2019 Porsche 911 GT3 RS 991.2 driven It’s the question that’s been asked a thousand times (probably more, but we’ve lost count): how will Porsche improve upon the last 911 GT3 RS? To date, it’s never failed to do so, but the Gen 1 991 RS was such an all-encompassing machine that surely the ceiling of its development had been reached? Think again: the new GT3 RS is a 911 that redefines the breed, as Richard Meaden discovers Words by Richard Meaden. Photography by Aston Parrott. It’s hard to imagine how the last 911 GT3 RS could be improved upon. But somehow, with yet further honing of the model’s engine, chassis and aero, Porsche has managed it.
THE DIRECTOR’S CUT
How much better than the 991.1 GT3 RS can it be? I mean, really, how much better? That’s what I was thinking when Porsche unveiled the 991.2 GT3 RS at the Geneva motor show. Well pass me a knife and fork because I’ve got an extra-large portion of humble pie to eat: the new RS is a sensationally good car. Was I foolish to succumb to superlative fatigue when it comes to Porsche’s ramped-up product cycle? Possibly. But was I right to be sceptical at just how meaningful an improvement could be made on the already fabulous Gen 1 991 RS? Absolutely. And yet, the new car proves me wrong.
Just how good Weissach-Flacht’s newest export is will become abundantly clear during the two-stage media launch. At least it’s a two-stage launch for me, as I’ve bagged a spot on both the road drive and the track test a few weeks later. The venues? The Isle of Man for the former (including guided laps of the TT course behind Mark Higgins, he of the Subaru lap record) and the Nürburgring for the latter. No, not the Nordschleife – the lap’s too long and too big a risk for press tests in a model this quick. Besides which, Kévin Estre proved the car’s ultimate potential there, clocking a remarkable 6:56.4, just 9sec behind the brutally powerful GT2 RS.
And so to Ramsey and the iconic backdrop of the TT course start/finish line for leg one of the RS drive. It’s a small gathering of people – just a handful of German, UK and US journos – but a mighty gathering of cars, with a regular and Weissach Package-equipped 991.2 GT3 RS on hand, plus all its water-cooled RS ancestors to offer some context. Oh, and a beautiful 2.7 RS, just to make the day that bit more surreal. The weather isn’t being kind, but it’ll take more than a bit of rain and low cloud to dampen my spirits.
It’s always good to get back into a GT3 RS. The sense of occasion is palpable, but not so strongly as the sheer sense of purpose. A 911 might not have the seductive swagger of an Italian supercar, but GT3 RSs have long been blessed with a different kind of allure. One that crackles with intent. Even in such illustrious company this Gen 2 991 is a gunslinger of a car: armed, capable and unafraid.
You’ll no doubt be well-versed in the technical details, but they’re worth recapping. The engine is easy to remember, as it’s the same 4-litre unit first seen in the 991.1 GT3 RS, then the non-RS 991.2 GT3. Compared with the one in the previous RS, the motor now has 200rpm more to offer, taking the red line to 9000rpm, plus lower-friction internals, an improved oil system, sharper responses and increased outputs, peaking at 513bhp and 347lb ft of torque – up 20bhp and 8lb ft on the aforementioned GT3 and RS.
However, the biggest changes centre on the chassis and aerodynamics, along with greater scrutiny applied to weight savings. The chassis benefits from a set-up philosophy first explored on the current GT2 RS. Stiffer springs (double the rate of the previous GT3 RS at the front end, 50 per cent up at the rear) deliver sharper responses and increased feel, the trade-off being a reported slight loss of ride quality – a sacrifice Porsche believes RS buyers will be happy to make.
Continuing the quest for feel and precision, all the suspension is rose-jointed with the exception of the rear-axle steering links. There’s still a Sport mode (which has been recalibrated) available via the PASM button. The rear Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s are bespoke, with a specific compound that differs from the GT2 RS’s to suit the delivery of the less torquey, naturally aspirated motor. Optional, stickier, road-legal but track-focused Cup 2 Rs will be available, but aren’t fitted to our test car.
