“We probably got a little too complacent,” says the refreshingly candid head of GT car development, Andreas Preuningier, when describing the events that led to Porsche dumping the manual in the first place. “Development was heavily focused on track times, and in that respect the dual-clutch gearbox was the preferred choice.”
Aggressively priced supermini steps up interior game, but lacks performance...
This car, he hopes, will silence the critics. Not only does it run the much sought after manual gearbox, but it also gets a mechanical locking differential in place of the electronically controlled unit that comes combined with the PDK. Refreshingly traditional, then. But as we’re about to discover, it’s also all the better for it - as long as you’re not intending to be track-bound too often.
For a start, it gets a unique and aggressively styled polyurathene front bumper that weighs less than before and features a more prominent splitter element that's claimed to slice the air more efficiently, plus a quartet of restyled air ducts that serve to cool the front-mounted radiators and brakes.
The rear bumper, too, is uniquely styled with typical function-over-form modifications, including additional vertical cooling ducts incorporated on each corner to draw hot air away from the engine bay. From above, you also notice changes to the engine lid, which has two new shaped air ram ducts and cooling vents.
The signature design element, however, remains the rear wing. Drawing on more up-to-date aerodynamic data gathered while testing the 2017 911 GT3 in Porsche's newly commissioned wind tunnel at its R&D centre near Stuttgart, Germany, it has been lightly restyled. It is also now mounted 20mm higher and 10mm further back in a move aimed at better harnessing its downforce-inducting qualities.
What you can’t see unless you get down on your hands and knees is the reworked underbody. Adapted from the 911 R, it differs from that used by the old 911 GT3, with modifications to the rear diffuser and so-called vortex generators that Preuninger claims contributes to a massive 20% increase in downforce on the rear axle; there’s now 155kg more downforce at the car's top speed of 199mph.
With a nominal 25mm reduction in ride height over lesser new 911s and running standard 20in wheels shod with 245/35-profile front and significantly wider 305/30-profile rear Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres, the new Porsche looks properly hunkered down with the sort of wide track stance and exaggerated wheel camber that wouldn’t be out of place in the pitlane at Le Mans.
Getting into the car required some degree of flexibility, owing to the firm and rather high-set sides of the optional carbonfibre-backed racing seats, which are carried over from the old model, that were fitted our test car. Once you're settled, though, it's a truly inviting driving position that continues to afford a marvellous view over the top of shapely front fenders and the road ahead.
The 911 GT3's naturally-aspirated 4.0-litre version of Porsche’s classic flat six-cylinder engine is known internally under the codename 9R1.5, and is related to the same-sized unit of the 911 R. It features a number of new developments, including friction-reducing plasma-based cylinder liners, a stiffer crankcase, redesigned cam followers within the rocker bearings and a revised scavenging system for the dry sump that is claimed to reduce oil recirculation by more than 40%.
Easing onto the road in Comfort mode, the ride is more controlled than on the old model, especially in terms compliance over small bumps. As part of Porsche’s efforts to make the 911 GT3 a more agreeable long-distance road car, its adjustable dampers, which can be set to either Comfort or Sport mode, have been modified to provide what Preuninger describes as a wider operating range.
The 911 GT3 is prone to tyre noise, though. In fact, with less sound-deadening material concentrated in the area around the rear bulkhead in an effort to retain the same weight as the old model, there is now more tyre roar. Thankfully, though, it’s more often than not drowned out by the wonderful bass-driven intensity of the exhaust, which remains a true highlight of any journey in this car.
The new 4.0-litre engine is slightly different in character to the old 3.8-litre unit. The increased torque, which arrives 250rpm earlier than before, contributes to greater urgency through the mid-range when you’re really on it in second, third and fourth gears. The new engine also feels more eager across the final 2000rpm, where Preuninger says the added rigidity of the crankcase and other stiffening measures made to the block come into play.
The Autopista on-ramp appears, and with the fluids and internals of the engine suitably warmed, I let rip, and within one upshift we’re hauling along at a heady speed. At around 4000rpm, a flap in the exhaust opens up, further elevating the intensity of the exhaust note. The sheer response of the new engine is breathtaking, as is its ability to accept revs. The traffic thins out sufficiently for another surge, this time past the point where peak torque is delivered and on to 7000rpm.
