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Hardcore 493bhp GT3 RS represents a new level for the Porsche 911 - faint hearts need not apply

Although the RS badge has a longer history, Porsche itself measures the Renn Sport versions of the 911 GT3 from 2003, when it stripped surplus weight from the 996-generation model and had its race-spawned Mezger flat six hyperventilating on ram-air ducts.

It was a suitable starting place for a concept that has since set like folkloric concrete in the imagination of anyone interested in the performance potential of the naturally aspirated Porsche 911Because the 997 moved through several stages of evolution (including the instant legend that was the much-coveted swansong RS 4.0), Porsche considers the 991 version to be the fifth generation of the model it has launched.

If it adequately fills the enormous shoes left by the limited-edition 997 RS 4.0, it might just be the bargain of the decade

As with its predecessors, the manufacturer considers the car’s circuit-lapping capabilities to be second only to those of the race machines at the opposite end of the homologation process – in this case, the latest GT3 RThe performance disparity between street legal and not, though, ought to be more slender than ever, given all the stops Porsche has evidently pulled from the RS’s development process. We’ll dive into the technical detail in a moment but will preface it with the same takeaway fact that its maker chose to highlight: namely, the car’s four-second improvement over the V10-powered Carrera GT’s lap time around the Nürburgring.

Typically, we’d query the relevance of such a comparison in a road car. Here, though, there’s no question at all that Weissach brews the RS to simmer best on a track, so knowledge of its apparent superiority over a lighter, slipperier, substantially more powerful mid-engined supercar is appropriate theme-setting for considering the extremities of performance Porsche has managed to coax from the humble 911, while only asking £131,296 customers lucky enough to buy one.

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If it adequately fills the enormous shoes left by the limited-edition 997 RS 4.0, it might just be the bargain of the decade.

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DESIGN & STYLING

Porsche 911 GT3 RS rear

There are two comparisons by which most people will judge this RS: in reference to the very highly rated outgoing 991 GT3 and against the phenomenally well-received 997 RS 4.0 version of the previous-generation 911.

Compared with the former, it’s hard to imagine any owner will feel short-changed; relative to the latter, the comparison is not quite so clear-cut. But be in no doubt: next to either, this 991 RS is a big step forward.

The car is still lighter than the narrower 991 GT3 as standard, and you can make it lighter still by optioning a lithium ion battery, for example, or deleting the stereo

Porsche’s time-honoured approach to making these cars has been not only to add power but also to reduce weight. This time around, it has gone further by adding width and massively improving aerodynamic performance.

So when you find out that only 10kg has been taken out of the car relative to the 991 GT3, and that the 493bhp peak power output is identical to that of the 997 RS 4.0, you’ll understand that you’re only looking at part of Porsche’s design and engineering effort with this car.

This is the first RS ever to use the extra-wide body from the Porsche 911 Turbo as its basis. Here, it’s augmented with a magnesium roof, a bonnet, front wings, rear deck and rear spoiler all in carbonfibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP), a rear apron in a new polyurethane-carbonfibre polymer and polycarbonate glazing for its side and rear windows.

It also allows the RS’s axle tracks to grow, to the point where the rear track is some 72mm wider than that of a standard 3.4-litre Carrera and the tyres are the widest yet to be fitted to a road-going 911.

The car is still lighter than the narrower 991 GT3 as standard, and you can make it lighter still by optioning a lithium ion battery, for example, or deleting the stereo.

A long-throw crankshaft made of extra-pure tempered steel delivers the 4mm of added piston stroke necessary to take the GT3’s 3.8-litre flat six out to 3996cc. The engine also uses a new induction system, breathing through the lateral air intakes of the Turbo’s body rather than through the rear deck cover like every other 911. This gives more ram-air effect for the engine and makes more power available at high speeds. A titanium exhaust also saves weight.

The suspension has been updated and retuned, with more rigid ball-jointed mountings and helper springs fitted at the rear, while Porsche’s optional carbon-ceramic brakes get a new outer friction layer.

Which is to say nothing of the RS’s biggest advancement over any other 911: downforce. The rear wing makes up to 220kg of it, while the front spoiler and body profile generates up to 110kg. In both respects, that’s double the downforce of the RS 4.0.

INTERIOR

Porsche 911 GT3 RS dashboard

The RS’s hard-edged cabin is based on that of the GT3, with elements of 918 Spyder thrown in for good measure.

