Almost Heaven : Porsche 911 GT3 (997 version II) [review]

Car Specifications
3797cc, 24-valves (full specifications below)
Cylinder Layout: 
Horizontally-opposed 6-cylinder
Top Speed: 
6-Speed Manual
4.1 seconds
435bhp at 7600rpm
430Nm at 6250rpm

We waxed lyrical of the first 997 GT3 and one wouldn't expect anything less of the next one right? Well, by all accounts, the first 997 GT3 was a superb car and after honing this product from the first 996 GT3 through three incarnations, the GT3 had pretty much reached nirvana. So what will this version II of the 997 GT3 bring?

Porsche had to revise the engines to include Direct Fuel Injection to further lower and meet new Euro emission standards and that it seems was reason enough for the mid-life face-lift that was nevertheless due. That brought about a rather quick turnover of the entire 911 fleet which of course includes the GT3 and GT3 RS versions.

This current production arrangement for the GT3 and GT3 RS models suits the Porsche manufacturing cycle rather well compared to the previous 911 RS models where bodies in white were taken off the production line and sent to the Motorsport department to be reworked and rejigged into Touring and Race spec RS versions (964 and 993 RS).

As with the first 996 GT3 all 911 GT3s are the defacto "touring" version (but don't let that fool you) and the lightweight conversion only reserved for the RS moniker and all done entirely at the Zuffenhausen production plant. The GT3 is however quite nearly the RS, minus the wild colour scheme, roll cage and the retention of sound-deadening.

Unlike the normal 911 Carerra and Carerra S this GT3 inherits the all important motorsport engine, which is much more robust to withstand racing as this is the basis for the GT3 Cup cars and other special race editions like the GT3 R Hybrid racing version. However this is the first time the RS gets a 15 bhp lift in power to differentiate it from the GT3.

Other special goodies these cars share will include the rose jointed suspension that is so well calibrated it is actually as comfortable as the standard car and even more composed and absorbent. A back to back drive with the Boxter Spyder revealed it is even more comfortable. Truly remarkable.

To ensure the latest GT3 is yet another step up in terms of performance Porsche decided to use the 3.8L version of this motorsport motor. In the previous guise it produced 415 bhp from 3.6L, which was astounding enough but it now produces 435 bhp from a highly tuned 3.8L and as if that was not sufficiently impressive, the 997 GT3 RS gets 450 bhp from the same engine. Amazing.

In practice the new 3.8 GT3 feels even brawnier than its forebear thanks to the improvement of torque throughout the range due to the extra displacement rather than a mere extension of power higher up in the rev range because this for the most part results in a similar drive experience unless one is really hitting the redline all the time.

Porsche has not made the power peak at higher revs but remains at 7600 rpm although they have extended the safe rev limit from 8400 to 8500 rpm. And since the car's weights remain similar, to get a sensation of greater oomph, Porsche needed a lift in the torque curve for most of the midrange right up to the redline.

These are special powerplants that easily exceed 100 bhp per litre which not that long ago was considered a full-race engine. Over the country roads the improved torque proved to be a huge boon as one needn't be constantly swapping gears, just 2nd or 3rd would usually be fine for hard driving.

Our test GT3 came with the optional PCCB and they worked their magic displaying effortless stopping power and huge stamina during repeated cycles of acceleration, braking and cornering.

Over some parts of the mountain climb the road surface became so bad that the front spoiler could be heard scrapping but that was because the poor GT3 was spared no quarter, committed mercilessly to the cornering line despite the rough surface.

A 911 Turbo S driven over this same road revealed the same amazing poise but a Boxter Spyder which is an otherwise excellently sorted car could not really cope with the severe undulations and one had to back off the pace.

This really separated the wheat from the chaff. As we climbed the mountain the rarified air took its toll and though the engine lost its sparkle it was still a wonderfully progressive power delivery, something to be envied.

Going down the mountain was more a torture test for the brakes and suspension than anything else. Full power was hardly needed thanks to gravity's help and scrubbing off speed was the order of the day.

The reassuring feel of the middle pedal is almost worth its extra price. Also, it's low speed behaviour is exemplary now that we have sampled the many offerings from the other exotic marques, Porsche's PCCB is really second to none.

Of course, the Michelin Cup tyres add as much as they remove from the fun factor. What we mean is the tremendous grip these Cup tyres bring to cornering and braking is simply neck-straining but the sacrifice is the delicate sliding and drifting around the corners that make you feel like a real hero is gone.

Not being brave enough to drift Cup tyres round unfamiliar roads one goes from hero to zero feeling more circumspect than elation. However, the blinding pace is enough to impress anyone as we scurry down the mountain at flank speed. (Conclusion follows after 'Fast Facts'...)

FAST FACTS : PORSCHE 911 GT3 (997 Ver. 2)
CAPACITY : 3797cc
CYLINDER LAYOUT: Horizontally-opposed flat six
VALVES: 24-valves, 4-valve heads
BORE X STROKE: 102.7 x 76.4mm
MAXIMUM POWER: 435 bhp at 7600 rpm
MAXIMUM TORQUE: 430 Nm at 6250 rpm

TYPE: 6-speed manual

TOP SPEED: 312 km/h
0-100KM/H: 4.1 seconds

FRONT: Height/camber adjustable twin sleeve PASM damper
REAR: Height/camber adjustable multi-link single sleeve PASM damper

FRONT: 380mm steel (PCCB optional)
REAR: 350mm steel (PCCB optional)

TYPE : Michelin Pilot Sport Cup
SIZE : f: 235/35 ZR 19, r: 305/30 ZR 19

ABS: Yes with ABD

LxBxH: 4460 x 1808 x 1280mm


How Porsche finally arrived at this combination of steering accuracy, positive handling and remarkable suppleness is quite nearly incomprehensible. But if you look at its long history with RS cars it is clear that it was surely not by accident, but a careful and painstaking series of events that has led them to this pinnacle. That the new GT3 is not really significantly better than the previous one in all respects except acceleration leads to the conclusion that this may be as good as it is ever going to get. story - mp; photos - dave r.
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