2008 Porsche 911

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First Drive Review: 2008 Porsche 911 GT2

By Steve Siler of Car and Driver

I was tired when I got there. Two months of nonstop traveling to press previews and auto shows had caught up with me. I had just left my family and friends once again—on a weekend, no less—to fly nine time zones away to the little town of Dinklage in northern Germany. Why was I there? To spend a few hours in the Porsche GT2, the scariest of all turbocharged 911s, a car I'd only read about: enhanced turbo boxer-six, less mass, rear-wheel drive. Sounded great, if intimidating, especially considering the constant rain outside. I thought of my driver's license, my job, and my intact limbs and wondered which I would be parting with today. I sorta wished for the standard 911 Turbo—the one with all-wheel drive—which is perfectly visceral yet comfortable and savory enough in pretty much every way. How much better—or faster—could this one be? I yawned on the way out to the car.

Well, an indicated 331 kilometers per hour—205 miles per hour—on the autobahn can wake a guy up.

That kind of speed—on the ground, anyway—changes a person. It can shake and elate. It can make a believer out of a skeptic and convince him that the bucket of joy known as the Porsche 911 may indeed have no bottom.

That night, in fact, I awoke just one hour into my night's sleep, unable to turn off what became a looping reel of blurry memories of pure fast, where elements of the world—overpasses, windmills, trees, slow Fiats—sail around me, all stretched and distorted as if caught in some sort of intergalactic warp chute. In spite of a 10-mg Ambien, sleep was futile. This is a hell of a car.

GT2: One Number Away from the GT1
The first 911 GT2 was an air-cooled 993-gen Turbo stripped of several nonessentials, including its then-novel all-wheel-drive system and featuring the same 3.6-liter twin-turbocharged engine pumped to 430 horsepower. Nimble, light, and fast, but reportedly snappy and tricky to drive at the limit, the GT2 was just one step away from the GT1 race car (hence the "GT2" designation) in the 911 hierarchy and was one of the most intense 911s Porsche had ever built for the street. Not surprisingly, it soon became the Darth Vader of the world club-racing scene.

The 996-based GT2 was introduced for 2002, offering 456 horsepower, up from 415 in the 996 Turbo. Some 1300 GT2s were delivered worldwide over four years of production.

Since the 997-gen 911 replaced the 996 two years ago, the GT2 has been on hiatus, giving its engineers—most of whom were pulled from the Porsche motorsports program, a separate entity from the roadgoing Carrera's engineering team—time to develop the 2008 model.

More Power, Less Weight
The "fastest and most powerful 911 to ever see the light of day"? Now, there's a claim, one that we'd just heard two weeks before at the GT2 unveiling at the 2007 Frankfurt auto show. It was there that Porsche also revealed the official power figures for the GT2's 3.6-liter boxer-six: 530 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 505 pound-feet of torque, all of which is available between 2200 and 4500 rpm.

That's 50 horsepower and 55 pound-feet stronger than the standard 911 Turbo. Some of the additional power comes courtesy of slightly modified variable-turbine-geometry turbochargers that together provide 20.3 psi of boost, 5.8 psi more than the Turbo. The rest involves engine-breathing enhancements, including a more efficient expansion-type intake manifold to help cool the intake charge, ram-air ducts in the lower half of the rear spoiler, and functional air extractors behind the rear wheel to ventilate the intercoolers.

True Porschephiles might remember that the 911 Turbo with the optional Sports Chrono package has an "overboost" mode that delivers 505 pound-feet of torque, but the difference here is that although that car's boost is available only in short bursts, the GT2's torque can be conjured up all the time. At a claimed 3.7 seconds, Porsche says the GT2's acceleration bests the manual-equipped Turbo's by just 0.1 second to 62 mph, but perhaps more telling, 99 mph arrives in 7.4 seconds, a full second ahead of the 480-hp Turbo manual and a half-second ahead of the automatic. Push the GT2 all the way, and Porsche claims that a stratospheric 204 mph—329 km/h—is possible, 19 mph higher than the Turbo's limit.

As with the Turbo, Porsche Stability Management (PSM) and Porsche Active Suspension Management (PASM) come along for the ride—no pun intended. The GT2, however, features raised thresholds for each of these electronic housekeepers, and the Turbo's massive, optional 15.0-inch-front and 13.4-inch-rear Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes are standard, providing superior stopping power while shaving nine pounds of unsprung mass apiece.

