The system includes wireless mirroring support for Apple smartphones but doesn’t support Android Auto. There are two USB 2.0 device connection ports in the armrest cubby (which is pretty slim) but no wireless charging support.

The sat-nav system is clearly rendered, easy to programme and equally easy to follow. The standard audio system is an eight-speaker 150W unit that can be upgraded to Porsche’s 12-speaker 570W surround sound set-up as an option. The standard set-up isn’t one to win awards, but luckily the car’s other built-in sound system is very musical indeed.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

27 Porsche 911 GT3 2021 RT engine cover

You might have read that gasoline particulate filters are supposed to make performance cars quieter. If that’s true, the new GT3 must be a ridiculous exception, because it isn’t a quiet car in any way whatsoever.

When you’re trundling around at low speeds, it feels surprisingly ordinary. But when you spin that flat six up beyond 5000rpm and put some speed into the wheels, the ride gets noisier and busier and you’re treated to a truly majestic engine note.

Timing of downshifts in ‘D’ feels almost telepathic at times. They often come just as you reach for the paddle under braking.

The mechanical chatter of rocker arms transforms into a demonic, high-register turbine blare as revs rise – and boy do they ever rise. This is the kind of industrious howl that many just wouldn’t expect any car to make. It’s as loud as it is intoxicating: at 98dbA at maximum revs inside, it would definitely be a problem on a noise-regulated track day – albeit a problem you would be happy to have.

The gearing is pretty short (in top gear, many £20,000 superminis are actually longer-legged), but the engine’s ability to rev is the defining feature of its performance. In third, it doesn’t make peak torque until past 6000rpm, which corresponds almost exactly to 70mph; and yet the engine will go on spinning to the far side of 100mph before it needs another ratio.

Needless to say, the GT3 is devilishly quick when its engine is really spinning, but you have to keep it spinning to keep pressing on. That’s a spine-tingling, ever-linear-feeling, pin-sharp prospect where and when you can unleash it; but it’s very much a ‘go hard to go home’ type of driving experience.

Shifting beyond fourth on almost any public road dulls what’s under your right foot to the point that it feels like you might as well be out for an economy drive; and so manual mode tends to be far more appealing than any automatic setting for the gearbox when you want to enjoy yourself.

Porsche’s dual-clutch gearbox is supremely fast-shifting on the GT3’s short, metallic paddles and smooth enough most of the time to make the car easy to drive at low speeds, although it can occasionally snatch at changes and shunt a little as you tip into the accelerator pedal.

Yes, a manual would be more involving; but you can have one if you want one. Those who don’t won’t find much to complain about here.

RIDE & HANDLING

29 Porsche 911 GT3 2021 RT on road front

The GT3 is a car rawer of feel and more hardcore of temperament than any of its forebears. It corners in a more level, direct fashion than we’re used to from any fast Porsche 911, but it’s also more reactive and highly strung. On the road, it certainly feels more like a track car exiled from its natural habitat than GT3s have felt in recent decades – for better and for worse.

This is where the new front axle makes its presence known. The GT3 offers truly incredible handling response and steering precision but also high-definition feel of a kind that very few modern cars know. For front- end bite, it would now yield very little even to a mid-engined supercar.

The smoother the road, the better, because that really affects how much you enjoy its talkative, precise steering, track-ready character and well-measured body control.

At normal speeds, it goes where you point it instantly. At track pace, it makes tighter apices supremely easy to hit, with stabilising understeer only being admitted into the reperoite at really big speeds. Even for 911 regulars, it all takes time to get used to; but you will soon enough. On a good surface, the chassis is easy to place and feels intuitive to guide, despite its newfound keenness.

It takes longer, however, to get used to just how much the GT3’s steering reacts to bump and camber on an uneven road. The rack seems capable of filtering very little and is always chatty and busy in your hands. It’s wonderful in small doses, particularly when the topography’s working for it. But it’s also the kind of steering that can make your hands ache after a long day’s driving, because you’re simply not used to gripping the rim quite so tightly.

Chassis balance is excellent, but body control is the really incredible thing. There’s just so little roll, pitch or squat. When the tyres are warm and the surface even, this is a chassis you can’t ask too much of. The level platform granted by the rear axle, around which the car pivots so freely, is super-dependable; the front axle is always so eager; and the feeling of integrity uniting the two is rock-firm.

But this car is undeniably more particular about the surfaces with which it’s willing to engage than GT3s have been in recent years. The rear comes up short on travel on more testing A and B-roads and can feel tetchily firm and restive over sharper inputs. There are helper springs to try to add ride dexterity, much like a rising-rate spring might, but they can clearly achieve only so much.

Find a slightly gentler surface where the suspension has just the dexterity it needs, though, and you’re vividly rewarded. Body control becomes taut, quick- settling and perfectly controlled.

