String Instrument [COTY2017] : Porsche 911 (991.2) GT3 Driven [review]

batch GT3

The high-revving Porsche 911 GT3 is capable of making such sweet music

batch DSC 1236

Singapore - They say, “Music soothes even the savage beast”, but what if it is the “savage beast” making the music? Porsche’s GT models are a special breed of sportscars, with the nat-asp ones like the GT3 and GT3 RS even more so.

batch DSC 1177

As the world goes gaga over turbos and electrification, a time will eventually come when high-revving nat-asp sportscars are no more, but you’re bonkers if you think this dinosaur is going to roll-over and play dead before that time is even here. You can bet your bottom dollar we’re going to continue to enjoy the heady fumes of high-octane fuel, the real engine/exhaust soundtrack of a highly-tuned non-turbo’d ICE and the mental and physical workout that comes from rough and tumbling with a real thoroughbred… until that is, we can’t any more.

batch DSC 1395

Porsche has been successful in creating two distinct personalities for its ever-growing range of cars. The Porsche Motorsport GT creations are sacrosanct, and continue to offer driving enthusiasts the visceral thrills they crave. On the other end of the spectrum are the ‘practical’ models targeted at folks new to Porsche, as well as owners who have to keep ‘only-Porsche’ garages, so it has served the brand well to have built up a strong roster of ‘practical’ vehicles like the Macan, Cayenne and Panamera, in addition to the 718 and 911 sportscars.

batch IMG 20180106 145153
Our lensman in protective gear for the shoot in the yard

Turbochargers are like a bank’s easy credit facility, because they provide a quick hit shortcut to effortless, easy power (like a cash advance from the bank!) with the upside of lower emissions, especially since it’s become increasingly difficult and expensive to eke out similar figures from a nat-asp engine (actually working for it!). If you lived through the era of belchy, big-lag, big boost turbos just twenty-odd to thirty years ago, you could never have imagined that turbocharging would return to “save the world”.

Back then, turbos were the performance exception rather than the norm, but these days, they’re found in everything from 63bhp kei-cars to the 700bhp GT2 RS, and everything else in-between.

batch 911 gt3 a
We catch a glimpse of the elusive 'photographus exoticus' in the wild

We still recall the intense rivalry (as well as driving the fruits of their labour!) between Honda and BMW in the mid-1990s, as they competed to develop nat-asp engines capable of breaching the magical 100bhp/litre mark in this ‘affordable’ price point – don’t forget that in this same era, the other cars to breach this specific output for non-turbo engines were exotics like the Ferrari F355 and the McLaren F1. Although BMW managed to wring 321bhp from its top-tier E36 M3’s 3.2-litre, it was rev-happy Honda that was far more prolific in the cheap and cheerful sportscar segment, with its cult Type R Civic and Integra derivatives, as well as even the ‘regular’ Civic SiR – the germans may have thrived on big engines, but Honda thrived on big revs.

batch DSC 1347

Today, highly-tuned rev-happy nat-asp engines are found only in the rarefied segment of high-performance cars, and it is in this realm that the last bastions of nat-asp goodness in the Porsche model line-up (such as the GT3 and GT3 RS) operate. For the first time since the ‘GT3’ moniker was introduced in the type 996 911 in 1999, it is offered in two transmission options for the current 991.2 generation of the 911: a 6spd manual or 7spd PDK.

CLICK HERE FOR OUR DRIVE OF THE 991.2 GT3 PDK

batch DSC 1407

This is on the back of some controversy from the 991.1 GT3 and GT3 RS, which were offered as PDK-only. As far as the ‘RS’ is concerned, its raison d'être is to chase lap times, and it’s hard to beat the lightning-quick shifts of Porsche’s excellent PDK gearbox, so that was better accepted.

Besides, Porsche unveiled a limited edition 911 R as a last hurrah during the 991.1, with an emphasis on ‘fun to drive’, which we now see was probably to test the market demand for such a powertrain configuration; it featured a 6spd manual mated to the 4.0 from the RS in a sub-1.4-tonne wingless wide-body. Unfortunately, the 991 units were quickly spoken for, and left many enthusiasts looking for just such a combination high and dry... and later furious when many of these limited editions started appearing at huge premiums on the secondary market.

CLICK HERE FOR OUR DRIVE OF THE PORSCHE 911 R


PDK is no compromise – 6spd stick or 7spd PDK, the GT3 is fabulous in the scream to 9000

And then Porsche dropped the bombshell: the 991.2 GT3 would be powered by a nat-asp 4.0 (versus the 991.1 GT3’s 3.8) and more crucially, be available in both manual and PDK. For the GT3, its focus wasn’t solely track driving (although it will gladly spend all day and Sunday on the circuit), because traditionally, owners used it for fast road fun as well, and that was where a lot of the ire against the PDK-only 991.1 GT3 had come from.

Then again, humans always like to feel they have a choice in any matter, and not have decisions made for them. From the final tally of the 991.2 GT3 orders in Singapore, only a little over 15 per cent are manual, which goes to show an overwhelming majority still decided to go with PDK.

