About ten minutes into my first drive of the new 2011 Porsche 911 GT3 RS 4.0, I had an epiphany.
Until then I'd been utterly seduced by its new 4.0-liter, 500-horsepower flat six. I was screaming around Silverstone at 8,500 rpm, electronics off, tail out, game on. It was brilliant fun — in every regard the visceral, soul-enhancing, tire-destroying orgy of excess I'd planned on having. After all, this is the final GT3 in a series stretching back to the last century.
It was only when I eased back for the final lap that it dawned on me: I was driving it the wrong way.
And the Right Way?
If you want to understand what the new four-liter engine does for Porsche's greatest road car, forget the headline power figure. It's impressive, it shaves a tenth from the zero-to-sixty time, but it's not what this car is about.
Instead, the new GT3 RS is all about torque. In previous GT3s, the only major problem was their combination of peaky engines with wide gear ratios. In isolation either is fine but together they add up to a car that has to be driven like your pants are on fire to get the most from it. Which is why I was driving the way I was.
To make this engine, Porsche extended its stroke by installing the crank from the RSR race car (the bores were already maxed out), a move that finally provided the GT3 with the only tool it was missing. On paper, the extra 22 pound-feet of torque doesn't look like much, but that's only the peak number. When you overlay old and new torque curves you see not a thin ribbon separating the two lines, but something closer to an Interstate.
More Than Just a Bigger Engine
But before we examine the effect this has on the GT3's already well documented abilities, it's worth bearing in mind that while the badge only says "RS 4.0" (it's the first GT3 not to carry the name), in reality there's far more here than just an extra 196ccs of displacement.
Normally, when you stroke an engine you expect to gain flexibility at the expense of top-end bite. Porsche took it a step further by adding higher flow air filters and a new intake manifold along with freer flowing catalysts with 300 instead of 400 cells. The extra breathing capacity boosts the engine's output from 117 hp per liter to 125 hp per liter. Then the engineers drove it 2,000 miles at maximum engine speed just to see if it was as durable as Porsche's other motors. It was.
To make sure the rest of the car does not shrink into the shadows of that engine, many components have been taken from the sledgehammer (and $60,000 more expensive) GT2 RS, including its carbon-fiber hood and front fender, rose-jointed lower arms in the rear suspension and even its lightweight carpets. The overall result is a 22-pound weight reduction that gets the RS 4.0 just under the 3,000-pound mark. Like the GT2 RS the rear springs also carry tiny helper springs to keep the coils pre-loaded but the springs themselves are unique to the 4.0 RS front and rear.
And then there's the aero package. Not content with the massive downforce achieved on the 3.8 RS (greater even than the GT2 RS), Porsche added an all-new rear wing with a 9-degree angle of attack. It actually created so much downforce that it destabilized the front. Balance was restored by adding the tiny winglets you see to the front and side. They might look like cosmetic afterthoughts but Porsche Motorsport guru Andreas Preuninger assured me, "at the Pflanzgarten at the Nürburgring Nordschleife, with the wings you go flat. Without, you go off." He did not look like he was kidding.
Not Just Faster, Easier
So, I took this knowledge and tried to apply it to driving the car. And the feeling is of a car not merely considerably quicker, but so much simpler to drive. By the end of my session I was a gear up through every corner, because now the car has the mid-range drive to haul you away from the apex. And lower revs plus higher gears means less torture for the tires while still providing enough pure grunt to challenge the traction of this track-tuned 911 on bubblegum sticky road racing rubber.
So, now you're working less at the shifter and less at the wheel too, providing more of the most precious commodity of all when driving a car as fast as you can: thinking time. You can concentrate instead on positioning the car to perfection, extracting every inch of potential from the car, the track and yourself. From the outside it looks far less dramatic, but from behind the wheel the sense is of discovering another dimension of ability. The single most impressive aspect of this landmark machine is not just that it offers far greater rewards than the 3.8 RS, it's that it does so while actually asking less of you as a driver.
The Last One for Sure
Having spent the last dozen years driving GT3s, it seems almost unbelievable that this is the last 911 based on the original 996/997 platform. And it appears as nothing less than a tragedy that its motorsports engine which can trace its roots right back to the 1980s and has won races right around the planet including Le Mans, will die with it.
Now is not the time to be talking about the next GT3, not least because it is at least two years away. Let us instead focus on the way Porsche has chosen to say goodbye to the old. As far as I'm concerned, the 2011 Porsche 911 GT3 RS 4.0 is the finest road car to wear the shield of Stuttgart on its nose. A car capable of making even the 3.8 GT3 RS look compromised and the GT2 RS overblown and unnecessary. It is hard indeed to think of a finer way of signing off than this.
† Edmunds.com received the highest numerical score in the proprietary J.D. Power 2014 Third-Party Automotive Website Evaluation Study℠. Results based on responses from 3,381 responses, measuring 14 companies and measures third-party automotive website usefulness among new and used vehicle shoppers. Proprietary study results are based on experiences and perceptions of owners surveyed from January 2014. Your experiences may vary. Visit jdpower.com.