There's no wrong answer. But ...
Money no object, which would you choose: the Porsche 911 GT2 RS, or the 911 GT3 Touring? Turbo and PDK versus naturally aspirated and six-speed stick shift; two different solutions to the same challenge, each quintessentially 911. In truth, there’s no wrong answer here. But, like medieval scholars arguing over angels dancing on the head of a pin, it’s something on which few enthusiasts would choose not have an opinion. Here’s mine …
The GT2 RS is the alpha-dog of the 911 lineup, and as I wrote after first driving the car in Portugal last year, it’s an intoxicating mixture of tradition and technology, defined by its brawny twin-turbo, 3.8-liter flat-six. The tradition is in the concept: a turbocharged, high-horsepower, two-wheel-drive 911 that recalls the spirit of the fearsome 930 of the late 1970s and builds on the reputation of the formidable 2010 GT2 RS. The technology is in the execution: This latest GT2 RS is the distillation of everything the best and the brightest engineers at Porsche know about making their iconic sports car go fast in the early 21st century.
And, man, is it fast. Punch the gas, and the 691-hp GT2 RS streaks past 60 mph in 2.7 seconds, 124 mph (200 km/h) in 8.3 seconds, and 186 mph (300 km/h) in 22.1 seconds, en route to an electronically limited top speed of 211 mph (340 km/h). It is the quickest road-legal car we’ve ever had around Laguna Seca, with Randy Pobst posting a 1 minute 28.3 second lap during our 2018 Best Driver’s Car shootout, outpacing the mighty McLaren 720S by more than 1.4 seconds.
The GT2 RS redefines the art of the possible, and not just in terms of a road-going 911. I don’t think I’ve ever driven a road car with the mid-corner grip and tenacious traction of this Porsche, apart from the preternaturally fast McLaren Senna. And I’d argue it trumps the Senna on the slower corners where the Big Mac’s trick active aerodynamics can’t generate maximum downforce.
All wing and splitter, vents and and pumped fenders, the GT2 RS looks ready to devour the Nürburgring Nordschleife, with Bathurst and Spa-Francorchamps for dessert. By contrast, the GT3 Touring is a stealth street racer. It gets all the GT3 go-fast bits—the 500-hp naturally aspirated 4.0-liter flat-six that revs to a sizzling 9,000 rpm, the track-tuned suspension, the big brakes—but without the arrest-me-now rear wing, and with leather instead of Alcantara interior trim. Oh, and the six-speed stick shift is standard. The spiritual successor to the breakout 911 R, this is the ultimate 911 for drivers who like to do it themselves.
The feeding frenzy over the 911 R made the business case for the manual GT3, because making the six-speed available was no simple task, says Porsche’s GT car boss, Andreas Preuninger. “It’s not just developing a gearbox,” he insists. “You have to address damping rates, stability systems, ABS, everything, because the car weighs 33 pounds (15 kg) less with the manual transmission. It behaves differently, and you have to adjust all the systems, as well for the new gearbox.”
That the hardcore 520-hp GT3 RS and the GT2 RS are only available with the PDK automated manual tells you something else about the stick-shift transmission: It makes a 911 slower. Porsche’s own numbers put the six-speed GT3 six-tenths of second slower to 60 mph than the PDK version. But about four- to five-tenths of the PDK-equipped car’s advantage is in the launch control, says Preuninger. The other tenth or so in the first-to-second shift.
Beyond the 0–60 sprint? “It’s more work in the manual,” Preuninger concedes, “but I don’t think you can run away from a GT3 manual with a GT3 PDK just anywhere. You would need a racetrack for that, as the electronic diff in the PDK car also delivers more traction than a limited-slip diff.”
More work. After a 500-mile (805-km) day in the GT3 Touring on some of California’s most challenging backroads, I agree. After the ferocious GT2 RS, it feels oddly languid, partly because the 4.0-liter engine’s power delivery is so linear and it never seems to run out of revs. But then you look at the speedo and realize with a shock that you’re covering ground very quickly indeed. And the noise! The urgent, edgy snarl of the flat-six gets a steely, manic edge over 7,000 rpm. It’s epic, almost vintage 911, with a digitally remastered hint of air-cooled clatter. There is nothing else like it.
The six-speed manual has a lovely oiled metal action: solid, precise, satisfying. And, as you’d expect in a car engineered by a company that’s spent more than half a century honing its products on racetracks around the world, the clutch action is beautifully weighted, the brake pedal perfectly placed for heel-and-toe downshifts. Quick, and with the remarkable poise Porsche chassis engineers have dialed into modern 911s, the stick-shift GT3 is unquestionably entertaining and engrossing to drive—to about eight-tenths. Then you have to start working at it.
There are those who argue the PDK takes the involvement out of driving a 911 fast, dilutes the skill. Nonsense. When you’re in the GT2 RS and making the most of its stupendous turbo power and torque, trust me, you’re involved. And, like a lion tamer, you need to be on your game when you start tickling its growling underbelly and wanting it to play. With so much weapons-grade grunt—that 691-hp at 7,000 rpm is accompanied by 553 lb-ft of torque from 2,500 rpm—being funneled earthwards only through the rear tires, the GT2 RS chassis feels more alive, more adjustable than that of any other road-going 911. Thing is, it’s all happening at warp speed.
The PDK transmission enables you to better work with the GT2’s sheer speed, to brake later and deeper and get on the gas earlier, making the most of that power and torque and the superb traction. What’s more, it allows you to totally focus on what the chassis is doing, on taking the tires to the absolute limit, on using the throttle to initiate precise dollops of weight transfer precisely when you need them. Just because you’re not tugging a lever and punching a pedal doesn’t make driving this 911 fast less of a challenge.
Nor does it make you less of a driver. As F1 driver, Le Mans winner, and DTM champ Hans-Joachim Stuck once drily observed to me: “Think of the three greatest racing drivers of the modern era—Aytron Senna, Michael Schumacher, and Lewis Hamilton. They all learned their car-control skills in karts, which have no transmission at all.”
GT2 RS or GT3 Touring? Turbo and PDK, or naturally aspirated and stick? Like I said, there’s no wrong answer. But …
As rewarding and aurally intoxicating as it is to drive, the GT3 Touring is for me the lesser of these two 911s. Yes, the throttle response is surgically precise, and to the point where the stick shift starts slowing things down, it’s easier to drive because it has less power, and the power delivery is more linear. But ultimately, the GT3 Touring, for me, delivers more sound, less fury than the GT2 RS.
The GT3 Touring demands aggression as you approach the edge of its performance envelope, especially to keep that manic engine in its happy place between 5,000 and 8,000 rpm. By contrast, patience is just as important as aggression in the GT2 RS; understanding this, knowing when to unleash the turbomotor’s power and when to hold back, is the key to speed in this car. And it builds speed so explosively and grips so hard, the effects of its unique weight distribution are amplified; you’re aware of the mass of the engine slung out behind the rear wheels more than in any other modern 911.
With turbo boost that came on with all the subtlety of a shovel to the back of the head, and a chassis that demanded a constant sweaty tightrope walk between terminal understeer and hair-trigger oversteer, the original Porsche Turbo, the 930, was a car that inspired awe and fear in equal measure, like a made man among the wise guys. By contrast, the GT2 RS is an infinitely more mature, astoundingly more accomplished 911. But the 930’s animal spirit still lurks deep within. And that’s what I love about it.