Doesn’t look so different on the outside, does it? But okay, let’s start at the front, where there’s a new bumper, around a kilogram lighter than the one that went before it, partly because it’s a lighter material, so not only because it has more holes to let more air to the radiators, to cool the engine. I’ll come to that.
Moving back, slowly, there are subtle front suspension changes, just stiffening to improve steering response and high-speed stability. But the wheels, and the brakes inside them, are the same: you can have steel rotors or optionally (and as fitted to our test car) carbon-ceramic discs.
Refined diesel powerplant feels strongly suited to BMW’s luxurious executive...
Porsche GT boss Andreas Preuninger says that, for the road, the carbon-ceramics are ideal because they’re lighter, but if your car is a track hag, then you should have steels because they’re cheaper to replace, what with the carbon-ceramic options costing £6498 and all.
At the very back is a new rear bumper, made from the same weight-saving material as the front one, while the rear spoiler is the same as before but mounted 20mm further back and 10mm higher. Combined with some new underbody aerodynamic tweaks, it improves downforce by 20 percent while not affecting drag at all.
If anything, it’s all but identical to the latest 911 Cup car’s engine. There is a different crankshaft, with bigger seals, it’s stiffer and it has oil channelling through it. There are new pistons, with different liners and an ever more slippery coating on them.
And, reputedly most significant, there are no longer hydraulic valve adjusters inside a new head design, which reduces the oil pressure you need to lubricate them.
Apparently, new materials used mean that the valves won’t go out of adjustment even if you run one on a dyno, as Porsche has, for 200,000 miles, so they say.
So you’re going to have to work to get it, which you can do via the medium of a seven-speed PDK dual-clutch gearbox or, wonderfully again, the biggest, baddest, shockingest and greatest news of all: the GT3 has again become available with a manual gearbox. Woohoo. Anyway, naturally, this test car is an automatic. No, I don’t know, either, but there you are.
Still, beyond a 10kg difference between the two – the manual car is lighter – the other difference is that the PDK requires a hydraulic pump, which also drives an electronically controlled limited-slip differential. The manual gearbox does without the pump and therefore gets a conventional mechanical limited-slip differential. Given its near-instant shift times and the advantages of wheel slip being electronically monitored, a PDK-equipped car will be faster on a circuit and a manual one will be arguably more fun – a bit more liberal, loose and content to let things slide.
It has been a long time since I drove a first-gen GT3 – months since I drove a 911 R, even – and my arse cannot retain memories of ride quality for that long. But the GT3 feels compliant enough to me, while composed and tight, granted; plus there’s always the reassurance that even if you haven’t specified the £1599 nose lift and used it, at least Porsche uses flexible rubber, not carbonfibre, at the front of its cars. The steering is firm and accurate and self-centres nicely. The engine’s smooth. There’s a dual-mass flywheel for refinement – whereas the GT3 RS and R had a lighter, single-mass option – but response still seems to border on the electric, in that terrific, naturally aspirated way of the best high-performance Porsche engines. It’s good fun to thread along. You’ll never operate in the power band on the road – not for long, anyway – but even at lower speeds than its mammoth capability, it’s rewarding and engaging.
And on a circuit? Well, then it’s something else, as you’d expect. Body control is impeccably tight, yet running over kerbs doesn’t unsettle a balance that is absolutely terrific. There is poise, agility, feedback and feel to spare.
If you’re in the GT3’s power band – above 6000rpm is best – this car will do tremendous things: keep its line, straighten its line, or smoke up its rear tyres. Because of where the engine is, you can use the weight on turn-in to unsettle it. But perhaps because of the rear steer – the wheels might not have the same toe angle they did a second ago – it is not as benign, obviously, as a passive, front-engined car. Nor should it be.
The great thing about the GT3 is that it can be any of these things – the sharpest, most focused thing you’ll see at a circuit all day, or a mild hooligan for the sake of it – entirely as your mood fits. And all the while, it will tell you what it is doing, and what its wheels are up to, how much grip and traction you are using or abusing, like no other car with power steering.