Porsche's iconic track special makes small adjustments with big results.
In an era when many performance cars have adopted forced induction, electrification, or some combination of the two in the interest of headline-grabbing statistics, the 2022 Porsche 911 GT3 continues to stubbornly buck the trend.
All those wings and vents and nostrils aren't just for show. Essentially a homologation car built to satisfy the racing series where machines like the 911 GT3 Cup and 911 GT3 R compete, the road-going vehicle is actually developed alongside its competition-bound siblings. And the intrinsic connection between each of them is stronger than it ever has been before.
The new GT3’s sub-seven-minute Nurburgring lap time, an improvement of more than 12 seconds over its predecessor, is further evidence of this. That’s particularly remarkable given the negligible increase in 4.0-liter engine’s output while the car’s 3100-pound curb weight has remained more or less unchanged. The now-optional (and dealer installed) Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 R track tires certainly deserve some credit, yet even cynics must admit that there’s more going on here than just a set of cheater slicks.
But the tuning of race cars and street cars are often at odds with one another, and one of the 911’s greatest strengths has always been its reputation as the everyday sports car. As Porsche injects more racing DNA into the only naturally aspirated 911 in its lineup in the pursuit of elevated performance, has the automaker sacrificed the balance between dynamics and drivability that’s helped make the GT3 badge such a sought-after commodity? On a sunny spring day out on canyon roads northeast of downtown Los Angeles, we embarked on a high-speed fact-finding mission.
Remastering A Modern Classic
It’s no secret that expectations for any new Porsche GT car are stratospheric. The GT3’s status as an object of worship for purists is tied to its reputation as a performance car that delivers a distilled driving experience, and to that end, the engine plays a prominent role in the proceedings. The 4.0-liter flat-six engine used here sends 502 horsepower and 346 pound-feet of torque exclusively to the rear wheels, and it revs to a glorious 9,000 RPM while doing it.
The powerplant is essentially a modified version of the mill that motivated the last 911 GT3 (as well as the limited-production Speedster), here outfitted with a new exhaust system for better flow, a lighter dry sump system, and a different set of pistons that remove some weight from the rotating assembly.
The most sweeping changes can be found in the GT3’s chassis.
Andreas Preuninger, the director of Porsche’s GT model line, explained during a technical briefing on the car that moving to the more advanced electronics of the 992 platform also provided an opportunity for engineers to activate the engine’s throttle valves quicker than they could in its forebears. As a result, the engine in the new GT3 is outfitted with six individual throttle bodies in order to capitalize on that capability and deliver even more urgent engine response.
Importantly, would-be 992 GT3 owners still have a choice between the seven-speed PDK dual-clutch automatic transmission and a six-speed manual gearbox. In terms of the former, Porsche has ditched the nub-like gear selector used in other 992 models in favor of a unique design that looks and operates more like a traditional shifter.
The most sweeping changes can be found in the GT3’s chassis, though. Along with a 1.9-inch-wider front track versus a standard 911 Carrera, the GT3 adopts a double wishbone front suspension for the first time ever in a 911 road car, a design derived directly from the 911 RSR race car.
“We found that it was advantageous for the car, especially over bumps on the track,” Preuninger explained. “The contact patch remains more stable when the suspension is moving, and the handling is more precise. It also allows you to set up the car stiffer while retaining comfort, and it expands the bandwidth of what we can do.” New, uniquely tuned ZF adaptive dampers are on hand to support that versatility, reacting to road conditions in roughly half of the time required by the shocks used in the outgoing GT3.
Like the double wishbone suspension, Porsche adapted the GT3’s aerodynamic package from the 911 RSR.
The new GT3’s motorsport lineage is also more visually evident now thanks to its bodywork, which is notably racier than its predecessor. Preuninger said that in the pursuit of quicker lap times, simply piling on horsepower ultimately wasn’t the best way forward, so they looked elsewhere to see where engineering efforts could yield the biggest results.
