2009 Porsche 911

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First Drive Review: 2010 Porsche 911 GT3

This 2010 review is representative of model years 2005 to 2011.
By Csaba Csere of Car and Driver

To many people, the Porsche 911 Carrera is the definitive sports car, but in the 911 family, the top jock is the GT3. The current 997 family of 911s has been undergoing a major round of updates, and now it's the GT3's turn.

No Replacement for Displacement
Since GT3s are all about going — and feeling — fast, it's no surprise that an upgraded engine is part of the changes for this second-gen of 997. A bore increase — from 3.9 inches to 4.0 — raises displacement from 3.6 liters to 3.8. The bigger engine gets hotter cams with greater valve lift and the addition of variable valve timing to the exhaust cams (the intakes already had it). All together, these changes boost power from 415 ponies to 435 and torque from 300 lb-ft to 317. Despite the displacement increase, the engine's redline climbs from 8400 rpm to 8500.

Oddly, the new engine does not get the direct fuel injection that is rapidly spreading through the rest of the Porsche lineup, mostly because the GT3 engine is a race-derived unit that remains distinct from the mainstream models. Unlike the Carrera and Boxster engines, the GT3's has a proper dry-sump lubrication system with a remote oil tank and seven oil pumps. It also uses titanium connecting rods and is constructed with cylinder blocks that are separate from the crankcase halves. This engine is extremely robust and develops substantially more power in racing applications, revving to over 9000 rpm with standard components.

Grip Increases, Too
The next most important change is a set of bodywork revisions that roughly triple the car's aerodynamic downforce. A redesigned front end provides a more efficient exit for the air flowing through the center radiator through new ducting to a vent just forward of the trunklid. The front splitter is lower and deeper. In the rear, a wider wing extends beyond its vertical supports and is tilted down at an angle of 7.8 degrees, which translates into about a 20-degree angle relative to the airflow, which is following the downward slope of the rear window. Together, these changes increase downforce from 66 pounds at 186 mph to 220 pounds.

A revised suspension makes the most of this additional force pressing the tires into the pavement. Front spring rates are stiffer by 12 percent, and the anti-roll bar drops from 1.1 inches in diameter to 1.0. In the rear, the anti-roll bar increases from 0.9 inch to 1.0. The PASM adjustable shock absorbers have been completely recalibrated, and the suspension pickup points have changed, thanks to new hubs. These hubs now accommodate center-lock wheels, employing the same large nuts introduced on the Carrera GT. This design makes for a lighter wheel, saving a total of 6.6 pounds. But with only one nut holding each wheel in place, the tightening torque is a massive 331 lb-ft. You can apply this by being really strong, using a very large torque wrench, or springing $400 for a trick socket that incorporates a small planetary gearbox to multiply the torque from a normal-size wrench. Nobody ever said Porsche speed was cheap.

Focused On Control
Other major upgrades include enormous 15.0-inch front brake rotors with separate aluminum carriers that actually reduce their weight slightly. The pricey, optional Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes also get lighter carriers, and their use shaves 44 pounds from the braking system. For the first time, the GT3 also gets stability control in the form of a specially calibrated Porsche Stability Management system that allows you to turn off the stability control alone or the stability control and traction control together. When these systems are shut down, they do not reactivate, as they do on other Porsches, when you start losing control in a corner under braking.

One innovative new option is PADM, which stands for Porsche Active Drivetrain Mounts. These are hydraulic engine mounts using magnetorheological fluid so their stiffness can be varied according to a programmed map. At high revs they get stiffer to provide a more precise feel by reducing the relative motion between the powertrain and body. Another new option is a front-axle lifting feature, which raises the car's front end by 1.2 inches when you press a button on the dash. This should help you avoid shredding the effective new front splitter at that local service station with the clifflike ramp.

Functional, but Built to Run
Slip behind the new GT3's Alcantara-covered steering wheel, and the car feels familiar. The driving position is excellent, the highly bolstered sport seats are supremely comfortable and supportive for those not broad in the behind, and the controls are familiar to anyone who knows 911s. But as soon as you spin the key and initiate the raspy exhaust, you know you're not in a car designed for daily commuting. The stiff clutch and the high-effort shifter provide further confirmation of the GT3's dedicated nature when you slip the transmission into first gear. The high shift effort comes in part from the short-throw linkage, which reduces by half the distance the shifter moves between gears. It also reflects that the GT3 uses a race-derived Getrag transmission with heavy-duty steel synchronizers, much shorter gearing, a dedicated oil cooling system, and interchangeable ratios, rather than the Aisin transmission used in other 911s.

