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The A1 autobahn, somewhere north of Bremen, Germany. We're at the wheel of the 2008 Porsche 911 GT2.
At an indicated 186 mph — almost 3.5 miles per minute — the surrounding countryside blurs into one constant stream. The slap of the tires against the expansion joints in the concrete road surface combines with the steady rush of the wind pouring over the car's curved profile. Yet even together they can't overcome the deep roar of the engine, which is still pulling hard some 800 rpm shy of its electronic cutout at the redline of 6,800 rpm.
Long sweeping curves in the road ahead tighten in intensity and our heart rate races. We can feel the front end of the car lifting as it fights to control the huge aerodynamic forces. Yet the new 2008 Porsche 911 GT2 manages to track better at such extreme velocities than any other road-going 911 thanks to bodywork developed for the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
It's uniquely challenging but wonderfully addictive. And thanks to Germany's insistence that speed — no matter how outrageous — is the right of each and every road user, all this is completely legal.
Officially the GT2 reaches a top speed of 205 mph, making it the fastest series production 911 ever unleashed for the road. "With speedometer error factored in, that's an indicated 215 mph," explains Alan Lewin, the new car's project boss.
We're ultimately 10 mph short of this at an eye-widening 195 mph as the sign to Oldenburg flashes by to our left. We've managed to better the 193-mph top speed of the Porsche 911 Turbo, with which this latest Porsche shares so much of its mechanical package. More than just 12 mph in top speed separates these two cars, however, as they are very different in character.
The four-wheel-drive 911 Turbo goes about its business with almost clinical efficiency, insulating the driver with technological wizardry in a way that has led many to describe this car as being too sophisticated for its own good.
The rear-wheel-drive GT2, on the other hand, relies on compelling rawness to stamp the driving experience with its own personality, challenging those behind the wheel to use its immense reserve of performance.
While the GT2 borrows heavily from the Turbo in terms of its fundamental appearance, there are a number of detailed styling changes that serve to set it apart, all of which, Lewin tells us, have to do with airflow management.
The changes begin with a heavily revised front bumper with sizable outer air ducts that's also punctuated on each side by a row of eight LEDs. The central duct has also been enlarged to ensure more cool air finds its way to the trio of front-mounted radiators, a pair of air-conditioning condensers and the front brakes.
Porsche claims cooling efficiency has been improved, allowing the GT2 to retain the same-size radiators as the Turbo despite its greater power output. In addition, the GT2 has an oil-to-water heat exchanger for the gearbox. (The 911 Turbo has an air-to-air cooler for this purpose.) The front aero splitter has been strengthened to resist underbody airflow at extreme speed and thus reduce aerodynamic lift.
The rear wing is without a doubt the most defining visual feature of the new car, just as it's been for every GT2 since the racetrack original appeared in 1995. Fixed to the engine lid, it once again boasts a twin-element design with ram-air ducts to help the engine breathe deeply at speed. Below the wing, there's a heavily revised bumper that features vents to extract hot air from the engine bay.
Although the GT2 has a lower ride height than the 911 Turbo, its aerodynamic addenda results in a slightly higher drag coefficient — 0.32 Cd against 0.31 Cd. But compared to the meager 35 pounds of downforce the 911 Turbo develops at 200 kph (124 mph), the GT2 registers 20 pounds of downforce over the front wheels and 64 pounds over the rear at the same speed. This is comforting to know when you've got the GT2 wound up in 6th gear on a deserted German autobahn, believe us.
A Soul With Six Cylinders
The engine of the GT2 shares its broad specification with the 911 Turbo, but internal tweaks provide a small but important edge in performance.
Capacity of the horizontally opposed six-cylinder remains 3.6 liters, but the combination of the latest Borg-Warner variable-geometry turbochargers making 20 psi of boost and a new variable inlet manifold together help increase power to 530 horsepower at 6,500 rpm, 47 hp more than the 911 Turbo.
The GT2 engine also produces 501 pound-feet of torque, an improvement of 44 lb-ft. More important is the fact that this torque is produced all the way from 2,200 rpm to 4,500 rpm. This makes the power delivery extraordinarily consistent across the rev range, as phenomenal flexibility combines with monumental top-end thrust. The power only begins to wane in intensity shortly before the ignition is retarded at 6,800 rpm.
