2010 Porsche 911 GT3 First Drive

2010 Porsche 911 Coupe

(3.8L 6-cyl. 6-speed Manual)

Pure Porsche

We get a little insight into the 2010 Porsche 911 GT3 in a conversation with Porsche's Andreas Preuninger, motorsport project manager for high-performance cars.

We asked him why the new GT3, perhaps the ultimate version of the Porsche 911, doesn't offer Porsche's latest technology, the seven-speed, dual-clutch, automated manual transmission known as PDK. Of course, we already knew that some of the explanation lies in the fact that PDK has been developed in conjunction with the new direct-injection engine introduced in the 997 model of the Porsche 911, while the GT3 features the motorsports engine derived from the original GT1 and so is incompatible with PDK.

But Preuninger didn't burden us with the technicalities. Instead he said, "First, the PDK weighs 66 pounds. Second, PDK does not have a clutch you can control, and if you want to do really big drifts, sometimes you need a clutch."

Then he said, "The manual gearbox in the GT3 is the best match for the purist."

And now you know what the 2010 Porsche 911 GT3 is all about and who should be driving it.

The Shape of Purity
Following the act of the last GT3 must have been a hellishly difficult brief. And when you first see the 2010 Porsche 911 GT3, you might well conclude that Preuninger and his colleagues had concluded there was no point in changing a winning formula. After all, they sold 5,200 units of the old GT3, or as Preuninger puts it, "Slightly more than double what we had dreamed of being the maximum possible."

Visually there's very little difference between the old car and the new. If you look closely, you'll see new intake ducts in the front airdam, plus small, functional slits in the rear fascia to expel engine heat. There's a new front aero splitter matched by a different rear wing. And there's a clever little aero device at the leading edge of the trunk lid.

Just don't suggest to Preuninger that all these changes are cosmetic. As he tells us, "Find some quiet autobahn and try a really fast lane change at 250 km/h [155 mph] and you'll really feel it then." Overall downforce at 186 mph has been increased five times to 220 pounds, and hours of wind tunnel testing have carefully proportioned it to 88 pounds in front and 132 pounds in the rear.

In fact, everything related to the performance of this new GT3 is different; the little changes are just so subtle that they're barely perceptible to the naked eye.

The Subtleties of Performance
The GT3's engine now displaces 3,797cc, delivering 435 horsepower at 7,600 rpm and 317 pound-feet of torque at 6,250 rpm. Compared to the 3.6-liter engine of the previous GT3, the new motor makes 20 hp more, delivers 18 lb-ft more torque and revs 100 rpm higher. And as Porsche points out, though the new engine has 7.7 pounds of steel cylinder liners and an additional 4.4 pounds of hardware to deliver variable valve timing and lift, saving a gram at a time in such things as the seven oil pumps, the air-conditioning compressor and the dual-mass flywheel means the engine is actually 2.2 pounds lighter than before.

The suspension receives stiffer front springs but softer antiroll bars (identical to those used for the now-discontinued GT2), and the overall suspension is 2.6 pounds lighter than before. The standard steel brakes have increased 1.2 inches in diameter to 15 inches in front and 13.8 inches in the rear, but the brakes are also a total of 5.2 pounds lighter than before. New forged-aluminum wheels with motorsport-style center bolts measure 19-by-8.5 inches in front and 19-by-12 inches in the rear, and reduce weight by 5.5 pounds.

As before, the GT3 measures 175.8 inches in length, 71.2 inches in width and 50.4 inches in height, and it rides on a wheelbase of 92.7 inches. But despite all the improvements and additions, Porsche tells us, "The car weighs not a single gram more." That's 3,076 pounds with a full tank of gas in case you're counting.

When you see the little wires attached to the engine mounts, you'll realize just how hard Porsche has thought about this car. For $1,000, you can specify the Engine Dynamic Mounts, engine mounts that contain a fluid that changes its viscosity according to an electric current. When you're traveling slowly, the mounts automatically allow as much as 0.8 inch of movement, utterly insulating you from engine vibration. But if you're traveling quickly on a track, this movement is restricted to less than a tenth of that, minimizing drivetrain lash and improving traction.

Speed Quotient
The result is a car that over a single lap of the old Nürburgring Nordschleife will put a quarter-mile between itself and the old GT3. Porsche says that ex-rally champion Walter Rohrl has lapped the track in under 7:40 on an open track day. A Porsche 911 Carrera S is 16 seconds slower and a Porsche 911 Turbo is 10 seconds slower, while the Porsche 911 GT2 is 7 seconds faster. Even the midengine Porsche Carrera GT proves only 9 seconds faster.

