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Car reviews - Porsche - 911 - GT3 coupe

Our Opinion

We like
Even greater poise and precision, wider power and torque band, new stability control safety net, clever variable engine mount and nose-lift functions, meaner new look, exclusivity, durability
Room for improvement
$25,000 higher pricetag due mostly to the luxury car tax increase, lack of an auto

9 Nov 2009

PORSCHE’S limited-production 911 GT3 has always been popular in Australia, where a large number are bought for use only as racecars that never set wheel on public roads.

Traditionally, most local examples of Porsche’s race-ready, manual-only 911 coupe have also been specified with the no-cost option of a rear rollcage and other mandatory motorsport ancillaries such as a fire extinguisher, battery cut-out switch and full racing seats with six-point driver’s racing harness.

Many GT3 buyers who never venture on to the racetrack also opt for the so-called Clubsport version for resale reasons, since it’s likely that subsequent buyers of most GT3s will want to go racing.

Porsche says that trend is changing as the GT3 becomes more luxuriously equipped with convenience and chassis technologies that make it easier to live with as a daily driver, and the need for public road-only drivers to endure compromises like a rock-hard ride and super-low ride height diminishes.

Put simply, fewer GT3s are bought exclusively for racetrack use, because the model is more user-friendly than ever.

Take for example the new model’s lift function, which raises the front suspension hydraulically by 30mm, returning the front-end of the car to the same ride height as garden-variety 911s. Like similar systems in other supercars from brands including Lamborghini, the system makes negotiating steep driveways and speed bumps a less daunting chore.

Then there’s the unique variable drivetrain mounting system, which also appears on the GT3 for the first time and increases the stiffness of the engine and transmission mounts the quicker you drive. It’s not cheap at an extra $2890, but the idea is to deliver maximum comfort for normal driving, as well as optimum chassis/engine rigidity – and therefore handling precision – during hard cornering.

While the full gamut of racing equipment is still available with the factory-fitted Clubsport kit, the new GT3 also comes with more sound and communication system options than ever – making it just as user-friendly as the Carrera – as well as the 997 MkII 911’s trademark bi-Xenon headlights and LED daytime running lights.

Perhaps the biggest salute to everyday drivers, however, is the highly intuitive, high-threshold electronic stability control system, in addition to the previous model’s traction control system. It allows a satisfying level of sideways action before throwing its anchors out with amazing progressiveness, providing a formidable safety envelope for both road and racetrack pilots of the GT3 for the first time.

Of course, while there’s still no dual-clutch PDK automatic transmission as seen in other 997 Series II 911s, a variable-damping system is on hand to transform the GT3 from firm to teeth-rattlingly firm.

Barring the forthcoming even harder-core RS version, the GT3 remains as close to a racecar as any series-production vehicle can get.

But to prove it has not gone soft despite its unprecedented ergonomics and user-friendliness, Porsche Cars Australia launched the GT3 this week at Queensland Raceway, under the guidance of former Bathurst 1000 winner and Porsche Sport Driving School instructor Tomas Mezera.

No, we didn’t drive the latest GT3 outside the venue and can’t say how it copes with public-road potholes and ledges, but even on the closed tarmac of the super-bumpy Ipswich clubman circuit the variable damping system was best left in comfort mode.

It’s been a while since we drove the 997-series GT3, but after no fewer than 40 laps of the short but technical Queensland circuit we think we’re qualified to conclude that as a track proposition it is incrementally better than the old model in every area.

As tractable as ever off the line, the bigger and better-breathing new engine also retains the old model’s noticeable burst of extra power above 5000rpm, when the inlet and (new) exhaust cam phasing systems give it an even feistier kick.

But the biggest difference is the beefy serving of midrange torque stays on song for longer than before and, although most drivers are probably best served by short-shifting and riding the torque curve, the engine spins harder for longer, shrieking its unmistakably characterful flat-six tune to a higher 8500rpm cut-out.

It spins up quicker too, thanks to its more oversquare cylinder dimensions (the extra 200cc is all gained from an increase in bore size), making it feel more responsive to throttle inputs too.

There’s more grip on offer as well, courtesy of a new sixth-generation Michelin Pilot Sport Cup Plus tyre that was designed exclusively for the GT3.

It again features a dual-compound construction with a synthetic material that’s as close to 100 per cent silica as possible forming the inner tread and a super-soft rubber compound gracing the outside shoulder. Michelin communications boss Adam Storey says the new GT3 tyre, which measures a modest 235/35 up front but a sizeable 305/30 at rear, is as close as it gets to a road-legal racing slick.

Harnessed into the GT3 Clubsport’s carbonfibre-backed racing seat, the Alcantara-cladded steering wheel and alloy pedals, which are tailor-made for heel-toe gearchanges, feel even more sensitive to driver inputs than before.

Smoothness is the key in any rear-engined 911 but on the wallowing bitumen at Queensland Raceway it is crucial to a decent lap time. As part of the Level 4 Master Class, which is designed specifically around the GT3 and costs almost $3000 after you’ve completed the first three levels, Mezera explained that releasing the staggeringly effective ceramic brakes (which are a $20,590 option) gently to prevent understeer is just as important as feeding in power progressively to avoid oversteer.

The Gold Coaster set a benchmark time of 60.1 seconds after only a short time in the new GT3, which Porsche driving school instructors say is about a second a lap quicker than its predecessor at QR.

After heeding the invaluable advice from Mezera and his team of professional race drivers and engineers, aided by lap-by-lap satellite and in-car data, most of us dropped our times by about five seconds over the course of the day, with Storey getting closest at 61.6 and yours truly next best on 61.8.

Of course, almost two seconds is a lot of time to make up in just six turns, but there’s no doubt even mere mortals will be quicker in the new GT3, even if it delivers only incremental gains over its highly accomplished forebear.

Even more impressive than the gains made over the model it replaces, however, is the fact the GT3 can still do more than 200 laps on a hot, bumpy racetrack – reaching 200km/h in fourth gear on the main straight every lap – day after day without any mechanical problems.

The Porsche driving school has only recently retired its fleet of previous-generation GT3s after two years of full-throttle racetrack running without a single component failure.

Mezera said his team would wash, fuel and change the tyres on the first two new GT3s in the country, before another group of journalists undertook the same torture test at Queensland Raceway the next day.

“No other car off the showroom floor can do that,” he said.

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