“We’re always looking for more performance, but we’re entering a field of diminishing returns when it comes to the engine because there are so many regulatory conditions that it faces. We’ve got 125 horsepower per liter now, which is a huge deal for an engine that is homologated for street use and revs up to 9000 RPM, but we also needed to back that up with other systems.”
Like the double wishbone suspension, Porsche adapted the GT3’s aerodynamic package from the 911 RSR and added a diffuser that generates four times more downforce than its predecessor, along with a new rear wing with swan-neck uprights that allow air to flow more freely underneath it.
All in, the new GT3 generates roughly 50 percent more downforce than the outgoing car in standard configuration, while setting the adjustable aero bits to track positioning can raise that downforce figure to as much as 150 percent at 125 mph. Combined with the vented hood and massive air intakes in the front fascia, there’s simply no mistaking the GT3’s intent now.
For our seat time in the new 911 GT3, Porsche handed us the keys to this Shark Blue example outfitted with the seven-speed PDK transmission, pointed us in the direction of the wondrous network of roads in the Angeles National Forest, and basically told us to be back before dark. Eager to get moving before company reps had a chance to change their mind, we settled into the carbon bucket seat, strapped in, and set off.
Our path soon led us out onto LA freeways, where the GT3 immediately earned points for good behavior. Although it rides on even wider Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s than the 991 GT3 – up 10 millimeters front and rear to 255 and 315 mm, respectively – the car doesn’t have a habit of tramlining in grooves in the road, and despite what the aggressive exterior might suggest, the suspension is also admirably compliant on typical road surfaces in Normal drive mode, absorbing many imperfections rather than translating them into body motion.
The optional carbon buckets might not be for everyone – few will ever look graceful getting out of them – but these may be the most comfortable fixed-back seats available in a production car. If you’re willing to compromise adjustability and features, the driving position is spot-on and you’ll never have to worry about moving around in the chair during hard cornering maneuvers thanks to the race seat-like shoulder and thigh bolstering. In a car like this we’d consider them obligatory, but to each their own.
Both around town and out in the hills, the PDK continues to be one of the most refined dual-clutch transmissions money can buy. Shifts are seamless and nearly instantaneous during spirited driving while also devoid of the low-speed chop and harshness that’s still too common with DCTs. The new GT3 shifter is a welcome addition, too, not only for sake of visual presentation and tactility, but also because of its traditional PRND layout, complete with a full-manual mode directly to the left of Drive.
While we generally prefer to row our own – especially in a car like a 911 GT3 – it’s hard to find fault with the PDK here. Left to its own devices in both Sport and Track drive modes, it dutifully holds gears to keep the engine responsive and in the meaty parts of the powerband.
On occasions when you really want to wind out the engine, the GT3 allows you to shift manually using either the shift lever for sequential-style fun or with the steering wheel-mounted paddles. Neither provides the connected sensation of a traditional manual gearbox, but you’ll also never miss a shift or choose the wrong gate, either. It’s also worth noting that the PDK helps rocket the GT3 to 60 mph from rest in 3.2 seconds, while the six-speed requires 0.5 ticks more.
Porsche has done a masterful job of balancing the car’s capability.
Either way, you can expect to be entertained. While the outgoing car was no slouch in the corners, the new suspension takes the GT3’s to the next level. Combined with standard rear-wheel steering, the car changes direction with unflappable precision and a seemingly bottomless well of mechanical grip at its disposal. We’d often enter a familiar corner assuming that we were approaching the limit only to discover that we had still left a lot on the table. And each time, we’d console ourselves by letting the flat six sing its way to 9000 RPM on the approach to the next one. Hey, don’t judge us – we all have our coping mechanisms.
While the $161,000 GT3 has indeed moved closer to its racing brethren in terms of its engineering focus, Porsche has done a masterful job of balancing the car’s capability with feedback that makes the performance approachable and the drivability that makes it usable in the real world. At a moment in time when automotive culture is obsessed with more, Porsche focused on better. It’s the kind of philosophy which allows the classics to endure.
Gallery: 2022 Porsche 911 GT3: First Drive
2022 Porsche 911 GT3