First Drive: 2017 Porsche 991.2 GT3

First Drive: 2017 Porsche 991.2 GT3
 

It’s a Tuesday morning and I’m buckling myself into a low-slung supercar. Kenny Loggins’s Danger Zone is playing softly over the dealership speakers as I get ready to twist the key in the ignition. The Top Gun vibes are eerily high. “Try not to launch it off a mountain, Goose,” the public relations manager suggests. “This is the only one in the country.”

Indeed. The new Porsche 911 GT3 is fresh meat and everybody wants a taste. So to be one of the first local journalists entrusted to thrash its guts out is quite a privilege — something I have been looking forward to ever since it was unveiled a few months ago.

So what has changed exactly? Like most facelifts involving the Porsche 911, evolution is subtle. Up front is where most of the visual action has taken place, with an all-new apron design that loses the “grinning” V-shaped air-intake characteristic of the outgoing model.

Viewed head-on the GT3 now looks sleeker and stealthier than it has ever managed before. Walk around back and you’ll notice that the car’s rump has also been smoothed over. The rear-cooling vent has been moved into the base of the trademark wing and pretty much out of sight.

Speaking of that wing, it now sits higher and slightly closer to the rear windscreen, a modification that increases aerodynamic downforce.

Porsche also installed three-dimensional LED tail-lights and, below them, a new rear air diffuser that now disappears beneath the car. And, yes, those two centre-mounted exhaust tailpipes remain unchanged.

Of course the headline act of the new GT3 is the engine to which those pipes are ultimately attached: a naturally aspirated 4.0-litre six-cylinder boxer motor similar to that in the limited-run GT3 RS I drove around Le Mans in 2015.

Except here, thanks to some complex internal modifications, it now revs all the way up to 9000rpm. That’s on a par with the formidable 911 RSR you’ll see racing in the World Endurance Championship.

And it sounds equally impressive — especially in the modern age where noise-deadening turbocharged powerplants are the order of the day.

Switch the sports exhaust into “loud” mode, squash the throttle and your senses are shaken to the bone as that engine shouts its way up to the limiter. It’s an unforgettable mechanical scream, an angry wraith-like howl that sets your eardrums on fire and sends your adrenal gland into overdrive.

The Lexus LC500 used to be my favourite currently available naturally aspirated car in terms of sound, but the GT3 has comprehensively eclipsed it. Aurally speaking you simply cannot top it.

Such an indignant soundtrack suggests that this Porsche might be a mean road companion — a highly strung bundle of nerves that readily savages the hand that feeds it.

But by the time I get to the Franschhoek Pass on my 500km test drive around the Cape, I discover quite the opposite. Mechanical grip levels are simply enormous, allowing you to carve your way through curves at much higher velocities than you can in lesser 911 models.

A lower stance and special lightweight panels mean that this Porsche responds to changes in direction with frightening immediacy. The body is ultra-controlled with none of that distracting lean to dilute road feedback.

The focus is pure and unbridled — every nuance of the machine’s hold on the asphalt is telegraphed through your fingers and hands and thighs and buttocks. This gives you the confidence to push. Hard.

And yet here’s the thing: no matter how heavily you attack a corner, no matter how late you leave your braking, you get the feeling that you’re never quite doing the GT3 justice. It’s so amazingly proficient at the business of speed that you can almost hear it muttering under its exhaust breath, “Come on, kid, is that all you’ve got?”

While most owners will never get close to the handling limits of this 911, they will most certainly appreciate how livable it is. As the most hardcore model in the range you’d expect the GT3 to be hard and unforgiving. Yet even when equipped with the optional fixed sports bucket seats, it isn’t.

God knows how the Porsche engineers got it right but this car rides no firmer than, say, a Golf GTI Clubsport. It takes uneven road surfaces and imperfections in its stride. Even hitting some lumpy asphalt mid-corner and at extremely high speeds, the GT3 remains unflustered.

Opt for the standard adjustable sports seats (read “more comfortable, more of the time”) and you’ve got a track-ready supercar that you can actually do some long-distance touring in. Especially considering that the cabin also sports climate control, a proper Bose sound system and Porsche’s now excellent touchscreen infotainment system. There’s everything you want here, nothing you don’t need.

And to me this is the sheer brilliance of the new 991.2 GT3. Whether you choose to spec it with the six-speed manual or seven-speed PDK gearbox (I’m inclined to take the latter as it really doesn’t rob any involvement) you’re getting a machine that merges everyday livability with an undiluted driving purity rival marques can only dream of replicating — even in cars nearly double the price.

Jet fighters? Who needs them when this Porsche can be your weapon of choice. – Thomas Falkiner

Fast Facts: 2017 Porsche 991.2 GT3

Engine: 3996cc flat-six
Power: 368kW at 8250rpm
Torque: 460Nm at 6000rpm
Transmission: Sevem-speed PDK
0-100km/h: 3.4-seconds (claimed)
Top speed: 318km/h (claimed)
Fuel: 15.4l/100km (achieved)
CO2: 288g/km (claimed)
Price: From R2 750 000