Aero-wise, the GT3 RS now shares its rear wing with the GT2 RS. This sits higher up than the old GT3 RS item. Together with the new underbody aero and rear diffuser there’s an almost eight per cent gain in downforce, but with less drag. Other detail changes include an eight per cent lower final drive, which mitigates the slightly larger wheels – new forged items, 100g lighter each – and tyres. The trademark brake cooling louvres in the front wings are the more aggressive ones from the GT2 RS. For the truly hardcore the Weissach Package (price to be announced, but think circa £20k like that for the GT2 RS) is mouthwatering. It includes magnesium wheels from the GT2 RS (a whopping 11kg saving), a titanium half-cage (another 9.6kg saved), a carbonfibre bonnet and front anti-roll bar, and an exposed carbon roof that’s even lighter than the magnesium panel fitted as standard. Strong demand for the Weissach Package has put strain on the supply chain for the magnesium wheels, resulting in production delays. All we can say is they are well worth the wait – and the weight saving.
The pleasure to be had from the new RS begins long before you slip behind the wheel. Both the examples on the Isle of Man are finished in Lizard Green, the colour you’ll remember from the model’s initial reveal. It’s a spectacular hue, but not for everyone. The Weissach kit cranks up the drama with its exposed carbon. In a more subdued colour a non-Weissach car would be much more discreet, though whatever the spec the GT3 RS is a real rock star of the road.
The stance and aero kit send an explicit message. One that serves to increase your heart rate as you drop into the hard-edged bucket seat. The 911 has changed much over the decades, but the essential simplicity of the driving environment is always welcome for the ease of familiarity, and because the lack of fuss focuses you on the driving experience. From the moment you start the engine there’s a feeling of getting down to business. Perhaps a frisson of intimidation, too, at least on damp roads, where you can’t help but consider the width of the rubber and the promise of a chassis that’s even more responsive and aggressively set up than the previous RS’s.
Respect is most certainly due, but you soon relax into the driving, largely because you quickly feel so completely connected to each corner of the car. There’s just something about the blend of steering weight, front-end response and the clean, filtered yet highly detailed feel you get through your hands that tells you exactly where you are. Even at low speeds. I’d go so far as to say it has the best steering of any 991, and even teaches a few 997s a thing or two about tactility.
Yes, there’s plenty of road noise and the ride is hard, but there’s enough sense of pliancy to suggest the springs and dampers simply crave some dynamic loading to settle into their operating window.
How well you feel an RS should work on the road depends on your tolerance for the compromises that come with a trackhoned car. Being a 964 RS owner I think you can guess my stance on this matter, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some existing RS owners feel this car is simply too stiff. When we get to drive it on some of the UK’s lumpier A- and B-roads I suspect I may agree, but recent experience of a GT2 RS on home turf gives me cause to feel the amplified attitude and outright ability on the ‘right’ roads will make the trade-off worthwhile. One thing is absolutely clear: you don’t need to touch the PASM button unless you’re on a track. And a smooth one at that.
The PDK ’box is perfectly happy to be left to its own devices, but it’s testament to the enthusiasm the RS fosters in you that it feels more natural to pull the selector across the gate and use the paddles. It really is an uncannily good transmission, with shifts that snap home rapidly but also effortlessly at modest speeds and throttle openings, yet crack home with synaptic immediacy when you’re absolutely on it.
It’s at this point you’d expect me to say something about missing a clutch and gearlever. I have no doubt a stick would create a very different driving experience – one that majors on the process by which you make progress rather than the pace and efficiency with which you can cover the ground. Nevertheless, I’d be lying if I said I was craving the need to slot home each gear with a lever. Besides, it’s not like there’s a shortage of things to connect your senses to this fabulous machine.
Much has been written about this engine and you should believe every word, for it is utterly sensational – even though you rarely get the opportunity to fully extend it on the road. No matter, for it sounds fabulous through the mid-range: deep and packed with character as it begins to get on top of the low and intermediate gears, before ceding to a steely shriek as you chase that magic 9k red line.
What you perhaps wouldn’t expect from such a high-revving engine is a generous spread of torque, but such is the smooth swell of propulsion that you can squeeze the throttle in a higher gear and feel the satisfying shove of an engine that’s got meaningful mid-range muscle to flex. You really don’t need to hang on to the lower gears to make imperious progress – simply using the elasticity of this amazing, naturally aspirated flat-six is enough to suck in the ribbon of road standing between you and the horizon like an endless strand of spaghetti.
Two weeks pass between driving the RS on the Isle of Man TT course and heading to the Nürburgring track test, but the sensations are still fresh. I arrive in Germany with a very real sense that this car is truly something special, but this will be the first opportunity to really stretch it and experience the car in its natural environment.
