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The new 911 GT3 is an excellent machine; does the addition of a manual gearbox make it even better?

Our Verdict

Porsche 911 GT3

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

28 April 2017

What is it?

Purists were up in arms when Porsche launched the then new 911 GT3 exclusively with a paddleshift-equipped dual-clutch PDK automatic gearbox in 2013. “It’s fundamentally improved, but has lost the very basis of its appeal,” they decried while demanding a return of a traditional six-speed manual gearbox, which had been a mainstay of the car since its introduction to the 911 line-up back in 1999.

Four years and countless discussions later, Porsche has defused the situation by offering buyers of the faceflifted 2017 911 GT3 the choice of two gearboxes: an updated version of the seven-speed PDK that so riled the traditionalists and, following its debut in the limited volume 911 R last year, a newly developed six-speed manual, which is the one we're testing here.

“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.”

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.

There’s no doubting the intent of the new 911 GT3. This is a serious track-focused car that primarily exists to homologate various components and its aerodynamic package for Porsche’s motorsport activities, and it is not backwards in conveying it. One quick glance is sufficient to tell you that it sits a good deal higher on the performance ladder than the 911 Carrera S, with which it shares a number of aluminium body parts.

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.

Among the other subtle differences separating the 911 GT3 from other 911s is an Alcantara-trimmed steering wheel modelled on that of the 918 Spyder. Devoid of any buttons, it’s beautifully proportioned and classically round in shape. In the name of weight saving, there are no rear seats, and despite the addition of some new structural elements within the body, Porsche claims the new 911 GT3 is no heavier than its predecessor.

What's it like?

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%.

With the forged pistons, titanium connecting rods, VarioCam variable valve control system and a 200bar direct-injection system from the race engine that powered the Porsche 911 RSR to victory in this year’s 24 Hours of Daytona endurance race, it kicks out 24bhp and 15lb ft more than the 3.8-litre unit from the previous 911 GT3, giving this new model a total of 493bhp at 8250rpm and 339lb ft at 6000rpm. Unlike the engine used by the 911 R, it forgoes a single-mass flywheel in favour of a dual-mass flywheel.

Mounted on dynamic engine mounts that stiffen as revs rise to help dampen load change, the new engine revs to a stunning 9000rpm before the ignition cut-out is triggered. Porsche claims it rockets the manual version of the new 911 GT3 from 0-62mph in 3.9sec, which is 0.5sec slower than it quotes for the new dual-clutch model, on the way to 124mph in 11.4sec. 

At start-up, there’s a hard-hitting clap of exhaust accompanied by a familiar metallic thrash from the engine. The unit's internal action sends pulses through your body at idle, further adding to the sensation that the 911 GT3 really is more of a race car tuned for the road than a road car developed for the track.

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.

These are mere nuances, but they represent progress, making the new 911 GT3 more effective than ever before

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.  

It’s not until you find a suitable stretch of road – one that allows you to peg the throttle back for longer periods and run at least two gears all the way to the redline in succession - that the full mind-blowing effect of the 911 GT3’s upgraded engine plays out in full.

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.

Now, here's the part we've all been waiting for: the gearbox. It’s the first manual available since the second generation model ceased production back in 2011, and it's the best yet. The six-speed Getrag unit, brought over from the 911 R, weighs 17kg less than the PDK unit, reducing the new Porsche’s kerbweight to 1413kg and marginally improving its overall power-to-weight ratio in the process. The two gearboxes share the same first, second, third and fourth gear ratios, with fifth and sixth being more heavily overdriven in the manual than the automatic, owing to its lack of a seventh gear. They also have the same 3.76:1 final drive ratio.

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 outgoing 911 GT3, which launched in 2013, was the first to receive electro-mechanical steering. It also had the rear-wheel steering system originally developed for the 911 Turbo. Under 50mph, the rear wheels would turn in the opposite direction to those up front for a virtual shortening of the wheelbase and increased agility. Above 50mph, the rear wheels turn in the same direction as the fronts, giving added stability at higher speeds.

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.

Our first drive of the new 911 GT3 was on a combination of public roads and a race track. The handling is highly sensitive to tyre temperature. Being the first one out on the track, I was initially concerned by the amount of understeer developed in slower corners. But once some heat was introduced into the tyres, the front-end grip improved greatly, providing it with added feel and the sort of neutral cornering characteristics that we’ve come to expect from this track-honed 911.

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.

The crowning achievement, though, remains the uncanny body control. Few cars at any price are capable of delivering such incredible poise as the new 911 GT3. Hard braking or undulations in the road surface rarely upset the balance, which is simply sublime.   

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.

But as spectacularly good as the manual version of the new Porsche 911 GT3 is – and it really is stunningly effective - I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who intends to do an intensive amount of track day running. This is simply because the PDK model is faster, both in sheer acceleration terms and where laps times are concerned. No matter who is strapped into the driver’s seat, the lightning speed of its shifts and resulting performance cannot be matched by the manual gearbox, no matter how engaging it is.

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%

Join the debate

Comments
16

28 April 2017
Love the conclusion. Get one of each!
Great that Porsche have seen the error of their ways. There are plenty of us left who prefer to change gear ourselves.

28 April 2017
Rejoice!

Autocar played no part in this, but I sense has learned its lesson.

28 April 2017
eseaton wrote:

Rejoice!

Autocar played no part in this, but I sense has learned its lesson.

Which is what exactly?

29 April 2017
That journalists are paid to have opinions, express them, and fight for them.

They celebrate the return of a manual box in the GT3, but put up no fight when it was previously dropped.

Yesterday, they were actually making noise about the demise of the characterful Yeti and its replacement by a renamed, rebadged, SEAT.

That is what.

28 April 2017
Thanks, but I'll stick with the PDK.

28 April 2017
once it is out of warranty the manual would be the one sort after,too many people would be afraid of pdk problemsthey are not the best and most reliable gearboxes.

28 April 2017
Ski Kid wrote:

once it is out of warranty the manual would be the one sort after,too many people would be afraid of pdk problemsthey are not the best and most reliable gearboxes.

According to who? Bet all the previous PDK only GT3 owners are still happy.

28 April 2017
Ski Kid wrote:

once it is out of warranty the manual would be the one sort after,too many people would be afraid of pdk problemsthey are not the best and most reliable gearboxes.

I doubt people who can afford a GT3 will be worried about a PDK box going wrong.

28 April 2017
Maybe one day a new transmission will be developed that can combine proper manual with a PDK, with no weight/complexity issues.

28 April 2017
And that's how to review one too. Nice one.

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