Porsche has attempted a quantum leap with the 992 GT3's chassis – has it paid off?
By Dan Prosser / Tuesday, April 20, 2021 / Loading comments
We can learn quite a lot about the new Porsche 911 GT3 just by poring over the numbers. Power output from the otherwise carried over 4.0-litre flat-six is up by 10hp, a nominal increase that tells us something important – Porsche has had to look elsewhere to make strides over the previous 911 GT3. It’s certainly no faster. In fact, the 0-62mph and top speed figures are unchanged.
But the new car has 21-inch wheels on the rear axle rather than 20s and tyres that are wider by 10mm all round. The front track is also broader by 48mm, all of which means it should produce more mechanical grip. Despite bigger, wider wheels and modest increases in the overall length and height of the latest model, it weighs only 5kg more than the previous one. Porsche has used thinner, lighter glass on this version than it did the last, saving a few kilograms, with a couple more saved by using less sound deadening material. That might just make the new GT3 a noisier, more uncompromising car in normal road use.
Between a lighter exhaust system and a new lithium ion battery, Porsche has managed to save fully 20kg. Lighter engine mounts and undisclosed engine revisions cut out a further 10kg. Without all those measures, this new GT3 would have been meaningfully heavier than the last.
We learn yet more by delving into Porsche’s claimed downforce figures. In its ‘performance aero’ setting (with the rear wing at its most aggressive angle of attack and the pair of adjustable front diffusers configured to match) this GT3 is pressed into the ground by 385kg of aerodynamic downforce at 124mph. That’s a 150 per cent increase over the previous model. Or absolutely loads more, in other words.
Again, that equates to extra grip. But all that additional downforce needs be supported by far stiffer suspension, otherwise the car will be pressed so hard into the ground at speed its springs would compress fully and the thing would become undriveable. So we probably find ourselves with a firmer car that rides less fluidly along a bumpy road, as well as a noisier one.
Has the new GT3 gone too hardcore for its own good? We’ll have to put that one on ice for the time being because although I’ve spent an entire morning driving it, I’ve so far only done so on a very smooth race track. I’ve no doubt whatsoever this is comfortably the fastest and most capable 911 GT3 there has yet been, at least as far as circuit driving is concerned.
Actually, in that regard it is spectacularly good. But I can’t help but wonder what might have been lost, since a better track car will almost always be a less good road one. A sizeable part of a GT3’s appeal for me was always that as well as being spellbinding on track, they were also so brilliant to drive even on reasonably rough and uneven highways. Is that still the case? We should find out soon enough.
Apart from that quantum leap in downforce (thanks in part to a new wing that hangs from its mounts rather than sitting atop them), the biggest mechanical change is the new double wishbone front suspension. That’s a road-going 911 first. Why this now, almost 60 years after the first 911 hit the road? Most likely it’s that same pursuit of marginal improvement away from the powertrain. Double wishbones mean less camber change in corners, so the outside front tyre will be pressed squarely into the road rather than toppling over where it can’t produce consistent grip. Wider tyres, double wishbones, more aero, a wider front track – you can almost feel how insistently the new GT3 holds a line just by reading that.
Should we analyse the numbers further and see what other insights we can find? Or should we drop into the carbon fibre bucket seats, twist the little protuberance that pokes out of the dashboard to fire the engine into life, then flog this new GT3 around Bedford Autodrome’s West Circuit for half a day? I think the latter.
With the optional buckets and a tangle of roll cage in the back (also optional), this GT3 feels as purposeful as any that’s come before it. The seat drops low and the Alcantara-clad steering wheel presents itself to you. The gear lever that sprouts from the transmission tunnel looks a lot like a manual stick, but there are only two pedals and a couple of shifters attached to the steering wheel. It’s the PDK lever, which you can pull towards you or push away to shift up and down – other 992 variants have a stubby little selector with no sequential shift function.
Even on a dry day it pays to give the tyres a lap or two to come up to temperature. Otherwise, in slow corners at least, the car will just want to oversteer, all that weight over the rear overcoming what bite the cool rear tyres can muster. Once warm, you find such strong grip and traction that driving up to and around the car’s limits becomes as natural as rowing through the gears using the paddles. Some similar cars keep you guessing how much grip you might find, but not this one.
Talking of which, it now turns into a corner and holds a line all the way through to the exit so resolutely that it barely feels like a 911 any more. You don’t manage a light, slightly understeery front axle the way you used to, but instead throw the front end at the apex like you would in a mid-engined car. It just tucks in and stays glued to the line you’ve chosen, even as you open the throttle after the apex and chase the car out of the bend. Meanwhile, the steering offers such clarity and precision that you never waste an ounce of that newfound front-end grip.
Those firmer springs and all that aerodynamic downforce mean the car is planted on track. You so rarely feel it squirm under hard braking or sense its masses start to get away from it in quick direction changes. It rolls just enough to let you feel how hard the two outer tyres are working, and how the balance is shifting through corners. It all adds up to a tremendous amount of confidence at the wheel.
Where this GT3 does still feel like a 911 is when you begin to fling it around for the camera. You use that odd weight distribution to unsettle the car on the way in like you always have, giving the car a little bung as you turn in. That gets the rear end swinging around, at which point you stand on the throttle and more or less let go of the steering wheel altogether to allow it to twirl in front of you. And in that moment, the rear tyres lit up and the fronts canted over as far as they’ll go, the 911 GT3 feels sensational. Like it always has done.
This is an easier car to drive quickly and neatly than the last, which might be another way of saying it’s less of a challenge. But for my money it’s every bit as rewarding. What is as impressive as anything else is how robust the GT3 feels on track even after a couple of hours. The carbon ceramic brakes are supreme and simply didn’t fade, and at no point did the car overheat. Come the end of my session, the only sign it had been abused all morning were the cooked rear tyres. There is a toughness about this car in circuit use that you don’t find anywhere else at this money (leaving lightweight track specials to one side).
And the drivetrain? It’s as spectacular as it’s ever been. On track I don’t miss a manual transmission one bit, partly because this seven-speed PDK is so brilliantly effective. The naturally aspirated engine is a peach, but we knew that already. It cleverly blends a lightning top end – it revs all the way to 9,000rpm, never letting up until it smashes into the rev limiter – with strong torque in the mid-range. It’s not at all peaky yet it has such reach, and with it such character. Little wonder Porsche has barely tickled it for this new GT3.
From within the cabin it sounds great, too, despite the gasoline particulate filter. There’s a gravelly quality to it at low speeds that builds to a hard-edged yowl later on. 510hp doesn’t seem like much these days, but you never crave any more urgency in a straight line.
So this latest 911 GT3 is a qualified triumph. It is phenomenally capable on track while also being a joy to drive over the limit. But at what cost? Have those spring rates made it unbearable on bumpy roads? We’ll report back on that one, and get ourselves into a manual car just as soon as we can, too.
We know there’s a new Touring version on its way. Dewinged, it won’t produce anything like the downforce this one does, which will perhaps mean it won’t have such uncompromising spring rates either. If I had to bet, I would put plenty on the two GT3 variants being just as different in character as the way they look. If I’m right and for road use at least, this isn’t the 911 GT3 we’ve been waiting for at all.
SPECIFICATION | PORSCHE 911 GT3 (992)
Engine: 3,996cc, flat-six
Transmission: 7-speed PDK, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): [email protected]
Torque (lb ft): [email protected]
0-62mph: 3.4 seconds
Top speed: 198mph
Weight: 1,435kg (DIN)
MPG: 21.7 (WLTP)
CO2: 294g/km (WLTP)
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