IT’S a fact of life that, as soon as you reach the top of your game in any discipline, it’s a good idea to start looking over your shoulder for potentially younger, fresher and more streetwise upstarts aiming to knock you off your perch. In a cutthroat environment such as the motoring industry, the most a manufacturer can hope for is that its product has done enough to create a legacy that’s difficult for others to emulate before it (hopefully) bows out on a high.
This principle applies in no greater way than to the Porsche 911. With the launch of the nextgeneration 911 (code name 991) imminent, Porsche is giving its outgoing 997 model the best possible chance to shine.
From the outset, the new 911 GTS is an intriguing package that simultaneously flirts with the idea of being a proper race car – without threatening the purity of the hallowed GT3 – while remaining true to its maker’s philosophy of producing accomplished everyday sportscars.
Design-wise, the GTS could be confused with the Carrera 4 owing to Porsche equipping the former with the same wider body as its all-wheel-drive sibling. This allows for a 44 mm wider rear-end than the Carrera and, importantly, translates into a 32 mm wider track. A reshaped SportDesign front apron is designed to accentuate the air intakes, while imposing-looking black 19-inch RS Spyder wheels feature race car-inspired centre-locking hubs. For good measure, the driven wheels are coated with a sliver of 305/30 ZR19 rubber. Finally, proudly occupying the wide rear bumper are two sets of twin tailpipes that advertise the fitment of a standard sportexhaust system. Internal valves that open and close in sync with the rev counter needle control the tone of these pipes. In the youngest 911, this needle has a range of 7 300 r/min in which to play before reaching an electronically controlled limiter.
Adding further cred to the GTS package, Porsche has turned up the wick on its naturally aspirated 3,8-litre flat-six engine. The 17 kW increase in power from 283 kW to 300 kW is achieved via a special resonance intake manifold with six vacuum-controlled tuning flaps (which is available as an upgrade on Carrera S models at R175 420, making the GTS great value for money in comparison). Peak torque remains at 420 N.m, but is delivered 200 r/min earlier at 4 200 r/min. Using this extra power together with the PDK transmission’s optional launch-control function – which is included in the Sport Chrono package – to its full advantage, the GTS was able to shave a few hundreds-of-a-second off the 0-100 km/h time the Carrera S achieved in an earlier CAR road test (January 2009). While this may seem like a small improvement, remember that the GTS’s 4,42-second sprint time is very close to matching the race-ready GT3’s 4,38-second run.
The overtaking acceleration times were equally impressive, with the last of the rear-wheel driven 997-series 911s able to shoot from 60 to 120 km/h in only 3,67 seconds. Porsche claims a top speed of 304 km/h.
Purists might argue the six speed manual option is the one to have in this focused 911 but, with the double-clutch PDK, GTS owners are afforded both the convenience of slick and ultra responsive automatic changes in everyday driving conditions and the ability to take charge via neat (and logical) steering wheel mounted paddles.
Unique to the GTS is a new alcantara-covered three-spoke steering wheel. This same material is used extensively throughout the cabin but, while it does look and feel great when new, we have some concerns as to how it will stand the test of time, especially on bits that see lots of use. Supportive sports seats add a touch of exclusivity and, in the interest of weight saving, rear seats are offered as a no-cost option.
As we’ve become accustomed to in a 911, it’s the experience in the driver’s seat that matters most. Although the GTS delivers similar levels of grip and precision at the front as the Carrera S, the wider rear track offers greater peace of mind when it comes to keeping the car line-astern once the apex of a corner has been passed. The PASM damping system, which offers a suspension-firming sport setup, is standard fi t-ment in the GTS, although South African owners might struggle to find a surface smooth enough on which to best exploit this function. As it stands, we found the default normal setting firm enough to be considered sporty by most.
Our test unit arrived boasting optional ceramic brake discs (at a buttock-clenching R113 850) that showed no signs of fade and achieved an impressive 10-stop average braking time of only 2,57 seconds.
Through the years, the 911 has come in for its fair share of criticism, mainly owing to Porsche’s overly cautious design ethos. Judging by images of its successor, you can expect more of the same. However – and of far greater importance – few doubters can find fault with the way each model in each subsequent 911 range performs. Few sportscars can lay claim to be as user-friendly but thrilling to drive at any speed as Porsche’s flagship. The 997 GTS is a fine swan song and offers just the right blend of everyday Carrera drivability with a healthy dose of racetrack-ready DNA.