While the exhaust note is quite magnificent, it is the blare of induction concentrated over your shoulder towards the rear wheelarches that's really special. It builds in two distinct stages, firstly at 3800rpm and then again at 6800rpm. The delivery up high is uncannily linear, and there’s still a further 2000rpm to play with.
When it does, you need to be properly prepared. The heady rush of acceleration accompanied by a frenzied flood of revs that ensues demands your full attention. That's not to say the 911 GT3 is unruly in a straight line in any way. No, the upgraded aerodynamic package ensures it keeps tracking in highly determined fashion. However, the final crescendo up to 9000rpm scrambles your senses as the interior is engulfed with a maddening combination of wind, engine, road, induction and exhaust noise.
First impressions are extremely positive: the dual plate clutch is predictably firm and has a very defined friction point indent. The gearlever, quite short and conveniently positioned just a hand’s span away from the steering wheel, has a superb action, with a heavily spring-loaded feel in both the horizontal and vertical planes. There is an engaging snappiness to each gear change, although shifting does require some heft and determination from the driver, especially on the upshifts, before delivering its best. There is a tiny bit of slack as you come out of each gear, but the inherent precision you encounter with the engagement of the following ratio means you can hurry it across the gates at high revs without any fear of it baulking.
Dial up Sport mode and the gearbox software will blip the throttle to provide perfectly rev-matched downshifts. Paradoxically, it is arguably more involving in Comfort mode, where you’re left to your own devices. The relatively wide spacing of the ratios requires you to be quite explicit on each blip, but get your heel-and-toe action right and you'll be richly rewarded. Applying this understanding to the way you drive this car is crucial to unlocking its performance potential on challenging roads, providing you with the feeling that you’re not just controlling the action but are an intricate part of it, too. One thing’s for sure: it is far more fulfilling than a simple flick of your finger on a steering wheel-mounted paddle.
The same set-up is used here, albeit with some fine-tuning and tweaks that Porsche claims further elevates the car's handling prowess.
The weighting of the steering is predictably firm and there is a wonderful line of feedback through the thick-grip wheel at all times. It's deliciously direct off-centre and very eager to self-centre once.
Rear-end purchase is also quite spectacular once the tyres are brought up to temperature, enabling it to generate tremendous traction under load. Even with the stability management system switched on, it rarely relies on the electronic safety net, such is the authority the big tyres and mechanical locking differential.
While the 911 GT3 continues to be sold with optional carbon-ceramic discs measuring 400mm up front and 380mm at the rear, the standard steel units, which are 380mm all round with six-pot callipers up front and four-pot at the rear, are beyond reproach, offering unparalleled pedal feel and the sort of ultimate stopping power you’ll rarely, if ever, get close to experiencing on public roads. This car wipes off big speed with tremendous authority lap after lap without any sign of brake fade.
Should I buy one?
The 911 GT3 is utterly absorbing. Where this new manual gearbox-equipped model scores is in its ability to truly involve the driver in a way the double-clutch automatic gearbox-touting model ultimately fails to achieve.
In the very best of Porsche traditions, it communicates with very clear and precise lines of engagement, challenging the driver to dig deep into its wonderfully potent seam of performance. When you do, it rises to the occasion with great distinction, rewarding the driver with one of the richest and most fulfilling driving experiences you’re likely to encounter, either on public roads or on the track.
The decision now faced by buyers of the latest 911 GT3 is exactly the same one Porsche faced when it set out to develop the thing. For emotional appeal, there’s nothing like the manual version tested here. But in ultimate performance terms, the PDK model is king. The simple solution, of course, would be to get two - that way you’d never be disappointed.
Location Granada, Spain On sale June Price £111,802 Engine 6 cyls horizontally opposed, 3996cc, petrol Power 493bhp at 8250rpm Torque 339lb ft at 6000rpm Gearbox 6-spd manual Kerb weight 1413kg 0-62mph 3.9sec Top speed 199mph Economy 21.9mpg CO2/tax band 290g/km, 37%