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Thursday, 28 April 2011

Porsche 997 Goes Out With A 4000cc Bang

2011 Porsche 911 GT3 RS 4.0 (997.5)
What you see here is not a squashed VW Beetle with a wing on the back. What you see here is the 21st and final version of what many consider the best generation of Porsche 911 ever: Type 997.

The 997 generation of 911 (they call it 911 to continue the name - it's not directly related to the 1964 original, just spiritually) has been around now since 2005, starting with the basic, rear-wheel-drive Carrera 3.6 and Carrera S 3.8, and slowly adding four-wheel-drive (Carrera 4/4S), convertible versions of each Carrera, a Targa 4/4S with a sliding glass roof, a track-focused GT3, a more track-focused GT3 RS, a Ferrari-baiting Turbo version (at the time the most powerful Porsche available), a 200mph GT2 (the first time a factory 911 topped the double ton), a ridiculously mental GT2 RS and a 530 horsepower Turbo S. Later the non-Carrera versions had their ageing 3.6 engines replaced by bigger-yet-cleaner Direct Injection 3.8-litre units. On top of all those, there is also currently a 3.6 Carrera "Black Edition" in both Coupe and Cabriolet form, a 408bhp Carrera GTS 3.8 (again, both open and closed) and a Speedster version. Yeah, that's a lot of different versions of the same car. 20 variants is rare in one generation. Even this list doesn't include the Sport Classic limited edition that spawned the GTS versions.

If none of that made any sense at all, here's Porsche's 911 line up in pictures and links. It's easy to see what people mean when they say that buying a Porsche 911 these days is like buying coffee at Starbucks.

Pre-facelift 997 Targa 4
Maybe one solution is to just buy the fastest one you can afford, but even here there are puzzling decisions to be made. Do you want a coupe or a convertible? If you can afford a high-end 911, do you want an advanced, brutal turbocharged one (Turbo, Turbo S, GT2, GT2 RS) or a purer, driver-focused GT3/GT3 RS? If you can only afford a Carrera, do you chicken out of the first question and compromise with a Targa 4? If you get a special edition, will anyone even realise unless it's the fat-arsed Speedster version or has a massive rear spoiler? If magazines are to be believed, you should just sweep this mess of 911s off the table and get a GT3 3.8 because it balances track-friendly performance and road usability better than any other car, let alone other 911s. I think that unless you know exactly what you want, you should choose between these three of the myriad 911s: The Carrera GTS (like a simple 2WD Carrera but with 408bhp, coupe or convertible), the aforementioned GT3 3.8 or the Turbo/Turbo S (also coupe or convertible) if you want to argue with Nissan GT-R owners at the N├╝rburgring. The general truth is that drop-tops are not as rigid as hardtops, making them worse sports cars, so unless you really need the wind in your hair, get a coupe. Besides, 911 Cabrios are for dentists and people with grey wigs and golf clubs.

Whichever version you get, you'll still end up with a Porsche 997, one of the all-time great sports cars. 40 years after the original, Porsche have stubbornly soldiered on with a fundamentally flawed rear-engined layout (having the whole thing behind the back wheels means it's very tail-heavy, making early 911s very dangerous at speed) and all but ironed out its disadvantages to make an involving, well-engineered sports car, and the benchmark for all that can be compared, such as the Lotus Evora. I'm sure you can find a review by someone who's actually driven one that explains it better than that. In 2012, however, its replacement shall arrive, with many major changes to what has previously been a very evolutionary car. Porsche has thus decided to give it a send-off.

The final edition of the 997 is based on the GT3 RS, the most closely-related to Porsche's racing 911s. Rather than painting bits of it in shiny silver and tweak the exhaust to make a quick buck, they've lightly revised the aerodynamics, adding canards on the front bumper, made the front lid and wings of carbon fibre to shed another 10kg off the usual 20kg weight-saving over a normal GT3. They've also added rear suspension parts from the insane GT2 RS to keep the back end planted, a shorter throw to the gear stick for quicker, more direct shifts and... what else is there? Oh yeah, they gave it the biggest engine EVER fitted to a production Porsche 911. A four litre version of the traditional Porsche flat-six, upgraded with forged pistons, titanium connecting rods and a crankshaft taken from the hot-blooded 911 GT3-RSR racing car that competes with much success in just about every GT series known to man, woman and child (and possibly some known only to dolphins). Other versions of the H6 engine have been more powerful, but they needed turbochargers. This is the most powerful naturally aspirated 911 engine ever, and probably will be for a few years yet.

The difference the extra 200cc and racing parts makes is profound. The "standard" GT3 3.8 makes 435bhp and the GT3 RS (previously the most hardcore 911) makes 450bhp. This makes 493bhp (or a nice round 500PS) at a howling 8250rpm, and 340lb/ft of torque. 500bhp from 4.0 litres is very impressive. In fact, the only other NA engine that manages 125bhp-per-litre I can think of is the brilliant new Ferrari 458 Italia, a sign that Direct Injection technology is a very brilliant thing, as both these cars are notably more efficient than the less powerful cars they replace (in Porsche's case, this applies to both the 4.0 and the 3.8 GT3s compared to the 3.6 GT3 997). As a result, the GT3 RS 4.0 can hit 60mph in 3.8 seconds, 100mph in just under 8 seconds and rocket on to 193mph. The 1360kg 911 can also lap the N├╝rburgring in 7:27, faster than the V10-powered Carrera GT supercar of 2004, but not quite as fast as the Nissan GT-R's latest evolution. Mind you, a GT3 of any kind is a more connected experience on the track than the 4WD, non-manual R35. Porsche's loud, mechanical-sounding engine and engineering prowess paints a very different character to the Japanese car's technological tour de force. You just sit in a bucket seat, put on 4 or 5 seatbelts at once, zero the stopwatch and play racing driver all afternoon. Marvellous.

The cost of entry to this 368bhp-per-tonne almost-racer? About £128,500. And that's before you've wandered through Porsche's options list and accidentally spent another £10,000. Trust me, it happens. That said, if I had the money, I'd certainly give this a serious going over...

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