GRANADA, Spain – Some 24 hours, more than 300 km on the road and 10 laps on Circuito Guadix. This has given me a pretty good idea what the new Porsche GT3 (referred to internally as the 991.2) is all about.
Back in 1999, when the first-generation (996) GT3 was introduced, even Porsche didn't know that it would become such a successful and much loved car. Another 996 (Mark II) followed, then two 997 derivatives, followed by the first-generation 991 – and each of these also had their respective RS models.
When the previous-generation GT3 was introduced, the 3,8-litre flat-six engine revved to an intoxicating 9 000 r/min. Fortunately, despite all manner of updates made to this new model, that number remains firmly intact.
First, the geeky stuff. This engine is not derived from the current 4,0-litre flat-six found in the 991 GT3 RS and limited production 911 R. That engine's internal codename is MA176. The engine in the new GT3 is dubbed MA177 and has already made its debut in the 991 GT3 R, RSR and the latest Cup car. Yes, that's right ... it's derived from the racing engine.
Other interesting updates include the fact that this engine requires only 70 litres per minute of oil circulation versus the previous unit's 120 litres per minute. This massive improvement is part of an overall aim to reduce friction within the drivetrain. Furthermore, to mention but a few improvements, the hydraulic system for the valves has been replaced by a new rigid setup and the camshaft is stronger.
The lightning quick seven-speed PDK transmission remains, while Porsche is now also offering a six-speed manual transmission, as we have experienced in the 911 R. This is the first time since the 997 GT3 that a manual has been made available.
Porsche has also paid attention to the weight and aerodynamic efficiency of the car. While we could really delve deep into the details here, we'll sum it up by saying this: although the new model has a larger engine and more onboard technology, using lightweight materials (such as carbon-fibre and polyurethane) sees it weighing in at 1 430 kg – the same as the previous GT3. Select the manual version and you save a further 17 kg.
Options in the various vehicles on the launch included carbon-fibre bucket seats and the Clubsport package with the rear roll-cage (with or without a fire extinguisher), to name but two.
Behind the wheel
Let's concentrate on the manual version (you'll be able read a review of the PDK version in the upcoming June issue of CAR magazine). Porsche is known for building some of the best short-throw and direct-shifting six-speed gearboxes on the market. But there was outcry from a small group of enthusiasts when the current GT3 RS and previous GT3 were not offered with a manual option.
Although PDK models will still dominate the sales, the fact that a 368 kW, 4,0-litre, naturally aspirated car is still offered with a manual 'box should be celebrated. The moment you twist the key, the bark of the engine is complemented by a burst and fart from the exhaust system. Soon thereafter, the engine settles into a rough, clattering idle.
The bucket seats keep you perfectly in place. Select the softer sports seat option and you will be slightly more comfortable on longer journeys, but the buckets really do give you a better connection to the car, an element I missed later in the day when I drove an example fitted with the sports perches.
The test route took us along highways, but more importantly, also along some fantastic, challenging back roads. The moment you pull away and apply only small throttle inputs you can sense that there is an immense powertrain behind you.
In the lower gears, keeping the revs below 5 000 r/min will easily leave traffic in your wake, allowing you to marvel at the pin-perfect chassis setup. With the exhaust button pressed (or even not activated), there is an urgency from the engine and exhaust like no other six-cylinder engine currently available.
I select second gear (4 000 r/min), put my foot down and watch as the yellow needle makes a beeline round the clock. Past 6 000 r/min, the needle gains further speed; it's hard believe that there's another 3 000 r/min of manic screaming left before you depress the clutch and slot the gearlever across the gate into third.
If you have pressed the Sport button on the centre console, the moment you brake for a turn and dip the clutch to select a lower gear, the throttle will automatically blip, matching the revs to your selected lower cog. If you prefer to blip or heel-and-toe yourself, this function can simply be switched off. But, regardless of which you prefer, the transmission offers such a connected and intense driving experience.
The grip levels – helped by the 245/35 ZR 20 (front) and 305/30 ZR20 (rear) tyre and wheel combination – are high, but owing to the direct response from the throttle it is relatively easy to sense what the rear of the car is doing, particularly through tighter corners (as we experienced on the circuit).
The experience of revving the engine round the clock and manually swapping gears, combined with a car which offers a perfect driving position and even a certain level of practicality, makes the GT3, again, one of the best sports cars Porsche builds.
At R2,75-million, the GT3 offers superb value. The performance on offer is in line with cars that are more powerful and cost even more than the GT3.
You may argue that for basically the same price you could buy yourself a very accomplished Audi R8 V10. But that would be missing the point. These two cars are light years apart in terms of the overall driving experience.
During the launch, I sent a few photographs to a fellow petrolhead, who incidentally owns an older GT3. And his reply hit the nail on the head: he described Porsche's GT3s as "civilised race cars". And that's spot on, if you ask me.