Tue | Nov 13, 2018

With the 2018 Porsche 911 GT3, drive it like you stole it

Published:Sunday | April 29, 2018 | 12:00 AM

NICASIO, California

Were it not for a wife, kids and moral compass, this review might have been written from some badlands hideout south of the border, my trusty 2018 Porsche 911 GT3 doubling as both escape vehicle and cramped hotel room.

Instead, I dutifully handed back the crest-emblazoned keys and resigned myself to a life devoid of wicked acceleration, metallic aural symphonies and the jacked feeling that you're driving the baddest car on the road.

You've no doubt heard of the iconic Porsche 911, a two-door sports car born in 1964 that, shrugging off five decades of design evolution, basically looks the same now as it did in 1964.

Those Germans are either stubborn or know a good thing when they see one. Likely both.

These days, the 911 - a car that in late '70s Turbo guise routinely threatened to kill its drivers, thanks to a lively and heavy rear end - has been tamed. It's now a stately grand touring machine that, for around US$100,000, will do 100 mph all day long while soothing you with classical music, plush seats and adaptive suspension.

And then there's the 911 GT3, its wonderfully unruly cousin. This iteration of Porsche's legend amounts to a racing car with a hall pass to terrorise the streets of Anytown, USA, capable of hitting 60 mph in a neck-snapping 3.2 seconds and boasting a top speed of 197 mph.

Back after a three-year hiatus and a bit of controversy when the 2014 version suffered engine recall issues, the new GT3 is priced at around US$50,000 more than a standard 911 and offers more power and perks than its predecessor.

It certainly looks the menacing part with its lowered ride height (scraping the front spoiler is almost guaranteed without the optional front axle lift system at US$2,590) and airplane-worthy wing (larger and taller than last year's model so as to generate more downforce).

But better yet, the GT3 sounds every bit like you made the wrong turn off the Mulsanne Straight at Le Mans and somehow wound up in the drive-through at Starbucks. Its flat-six naturally aspirated engine (look Ma, no turbos!) generates 500 horses that run free up to a staggering 9,000-rpm tachometer redline.

Putting all this grunt to the rear wheels (which offer minute steering adjustments that improve cornering) is Porsche's 7-speed PDK automatic transmission. While those lickety-split paddle shifts are lightning fast, one does miss in a car this analogue the pleasure of shifting for yourself.

Fortunately, an old-school 6-speed stick is available as a no-cost GT3 option, if you can even find these cars for sale. Lists are long at Porsche dealerships for this collector-worthy car, one that's bested perhaps only by its honest-to-goodness racing brother, the 911 GT3 RS. But that's a different automotive adventure.

 

Attention must be paid

 

Needless to say, a car as potent as the GT3 skirts a fine line between being fun and downright dangerous.

In a few days of hard driving on winding and often wet roads in bucolic west Marin County just north of San Francisco, our nicely, if modestly equipped US$147,910 Carrara (no carbon ceramic brakes for US$9,210, no carbon full bucket seats at US$5,200) did its best to showcase what a half-century of refining one product can produce.

The car also scared the wits out of us on a few blind hairpin turns slick with damp leaves. Without proper heat in the Michelin rubber, the grip wasn't ideal, and the track-tuned suspension wasn't happy with potholes. But the end result was a James Bond-like thrill ride that left one both shaken and profoundly stirred.

In fact, with a modicum of driving skill and common sense, an automobile like the 911 GT3 reminds you why you fell in love with cars and driving in the first place. It offers an undeniable and overpowering sense of presence and demands that attention be paid.

Text and drive and you not only risk hurting someone and breaking the law, but you miss the truly seminal experience of wearing a machine cobbled together by passionate human beings whose main purpose isn't transportation, but emotional salvation.

Fire up your senses and you'll be able to hear precisely when the car wants to shift and feel when the car needs a touch of brakes or throttle. This is to self-driving cars what the Space Shuttle is to a hot air balloon. Same general concept, different universe of experience.

The GT3's exterior is all shark-like business, brimming with gaping, air-sucking portals that would look silly if they weren't absolutely critical to gluing this beast to the pavement at high speeds.

Inside, minimalism rules. Lots of fake-suede Alcantara, rigid if supportive seats and a decent stereo, though you should be fined for tuning into Top 40 radio over the GT3's rock band in the rear.

Speaking of, there's actually a button on the centre console to amplify the exhaust, which is a bit like heading to a Metallica concert and finding out there's a switch to make Enter Sandman louder. This four-wheeled machine should have only one volume: raging.

 

Buyer beware

 

The GT3 is not for everyone. If you truly want to hear music or a companion's voice, opt out. Ditto if you're not keen to cross every driveway at a 45-degree angle for fear of scraping delicate carbon fibre parts.

The standard Porsche 911 is, somewhat comically, a family car, as it can fit small children in the back seats. Not so with the GT3, which doesn't offer rear seating.

Nor is the GT3 a daily driver, as it's just too unruly to be a bragging rights steed you'd pop over to the office in. It is, however, a car for a daily pick-me-up, one that delivers a truly special thrill in an increasingly commoditised transportation world.

Put another way, remember when you were young and a car stopped you dead in your tracks?

That doesn't happen much today, an era of homogenised design motifs where noise, vibration and harshness have been deliberately bred out of automobiles. Engineers, in fact, promise we will soon be chauffeured around in driverless boxes staffed by baristas.

The Porsche 911 GT3 says phooey to all that. It's here to shock you, seduce you and blow your mind. It's here so you don't forget why, short of flying, driving remains one of the modern era's visceral thrills.

So turn on the engine, tune into its thunder, and drop the hammer.

 

What stands out

 

- Power: No turbos needed as this beast snorts breathlessly up to a 9,000 rpm redline.

- Stance: Fit for a track, which means a painfully low front end that scrapes easily.

- Intensity: There's no way to text, talk or whistle - it's all driving, all the time.

 

2018 Porsche 911 GT3

 

- What: The German automaker's race-ready variant of its timeless 911 coupe.

- When: Available now, but in short supply at dealerships.

- Where: Made in Germany.

- What makes it go: A 4-litre flat-six cylinder making 500hp, 25hp more than last model.

- How thirsty: 15mpg city, 20 mpg highway.

- How big: 15 feet long.

- How much: Starts at US$143,600, plus destination and delivery of US$1,050 and gas-guzzler tax of US$1,000. Price as tested of US$147,910, which includes heated front seats (US$700) and auto-dimming mirrors (US$700). Porsche says most folks load up on options such as carbon brakes and seats that can add as much as US$20,000 to the final tally.

Overall: A collectible 911 for the ages (but get the stick).