Porsche GT3 RS 4.0 review

Who doesn’t think the 997.2 GT3 RS 3.8 is wonderful? I’ve never met anyone who’s driven one that didn’t think it wasn’t perhaps the ultimate current expression of the analogue, competition-focused, high-performance sports and trackday car. The gongs on the mantelpiece back at Weissach from all those Car of the Year-type competitions must mean something.

But just as the current 997 generation reaches the end of the road, another ‘special’ appears to tempt those with the requisite means away from their RS 3.8s and their GT2 RSs.

Put simply, the prospect of making this car was too much to resist for Andreas Preuninger and his team at Weissach. The GT3 R and RSR racing cars already use a 4.0-litre version of the Mezger engine, and amid the excitement and then crushing disappointment of last year’s Nürburgring 24-hour race, a plan was hatched to bring the extra displacement of these models to the road cars. It wasn’t long after that race that a prototype engine had a genuine 4.0-litre RSR crankshaft dropped into it, and, fitted to a development hack, began racking up the test miles. Getting this far was easy, and in this form the engine produced 475bhp, already 25bhp up on the 3.8-litre GT3 RS.

But, like many things in life, what the engine team had achieved now also presented them with a new problem. The intake and exhaust systems of the 3.8 RS were proving a bottleneck for the new engine, and anyway, it had by now been decided that if there were to be a run-out ‘ultimate’ RS, then it would have to reach the magic 500bhp marker. More work was required.

The answer has been to develop a version of the intake system used on the GT3 R Hybrid, and team it with freer-flowing catalytic converters (the same size due to packaging restrictions but with a more efficient coating and less cells) to get more air through the engine and out again. Porsche found that it was beneficial to lower the compression ratio slightly, compared to the 3.8 model, so that the ignition timing could be advanced to the benefit of outright power. And what numbers they are: 493bhp (500PS) at 8,250rpm and 460Nm at 5,750rpm. Understandably, it’s the headline power figure that grabs the limelight, for that’s more than the Le Mans class-winning RSR (albeit with punitive air restrictors) and all from a road-legal, emissions-compliant engine that doesn’t resort to any form of forced induction. But it’s worth noting, not only how the torque has improved over the 3.8, but also that the peak is developed lower down the rev range. It is this that will change the character of the car as much as anything, as we shall see.

There are further changes to the drivetrain, such as new titanium connecting rods, reworked heads, strengthened cam-chain tensioners and a more resilient clutch. Beyond these mechanical items, it’s simplest to picture the RS 4.0 as a car that enjoys all the best toys in the cupboard that have been developed by the factory for the 997. In practice, this means effectively a chassis and body closely related to the GT2 RS on top of the performance and lightweight modifications featured on the GT3 RS 3.8. So therefore the already lightened interior and exterior now features the carbonfibre bonnet and carbon front wings as standard, plus there is a plastic rear window and rear side windows. The lower suspension arms are now rose jointed, and there are small helper springs on the rear axle that take some of the initial load, in theory allowing the main springs to be stiff but without compromising ride quality. It worked well on the GT2 RS, so it’ll be interesting to see the differences here.

Finally, the aerodynamics have had a tweak, with that massive rear wing increased in angle of attack and the nose featuring mini vertical spoilers on either side; all told, ‘true’ downforce at 186mph is said to have increased by 20kg to 190kg.

You can order your 4.0 in either white or black, and choose to have the graphics or not. Pay another significantly large sum of money and they’ll paint it in whatever colour you like. Options-wise it’s things like ceramic brakes (still not standard as trackday regulars prefer the lower price of replacing steel discs) and a lightweight battery. No-cost options are a sound system and air conditioning. Do you spec a/c or go hardcore and sweat it out? I’m not sure; lightweight seems the way to go right up until I get caught in a traffic jam on a hot day, when the black interior takes on the properties of a jacket-potato oven.

Although this is a car with far more about it than mere figures alone, they do make interesting reading nonetheless. The 0-62mph dash is quoted as just 3.9 seconds (especially impressive when you consider a traditional six-speed manual gearbox is the only transmission option, with no PDK ’box offered) and the top speed is 193mph – academic, but certainly quick when you consider the wings featured on the car. Weight – with a full tank of fuel but no occupants – is quoted at 1,360kg, while the efficiency of that engine – a stunning 125hp per litre no less – helps the RS 4.0 to achieve 20.5mpg on the combined cycle. In practice, when taking it easy I saw a fair bit more than that on the trip computer.

Enough of the numbers; the RS 4.0 positively fizzes with latent energy the moment you set eyes on it. It’s pointless applying the old cliché that it looks like a racing car for the road, because we know that it really is a racing car for the road, as Porsche proved with the road-going RS 3.8 in the Nürburgring 24-hour last year. I’m certain that there are plenty who are outraged by the visual statement that the car makes, and it’s true that it’s not a car in which to collect admiring glances from passers by, as would, say, a modern Aston Martin. In return, when a fellow enthusiast does spot the 4.0, they make their excitement clear – this is a car very much for those ‘in the know’.

Climb inside and it’s all very familiar if you’re used to driving 997s. As ever, and despite the odd bit of colourful or bright detailing, the interior is functional, ergonomically excellent and a perfect place to get on with driving, which is what we’re about to do.

Fire up the 4.0-litre engine and it settles to a wavering idle, perhaps a little more jagged than the 3.8 and certainly possessing the most delicious rumble at idle that you could hope to hear. Hit the Sport button and the exhaust flaps open (also liberating a bit more mid-range torque) and the rumble gets a lot louder, thudding into your back and responding to the merest sniff on the accelerator pedal with a yelp of revs. So minimal is the flywheel effect that when you shut the engine down it dies instantly and you’re always struck by the sudden deafening silence.

