2019 Porsche 911 GT3 RS first drive: Singing soprano from the heavens


Car reviews / Вторник, Май 1st, 2018

Let’s talk sound. Perhaps not the first attribute you think of when considering a car, but definitely one of its most important. Porsche’s latest, seventh-generation 911 GT3 RS emits audio that some may consider shrill, like a banshee wail, or an enraged muskrat. But to me, it’s music. A mechanical symphony accompanied by an exquisite soprano choir that triggers the deepest, most visceral emotions of pleasure, energy and strength. It’s euphoric, a crescendo surge that heightens your focus to the task at hand. Pure and meditative, you are in the moment. Zen. Yes, it’s that good.

Much more than the tone broadcasting through the titanium exhaust of this 4.0-liter, naturally aspirated flat-six, or even the 9,000-rpm redline pitch it can reach, it’s the speed at which the revs climb. A rate that’s apparently immune to which gear you’re in, just ask the seven-speed PDK (dual-clutch) transmission for another and hear the revs quickly climb again. Feel it once and Porsche’s claims of three seconds to 60 mph and 6.9 to reach a century seem like underestimates. 

Perhaps the choir should sing hallelujah to the powertrain engineers. They’re the ones who raised the horsepower figure to 520 at 8,250 rpm, 20 more than the 2016, sixth-generation GT3 RS. To do it, they upgraded the pistons and rings, stiffened the crankshaft and used larger main and rod bearings. That permitted them to nudge up the compression ratio to 13.3:1. To allow the valvetrain to reliably manage that 9,000 rpm redline, they nixed hydraulic valve clearance compensation and replaced them with fixed valves, which are shimmed in place and last the life of the engine. Peak torque comes at a seemingly high 6,000 rpm, providing 347 lb-ft. Despite the peaky numbers, the curve is fat enough to keep you feeling nothing other than strong pull throughout the rev range. 

Those power and torque figures also beat the standard GT3 by 20 and 8, respectively. But the differences between the two models go way beyond motor. The GT3 is built from the Carrera 4 body, whereas the RS starts with the Turbo shell, which has a 1.5 inches wider front track and a slightly wider rear. Moreover, even more parts come from exotic and lightweight materials such as carbon fiber, magnesium, titanium and aluminum. Bits like the front splitter and front and rear lid are carbon, the roof is magnesium and several other parts are combinations of materials or other composites. Even the side and rear windows are made from “lightweight glass,” similar to polycarbonate in weight, but more scratch and break resistant. Altogether, total weight comes to a lithe 3,191 pounds.

Struts up front and a multilink setup in back is a typical starting point for a suspension on most any car these days. What makes the GT3 RS stand out is its liberal use of metal and plastic “uniball” bearings between the chassis and the links, which replace rubber bushings. They reduce the slack in the suspension and play a big role in speeding up response time between driver inputs and vehicle reaction. That setup is much closer to the GT3 Cup race car than other road-going Porsches. In that same vein, spring rates shot way up, more than twice as stiff in front and 33 percent stiffer in back when compared to the last-gen GT3 RS. 

Porsche provides two options for brakes and, according to Andreas Preuninger, director of GT model lines, true track rats will choose the base system with aluminum six-piston calipers in front, four-piston in back, and steel 15.0-inch rotors at all four corners because of “cost of ownership. The pads and rotors are wear items and if you go to the track on a regular basis the cost of PCCB parts are much more expensive.” The $9,210 optional PCCBs, or Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes, are better, however, because they weigh less. The hottest of hot shoes will be able to brake later and trail into a corner deeper. Pretty extreme stuff.

Video: Watch the Porsche 911 GT3 RS Lap the 'Ring in 6:56

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Video: Watch the Porsche 911 GT3 RS Lap the ‘Ring in 6:56

The Execution

In many ways, the GT3 RS is even more extreme than its turbocharged big brother, the GT2 RS. The GT3 RS, for example, carries 8 fewer pounds sound-deadening material behind the front seats — it’s just carpet and metal. And, more significantly, its various wings and flaps and diffusers generate a total of 320 pounds of downforce at 124 mph, which increases to 920 pounds at 186 mph. Those figures have the GT2 RS beat by about 10 percent. Hell, even front brake cooling is handled by NACA ducts built in the hood.

