2019 Porsche 911 GT3 RS First Drive review: It's magic

How do you improve on a car that is already punching well and truly above its weight? The 2016 Porsche 911 GT3 RS was a machine that, in our testing, utterly vanquished two of my favorite track-oriented sportscars, the Mustang GT350R and Dodge Viper ACR. There and elsewhere, the GT3 RS easily stood toe-to-toe with nearly any track-focused car on the road, including those costing many times more.

So where do you go from there? Well, if you're Porsche, you start with the usual: more power. That's never a bad first step, but a laundry-list of minor tweaks, additions and refinements create a new GT3 RS that has all the reassuring character and terrifying speed of the previous generation yet somehow offers even more of both.

The $187,500 GT3 RS is the purest, most track-focused flavor of all the two-dozen variations of the current Porsche 911, and for the 2019 model year, it's even better than ever.

More than a point-release

If you're looking for the full nomenclature, this car is the 2019 Porsche 911 GT3 RS, built on the 991.2 platform. For the base Carrera, the move from 991 to 991.2 in 2015 saw the radical introduction of turbocharging across nearly the entire range.

However, the 991.2 flavor of the GT3 RS remains stubbornly free of forced induction, its 4.0-liter flat-six now serving up 520 horsepower as it howls its way up to a 9,000rpm redline. That's 20 more angry ponies than last time, enough to get the car from 0 to 62 miles per hour in 3 seconds flat, with a top speed of 194 mph.

Yes, there are quicker cars out there, and faster ones too, but its 6:56.4 lap time around the epic Nürburgring Nordschleife in Germany, long the defacto benchmark for such machines, makes the GT3 RS is the third-quickest production car ever tested at that track, behind only its sibling GT2 and the Lamborghini Huracan Performante. Yes, that means the GT3 RS is quicker even Porsche's $1 million 918 hypercar.

The GT3 RS weighs 3,153 pounds, about 22 pounds less the current 911 GT3, thanks to some further light-weighting throughout. Those willing to shell out another $18,000 for the Weissach package will see greater savings, owing to even more extensive use of carbon fiber, replacing things like rollbar endlinks and even the shift paddles with the matte-black stuff.

2019 Porsche 911 GT3 RS

Subtle it ain't. 

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

For the ultimate in weight savings, though, another $13,000 nabs you a set of magnesium wheels, which alone shave off nearly 25 pounds from the car -- and look impossibly cool with their deep, dark, unpainted luster.

But to score a time like 6:56.4 on the Nürburgring, even more was needed. The car sports endless aerodynamic tweaks so subtle they're easy to miss, like more pronounced gills on the front fenders and a scalloped front splitter that allows more air to channel beneath the new floor-mounted diffusers.

For quickest identification of 2016 vs. 2019, look for the pair of inset NACA ducts on the hood, which feed cool air directly to the front brakes' discs.

And finally, there are the tires, 20-inch Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s now optionally available in a super-sticky "R N-spec" that you'll definitely want for your own Nürburgring attempts.

All that, plus hundreds of other tweaks, combine to make the car so much faster than before around that most epic of race tracks. However, making a car faster can often makes it harder to drive and, even worse, less fun. Thankfully, that's not a problem here.

porsche-gt3-rs-ring-lap-promo

For maximum grip, try and keep all four tires on the ground. 

Porsche

On the track

Yes, I was lucky to test the GT3 RS around the Nürburgring, but no it wasn't the full, public track. My time was limited to the Grand Prix circuit, which is decidedly less epic than the full Green Hell but, frankly a better and more controlled environment for pushing a new, unfamiliar car to its limits.

And with 'Ring guru Matthias Hoffsummer showing me the quick way around, within a few laps I immediately felt at home in the new RS, my mind filling with fond memories of the many, many thrilling laps I'd spent in its 2016 predecessor.

In the tight, downhill hairpin that ends the front straight I went in too hot and pushed the front a few times, understeer that was rectified by simply unwinding the steering for a moment. Later, I got on the gas too early coming on to the back straight and the rear tires spun up on the pollen-coated asphalt.

The rear kicked out, but with only the lightest of countersteers, without even lifting off the throttle, away we went rocketing down the back straight and flat through the 120-mph kink.

I'll spare further descriptions of my on-track over-exuberances, but I want to paint the picture of a car that somehow manages to be fast and yet fun. The GT3 RS does not require that you dance on a razor's edge. It offers enough nuance and feel to let you know when you're over the limit and enough poise to give you time to bring it back.

It is quite simply an epic joy to drive on the track. But, of course, it's also road-legal.

porsche-911-gt3-rs-34

Though perhaps not the most comfortable car on the road, the GT3 RS is perfectly livable. 

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Outside the 'Ring

While the Nordschleife gets all the buzz, I'll let you in on a little secret: the narrow, twisting roads around the track are some of the best in the world, and they come complete with speed limits just short of the fastest you're legally allowed to do on most US highways.

They are sinuous and challenging and, as I steered the new 911 GT3 RS through them, I couldn't help but feeling like I was astride a cruise missile. The verdant hills, blooming fields and curious cattle flashed through my peripheral vision as if some higher power were leaning on the fast-forward button and I was merely a passenger.

I was, however, in full control, the RS holding enough Gs in the corners to rearrange my face in a variety of new and unexpected ways. I only dared exceed the available grip of the tires in the tightest of hairpins, the tail sliding just enough to pivot the car around the apex before the rear-end squatted and away we went to the next bend, engine howling all the while.

You will need to keep it howling, too, because while the motor is happy to spin up to its 9,000 rpm, its mood doesn't really start to improve until about 4,500 rpm. Thankfully, the rifle-quick, seven-speed PDK means the correct cog is never more than a tap away.

And when it's time to dial it back to cruise through a little town or to sit in traffic, with the touch of a few buttons the exhaust quiets and the suspension relaxes somewhat, creating a car that, while not exactly comfortable, is eminently livable. A quite satisfactory Bose sound system is paired to an infotainment package that's lacking for nothing other than Android Auto. The front trunk will easily swallow a weekend's worth of luggage, and there's even more cargo space behind the seats, ensuring this isn't just a great car for a weekend at the track, it's a great car for any weekend.

This is, after all, still a 911.

2019 Porsche 911 GT3 RS

Cliche, but this is the perspective most other cars will see. 

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

Wrap-up

If I came off as a bit enamored at times during the writing of this it's because this was simply an epic day of driving. While I've been lucky to have more than my fair share of those, few days have done so much to typify the character of a car. The 2019 Porsche 911 GT3 RS is among the most fun track toys on the market. That it's able to be that and yet is still such a joy in the real world is more than an engineering feat, it's magic. 

Editors' note: Roadshow accepts multiday vehicle loans from manufacturers in order to provide scored editorial reviews. All scored vehicle reviews are completed on our turf and on our terms. However, for this feature, the manufacturer covered travel costs. This is common in the auto industry, as it's far more economical to ship journalists to cars than to ship cars to journalists.

The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's editorial team are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.