The result, assembled like a Swiss watch movement, manages to convey track-hardened purpose and a machined sense of material extravagance as well as anything being made by McLaren or Ferrari.

Everything clicks and clacks as though it were installed by stonemasons and is studiously functional

Aside from RS-specific details, such as fabric door pulls, much of it is familiar; the black-clad centre console spine, dashboard and superb part-TFT instrument cluster are all standard 991 carryovers. Everything clicks and clacks as though it were installed by stonemasons and is studiously functional, even allowing for the large number of buttons corralled into one spot.  

The RS’s new features, chiefly those plundered from Porsche’s hypercar, are typically the objects that stand out – not least because you hold on to one and sit on the other. The steering wheel, perfectly proportioned and clad in Alcantara, would make a minibus feel sporty and is flanked by cold-to-the-touch paddle shifters that have had some of their travel dialled out of them.

It is the seats, though, that take the proverbial biscuit. Constructed from carbonfibre and decked out in leather and trouser-clutching microfibres, the fixed-back buckets pull off that rare trick of being both fabulously handsome and comfortable while simultaneously not relenting one shred of body core support when it really counts.

As the RS comes with Porsche’s Clubsport Package as standard, there’s the provision for a six-point safety harness if you’d prefer it over the three-point belt. You can even opt for the manufacturer’s more conventional sport seats if you’d prefer to be able to tip them forward for better access to the beautifully trimmed void where the back seats used to be.

However, given that the space is now partly restricted by the bolted-on roll cage and that the alternative buckets are undeniably inferior, we’d happily live with the occasional hindrance.

As for the rest of the standard equipment, the GT3 RS comes with ceramic brakes, a sports exhaust system, 20in alloy wheels, active dampers, Porsche's sports chrono pack, swathes of leather and Alcantara on the inside, and Porsche's Communication Management infotainment system complete with a 7.0in touchscreen display, sat nav, Bluetooth and DAB radio.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Porsche 911 GT3 RS cornering

We’ll start with Porsche’s PDK dual-clutch automatic gearbox, given that this is the first 911 RS not to come with three pedals – and given that the same switch caused quite a stir in enthusiast circles when Porsche put it into effect with the lesser GT3.

Fitment of the PDK gearbox also means this is the first RS with launch control, which works predictably and brilliantly. Our two-way average of 3.4sec to 60mph shows that the car is every bit as quick as Porsche claims (3.3sec to 62mph) when you account for the fact that our figures are set two-up and full of fuel.

What the 4.0-litre flat six motor lacks in mid-range torque, it more than makes up for with hard-edged and full-blooded noise

Porsche’s claim for the previous RS was 3.9sec; for the GT3 it was 3.5sec. This RS will run sub-3.5s flawlessly and ridiculously easily, time after time.

And while you might bemoan the disposal of the car’s third pedal and the driver involvement bound up in operating it, take a moment’s pause – because Porsche has been busy addressing that.

Pull both paddles simultaneously in the RS and the gearbox will instantly disengage both clutches; release them again and it’ll smartly re-engage drive. That allows you to choose as many revs as you like for a standing start, for instance, and also grants more sophisticated control of the driveline during fast cornering.

It’s still not like driving a manual, but for those who miss that extra pedal (and we’re not sure we do, given how quick-shifting and well mannered the PDK in this car is), it’ll feel like progress.

The RS’s engine, meanwhile, can unquestionably be ranked among the very best of any super-sports car on the market. It’s not the most forceful in outright terms, although it is potent enough to make this 911 as quick to 100mph as the twin-turbocharged Mercedes-AMG GT S we figured.

But what it lacks in mid-range torque, it more than makes up for with hard-edged and full-blooded noise, spine-tingling range and a building, dramatic power delivery. Throttle response is nothing short of sensational. Torque builds with a linearity that you can depend on during fast circuit driving, similar to the way that a sniper depends on the accuracy of his rangefinder.

You can also depend on the RS’s carbon-ceramic brakes. They require a bit more pedal effort than those typical of a super-sports car, but they’re hugely powerful and were entirely untroubled by fade, even after many laps of MIRA’s handling circuit.

With more heat in them than our weekly repeatable test procedure provides, they probably would have made the RS one of only a handful of production cars ever to stop from 70mph in less than 40 metres.