Indeed, saving weight was as important as adding power. Thus, rear drive once again supplants all-wheel drive, exotic carbon fiber and titanium have been strategically applied, and—as with the GT2's naturally aspirated sibling, the GT3—the worthless-anyway rear seats and vast swaths of insulation are missing. These efforts dispensed with 320 pounds—or nearly a 10th—of the manual-transmission Turbo's 3514-pound heft, resulting in a remarkably low 3200-pound claim.

Purpose-Driven Beauty
In person, we were surprised by just how mean the GT2 looks on the street compared with the rather benign-looking Turbo. The GT2's three front grilles are larger, the center port benefiting from an extractor for the radiator at the leading edge of the hood/trunklid, as on the GT3. Its front tires and 19-inch wheels are shared with the Turbo, but the GT2's super-fat 325mm-wide rear tires are 0.8 inch larger than the Turbo's 305s. The GT2 also dons a miniskirt of plastic aero pieces, and a one-inch-lower ride height virtually eliminates any gap between the wheel and fender—all contributing to a slammed, sinister, 959-like road stance.

In back, the two-story fixed spoiler is set at precisely the right angle for high-speed stability, according to Porsche engineers, and is distinct from the GT3's double-decker by its cool-looking ram air intakes. Interestingly, the black plastic on the trailing edge was initially designed to be easily swapped for more pronounced lips as needed for various racing venues, but after exhaustive wind-tunnel testing in a variety of conditions, Porsche engineers found no real benefit in doing so. Who knew?

Intensified yet Luxurious Interior
Any time your hands grip a thick-rimmed, Alcantara-covered steering wheel, you know you're in a serious machine. More evidence comes in the form of razor-thin carbon-and-glass-fiber, four-point-harness-ready seat shells that reduce weight by a massive 20 pounds each. And yes, they are U.S.-legal, thanks to the fitment of integrated side airbags. However, these Alcantara/leather buckets offer no adjustability other than fore-and-aft and are tight, tight, tight. Wide-bummed customers might opt for the available conventional, full-leather multiadjustable power buckets, but we'd sooner go on Jenny Craig before skipping these sexy chairs.

Alcantara also covers the shifter, the e-brake lever, and the armrests. The nappy stuff is also used for the headliner, but interestingly, that's the only layer of material of any kind between one's head (or helmet) and the steel roof. Reach to the ceiling, and you can knock on metal with your knuckles.

For all the GT2's intensity, however, the level of luxury is surprising. On track days, you'll be whipping the competition in climate-controlled comfort, listening to the optional Bose surround-sound premium stereo, and facing a stitched-leather dash. After your cool-down laps, you can use the optional navigation system to get home.

"Rain, Rain, Go Away"
As mentioned before, Mother Nature decided to water all the plants—and alas, the roads—in Germany on the only day we were driving the GT2. Our first several kilometers were covered follow-the-leader style on wet byways en route to an airfield where we'd be given demo rides with rally legend and longtime Porsche consultant Walter Röhrl. We were happy to keep speeds down, keenly aware that some 63 percent of the GT2's weight on the rear wheels would be ready to drag us like a stone on a string at the slightest loss of traction. But despite the moisture, the GT2 remained mannerly, going where it was pointed, with its firm pedal and steering efforts requiring not just effort, but deliberate inputs. Had we flown ass-backward out of a tight roundabout, it would have been intentional.

The GT2's six-speed shifter also proved splendidly precise, short in throw but not conceitedly so. However, the stiff clutch effort revealed the GT2's racing roots, and we surmise that one Friday afternoon on the 405 in California could be enough to send weak-legged GT2 owners, perhaps not fully appreciative of this car's purpose, right back to the dealership to trade it for a Turbo automatic. We might suggest a lower-body workout program instead, since the GT2's lack of rear seats and superfluous insulation allow the boxer's characteristic punchy rasp to fill the cabin with inebriating sharpness and clarity.