If there will be some debate over just how aggressive an RS should feel on the road, there’s no question a 911 wearing the RS badge should be a no-excuses star on track. It takes a handful of laps around the Nürburgring GP circuit to appreciate that even amongst the constellation of fabulous modern-era RSs, this latest one shines with rare brilliance. Free to work quickly towards the limits of grip, you’re struck by many things: the responsiveness of the steering; the bite and hold that the front Michelin Cup 2s generate; how well matched the chassis feels front-to-rear. It all combines to create a sense of the car being under you from the first corner.
You feel a difference in pretty much everything it does, but especially in those moments of transition between brake and throttle – the moment when an experienced 911 driver will want to feel not only that the front end has initiated the turn, but that the rear end is settled. In earlier RSs, even the Gen 1 991, there are times when you need to wait just a moment longer to allow the rear end to catch up with the front. Sometimes you need to open the steering a little, to reduce the lateral load. In the Gen 2 car it has so much more stability that you can carry significantly more speed deep into the heart of a corner, then lean on the exceptional traction to fire you out. Rapid direction changes are equally impressive.
If this all sounds like Porsche has ironed-out more of the 911’s unique dynamic wrinkles then you’d be right. But far from making the RS less enjoyable and characterful, it only serves to amplify your enjoyment, because you feel so connected to what it’s doing.
There’s much talk of increased precision, but it’s not until you’ve experienced just how accurately you can place the car in a corner that you appreciate what all the talk means. It’s uncannily accurate whether you’re feeling for, are at or are over the limit. You don’t have to have the skill of a Porsche factory driver to see why Estre felt happy to squeeze every last drop of pace from the car around the most unforgiving circuit of them all.
As for the question of Weissach Package or no Weissach Package, I suspect you’d feel an improvement in wheel control on the road between a car fitted with the magnesium wheels and one without, but kudos apart there’s really not much to choose between them. Personally I’d want the Weissach Package, simply because it is comprised of the most exquisite things. The titanium cage is particularly pleasing, its precise welds and immaculate finish offering a constant reminder whenever you look in the rear-view mirror.
Ultimately, whether you’re driving on the road or the racetrack, the real joy of this new GT3 RS is the way in which every aspect has not only been improved and honed, but perfectly matched to complement one another. The boss of Porsche’s GT cars, Andreas Preuninger, describes it as ‘11,000 parts working as one’, which just about hits the nail on the head.
I came to this latest GT3 RS 991.2 wondering how it could possibly improve on its predecessor. I’ve come away wondering how Porsche has managed to make it this much better. It’s easy to get blasé about these unerringly brilliant motorsport 911s, but I think history will judge this particular RS as something very special indeed.
TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATIONS 2019 Porsche 911 GT3 RS (991.2)
Engine Flat-six, 3996cc
Max Power 513bhp @ 8250rpm / DIN nett
Max Torque 347lb ft @ 6000rpm / DIN nett
Transmission Seven-speed twin-clutch, rear-wheel drive, limited-slip diff, torque vectoring
Front suspension MacPherson struts, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar
Rear suspension Multi-link, coil springs, adaptive dampers, anti-roll bar
Brakes Carbon-ceramic discs, 410mm front, 390mm rear (option)
Wheels 9.5 x 20in front, 12.5 x 21in rear
Tyres 265/35 ZR20 front, 325/30 ZR21 rear
0-62mph 3.2sec (claimed)
Top speed 193mph (claimed)
Basic price £141,346
Drive-My Rating 4.9
‘THE FLAT SIX SUCKS IN THE RIBBON OF ROAD LIKE A STRAND OF SPAGHETTI’
‘WHATEVER THE SPEC, THE GT3 RS 991.2 IS A REAL ROCK-STAR OF THE ROAD’
‘IT’S A GUNS LINGE OF A CAR: ARMED, CAPABLE AND UNAFRAID’
‘Andreas Preuninger describes it as “11,000 parts working as one”, which just about hits the nail on the head’
Top left: Meaden prepares to find out just how the RS has been improved upon. Left: Weissach Package is a visual assault on the senses. Top left: chassis allows for uncanny accuracy. Left: cabin puts the focus on the driving experience; seven-speed PDK ’box feels appropriate.