CLICK HERE FOR OUR DRIVE OF THE 991.2 GT3 PDK

batch DSC 1363

Porsche went one further with the 991.2 911 GT3, and offered the option of a holistic Touring Package for buyers of the 6spd manual. Basically, it offered a wing-delete, with a nondescript gurney flap on the trailing edge of the standard pop-up spoiler. It also meant the TP wouldn’t get the ram-air snorkels of the full-fat big-wing version, and the Clubsport package wouldn’t be available as an option on the TP either.

batch DSC 1355

However, the TP is targeted at a very special niche of collector/driver, who might have more intense, track-focused machines at home, so don’t need the validation of a big wing and oversized nostrils to enjoy his/her drive on the b-roads.

As far as we’re concerned, when you’re enjoying the thrill of a winding mountain road on a cool weekend morning, manually shifting up and down the transmission is never a chore, especially when you’re luxuriating in the crossfit workout of orchestrating a delicate balance between steering, shifting and braking.

batch DSC 1610

Sure, the PDK is indubitably faster, but we find the 6spd manual eminently more fun, mainly because it puts you in a different frame of mind from the PDK and forces you to interact with the machine, and this isn’t something so easy to find in a car these days.

batch DSC 1160

Unlike the Carrera S-derived 3.8-litre of the 991.1 GT3, the nat-asp 4.0 in the 991.2 GT3 is a proper motorsports engine that sees service in the 911 RSR, 911 GT3 R and 911 GT3 Cup race-cars. The 9k rpm redline has to be one of the few such surviving wonders of the modern world, especially with the full-bodied depth of the flat6’s 3996cc displacement.

CLICK HERE FOR OUR DRIVE OF THE 991.2 GT3 PDK

Across the different generations, the nat-asp GT (and RS) models are always a treat to drive, and the .2 GT3 is no exception, and in both stick and PDK to boot – the two transmissions are different, yet so perfect in their respective ways.

batch DSC 1334

We thought the engine in the 991.1 GT3 was peachy enough, but the new .2 GT3’s engine practically pulls you into tomorrow, especially in the final push to 9000rpm – there is some irony in that considering there isn’t likely to be a future for such an engine in time to come, at least based on the current eco-focused timeline.

batch 911 gt3 b
Weight of the 991.2 GT3 in 6spd manual with fluids

In the PDK, your mind is even more focused on the drive, because you can’t afford to sell yourself short in the face of such lightning-quick shifts that are always perfect and ruthless in their efficiency. There’s perfect synergy between the PDK and swirling intensity of the 4.0, which results in emotionally-charged ‘exclamation marks’ as you hammer up and down through the gears. With the engine kept on boil between 7k to 9k rpm, you’re constantly wired-up on a mechanical high as you dance with the GT3 through roads familiar and not, because this is a car you’re happy to learn new roads with, and for which you’ll gladly take the longest route, wherever you’re going.

CLICK HERE FOR OUR DRIVE OF THE 991.2 GT3 PDK

batch DSC 1373

The manual requires some introspection, especially if you’re driving it back to back with the PDK. At first, you’re happy to try to keep pace with the frenetic pace of the manic, rev-happy engine; even if you fumble a shift, the sheer satisfaction in keeping the revs up and catching the wave to a spine-tingling 9000rpm makes everything worthwhile.

batch DSC 1426

And then you slow it down a notch, because hey, isn’t that the point of the manual in the first place?

batch DSC 1422

You start looking further ahead to analyse the lay of the land and deliberate over holding a gear, or downshifting, because the slower pace with the manual gearbox makes you think more about the art of driving, and you focus on the mechanical labour of love involved in effecting quick, smooth shifts without unsettling the car, because the clutch pedal and stick-shift are two external variables outside the control of the car. Well, technically the car will now rev-match for you, a feature of manual GT models like the Cayman GT4, 911 R and the 991.2 GT3, but stirring the 6spd honey pot and engaging the clutch are still in the driver’s hands (and feet).

CLICK HERE FOR OUR DRIVE OF THE PORSCHE 911 R

batch DSC 1560

Without cars like the GT3, life as a petrolhead would be boring indeed. Unfortunately, it’s a pity that such heady performance machines are on their way out, as are the people who can appreciate these very cars… a majority of the younger generation of enthusiasts is unlikely to know or care about anything non-turbocharged or electrified in some way, simply because such intense nat-asp cars will only be the province of the very rich, or the very lucky.

PHOTOS Zotiq Visuals

Porsche 911 GT3 PDK [manual]
Engine: 3996cc, flat6, nat-asp
Power/rpm: 500bhp/8250rpm
Torque/rpm: 460Nm/6000rpm
Transmission: 7spd PDK dual-clutch [6spd manual]
0-100km/h: 3.4secs [3.9secs]
Top speed: 318km/h [320km/h]
Kerbweight: 1430kg [1413kg]
Fuel Consumption: 12.7l/100km [12.9l/100km] (combined)
CO2: 288g/km [290g/km]

David Khoo
Author: David Khoo
David is a big petrolhead who has been dabbling in the car trade since 2001 and currently oversees Top Gear Singapore. His stories often take an eclectic slant from the predictable, and he's able to craft a compelling read that lets you see the cars (often old!) in a new light.