GT2's PASM: Where "Normal" = Extraordinary
We also decided to leave the Porsche Active Suspension Management in its normal setting, which is firmer than that of the Turbo's, yet nonetheless delivers a shockingly docile ride. But don't think we've gone soft; the normal setting also serves up handling that's rather paranormal, as we discovered once we arrived at the airstrip, the taxiways of which had been turned into a high-speed road course and the runway was to be used for you-know-what.

Here, Röhrl demonstrated just how capable the GT2's normal setting actually is. Even with the stability and traction control on, Röhrl was able to drift and catch artfully in curves. And the grip, even balls-out on the damp asphalt, defied belief. Incidentally, it was the normal setting that Röhrl used when hustling the GT2 around the Nürburgring Nordschleife in a mind-blowing (and record-setting) 7 minutes and 32 seconds, matching the late 605-hp Carrera GT and beating the previous GT2 by 14 seconds, making all of us—including Röhrl, at times—question whether the sport mode is even necessary.

On the runway, Röhrl smashed us into the seatback as if we were on a rocket sled, taking the GT2 all the way to 303 km/h (188 mph)—higher than takeoff speed for most commercial aircraft—before slamming hard on those eyeball-sucking ceramics to make the last "taxiway" at the end of the runway. At no point could we detect any lightening at either axle. This is one well-sorted sports car.

Autobahns Are Beautiful Things
But we were soon to verify this for ourselves. Through a majority of our 300-plus-mile drive, 98 percent of which was limited to the autobahn, the rain persisted. This was a Saturday, however, and traffic was wonderfully light, so we cruised comfortably with the needle showing an indicated 230 to 240 km/h (143 to 149 mph). This was a revelation that showed just how complete a performance package the GT2 is. Gorgeous steering, razor sharp and crystal clear in its messages, and a rock-solid chassis—no squeaks, rattles, shudders, or harshness, just solid, unflappable high-speed perfection. The faster we went, the more planted it felt. Mist from the road tumbled poetically in our wake. We only wished for some dry road.

At last, we got our wish, and we set out to see if Porsche meant what it said about that 204-mph top speed. Accelerating past 250 km/h (155 mph), our speed climbed ever higher and the German landscape's once-discernible bushes and bridges and windmills became a series of blurry visages. We saw 300 km/h (186 mph). There was a video-game-like surrealness to driving this fast. But, hey, where was the drama? Why weren't we scared?

Soon, there it was: 329 km/h, 204 mph. At one point, we even saw 331 km/h, 2 km/h past Porsche's stated top end. The GT2 still felt strong, composed. Isn't this the point at which we vanish, disintegrate, or blow up? Quite the contrary. This is what the GT2 was meant for: achieving and maintaining extraordinary autobahn speeds—on autobahns, mind you—with supreme stability and composure. No scary blips in the steering, no surprise tramlining, no sensation of imminent takeoff. Wow.

Get Ready to Launch
After coming back down to earth, we took a few opportunities to test the GT2's Launch Assistant, the first such system on a Porsche, which basically makes achieving Porsche's astounding standing-start acceleration times not only possible but also easy enough that you could teach your grandmother to use it in three minutes. Just step on the clutch, floor the gas, and the engine will rev to 5000 rpm, where it will stay, allowing turbo pressure to build. Simply sidestep the clutch, and blam! After a touch of wheelspin, you'll feel as if you'd just been rammed from behind by an F-16. We had no timing equipment with us, but we're relatively sure we were past 100 km/h (62 mph) after 3.7 seconds.

The catch: Launch Assistant is part of the Porsche Stability Management's traction-control system, so turning the traction control off also benches the Launch Assistant. However, the GT2's PSM actually allows the stability control to be turned off while keeping the traction control on. For serious drivers, of course, both can be turned off, which is something we didn't attempt on unfamiliar (and wet) German roads but plan to try at home once the car makes it stateside.

Exclusive and Expensive
The first of the annual U.S. allotment of about 200 GT2s arrives here in January and will be priced at $192,560 to start, about two-and-a-half times that of the base 911.

On the plane home, we thought, is it worth an extra 50 percent over the Turbo? That's a tough call, one that we may need a few more hours in each—in wet and dry conditions—to make. But what's darn clear now is what a spectacular achievement the new GT2 is, comprising perhaps the most complete and capable performance package for road or race course in the 911's four-decade history.

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BB06 - 9/22/2014 1:13:52 AM