Even with the less grippy of two available tyre compounds fitted, the new GT3 set a benchmark lap time around our dry handling circuit more than a second quicker than even the mighty, 691bhp 991-generation 911 GT2 RS managed in 2018. This is a searingly rapid circuit car.

It still handles like a traditional 911 at the limit of grip, though. You manage the position of the front axle and juggle the rear mass with trail-braking and throttle loading to keep the chassis pointing where you want. But it has huge lateral grip; apparently imperturbable body control on smooth Tarmac; and brilliant chassis balance blended with high-speed stability all of an order not known to any road-legal fast 911 until now.

The steering is quicker and feels feistier than you may expect when you’re correcting the car mid-corner, and stiff suspension and the grip level often mean you have to be quick with your inputs. But the sheer track capability, drivability and pace of the GT3 remain little short of stunning.

Comfort and isolation

At least in the specification in which we tested it, the GT3 is quite emphatically a car for earplugs and not for conversations. Being bolted directly over its engine and rear wheels, the Clubsport package’s rollover bar is like a lightning rod for noise and vibration. At low speeds, the effect isn’t too pronounced, but at a quicker A-road or motorway cruise, you have to raise your voice to be heard by your passenger.

We recorded cabin noise at a 70mph, top-gear cruise at 78dBA, which is more noise than most modern cars make at maximum engine speed in third gear. At its loudest, the GT3 registered 5dBA more cabin noise than even the mighty 991-generation GT2 RS did three years ago. That rollbar amplifies the sound of longer-wave suspension movements also, so you hear every move the rear axle makes.

Cars with their back seats left in place and without the Clubsport rollover bar could be expected to be quite a bit less coarse; but whether they could get close to the habitable feel of a car that you would want to drive and use regularly is, on this evidence, far from certain.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

1 Porsche 911 GT3 2021 RT hero front

There might not be another performance car in the world that presents a buying proposition quite like that of the modern GT3.

On the one hand, the car offers the kind of driver involvement and circuit-ready pace and purpose that you could pay two or even three times as much to equal in any other car. And on the other, because it has become so revered and desired by keen drivers, track-day regulars and collectors alike, it’s almost as immune from depreciation as a well-equipped Ariel Atom or limited-edition supercar.

Limited supply and huge demand means phenomenal residuals for GT3. The same isn’t true for the Mercedes-AMG GT, according to CAP

For that reason, those who are lucky enough to be offered one will very likely snap them up at the first time of asking. Frankly, so they should.

Inevitably, this is also the kind of car on which you can spend a five-figure sum on optional extras; but at least price isn’t the enemy of choice here. Porsche is offering manual cars for the same price as PDK autos, and there’s hardly any difference between the price of the normal, Clubsport and Touring packages, either.

A car with the options likely to be considered de rigueur (carbon brakes, carbonfibre roof, nose-lifter, the right colour and a smattering of leather and Alcantara) might cost close to £145,000, but it could also still be worth 85% of that in two years.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Porsche 911 GT3

VERDICT

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Porsche’s track-day icon has just taken a bigger notional leap than many will realise. It’s not a leap into the unknown, because the firm has sold cars like this for decades. But fast Porsche 911s of anything like this hardcore character and track purpose have previously been very low-volume, ultra-high-end productions indeed.

This one has all the visceral rawness and supercar-baiting agility we associate with the GT3 RS but comes without the model suffix – or the hiked-up price.

Consider how you will use the car before ordering the Clubsport package. A Touring with a manual gearbox and better cruising manners might be all the GT3 you need.

Fast and unfiltered, bristling and busy, super-agile and immersive, the GT3 can be wonderful when you’re in the mood for it. It’s nothing short of spectacular in its intended environment. And yet it doesn’t have the duality we’re used to from a GT3.

These cars have, for the past decade or so at least, made equally intoxicating and usable road cars as they have circuit specialists. This one is differently defined. There are some journeys you just wouldn’t undertake in it; some track days you might even stick it on a trailer for.

For a GT3 rather than an RS, that feels like it might be one compromise too many. But if you’ve got the stomach for it, this is a car of absolutely epic highs.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Porsche 911 GT3

Richard Lane

Richard Lane
Title: Deputy road test editor

Richard joined Autocar in 2017, arriving from Evo magazine, and is typically found either behind a keyboard or steering wheel.

As deputy road test editor he delivers in-depth road tests, performance benchmarking and supercar lap-times, plus feature-length comparison stories between rival cars. He can also be found on Autocar's YouTube channel

Mostly interested in how cars feel on the road – the sensations and emotions they can evoke – Richard drives around 150 newly launched makes and models every year, and focuses mainly on the more driver-orientated products, as is tradition at Autocar. His job is then to put the reader firmly in the driver's seat. 

Away from work, but remaining on the subject of cars, Richard owns an eight-valve Integrale, loves watching sportscar racing, and holds a post-grad in transport engineering. 

Porsche 911 GT3 First drives