2018 Porsche 911 GT3 review: Sports car perfection
When Porsche launched the 991-generation 911 GT3 for 2014, it was quite the specimen. It had a 3.8-liter boxer six-cylinder engine making a stout 475 horsepower with a stratospheric 9,000-rpm redline. It had features like an adaptive suspension, torque-vectoring rear differential and rear-wheel steering, making it a turn-key track terror.
But there was a problem. The GT3 upset manual transmission-loving Porschephiles because it was only available with a dual-clutch automatic. Porsche noted that the dual-clutch transmission's split-second shifts ultimately made for a faster car than one with a stick. And while that may have been true, Porsche failed to foresee the backlash from a vocal contingent of driving purists who valued the experience of working three pedals over absolute speed.
For this updated 991.2-generation GT3, however, Porsche is set to right those wrongs.
A more involving drivetrain
Not only does Porsche bring back a manual gearbox for 2018, it's connected it to a larger and more potent 4.0-liter boxer engine that cranks out 500 horsepower and 339 pound-feet of torque -- a powerplant derived from the 911 GT3 R and GT3 Cup race cars. The result is a car that hits 60 miles per hour in 3.8 seconds and covers the quarter-mile in 11.6 seconds. Yes, you can still buy a GT3 with the PDK automatic, and it'll hit 60 mph a full 0.6 seconds sooner, but around GingerMan Raceway in South Haven, Michigan, the numbers-on-paper performance gap doesn't even matter.
The 4.0-liter engine is a naturally aspirated masterpiece that retains the outgoing 3.8-liter's 9,000 rpm redline and soul-stirring soundtrack. The glorious noise requires a recalibration of my brain's upshift points because at 8,000 it thinks a gear change is needed when there's still 1,000 more revs to go. Throttle response is near instant and power builds in a linear fashion throughout the rev range before tapering off slightly after 8,250 rpm.
When it's time to grab another gear, the short throw shifter crisply slots through the gate and offers satisfying action -- more so than flicking paddles, anyway. The 11 corners of GingerMan's 2.14-mile road course have my full, undivided attention in the manual GT3 -- hitting brake points, working the clutch and shifter, turning in, hitting the apex and tracking out require more coordination to get everything right. It all makes for a more involving, challenging and fun experience, which is something that can't be quantified on the GT3's spec sheet.
A sharpened track tool
Outside the drivetrain, there are a handful of updates that help the GT3's track prowess. Bigger front air dams better cool the front six-piston brake calipers, supported by four-piston stoppers out back. The ram air ducts are larger to feed more air to the rear-mounted engine, and aero changes come in the form of a 0.8-inch taller carbon fiber wing and underbody paneling. All of the GT3's aero bits together generate 340 pounds of downforce at its 198 mph top speed -- a 20 percent improvement over the previous car.
Other GT3 goodies include an adaptive suspension, rear-axle steering and new Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 245/35 front and 305/30-series rear tires. No matter the corner, the 3,116-pound GT3 does whatever you tell it with perfectly weighted steering and quick response to inputs. With the suspension in Sport mode, the body never feels out of sorts and expertly handles with the fast side-to-side weight transition between GingerMan's Turns 8 and 9. As long as you don't dive into a corner too hot, the GT3 will hit all necessary marks as directed with little issue.
With temperatures in mid-90-degree Fahrenheit range, the standard steel brakes with two-piece cross-drilled discs are also a pleasant surprise, holding up throughout the day on track with stopping muscle and no signs of fade. Unless you plan on regularly doing really long track sessions in your GT3, the $9,210 carbon ceramic brake option is likely something you can live without.
Not terrible on road
As much as everyone would like to drive their GT3 on race tracks all day everyday, regular roads will almost assuredly be on the agenda. And for those, it's not bad. The suspension's Normal setting provides some respectable damping properties, making the 280-mile round-trip trek from Detroit to GingerMan manageable enough on Michigan's far-from-pristine pavement. Bigger impacts will find their way into the cabin, but there's sufficient give in the suspension to soften blows from small potholes and ruts.
The Michelin tires, however, do make a fair amount of noise and may annoy some. For my trip, the racket isn't enough to really bother me or detract from the comfortable cabin, what with its supportive sport seats and fancy Alcantara steering wheel and shift knob.
Also helping drown out the tire noise is the eight-speaker audio unit that, while nothing to really write home about, adequately does the job playing satellite radio tunes. Those looking for a more impressive sound setup can option their GT3 with a 12-speaker Bose system for $1,600. The responsive infotainment system also comes with navigation on its 7-inch display, with Google search, real-time traffic information, Wi-Fi hotspot, Bluetooth and Apple CarPlay capabilities. Disappointingly, Android Auto isn't supported.
How I'd spec it
My 911 GT3 would wear a standard white paint job and have the excellent manual transmission, for a base price of $146,350, which includes $1,050 destination and $1,700 gas guzzler tax. From there I would keep things simple, adding the extended-range 23.7-gallon gas tank for $140 -- the high-revving engine is thirsty, after all, only estimated to return 13 miles per gallon in the city, 21 mpg highway and 16 mpg combined. Finally, for the cool spring and fall mornings, the $700 heated seats will come in handy. This pushes the price of my ideal GT3 to $147,190.
The GT3 was already a wonderful car, and with more power and a manual transmission on offer, it's difficult to poke any major holes in the package. It is a purebred thrill ride around a track or your go-to section of twisty, secluded road, and it'll never cease to make you grin from ear to ear. If I'm nitpicking, tire noise and the lack of premium comfort and entertainment features all come at, well, a premium price in typical Porsche fashion.
As far as a direct competitor based on intent and price for the GT3, the $157,000 Mercedes-AMG GT R looks mighty formidable. The AMG brings a bigger hammer to the fight with 577 horsepower and 516 pound-feet of twist from a 4.0-liter twin-turbo V8, and has a more substantial suite of onboard tech. But the Mercedes is only available with a dual-clutch gearbox. Being able to row your own in a car this rewarding certainly gives Porsche the upper hand.