Porsche 911 GT3 RS (991.2, 2018-2020) review
Superb on road, spectacular on track. The ultimate naturally aspirated 911
There’s a danger of being blasé about the Porsche 911 GT3 RS. For many years the default choice for fans of hardcore road and trackday cars, successive generations of Weissach-Flacht’s most celebrated export have defined the genre and dominated group tests.
Much to the dismay of rival car makers, Porsche never sits on its laurels: the evidence being the scant three years between the introduction of the first 991-generation GT3 RS – a car which moved the game on in every respect – and the arrival of this second 991-generation GT3 RS. Can it possibly improve on such an acclaimed car?
The updated 991.2 RS shares its 4-litre flat-six engine with the regular 991.2 GT3, but enjoys gains of 20bhp and 8lb ft over that model – and the previous RS, too. The 9000rpm red line (up from 8250rpm) grabs headlines, but it’s the way in which this remarkable engine delivers its 513bhp and 347lb ft that’s most impressive.
Yes, it’s a screamer, but there’s meaningful motivation at half that elevated red line and you can make devastating progress without going much above 7000rpm. Wound right up it’s a spine-tingling experience. One perfectly matched by the PDK transmission, which punches home up- and downshifts faster than ever and with more precision. There is no manual option, but in truth paddles complete the intensified 991.2 RS experience.
As you might expect, the performance stats are right on the money: 62mph arriving in 3.2sec (a tenth quicker than the 991 RS) and the top speed being 193mph (unchanged). However, it’s what the RS does between those two benchmarks, specifically around that other great benchmark, the Nürburgring Nordschleife, that really takes your breath away: its lap time of 6:56.4 is 14 seconds faster than the AMG GT R’s and just 9 seconds shy of the 991.2 GT2 RS, which has 177bhp and 206lb ft more at its disposal. Mind-blowing stuff.
The engine has more swept volume and lower-friction internals, and offers more revs, sharper response and increased outputs, but what about the rest of the car?
The biggest changes centre on the chassis and aerodynamics, plus greater scrutiny applied to weight savings, as befits the RS moniker. The chassis benefits from a set-up philosophy first explored on the GT2 RS. Stiffer springs (double the rate of the previous RS at the front end, 50 per cent up at the rear) deliver sharper responses and increased feel, the trade-off being a slight loss of ride quality – a sacrifice Porsche believe RS buyers will be happy to make.
Continuing the quest for feel and precision, apart from the rear axle steering links all of the RS’s suspension is rose-jointed. There’s still a choice of suspension modes (recalibrated for the new RS) via the familiar PASM button. The rear tyres are bespoke to the GT3 RS, with a specific compound that differs from the GT2 RS’s to suit the delivery of the less torquey naturally aspirated motor.
Aero-wise the GT3 RS now shares its rear spoiler with the GT2 RS, sitting higher up than the old GT3 RS’s. Together with new underbody aero and a rear diffuser, the GT3 RS gains almost 8 per cent downforce, but with less drag.
Other detail changes include an 8 per cent lower final drive, which mitigates the slightly larger wheels and tyres. The new standard forged wheels are 100g lighter each and the trademark brake cooling louvres are more aggressive items from the GT2 RS.
For the truly hardcore there’s the Weissach Pack (price to be announced). It includes magnesium wheels from the GT2 RS (a whopping 11kg saving combined), a titanium half-cage (-9.6kg), a carbon bonnet and front anti-roll bar, and an exposed carbonfibre roof that’s even lighter than the magnesium item fitted to the regular GT3. Strong demand for the Weissach Pack 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 of driving the new RS begins long before you slip behind the wheel. The Weissach Pack cranks-up the drama, especially when finished in a bright colour to contrast with the exposed carbonfibre, but whatever the spec the GT3 RS is a real rock-star of the road.
The stance and aerokit send an explicit message. One that creates a palpable feeling of anticipation 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 lack of fuss focuses you on the driving experience.
As soon as 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 rubber and the promise of a chassis that’s even more responsive and aggressively set-up than the previous RS’s.
Respect is more 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.
Yes, there’s a palpable muscularity to the suspension, the sense of springs that crave some dynamic loading to settle into their operating window, but there’s enough pliancy to the damping that the RS will take the edge off the UK’s frankly rotten road surfaces. One thing is clear, though: you really don’t need to touch the PASM button unless you’re on track.
The PDK ‘box is also 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.
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 a gear before ceding to a steely shriek as you chase that magic 9000 red line.
And on track?
An RS should always work on the road, but it should excel on track. The 991.2 GT3 RS shines with rare brilliance, even by the standards of its celebrated predecessors.
Free to work quickly towards the limits of grip you’re struck by many things: the responsiveness of the steering, the bite and hold the front Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 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 this latest GT3 RS 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 GT3 RSs, even the 991.1 version, 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, just to reduce the lateral load. In the latest 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 not until you’ve experienced just how accurately you can place the car in a corner do you appreciate what all the talk means. It’s uncannily accurate whether you’re feeling for, are at or are over the limit. If you happen to be Porsche factory driver Kévin Estre that means you can squeeze every last drop of pace from the car around the most unforgiving circuit of them all.
The real joy of this generation of GT3 RS is the way in which every aspect of the car 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.
Price and rivals
As ever it’s hard to find another car with the RS’s capabilities and desirability for similar money. That’s why you could argue that the £141,346 2018MY RS’s biggest rival was its immediate predecessor. However, as those customers ‘on the list’ with their Porsche dealer tend to swap out of their outgoing RSs just ahead of the new model’s arrival, this is largely academic. What’s important – and hugely impressive – is that none of those lucky souls are likely to be disappointed.
Of course, with time we've seen where Preuninger's GT department has taken the formula with the new 992 GT3 RS, but like Coldplay albums (... or insert your favourite band here) everyone has their favourite.
Intra-brand rivalries aside, the hardcore £143,260 Mercedes-AMG GT R is an obvious and formidable foe, though being front-engined and turbocharged it has a very different character.