All aforementioned body, suspension and aero aids make up the foundation of the 911 GT3 RS, but Porsche throws a petabyte worth of tech into the track car mix, as well. The shocks are adjustable, of course, but so are the engine mounts and differential. Each of those components typically requires a compromise between street and track, but all of these are adjusted behind the scenes so that on a smooth track in high lateral loads, the diff is effectively locked, the shocks are race car firm and the engine is effectively welded to chassis. All that is in addition to active rear-axle steering and manually adjustable camber, ride height, anti-roll bars and rear wing.

All that sounds complicated. And it is, but, again, a tip of the hat to all the systems engineers and test drivers who integrated the technology with wizard-like precision. What the driver feels is an incredibly well-balanced, muscle-bound machine that’s light on its Michelin Pilot Cup 2 feet. There is another reason for that, however, and it comes down to what is changed and adjusted. The GT3 RS doesn’t steer for you or use the brakes to “mitigate understeer” or any of that overstepping nanny stuff. The true brilliance is Porsche found gadgets to take away compromise, not manipulate chassis balance. In the end, all sensations are natural and organic, which we confirmed at the Grand Prix course at the Nurburgring. 

Upon corner entry, turn-in is sharp and, if you’re aggressive enough, will break loose the rear axle (oversteer), not the front (understeer). Simply slow your hands down at the limit if you find that unsettling. But what a rare treat to be able to break the rear loose at corner entry with just the steering wheel. Track out is a similar story: Slowly feed power and you’re balanced to the exit, but the faster your right foot approaches the firewall, the easier it is to break the rear loose again. This tells you two things. First: The GT3 RS has tons of front grip. And second: Chassis balance gives the driver lots of options to balance the car through a corner. 

Once you reach a straight patch of track, it’s like your favorite song is playing on the radio again. You have to crank it up. I just let the PDK take care of the shifts for me because, well, as Preuninger said, “because it’s an RS, the brother of a (GT3) Cup car, because it’s faster,” but there are shift paddles if I wanted to command gear choice. And manual diehards need look no further than the 2018 911 GT3. Approaching the next corner is drama free, as the brakes do not disappoint. The pedal feel is perfect — solid initial bite, linear force buildup and devotedly religious consistency. No fade.

If you’ve read this far and think the GT3 RS sounds far too heavy and cheap, look no further than the Weissach Package. Basically, it’s what Porsche offers in the GT2 RS, except split in two. Let me explain: $18,000 buys you a set of magnesium wheels, which weigh 25 fewer pounds than the standard set. Another $13,000 saves an additional 13 pounds (a grand a pound!) by swapping the rear wing and part of the side-view mirrors with Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastic, or CFRP. Underneath, front and rear antiroll bars and coupling rods also become CFRP, inside the shift paddles and steering wheel cover. If you don’t live in the U.S., you’d also get a titanium roll cage, but we do and don’t want to talk about it. Visually, Weissach Package cars have PORSCHE lettering on the rear wing and the Weissach logo on the headrests. 

All together, that package drops vehicle weight to 3,153 pounds and weight-to-power sinks under 6.1. The GT3 RS was so equipped when it lapped the Nurburgring in under seven minutes. The test drivers also used a prototype version of a new, optional “road-approved track tire” named Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 R N-spec. That tire, we presume, played a large role in dropping the GT3 RS lap time 16 seconds compared to the last-gen model and put the 2019 GT3 RS desperately close to being a race car. 

The Takeaway

The first 911 GT3 RS will arrive on our shores this summer, but you can order one now for as little as $188,550. Big number, I know. But let’s get one thing straight. Even though manufacturers of six-figure machines use facts and figures to justify the price, these things are toys. And toys are fun because of the emotions you feel using them, not their specs. So, please don’t give in to the temptation to shout that car A or car B is objectively better because of this horsepower and that suspension and blah blah blah. That’s not what matters.

The 2019 Porsche 911 GT3 RS looks the business, feels amazing, sounds incredible and manifests the pure joy of driving quickly without having to sift through several safety and regulation filters. It’s worth whatever those feelings are worth to you. For me, this thing is a bargain.

On Sale: Summer

Base Price: $188,550

As Tested Price: More than $188,550

Powertrain: 4.0-liter flat-6, 7-speed PDK, RWD

Output: 520 hp @ 8250 rpm, 347 lb-ft @6000 rpm

Curb Weight: 3153 — 3191 lbs.

0-60 MPH: 3.0

Pros: Amazingly good

Cons: Amazingly expensive