Brilliant new Porsche 911 GT3 picks up where the previous GT3 RS and 911 R left off

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Where, then, shall we start with the new Porsche 911 GT3?

At the front? At the back? Because I know it doesn’t look much different but, obviously, this being a new GT3, of course it is.

If somebody told me they wanted to order the best driver’s car on sale today, I’d recommend the GT3 in a heartbeat

They’ll call it the 991.2 GT3, those who want to flummox you with names and numbers and codes, like it’s some kind of secret club. 

But we could think of it as a facelift, if we wanted. The 991 generation of the Porsche 911 had a GT3 at the start of things, then it got a GT3 RS, and then that limited-run 911 R from last year. Well, now some of those lessons have gone into making a new GT3

So what’s new with this Porsche 911 GT3?

Doesn’t look so different on the outside, does it? But okay, let’s start at the front, where there’s a new bumper, around a kilogram lighter than the one that went before it, partly because it’s a lighter material, so not only because it has more holes to let more air to the radiators, to cool the engine. I’ll come to that.

Moving back, slowly, there are subtle front suspension changes, just stiffening to improve steering response and high-speed stability. But the wheels, and the brakes inside them, are the same: you can have steel rotors or optionally (and as fitted to our test car) carbon-ceramic discs. 

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Porsche GT boss Andreas Preuninger says that, for the road, the carbon-ceramics are ideal because they’re lighter, but if your car is a track hag, then you should have steels because they’re cheaper to replace, what with the carbon-ceramic options costing £6498 and all.

Inside, things are broadly similar, although Porsche’s latest infotainment beckons and there is less sound-proofing, because there have been a few kilograms added to the body – some extra plates to increase crash stiffness – and Porsche would like to maintain the same 1430kg weight as the last 911 GT3.

The steering wheel is round and bereft of buttons, wonderfully, although I might live without the £168 red strip at noon o’clock. Maybe. The seats in this example are full buckets, at £3324. I might have those. GT3s hold their value so well that you should just spec it how you like it.

Further back still, the rear suspension is mildly tweaked again: it’s “very RS-ish”, Preuninger has said. There are helper springs at the back, which allow the main springs to be lighter, and dampers are retuned all round and said to make the GT3 both ride better on the road yet be more taut on a circuit than before when you plonk them into firm mode. There’s still active rear steer.

At the very back is a new rear bumper, made from the same weight-saving material as the front one, while the rear spoiler is the same as before but mounted 20mm further back and 10mm higher. Combined with some new underbody aerodynamic tweaks, it improves downforce by 20 percent while not affecting drag at all.

And under all this is, of course, the engine. It’s a 4.0-litre rather than a 3.8, and it now makes 493bhp (a round 500hp), but don’t think it’s just the 4.0 GT3 RS or 911 R engine bolted into a GT3.

If anything, it’s all but identical to the latest 911 Cup car’s engine. There is a different crankshaft, with bigger seals, it’s stiffer and it has oil channelling through it. There are new pistons, with different liners and an ever more slippery coating on them.

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And, reputedly most significant, there are no longer hydraulic valve adjusters inside a new head design, which reduces the oil pressure you need to lubricate them.

Apparently, new materials used mean that the valves won’t go out of adjustment even if you run one on a dyno, as Porsche has, for 200,000 miles, so they say.

The upshot of all of that is that this engine spins more freely, to a rev limit of 9000rpm, higher even than the GT3 RS and R could. Which sounds rather promising. Peak power comes in at 8250rpm; torque, and only 339lb ft of it, at 6000rpm. 

So you’re going to have to work to get it, which you can do via the medium of a seven-speed PDK dual-clutch gearbox or, wonderfully again, the biggest, baddest, shockingest and greatest news of all: the GT3 has again become available with a manual gearbox. Woohoo. Anyway, naturally, this test car is an automatic. No, I don’t know, either, but there you are. 

Still, beyond a 10kg difference between the two – the manual car is lighter – the other difference is that the PDK requires a hydraulic pump, which also drives an electronically controlled limited-slip differential. The manual gearbox does without the pump and therefore gets a conventional mechanical limited-slip differential. Given its near-instant shift times and the advantages of wheel slip being electronically monitored, a PDK-equipped car will be faster on a circuit and a manual one will be arguably more fun – a bit more liberal, loose and content to let things slide.

Unleashing the new Porsche 911 GT3 on the asphalt

If you were planning no track work at all, the chances are you wouldn’t go for a GT3 variant of a 911, but the ride, it’s true, isn’t half bad.

It has been a long time since I drove a first-gen GT3months since I drove a 911 R, even – and my arse cannot retain memories of ride quality for that long. But the GT3 feels compliant enough to me, while composed and tight, granted; plus there’s always the reassurance that even if you haven’t specified the £1599 nose lift and used it, at least Porsche uses flexible rubber, not carbonfibre, at the front of its cars. The steering is firm and accurate and self-centres nicely. The engine’s smooth. There’s a dual-mass flywheel for refinement – whereas the GT3 RS and R had a lighter, single-mass option – but response still seems to border on the electric, in that terrific, naturally aspirated way of the best high-performance Porsche engines. It’s good fun to thread along. You’ll never operate in the power band on the road – not for long, anyway – but even at lower speeds than its mammoth capability, it’s rewarding and engaging.

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And on a circuit? Well, then it’s something else, as you’d expect. Body control is impeccably tight, yet running over kerbs doesn’t unsettle a balance that is absolutely terrific. There is poise, agility, feedback and feel to spare.

What I love about GT Porsches is that they seem to place engineering in front of you and invite you to feel it.

It’s different from how, say, McLaren or Ferrari goes about things. All are worthy, enjoyable in their own right. A Ferrari’s quickness of steering enhances agility and masks feedback. A McLaren wants to be composed, driven somewhat in a fashion that best suits it. The GT3 isn’t like them.

Left to its own devices – if you don’t manage the nose on the way into a bend – a GT3 will nudge up to understeer slightly. More than I remember from last time around, when I thought the biggest advance in GT3 versus GT3 RS was that even the GT3 had a hugely planted nose. But maybe it was just this day: tyre temperatures, the circuit, my mood, who knows? Still, it’s a trait that’s easily quelled if you manage the front end as you turn or, if you prefer, get back on the power.

If you’re in the GT3’s power band – above 6000rpm is best – this car will do tremendous things: keep its line, straighten its line, or smoke up its rear tyres. Because of where the engine is, you can use the weight on turn-in to unsettle it. But perhaps because of the rear steer – the wheels might not have the same toe angle they did a second ago – it is not as benign, obviously, as a passive, front-engined car. Nor should it be.

The great thing about the GT3 is that it can be any of these things – the sharpest, most focused thing you’ll see at a circuit all day, or a mild hooligan for the sake of it – entirely as your mood fits. And all the while, it will tell you what it is doing, and what its wheels are up to, how much grip and traction you are using or abusing, like no other car with power steering.

Is the 911 GT3 a worthy investment?

Yes it is. I dearly wanted to tell you what it is like with a manual gearbox, but Porsche is apparently starting with deliveries of PDKs, for reasons best known to itself.

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But it is to Porsche’s credit, I suppose, that in 0.2 phase of progress, there is so much to share, so much to learn, and so much to tell you.

Regardless of the transmission, this is some car. And if somebody told me they wanted to order the best driver’s car on sale today, I’d recommend this in a heartbeat.

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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. 

Porsche 911 GT3 2017-2021 First drives