Feel the Power
On one lonely strip of autobahn we slotted the GT2 into 6th gear at just 1,000 rpm. With the speedometer indicating 50 kph (30 mph), we put the pedal on the floor mat and the car surged ahead without any unruliness until we'd broken 300 kph (186 mph). There's no discernible lag as the turbochargers spool up to maximum boost: just one smooth, linear and titanic seam of energy. You need to think hard about whether it is strictly necessary to call up that last couple of thousand revs in lower gears. Most of the time, it isn't.
The GT2's comparatively light curb weight of 3,175 pounds heightens your impression of speed, a useful reduction of the Turbo's curb weight of 3,483 pounds by 308 pounds. Then there's the fact that the power is being channeled to just the rear wheels, which makes you question whether even fleeting moments of full throttle are indeed prudent on public roads.
This is the first GT2 to get three-mode stability control and a limited-slip differential as standard equipment, yet wheelspin is not exactly an uncommon commodity when you're out to explore this car's limits. At 3.7 seconds, its acceleration to 100 kph (62 mph) is 0.2 second quicker than the 911 Turbo and 0.3 second quicker than the previous-generation GT2. The new car's headline performance number is its acceleration to 100 mph — just 7.4 seconds.
The revs build so suddenly in 1st, 2nd and 3rd gears that you always have to be at the ready to grab the next gear before the electronic cutout at redline surprises you. It's only when you get to 4th that it all becomes less frenzied, though even then the acceleration remains strong.
More Than Speed
Sheer speed is only part of the thrill, though. The latest 911 Turbo with its new fast-acting, clutch-type center differential and all-wheel drive is very much foolproof when it comes to fast driving. The GT2, on the other hand, is very much from the old school — tail-happy and ready to punish those who fail to heed the warning signs.
Accelerate hard out of even a moderately fast corner in a lower gear and the GT2 will spin its rear wheels almost on demand. Fortunately the steering is more alert than in the Turbo, so winding on steering lock in a timely fashion keeps the GT2 under control.
The three-mode stability control intervenes much later than you'll find for other models of the 911, and it cleverly provides separate switches to completely disengage both the stability and traction functions. While on the subject of chassis electronics, it's worth mentioning that the stability control's electronics intervene viciously as soon as you try to left-foot brake — unsettling behavior at best and downright dangerous at worst.
In the right hands, the GT2's potential is phenomenal. Former world rally champion Walter Rohrl has lapped the Nürburgring in 7 minutes 32 seconds, a full 14 seconds faster than the previous GT2.
The Comfort Quotient
Although the GT2 has been built for speed, not comfort, the ride quality is acceptable given the lack of compliance afforded by its low-profile Michelin Pilot Sport tires, 235/35R19s in front and 325/30R19s in the rear. Like the Turbo, the GT2 gets Porsche's active suspension that allows you to alter the damping in two predetermined stages.
There's an overall intensity to the ride that is just not apparent in the Turbo, but at the same time the GT2 still manages to swallow nasty ridges in the pavement without sending you off your line through the corner. That said, only a masochist would consider the sport mode on public roads. Developed specifically for track use, you have to fight the wheel to keep the GT2 pointed exactly where you want it, and even the smallest of surface imperfections makes it feel nervous.
If you get into trouble, the braking power is colossal. The GT2 has Porsche's carbon-ceramic rotors as standard equipment, measuring 15.0 inches in front and 13.4 inches in the rear. Eight-piston calipers grab the front rotors, while four-piston calipers do the job in the rear.
Porsche tells us that the brakes play a crucial role in helping the GT2 accelerate from zero to 186 mph and then back to zero again in just 40 seconds. Even more impressive is the ability of the brake package to resist fade. In fact, you could argue that the GT2 stops even better than it goes.
Caution: Trained Professionals Only
Is this car wild? Certainly. Even rally ace Walter Rohrl admits that it's not for everybody. And its price of $191,700 when it goes on sale this November makes it even more of a challenge.
Yet the 2008 Porsche 911 GT2 can also be hugely rewarding in the right conditions. No, we can't imagine driving it down an unfamiliar country road in the rain at night. It's just too intimidating. But it is a car that is meant for the track, a huge driving challenge that is nevertheless brought within reach by a carefully tuned array of technology.
As Porsche's Alan Lewin points out, "It's a car for those who want to be able to take the car to its limits on their own without feeling impeded by any electronic features."
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.
The Edmunds TCO® estimated monthly insurance payment for a 2008 Porsche 911 in WA is: