Like an outlaw on the run, Porsche’s naturally aspirated, regulation-defying 911 GT3 may be on borrowed time.
In an automotive world seemingly hell-bent on electrification, the fourth-generation Porsche 911 GT3 is a true rarity.
Rare, not only because at $369,700 it is well out of financial reach of most admirers. But because after 12 years and three generations as the track day upstart in the 911 line-up, it continues to stick its middle finger up at the very regulations designed to outlaw it, and holding firm to its original race car roots with a naturally aspirated combustion engine.
There is no heavy electric motor and oversized battery to provide hybrid qualities and give it the sort of zero-emissions compatibility rule makers in many markets are seeking from carmakers these days. There’s not even a turbocharger, electrically operated or otherwise, to help boost its induction, as in each and every other new road-going 911 model on sale today.
No, the heady performance of the latest 2021 Porsche 911 GT3 is generated the old-fashioned way – by revs, and plenty of them.
Its rear-mounted 4.0-litre petrol engine, a development of the unit first introduced in its predecessor, is packed with all sorts of friction-reducing trickery that endows it with razor-sharp response and truly mesmerising qualities that see it spin up to 9000rpm with great force and determination before a limiter is triggered.
The six-cylinder power plant not only spectacularly showcases Porsche’s engineering prowess. It is produced to homologate the power plant set to be used by Porsche’s next-generation 911 RSR race car due out in 2023, and develops 375kW at 8400rpm and 470Nm of torque at 6100rpm in the sort of tune Porsche deems fit for the road.
This is 7kW and 10Nm more than it produced up until now, making the new-generation 911 GT3 the most powerful of its breed yet.
Despite the Le Mans breeding, they’re not groundbreaking figures by modern-day supercar standards. But when combined with a relatively low kerb weight and a spine-tingling exhaust note that grows harder, louder and more intense all the way up to that Himalayan-like peak in revs, their effect is quite spectacular.
Like all the 911 GT3 models produced down through the years, the latest 911 GT3 is aimed as much at wealthy weekend racers as it is at performance car connoisseurs who never have the intention of taking it to a circuit. The dual role led Porsche to the decision to offer the choice of two gearboxes.
|2021 Porsche 992 911 GT3|
|Engine||4.0-litre flat six-cylinder|
|Power||375kW @ 8400 rpm|
|Torque||470Nm @ 6100 rpm|
|Transmission||Six-speed manual or seven-speed PDK|
|Drive type||Rear-wheel drive|
|Kerb weight||1418kg (manual)|
|Fuel claim combined (ADR)||13.3/100km|
|Boot volume||133L front|
|ANCAP safety rating||Untested|
|Warranty||Three years/unlimited kilometres|
|Main competitors||One does not simply ‘compete’ with a GT3…|
|Price as tested (ex on-road costs)||$369,700|
The 1418kg standard version gets a traditional six-speed manual gearbox, but it is the 1435kg seven-speed dual-clutch-equipped version with steering wheel-mounted shift paddles that takes the performance honours and is the clear choice for the track.
The former provides official 0–100km/h and 0–200km/h times of 3.9sec and 11.9sec, with the latter 3.4sec and 10.8sec respectively. The difference is largely due to its faster gearshifts offered by the dual-clutch gearbox, which now runs a 4.19:1 final drive and has been further improved over its predecessor.
The roles are reversed on top speed, with the lighter manual claimed to reach 320km/h and the dual-clutch model 318km/h.
The spectacularly effective engine is just one part of what makes the latest 911 GT3 so memorable to drive. To improve its standing as a road car and provide a more suitable basis for its motorsport activities, Porsche has brought a raft of further changes to the new seventh-generation model.
It all starts with the styling, which gets an even more functional look to give it greater visual differentiation to standard 911 models than ever before. Included is a new front bumper with larger air ducts for the brakes and front-mounted radiators, as well as a new profile for added downforce on the front axle and more constant airflow along the sides. Further back, there are now also two prominent air ducts within the bonnet to extract heat and reduce pressure build-up within the front end at speed.
The most prominent change is the adoption of a new four-step manually adjustable ‘swan neck’ rear wing adapted from that used by the 911 RSR race car. In its standard setting, it is claimed to provide the new 911 GT3 with a 50 per cent increase in rear downforce over its predecessor. In a performance setting, which Porsche describes as being exclusively reserved for the racetrack, the downforce is said to be increased by 150 per cent at a speed of 200km/h.
For the first time ever, the Porsche road racer also receives a full-width rear diffuser, with the sizeable tailpipes continued to be positioned centrally so as not to interrupt airflow.
Dimensions have increased in the move to the 992-series model, too. Length is up by 11mm at 4573mm, width extends by 5mm at 1857mm and height is increased by 8mm at 1279mm. The wheelbase, however, remains the same as with the earlier 991.2 model launched in 2018 at 2457mm.
To keep weight in check, it also gets a carbon-fibre-reinforced plastic bonnet, special lightweight glazing, as well as an optional carbon-fibre roof panel. Even so, the dual-clutch-equipped model driven here is 5kg heavier than before.
Further changes are concentrated underneath in the form of a heavily reworked chassis. Departing from the MacPherson strut design used in each and every generation of the 911 GT3 produced up until now, as well as other current 911 models, the 2021 model adopts a new double-wishbone front suspension with a 50mm-wider track at 1601mm.
Originally developed for the RS Spyder LMP2 prototype in 2005, and subsequently used on the 2017 24 Hours of Le Mans class-winning 911 RSR, it was chosen for its higher camber stiffness, more constant support of the outside wheel, and ability to eliminate disturbance from lateral forces on the dampers during all-out cornering.
Andreas Preuninger, project director for Porsche’s GT road cars, explains: “Let us assume you are doing knee bend exercises and someone pushes you from the side – with a MacPherson strut suspension you would lose your balance. A double-wishbone axle stabilises you in the shoulder area, and you can continue the exercise undisturbed”.
The rear suspension retains the five-link design of the sixth-generation 911 GT3 and other 911 models, but receives additional ball joints in the lower arms and slightly narrower track at 1555mm. As with the front suspension, its spring and damping characteristics can be adjusted to suit individual requirements for the racetrack.
The standard wheels are 20 inches in diameter at the front and 21 inches at the rear, respectively with 255/35- and 315/30-profile Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres. The new 911 GT3 can also be shod with more track-focused Michelin Cup 2 R tyres as an option.
As before, there’s a rear steering system. It has been reworked to provide an added 0.5 degrees of rear steering angle at 2.0 degrees. The optional front-axle lift system of the old model is also retained. It allows the driver to increase ground clearance at the front by 46mm at speeds between 35km/h and 60km/h.
The brakes, too, are upgraded. The standard front steel discs increase in diameter from a previous 380mm to 408mm. They’re now dimpled with cone-shaped holes instead of being cross-drilled in the traditional manner, in a process Porsche claims improves cooling and increases overall stopping power.
The standard rear steel discs retain the same diameter as before at 380mm. They’re grabbed by six-pot front and four-pot rear callipers respectively. The optional carbon-ceramic discs, as fitted to our test car, retain the same 410mm front and 390mm diameter as before.
Inside, the new 911 GT3 shares its cabin architecture with other recent new 911 models, albeit with weight-reducing measures such as the traditional removal of the rear seats and a reduction in the sound-deadening measures within the body structure. However, there is no longer the option to delete the air-conditioning to reduce weight further.
Together with unique instruments, sport seats, a sport steering wheel and the liberal use of Alcantara, there is one significant change over the standard 911: the gear selector. Instead of the slider-style shift-by-wire item, the 911 GT3 equipped with the dual-clutch gearbox features a lever-style arrangement similar to that used on manual-gearbox versions of the new car.
Preuninger says he personally specified this feature, telling CarAdvice he prefers shifting via a traditional gear lever on the centre console than with the steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles.
Buyers can specify an optional Clubsport package, which includes a rollcage behind the front seats, a six-point safety belt for the driver, a fire-extinguisher and switch to neutralise the battery – a lightweight lithium-ion unit brought over from its predecessor.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to push the 911 GT3 as hard as we would have liked on-track. A series of snow flurries quickly put paid to those plans. However, we did have an opportunity to explore it out in public during an extended drive, which took in everything from wide-open Autobahns to challenging country roads and just about everything else in between.
One thing’s for sure, it doesn’t lack for interaction. A determined stab of the throttle sends the revs soaring with a deep mechanical meshing from the engine and a wonderfully sonorous blast through the exhaust. You can select a low gear and wind the engine beyond 5000rpm to marvel at the explosive accelerative ability through the mid-range and well beyond, or you can call up a taller gear and rely on the inherent flexibility to propel you down the road with satisfying low-rev punch. Either way, it feels equally as accommodating.
Porsche has traditionally had a clear sense and unique understanding of what makes a race car work on public roads, and it is once again on display here in the superb balance and precision to the 911 GT3. The handling is nothing short of breathtaking, with astonishing response and outstanding adhesion. You could argue the previous model delivered all this too. But not as keenly, and certainly not with the same heightened level of accuracy and stability that this new one features.
What’s particularly rewarding is the added communication and confidence you get from the new front end. The electro-mechanical steering weights up naturally as lateral forces increase, and taking into account the added assistance brought by the newly configured rear-wheel-steer system. It dives into corners with unshakable determination and the slightest hint of body roll.
With the Porsche Stability Management (PSM) system activated, the new model corners as hard as any rear-wheel-drive road-going 911 ever has. Its consistency of movement and mid-corner stability are rather exceptional, placing it among a very select breed of supercars for overall dynamic excellence. And when you turn the PSM off, it becomes more absorbing with the sort of adjustable qualities the 911 GT3 has become renowned for down through the years.
Despite its racetrack breeding, it deals with changeable road conditions. It instantly feels more rigid than other 911 models, but not aggressively so. In fact, there’s a good deal of compliance to the ride given the heavy performance focus owing, in part, to the inclusion of adaptive damping control that continually alters the level of firmness.
The new front suspension brings a more compliant feel with less pitch sensitivity and an altogether calmer disposition than earlier incarnations when the road surface is not exactly smooth. The big tyres tend to generate a lot of noise, most notably those at the rear. However, the underlying road roar is mostly drowned out by the wonderfully hard-edged mechanical shrill of the engine when you push the new Porsche with any real intent.
The optional carbon-ceramic brakes require a bit more effort than the steel units before they reach their optimal operating temperature, but they’re hugely powerful.
You can feel the advancements Porsche has made to the 911 GT3. However, nothing exemplifies the gains in performance and overall dynamic ability perhaps more than its Nürburgring lap time. With a run of 6min 59.9sec, Porsche factory driver Lars Kern recently lowered the time he established with the old model at the legendary 20.8km-long German circuit back in 2017 by a considerable 11.8sec. Even accounting for differences in track conditions, that’s a world of difference.
So, yes, the improvements over the previous 911 GT3 are clearly more than incremental. With a naturally aspirated combustion engine hanging out back, it remains truly captivating to drive in the best of Porsche-race-car-for-the-road traditions with greater response, handling finesse, ride compliance and braking ability than ever before.