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Published: 07/01/2013 - by Simon Green, Contributor
"We are not ignorant, Porsche is not ignorant," says Andreas Preuninger, the engineer in charge of the company's GT series cars, with the air of a man who wishes to draw the current subject of conversation to a close.
We've been discussing the decision not to offer a manual transmission in the new 2014 Porsche 911 GT3. It's a topic of conversation that has consumed most of his waking hours for the past six months and, to be fair to the man, not one on which he can offer much more.
For reasons of cost, engineering and marketing, Porsche has chosen to build the newest GT3 (the car that perhaps connects the company with hard-core drivers better than any other in its model range) with only two pedals.
Accordingly, the cognoscenti have gone native on Porsche. There will be no manual GT3, and Wolfgang Hatz, Porsche's R&D chief, has stated that even the RS version of the GT3 will be PDK-only, which would put an end to speculation were it not for Preuninger's pointed assertion that Porsche is not ignorant.
If the lack of a manual hinders sales, I think we can assume that the company will reconsider the strategy. But not for now. It's an automatic or nothing.
No Complaining About the Engine
Given the extent to which the transmission has dominated discussions before anyone has actually driven the 2014 Porsche 911 GT3, it might come as a surprise to learn that the gearshift is not the first thing that grabs your attention in this car. The motor dominates the experience.
There was also much discussion among the Porsche community that the 991 GT3 would suffer for not using the classic split-case flat-6 that lifted it above the regular Carrera. However, the first time you stretch this new derivative of the 9A1, 3.8-liter direct-injection boxer beyond 7,000 rpm, you realize that the rabble-rousing was unnecessary.
This is a sensational engine, smooth and musical from 1,500 rpm to 8,500 rpm, whereupon its character shifts into something altogether racecar for a final 500-rpm push to the 9,000-rpm cutout. Its 475 horses produces one of the most unadulterated mechanical sounds you'll hear in a new car. It's so addictive you keep extending the motor to hear it.
And That's Not All
Then there's the chassis. Electric power steering is undoubtedly a negative development for sports cars in terms of driver involvement, but this has to be the best resolved system yet devised. There's more weight than a standard Carrera and a far greater sense of connection with the front axle; in fact, you'd swear it was an entirely new steering system, but the hardware is identical to the normal 911's, as all the changes are in the software and calibration.
A completely new set of lower suspension arms and different tires also contribute. It's certainly a little more muted than the last 997 GT3's steering, but it's pretty damn good.
Better still is the chassis. A longer wheelbase and wider front track already helped the 991 understeer less than 911s of old, but the GT3 is a big step forward. The suspension sits 1.2 inches lower than the standard Carrera and utilizes lightweight components that shave nearly 15 pounds of weight off the running gear. Then there's the rear steer system and an electronic locking rear differential that makes it a revelation on the road: fluid, keen to change direction and far more nimble than its claimed 3,153-pound curb weight would suggest.
Grip levels are exceptional for a street car, but if you switch the traction and stability control off you can play with the rear axle just as you could in the old car. The rear steering moves into a fixed position and you end up with a machine that will smoke its tires all day long.
A Retuned Automatic That Works
And only once you've grinned at the brilliance of the engine and admired the advances Porsche has made with the chassis and its seamless integration of four-wheel steering do you stop and think about that transmission. And you ask yourself two questions: Is it a good dual-clutch gearbox, and would the GT3 be better with a good old manual?
The PDK here is a vastly different piece of equipment to the one found in other Porsches. It has shorter gears with tighter spacing and can shift between them in under 100 milliseconds the instant you pull either paddle, both of which have half the movement of a regular PDK paddle. Even the gearlever has been changed to allow a pull backward to bring an upshift, as it should be in any racing car.
With seven gears and a motor that revs to nine grand, it's hard to argue against this gearbox for road use. As a powertrain package together they are compelling, the paddles allowing you to nip that 9,000-rpm limit and enjoy the crack of exhaust as the revs drop a little. It's a new kind of driving: one that hard-core GT3 fans might not buy into, but from behind the wheel the car feels utterly alive. You can even disengage the clutch by pulling both levers to simulate a clutch-kick.
About That Manual Gearbox
As slick as the PDK is, a car like this should surely offer both options. For those who want to work a stick and enjoy the fruits of their own skills, often learned over decades, the new 2014 Porsche 911 GT3 will be a slight disappointment. But I defy any of those people to not celebrate how impressive this car has become.
The interior is exactly what you'd expect of a GT3: a light twist on the 991 theme with a few scattered badges, that imposing 9,000-rpm red sector and, should you want them, carbon bucket seats. If there's anything to wince about, it's the hand-me-down steering wheel and shift paddles from the last-generation 997 Turbo S.
Only time will tell if Porsche made the right decision with the 991 GT3's specification. It's a stunning car to drive: faster, more agile and, well, plain better in every area. But the GT3 brand also contained an unspoken contract between driver and machine that has been slightly broken with the insertion of two metal paddles. We'll have to wait and see if the sales numbers reflect any loss of enthusiasm.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.