Monday, December 14, 2009
First Test: 2010 Porsche 911 GT3
It's the sound that hits you first. Roll into the throttle at 2000 rpm and rising above the raspy whir behind is a single sonorous wail -- like the bass notes belted out by the Wagner tubas of Der Ring des Nibelungen.
This Wagnerian tone lasts for only a second as the rapidly soaring engine speed leans out the brassy resonance and elevates the pitch to that familiar flat-six howl. But this is no normal Porsche 911, this is the 2010 Porsche GT3 -- the purest evolution of the breed.
As in versions past, the GT3 badge means normally aspirated power and a heavy focus on racing -- a tradition Porsche does not take lightly.
Just look at the intensive give and take that went into the 2010 GT3's engine development. Displacement jumps from 3.6 to 3.8 liters via enlarged cylinder bores (100 mm to 102.7 mm) that require steel liners weighing 7.7 pounds more than the previous version. Stricter European emission standards demanded a more sophisticated version of VarioCam, Porsche's adjustable intake and exhaust camshaft system. This added another 4.4 pounds, yet Porsche claims the 2010 GT3's entire engine weighs 2.2 pounds less the previous version.
To achieve such a feat, no part of the powertrain was left untouched, save the crankcase. The seven oil pumps of the dry sump lubrication system were put on a strict diet as were the a/c compressor and dual mass flywheel. Forged pistons, titanium connecting rods, hollow camshafts, and special lightweight valves and cup tappets not only reduce mass, they allow for a maximum engine speed of 8250 rpm -- 100 rpm higher than the previous GT3.Then there is the complex exhaust system; though composed of a complicated arrangement of fan-type manifolds, boxy catalytic convertors, and presilencers connected via ECU controlled butterfly valves to a single transverse mounted muffler, the system weighs 2.2 pounds less than the older system on the previous GT3. What's more, the new system significantly reduces back pressure and adds 14.7 foot pounds of performance (and that deep bass roar) at the push of a dash mounted sport button.
Net result of all of these improvements? A claim few manufacturers can make; despite jumping 200cc, the GT3 still puts out roughly 115 naturally aspirated horsepower per liter -- 435 horsepower at 7600 rpm and 317 lb-ft of torque at 6250 rpm.
The bragging rights don't end there. Outside of the engine bay, every facet of the GT3 has been massaged in the name of speed and efficiency. Race-derived center lock wheels (8.5 x 19 in. front, 12 x 19 in. rear) save a total of 5.5 pounds. The standard brake discs gain 1.18 in. up front to 15-in. in diameter, yet lose 2.6 lb for the pair. Optional Porsche ceramic composite brakes lose an additional 9.9 lb.
Above the bumpers and between the head- and taillights are horizontal, mesh covered air outlets. Two additional vertical vents on the rear bumper draw hot air out of the engine bay, cooling it two to three degrees, while two ram air scoops perched on the rear decklid force feed the air intake.
Frontal area and air flow beneath the car have been reduced via a 1.2 in. drop in ride height, which also brings the front lip spoiler closer to the ground for additional aero gains. A wider race inspired rear wing -- featuring 3.8 emblazoned sideplates -- helps achieve downforce in excess of 200 pounds.
So how fast is it? Porsche claims the GT3 will hit a top speed of 193 mph. During the press drive in Southern Germany, we easily saw in excess of 165 mph on a lightly crowded stretch of autobahn between Stuttgart and Munich. We also found the GT3 will nail 60 mph in 4.0 sec, 100 mph in 9.0 sec, and run the quarter mile in 12.2 sec at 116.7 mph.
Now numbers like these and a price tag starting at $113,150 will no doubt draw comparisons to the two 'it' cars of late -- the Corvette ZR1 and Nissan GT-R. Yes, those two are faster and cheaper, but such comparisons are fair to none of them.
Consider the GT3 the anti-GT-R. Unlike Godzilla, the GT3 will do nothing for you, yet everything you ask. There is no dual clutch transmission option, only a manual racing gearbox, lightly disguised for street use. This Getrag six speed requires hard, precise throws through tight gates because of steel synchros built for the demands of racing. Swappable gears allow for track-tailored transmission ratios. Try that in your GT-R.
Stomp on the throttle and you're rewarded with windshield smearing acceleration -- just like in the Nissan -- except maintaining this momentum requires more than just a lead foot. You just have to shift it all the time, because it's heaps more rewarding than thunking back a paddle.
In that regard you might think it offers a similar DIY (that's Drive It Yourself) experience as the ZR1, but it's more focused and articulate. Take the steering; though lighter than you might expect (especially vis--vis the brutish clutch and gearbox) the sensation feels natural and precise. Porsche engineers did not add in artificial heft in place of road feel.
Furthermore, the GT3's traction and stability control systems are fully defeatable with the single touch of a button. Hit the SC button and a light comes on indicating stability control is off. Press the SC+TC button right next to it, and the horizon is completely yours -- whether you charge headlong into it or find yourself backing in at full pucker.
Sure, the ZR1 and GT-R allow you to take your life in your hands in similar fashion -- but clicking those switches requires some serious premeditation. The GT3's 435 free revving thoroughbreds are not the same as the ZR1's supercharged 638 stallions. Similarly, a 3100 pound rear driver with a penchant for oversteer is not the same thing as a 3900 pound, all wheel drive boost machine that understeers all day (until it instantly doesn't).
Still, the Chevy and Nissan fanboys will gloat over the numbers and gloss over the more rewarding subjective elements -- like GT3's deliciously executed, Alcantara-swathed interior. They'll scoff at exclusive extras only the GT3 offers, like Porsche Active Drive Mounts -- magnetorherological engine mounts that stiffen according to engine load and soften over bumps.
And you know what? Stuttgart will remain blithely unconcerned. The last GT3 and GT3 RS sold roughly 5200 units worldwide, and Porsche has every intention of repeating that success.