RIDE & HANDLING

Porsche 911 GT3 RS side profile

The sheer genius of Porsche’s legacy of modern GT3 RS models could not have been delivered over the past 12 years if Porsche’s top engineers and executives didn’t have an instinctive and brilliantly accurate sense of exactly what the typical dyed-in-the-wool petrolhead is prepared to put up with on the road in order to get his or her kicks on the track.

It’s a compromise that other makers regularly misjudge. But today, just as it did in 2003 with the 996 GT3 RS and probably in 1973 with the 2.7 RS, Porsche has judged that compromise close to perfection. Most enthusiasts, for example, would tolerate a bit of road noise in return for the kind of lateral grip the RS produces.

With the electronics active, the RS corners as hard as any hypercar we can think of

Just to be clear, though, the RS creates more than a bit of road roar, but if that bothers you on the occasions you’re not wearing a helmet, there are always earplugs. This isn’t an ordinary sports car, after all.

And what you get as a pay-off for that noise is staggering: not only incredible adhesion to the asphalt but also quite breathtaking handling balance and response, and equally astonishing levels of feedback from all four corners of the car.

Almost none of the rules we’ve learned over the years about the quirks and foibles of a Porsche 911’s handling applies to this car. It dives into corners with an unshakeable determination to make the apex, almost regardless of what you happen to be doing with your feet when you turn in.

You could argue the previous 911 GT3 RS did that, too, but not as keenly and certainly not with the same mid-corner stability that this new car’s clever rear axle grants. With the electronics active, the RS corners as hard as any hypercar we can think of. And when you turn the PSM off, it becomes a more adjustable, absorbing, communicative and dynamically characterful device than almost any other driver’s car on sale.

Those vivid track thrills forgive an awful lot – and the truth is that the RS doesn’t need to be the perfect road car in order to secure its reputation. If you hadn’t experienced what happens on a circuit, for instance, you might find the car’s animated steering a little too lively over B-road bumps.

Although calmer than that of other track-intended machines, the steering certainly requires two hands on the wheel. You might also wonder at how easy it is to bottom out the RS through hard-charged compressions, or you might simply adjust the car’s ride height between extended road and track sessions – which is just one of several things that Porsche’s clever rose-jointed suspension system allows you to do. 

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Porsche 911 GT3 RS

The market’s incredible reception for the 911 GT3 made ordering an RS a no-brainer for anyone even remotely minded to do so. 

The same would have remained true if Porsche had been more cynical and taken advantage of the situation by charging even more for the RS – but that’s not the kind of company it is.

The last examples of the normal 991 GT3 have changed hands of late for more than the £131,000 being asked for this car

The last examples of the normal 991 GT3 have changed hands of late for more than the £131,000 being asked for this car, while examples of the previous generation 997 4.0 RS are commanding values north of £400k.

In that context, it’s wholly unsurprising that this car, only 2000 of which will be made, has sold out so quickly. So if you’ve secured an RS at list price, thank your dealer kindly; you’re a very lucky owner indeed.

In terms of ideal specification, Ultra Violet is our colour of choice, and you've got to have the 918 seats. On the options list we'd tick the carbon ceramic brakes (£6248), PCM (£2141), lightweight battery (£1538), Sport Chrono pack (£1085) and Clubsport pack (no extra cost). 

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VERDICT

5 star Porsche 911 GT3 RS

The fact that the new 911 GT3 RS gets the full five stars, despite being neither the fastest-accelerating car of its kind nor the quickest around our handling circuit, says everything you need to know about the true brilliance of its fluent, poised, gregarious and multi-faceted track handling.

In this respect, the GT3 RS is truly outstanding and deserves our categorical praise. The powertrain, meanwhile, is good enough to be the equal of that stellar chassis. It’s capable of engaging in complex interactions and conversations with the chassis as well as pinning you back into those gorgeous bucket seats and frazzling your senses with its texture and virtuosity.

Sublime dynamic credentials on track and usable with it. Incredible value, too.

The RS also has the best paddle-shift transmission we’ve come across in a performance car. This car is an irresistible ownership proposition and, with a few allowances, it’s entirely usable on UK roads.

We can think of nothing more that it is reasonable to expect of a specialised, track-focused car, and no better or more expertly judged example of the breed right now. Weissach has done it again.

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Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Porsche 911 GT3 RS 2016-2018 First drives