Although not a hugely torquey engine — the peak of 317 lb-ft doesn't arrive until 6250 rpm — the GT3 still delivers healthy midrange power, and you can putter around town in the 2000-rpm range to avoid disturbing sleepy locals. Flip the sport switch on the dash, and valves in the exhaust system will bypass the primary mufflers at about 3000 rpm to add nearly 30 lb-ft of torque at full throttle, but the resulting exhaust rap will draw undesirable attention within most municipalities. Better to wait until you leave the city limits and let the exhaust go into its unrestricted mode at 4500 rpm as you hurtle toward the engine's 8500-rpm redline, the thrust against your back getting stronger with every additional rev. As the engine spins beyond 6000 rpm, the combination of fierce acceleration, strident intake and exhaust sounds, and increasing tire noise will totally rivet your attention.

The GT3 lunges forward through the gears until you shift into fifth at 145 mph. From then on, the acceleration moderates, although your adrenal glands will remain stimulated by the slower vehicles that seem to be suddenly standing still, even though they're moving at autobahn speeds. Traffic prevented us from exceeding 175 mph, but the GT3 feels comfortable at such a pace, even on a hilly and curving autobahn. It feels 911-like in the sense that the car moves around a bit, without ever threatening to lose control. You have to accept that it doesn't have a locked-in-a-straight-line character and simply let it move a bit. Despite the handling-oriented suspension calibration, the GT3 is not at all harsh on German roads, and the body motions are surprisingly supple. Press the Porsche Active Suspension Management button to shift the shocks onto the sport program, and the body motions tighten considerably at the expense of much jerkier ride motions. This setting is best reserved for racetracks or the smoothest of roads.

The Rewards of a Racing Pedigree
On the twisty country lanes south of Stuttgart, the GT3 is simply superb. It has a wonderful combination of responsiveness and stability with great eagerness to change direction, yet sufficient control to position the car with one-inch precision when facing on oncoming giant semi on the narrow, shoulderless roads. The GT3's steering is about as good as it gets, with perfect weighting, a natural and progressive buildup of forces during cornering, and tremendous accuracy. Interestingly, the steering rack is identical to the one in lesser 911s, with the greater responsiveness coming from the tauter suspension and sharp-feeling Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires. Other than in a few first-gear hairpins, we never found the car's limits on these public roads. The last GT3 we tested achieved 1.05 g of cornering grip, and this newer version is not likely to do worse. Trying to slide a car with such high limits on public roads is foolhardy unless you know the road and the car extremely well — or your name is Walter Röhrl. But the car is tremendously satisfying to fling into corners at tremendous speed, knowing you can use the enormous traction to slingshot out even faster.

With its additional power, this latest model should be able to accelerate to 60 mph a tick or two quicker than the 3.8 seconds we measured on the last GT3 we tested — especially since the adjustable motor mounts will tighten up during launch to minimize the 911's tendency to wheel-hop during a hard clutch drop. The quarter-mile should also be a bit better than before, with an ET in the high elevens at perhaps 120 mph. The stopping distance from 70 mph is usually limited by tire traction, so the new model's larger front brakes probably won't help much in this test, but the previous car's 145-foot stop was already one of the best we've ever measured.

Those bigger brakes will definitely pay off at the track, though, where some 70 percent of GT3 buyers take their cars, according to Porsche. In fact, some buyers never even register their GT3s, using them exclusively at racing circuits. Still, the car is definitely streetable, with an acceptable ride and moderate noise levels, as long as you stay below 120 mph. Although the GT3 doesn't have a back seat, there is decent luggage room in front and useful space in the back, so the car does provide ample utility for street use.

Pricey but Worth It
This latest GT3 will come to the U.S. around October and will carry a base price of $113,150. Of course, in the usual Porsche fashion, several major items will be optional at elevated prices. Figure a grand for the electronic motor mounts, three or four grand for the nose-lifting system, and about nine grand for the ceramic brakes. Compared with a Corvette Z06, such prices are absurd. Stacked up against a Ferrari Scuderia, on the other hand, they're pretty attractive. Each of these performance-oriented specials has its own flavor, but if you are a fan of the unique 911 design and feel, the choice is clear. We guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Performance Data
PERFORMANCE (C/D EST)

Zero to 60 mph: 3.7 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 11.8 sec @ 120 mph
Top speed (drag limited): 193 mph

FUEL ECONOMY (MFR'S EST):
EPA city/highway driving: 15/22 mpg

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BB03 - 8/23/2014 12:57:27 PM