It’s so very hard to sum up in words just how good the RS 4.0 sounds. Anyone that moans about the water-cooled 911s not offering the character of the old air-cooled originals is making a fool of themselves, frankly, and should listen to a RS 4.0 at the earliest possible opportunity. ‘The noise’ starts off with a deep growl, but from there morphs through an endless variation of harmonics, tones and melodies as if it’s more of a musical instrument than an internal combustion engine. You find yourself playing around with the throttle just for the sake of hearing different harmonies over your shoulder, while the necessary heel and toe downchanges have the added side benefit of making your nape twitch.

Perhaps the best noise is reserved for when you apply full throttle in the mid range; your ears assaulted by a great wave of noise that completely swamps the cabin. It’s also a sign that the acceleration is about to get very vivid indeed; and therein lies one of the big advantages of the 4.0-litre engine. Effectively, this is now a car that you can make shocking progress in without spinning the engine over 6,000rpm. That doesn’t make the new car somehow soft, because if you do use the full range of revs you’re treated to a gale of howling acceleration that feels too fierce for the public road most of the time. But what it does do is give you so many more options when you’re trying to drive quickly, particularly if you’re on a road you don’t know. Preuninger reinforces this sentiment when he remarks that the car is a gear higher at each corner around the Silverstone Stowe circuit compared to the 3.8, and the differences compared to the Gen I RS with its 3.6-litre engine are, predictably, even more pronounced. There’s no doubt that the new car would gain crucial yards over its predecessors pulling out of slower corners.

You pick your moments to unleash the full acceleration of the RS 4.0. But when it is fully uncorked there’s little to beat the sheer exhilaration this car conjures inside you; acceleration, sound and the physical interaction required fusing into something very special.

The gearshift feels like the one in the RS 3.8; that is to say it’s a tough and often unforgiving mechanism particularly at slow speeds – driving through a congested town centre isn’t the most relaxing of tasks in the RS 4.0 – but as soon as you’re driving the car hard it starts to snick through with beautiful speed and precision, and the harder you drive, the better it gets. You can

say the same about other areas of the car, such as the brakes, too.

At this point you’ll probably be completely won over by the 4.0-litre engine and concede that it really is the best object ever made and you absolutely can’t live without one in your GT3. However, the further you drive the car, the more you realise that the other improvements are almost as significant, and it’s the way the whole package draws together that is really the secret to what makes this car so good.

It must be a combination of the more precise suspension location, the retuned springs and dampers, or maybe the additional aerodynamic influence, but there’s a magic element to the way this car goes down a road that eclipses even the superb RS 3.8. It changes direction with even more confidence and precision, to the point where you feel you can flick it this way and that with almost careless abandon and it will still stick to the road. The faster you travel the happier it feels, so you get into a groove with the car and before you know it you’re dissecting fast A-roads at an unmentionable pace with simply calm adjustments to the ’wheel – it’s not boring, just that the car seems so unstressed, as though it couldn’t be happier that you’ve upped the pace. And, like with the GT2 RS, the helper springs do make a difference to the ride, smoothing off the jagged edges that might otherwise result in a busier approach, yet just beneath the surface lies incredible body control however difficult the road surface or high your speed. Yes, unless you’re mad you won’t come close to troubling the limits of the car on the road, but the real key to this Porsche’s appeal is that it still manages to make every mile feel special, not as though it’s on autopilot taking care of everything for you.

This calmness, almost serenity at times – over the 3.8 – means that far from being the all-out racing nutter that it might have been (although it can be that too in wild quantities if you want it to be) the prospect of using the RS 4.0 for long journeys or frequent use is in no way as crazy as you might have imagined. You may wish to keep it an experience to be savoured on special occasions, but the car doesn’t insist you should only use it in that way. Like any GT3 there are no rear seats, and the rollcage does limit the practicality of the overall package somewhat, but the car asks for remarkably few concessions – all the more reason to consider seriously getting air conditioning and PCM in there. Anyway, the basic radio is fairly useless to be honest, with feeble sound quality and screen graphics that would have been disappointing on a ZX Spectrum.

Be in absolutely no doubt that with this car, we’re witnessing the arrival to market of one of the great Porsches. This is a car that people will be talking about for a very long time to come, and with only 600 due to be made – and at a basic list price of £128,466 – they will remain a very rare and lusted-after commodity. This really is the final curtain call for the ‘Mezger’ flat-six engine as the forthcoming ‘new’ 911 will use exclusively DFI series engines for all models. That will allow the GT department to build PDK-equipped GT3s for one thing (as the Mezger has never been developed for use with a twin-clutch ’box) and allow for standardised components across the ranges of cars – to the benefit of production costs. So the accountants will be happy, and as the 911 Turbo has shown (which switched from the Mezger engine to a DFI-based lump for the Gen II model) there is life after the old warrior in any case. But call us cynical, pessimistic or whatever, but when an engine has as much blood and thunder as this one, it’s hard to accept that it will be replaced by a unit that up until now has shown just a fraction of the character required to fill that large void in our enthusiast hearts. Time will tell and we can only hope that the GT department will be able to work the same magic on this engine as they have in other areas of their work.

In the meantime, the RS 4.0 exists as the ultimate 911 and perhaps the ultimate Porsche. Even in the pantheon of greats that define the history of the company it stands as one of the best cars the firm has produced, and one of the most exciting and finely developed performance cars of all time. How much better than a RS 3.8 can it be, you thought. Well it can and it is.

This was taken from issue 77, for all Total 911 back issues visit www.imagineshop.co.uk/

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