Porsche rolls out a very special 911 as a birthday present to itself

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You can’t accuse the makers of the Porsche 911 S/T of under-promising on it.

Andreas Preuninger, who runs Porsche’s GT division, tells us it is “one of the greatest 911s of all time, if not the greatest, the most entertaining”.

And he says Walter Röhrl, Porsche’s brand ambassador (and two-time world rally champion) calls it “the best street-legal car I’ve ever driven”. Which, when even just the recent back catalogue has the Porsche 911 GT3 RS 4.0 and 911 R in it, is no minor boast.

The S/T is a special-edition 911 limited to 1963 units (it’s the model line’s 60th anniversary), about 10% of which will come to the UK, each priced at £231,600. It’s based on the GT3 Touring, the marginally more laid-back, road-friendlier version of the GT3 that is Autocar’s reigning – and two-time – Britain’s Best Driver’s Car champion. But while the S/T is “a GT product”, according to Preuninger, it is unequivocally “not a track car”. The evidence? “The Nürburgring lap time I don’t care about,” he says. “I don’t know it. We haven’t tested it.”

Instead, the S/T is meant to be different from all previous 911 GT cars. “We wanted to make the ultimate driver’s car,” says Preuninger, “and being the lightest 992 [-generation 911] was the main development goal.”

There are, then, carbonfibre door skins, front wings, froot lid and roof. Wheels are magnesium and the interior features no rear seats. Weight has been shed elsewhere too, as a by-product of other goals. The 4.0-litre flat-six naturally aspirated engine comes from Porsche’s 911 GT3 RS, where it makes 518bhp. But because the team wanted it to have more of a ‘zing’ factor, there is a much lighter clutch for the six-speed manual gearbox, and a single- rather than dual-mass flywheel.

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Porsche 911 st review 2023 08 front

The GT3’s hydraulically activated rear-steer system has been binned, too, saving more kilos and no longer sapping engine power. The rear anti-roll bar and its drop links are made from carbonfibre and the brakes are carbon-ceramic. 

All in, the S/T weighs 1380kg, so 38kg less than a manual GT3 Touring and only 10kg more than a 911 R, and responses ought to be improved again by 8% lower gear ratios and a 10mm shorter gear lever than that of a GT3. Spring and damper hardware and Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres are the same as on the GT3 Touring, but the adaptive damper’s software tuning is different. The steering has been made more linearly responsive and, perhaps counter-intuitively, slower overall: it’s tuned with the aim of replicating a hydraulic rack’s steady take-up of weight and feel, accepting the loss of the GT3’s quicker initial low-speed turn-in. 

The steering is certainly heavier and more deliberate than a GT3 Touring’s (one of which, helpfully, Porsche had to hand for a brief back-to-back blast). And given they share so much, the two cars feel notably different. There’s an initial easy slickness to the GT3’s steering that the S/T rows back on. Even at low speeds rolling away from our location, it feels more authentic, more like genuine tyre forces are feeding through to the rim – which is, of course, what the best steering racks do.

What’s more striking still is the S/T’s ride quality. Given that this car runs 20 and 21in alloys with 30-profile tyres, the ride is astonishingly good. A GT3 knobbles along poor roads with some head- toss and firmness, from which this new S/T is seemingly immune. Given the suspension hardware is the same, it’s remarkable tuning.

Don’t think, though, that this is a softer GT3. Body control and composure is better, too. There are two damper stiffness settings, but either is usable on the road. I like the more controlled setting, which gives very little compliance away, while reducing already small levels of dive and squat rate. Porsche’s engineers tell me the S/T’s lightweight magnesium wheels (a 2.65kg apiece saving in mass over the GT3’s alloys) make little difference to ride comfort but that their reduced rotational inertia helps engine response. Because of this, and combined with all the other changes, the S/T feels fabulously urgent.

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It’s extremely loud, inside and out, even at idle, although the exhaust note is not unsophisticated: there are no pops and bangs and there’s less induction noise than in, say, the Porsche Cayman GT4 RS. There’s a grumbly limited-slip diff and a smooth, noisy engine, driving through a six-speed manual ’box whose shift is precise but demands decisiveness and a decent throttle prod on downshifts, given the revs die so quickly that rev-matching takes concentration (an auto-blip mode is included). It’s immensely rewarding. Okay, Preuninger says this isn’t a track car, but I’ll bet it’s a hoot when you do get the chance to give it everything. 

Porsche 911 st review 2023 09 driving

Great steering, then, impeccable control, 1380kg agility with 911-type balance and a powertrain to die for: is this the best 911 ever?

Well, it has been 12 years since I drove a GT3 RS 4.0, and I regret that therefore I’m not quite able to make that call. But, you know, on the right road, in the right circumstances, then yes, maybe (and are you going to tell Walter Röhrl otherwise?). If there is an issue – and it’s part of this gig to find them – it’s that a modern 911 feels wide, although the S/T, at 1852mm across the body, is no wider than a 911 R or GT3 RS 4.0 (although it is 2027mm across the mirrors). It looks and feels bigger, though; perhaps it has a higher window line, worse visibility, thicker pillars, a chunkier interior. But it feels less malleable than those older cars.

Such is the S/T’s precision and linearity, though, that over time it becomes more approachable, and there will be markets where this doesn’t matter anyway. But on small mountain roads, where you’re wondering if you’d be having any less fun in a Lotus Elise or a Peugeot 106 Rallye, I thought it’d be nice to have less metal either side of me.

What’s remarkable is that although the 911 is ever more powerful and ever more focused, unlike some supercars these fastest and angriest Porsches have stayed entirely relevant and hugely entertaining nonetheless. If you’re imagining your dream road and track drive, with your dream car to take on it, the 911 S/T has just entered the conversation at the very forefront of your mind.

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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.