We didn't get a crack at the Nordschleife, but the GT3 showed its skills to us on the fast-moving but heavily populated autobahn leading from Porsche headquarters in the Stuttgart district of Zuffenhausen toward the Swabian Alps, where Preuninger and his chums do their check rides of prototypes.

The GT3 rides beautifully in the slow but steady autobahn traffic, its engine no more than a pleasant hum in the background. Then a sign appears that marks a section of road with no restricted speed limit, the road magically clears and a couple of downshifts later we're accruing speed at a preposterous rate for a car with a normally aspirated engine displacing less than 4.0 liters. Within seconds, 186 mph has been acquired, and only then does the GT3's acceleration slow noticeably as the aerodynamic drag (0.32 Cd) of the body takes effect.

Preuninger says the GT3 will do 312 km/h (194 mph), a velocity he rightly dismisses with a shrug as "just a number." Yet as we howl up through the gears, waiting for the warning light that illuminates at the 8,500-rpm redline, the experience is as rare as it is special. Although the turbocharged 500-hp GT2 is more powerful and faster than this, so, too, it's a less immediate, intimate and exciting ride. Cruising at 175 mph in the GT3 is so easy it's hard to believe the car's digital speedometer, but there it is looking back at us; 282 kph. And it'll do it all day long.

The 2010 Porsche 911 GT3 accelerates to 62 mph in 4.1 seconds and then reaches 124 mph in 12.3 seconds. The engine responds immediately, as if your throttle foot is wired to the fuel injection, unlike most modern engines where a thicket of awkwardly calibrated, mpg-enhancing electronics is in the way. At 4,000 rpm, the engine bites as the four-stage intake system opens up with a visceral growl that gets right inside your chest.

The overall gearing is surprisingly short, so the GT3 reaches top speed in 6th gear, not 5th, and you find yourself shifting up into a taller gear at 183 mph — a pretty unique thrill. The clutch action is the heaviest we've ever experienced in a street car, and you have to really get after the stiff, short-throw shift linkage to get 3rd gear without being rejected by the synchros.

Mountain Driving
In the mountains we're able to take advantage of the tires, still 235/35ZR19s in front and 305/30ZR19s in the rear. These Michelin Pilot Sport Cup tires look familiar, but they've been reformulated to reduce aromatic emissions from the rubber, while the internal construction has been improved, too. So dramatic is the improvement that the GT3's steering feels magically enhanced. We thought the GT3's steering ratio had been changed until we were told the GT3 uses precisely the same hardware as the standard 911. Meanwhile, there will be an optional Pirelli tire available soon, and its deeper tread pattern is reckoned to be more suitable for all-season and wet-weather driving than this Michelin summer performance tire.

But what you notice most is not the raw cornering grip of the GT3 but instead the willingness of the car to bend itself to your will. Sure, it will understeer and oversteer like every proper 911 always has, but the scope it provides for you to control these forces is wider than any other 911 we've known. It will perform to extremes of drift, although perhaps greater enjoyment is derived from feeling the effects of minute adjustments to wheel or throttle, the kind whose input and effect will be noticed only by the most observant of passengers. The stability control is incredibly sophisticated and intervenes very progressively, yet as Porsche tells us, "It goes without saying that the system may still be switched off either in separate steps or altogether, should the driver wish to powerslide a bit when driving on the track."

Coming to America
The 2010 Porsche 911 GT3 will arrive in America later this year priced at $112,200 (not including destination). The GT3 will come equipped with the device that lifts the front end 1.2 inches to the ride height of a standard 911 so you can get this car into your driveway or across a speed bump without knocking off the front aero splitter, and you'll be able to order the optional carbon-ceramic brakes as well. But never mind the European options like carbon-fiber sport seats, and forget about the Club Sport package with its rollover bar and cockpit-mounted fire extinguisher. And there will be no 19-gallon fuel tank for those thinking about 24-hour endurance races.

For us, the 2010 Porsche 911 GT3 is the most precise, dynamically lucid and satisfying Porsche of the modern era. As Preuninger tells us, "The GT3 is a car that bites beneath your skin; it is a car that you do not want to leave once you have taken the wheel."

Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.

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