First Drive: 2012 Porsche 911 GT3 RS 4.0
This 2011 review is representative of model years 2005 to 2011.
By Jens Meiners of Car and Driver
It seems as though Porsche itself were caught off guard by the announcement of this special-edition 911. The company had shut down the line that would normally build the engine for a car like this, so when the brass decided they needed one final 997, Porsche had to restart production.
The GT3 is, of course, the purest 911, which makes a GT3 derivative the appropriate final send-off for the 997 before the arrival of the 991. Porsche launched the GT3 in 1999 to counter claims that the 911 had gone soft, what with the 996's larger body and water-cooled engine. Some in the marketing department expected the company to sell a few hundred — or a thousand at the most — but Porsche has since sold about 15,000 GT3s. That's even more surprising when you consider the fact that the GT3 has been available only sporadically.
The more extreme GT3 is the RS. Porsche says 85 percent of RS buyers take their cars to the track regularly. And now Porsche is topping that with the GT3 RS 4.0, which is lighter and more powerful and handles even better. That 4.0 in the car's title refers to the displacement of its engine. Whereas other GT3s use a 3.8-liter flat-six, the 4.0 borrows the upsize engine from the track-only GT3 R and RSR. The bump in displacement results from a longer stroke, as Porsche could not increase cylinder bore. Titanium connecting rods and a single-mass flywheel shave a few pounds, but all other changes relative to the GT3's 3.8-liter six enhance airflow. The 4.0 gets a higher-flow air filter, a modified intake manifold with shorter runners, and a less-restrictive exhaust — the last of which reduces back pressure and amps up the noise in equal measure. The result is an increase in output from 450 hp to 500 hp, with torque edging from 317 lb-ft to 339.
Three Pedals, One Clutch
Porsche does not offer its PDK dual-clutch transmission in any GT3, and that stays true for the 4.0. Although the company claims the PDK is superior to a manual box in a more civilized context, keeping it out of the GT3 family seems like tacit admission that there is nothing like the control offered by a manual transmission (even one with seven speeds, which we've confirmed Porsche will offer in the next-generation 911). Additionally, the traditional manual is lighter than the PDK, and it enables experts to initiate drifts more smoothly by playing with the clutch.
For our preview drive, Porsche planted us in the tranquil village of Hohenstein-Ödenwaldstetten. Here in the Swabian Alps southeast of Stuttgart, the deserted roads would be the epitome of peace and quiet if not for the distant shriek of flat-sixes being wrung out. The 3.8 is not exactly a tractor engine, but the 4.0 is a notable improvement. Its wonderfully linear power curve peaks at 8250 rpm, and torque does so at 5750. "A racing engine like this needs to explode at the top," says Andreas Preuninger, project leader for special vehicles at Porsche. Explode it does, but despite its 8500-rpm redline, the 4.0 accelerates smoothly and without any hiccups from just above idle. There is so much punch across the rev band that we often found ourselves a gear higher than we'd be in with the 3.8. The figures speak for themselves: Porsche claims 0 to 60 in 3.8 seconds, 0 to 120 in fewer than 12, and a redline-limited top speed of 193 mph. Of course, the company claimed the regular GT3 would do 60 in 4.0 seconds, and we recorded 3.6 for that car. Figure on the 4.0 managing the deed in about 3.4 seconds, with the quarter-mile taking about 11.6.
Porsche Perfected — and Pricey
The RS 4.0's handling is virtually perfect, and the transition to oversteer is smooth and easy to manage. The power steering is perfectly weighted and linear; the brakes bite immediately and hard. Carbon-ceramic discs are optional, but even the base setup is among the best on the market. Porsche's dynamic engine mounts are standard, and although they add four or so pounds, the way they firm up to better manage the rear-mounted engine's mass during hard cornering easily offsets that demerit.
We didn't have the chance to mess with the settings this time around, but the suspension and the rear spoiler can be adjusted for track use. Upfront, dive planes mounted at the corners of the fascia do an admirable job of countering the high-speed lift that still afflicts some 911s.
Expectedly, the RS 4.0 is lighter than a GT3 RS. The hood, the front fenders, and the seats are carbon fiber, and although air conditioning and a radio are standard, buyers can opt out of either or both in favor of lightness. An optional lithium-ion battery saves 24 pounds. Since lithium-ion batteries suffer diminished cranking ability in subfreezing temperatures, buyers ordering the light battery also get a lead-acid unit for those winter road trips to Alaska. In Europe, the RS 4.0 is even purer. Thank the bureaucrats for the fact that we won't get the even-lighter one-piece seats (only 18 pounds apiece!), the polycarbonate quarter-windows and back glass, or the roll cage.
At $185,950, the RS 4.0 doesn't come cheap. But that didn't stop customers: All 600 have already been sold, including the 126 that will be shipped to our shores. You will be able to distinguish them from lesser GT3s by their unique aerodynamic aids and specific striping. The 911 GT3 RS 4.0, likely the coolest roadgoing 997 ever, is available in only two shades: black and white. Carrara White is special-projects guru Preuninger's favorite. "It is innocent," he says, barely able to conceal his grin.
PERFORMANCE (C/D EST):