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2018 11 July

Tectonic Shift

By George Woodward 11/07/2018

The three-pedal GT3 is a masterstroke; both of engineering and brand building.
 
One of the biggest news stories of last year, almost outdoing the launch of the new 911 GT3 itself, was the surprise announcement that a manual gearbox would be made available for that same car. This made the 991.2 GT3 the most powerful 911 on sale with three pedals and a stick and, more importantly, the only GT car with such a set up.
 
The manual vs PDK debate is a fierce and fluid one, split as a general rule between the driving purists in the former camp and those favouring ease of daily use in the latter. But the arguments are skewed in the context of the GT3, for which there is a meaningful performance advantage to be had from the superfast twin-clutch auto. It’s officially half a second quicker to 62mph, but it’s going through the gears where the benefits will be most evident. If shaving seconds off lap times is an essential element of your driving routine, PDK makes an unarguable case for itself.
 
With the same naturally aspirated 4.0-litre flat-six putting out 493bhp to the rear wheels – a unit directly derived from the current Carrera Cup race cars – the GT3 is a truly formidable package for road or track.  What the manual gearbox adds to this already remarkable experience is a different level of involvement for the driver, a more tangible connection with the powertrain as a whole that the seamlessness and immediacy of PDK slightly anesthetises you from.
 
The GT team has not used the seven-speed manual from the 911 Carrera, instead borrowing and refining the highly praised six-speed from the 911R. In traffic it is light and direct enough that it might as well be an automatic for all the effort it asks of you. But leave the jams, build the revs, and its presence engages you on another level, bringing a brutal physicality to the whole process. Beyond the deafening holler of that engine, there is a visceral clank from the driveline, amplified by the GT3’s reduction in sound proofing. Such a pure, mechanical sound increases that sense that you are an active part of something; a vital cog in the wheel.
 
The combination of all-consuming induction and exhaust noise, coupled with a hyper-real level of acceleration, makes the GT3 genuinely intimidating. But in manual form, far from being harder to drive or more intimidating still, the GT3 seems more accessible. Perhaps because the access to that performance is somewhat filtered. Not by any means is it muted, for all the grunt is there still, but it’s arrival is better telegraphed by the slower human process of changing gear.
 
Maybe there’s also something to be said for the job satisfaction of simply ‘driving stick’ too. Removed from the slightly ersatz millennial experience of paddles, there is so much to be had from a nicely timed down shift at even half the available revs. Invited as you are to really take part, the manual GT3 is more rewarding more of the time, and at less harrowing speeds, than its PDK alter ego.
 
However you choose to engage with it, there isn’t a road-legal car in series production today that provides a more all-encompassing driving experience. In manual form, the GT3’s capacity to dominate your senses is as wonderful as it is alarming, and up against comparably priced rivals on the supercar spectrum, its bangs-for-bucks ratio is exceptional. Availability was scarce from the off, but where possible the GT3 retailed at £111,802 with either transmission – a shrewd purchase when you consider the prices being commanded at auction for the 997 GT3 in its various guises. Even the Mezger-engined 996s are creeping towards six figures now.
 
In this increasingly automated age, a company like Porsche finds itself with something of a dichotomy on its hands – it must be at the vanguard of the revolution, but it still needs to stay true to its roots and heritage, to stay in touch with what has always made it so special.
 
It’s of enormous credit to Andreas Preuninger and Porsche as a whole that the fairly risky decision to provide a manual gearbox was taken. Globally, a third of GT3s have been delivered with a manual – the UK’s own demand slightly higher – pointing to the fact that committed drivers are still out there in their droves. The six-speed GT3 also reveals an ongoing commitment from Porsche to building true drivers’ cars. And it underlines the fact that this rapidly expanding brand still really listens to its customers, knows it customers and above all, perhaps, knows itself.

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