First Drive review: 2015 Porsche 911 GT3 RS
The fiery track car you can drive to the shops
Should be unbreakable
Brutal speed but comfortable, too
A sounder investment than gold
Not as exciting as the old car
Auto transmission will put off purists
Sold out

First Drive review: Porsche 911 GT3 RS (2015)

Fire up the beast, I fancy a finger of Fudge

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2015 Porsche 911 GT3 RS at a glance

  • Handling: ★★★★★
  • Performance: ★★★★★
  • Design: ★★★★☆
  • Interior: ★★★☆☆
  • Practicality: ★★☆☆☆
  • Costs: ★★★★☆

SLIP ON a pair of fireproof racing boots and reach for the leather driving gloves – the 2015 Porsche 911 GT3 RS is here. If you aren’t serious about the business of driving, don’t even think about lowering yourself down into its deep, carbon-fibre racing seat: it will eat you alive.

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Even before Porsche’s engineers have handed over the keys at the launch event, warnings are circulating from nervous-looking PR people that the company’s most racing-oriented road-legal machine has proved a little too hot to handle for one or two Porsche staff, and the already rare car is getting rarer by the day. Turning off the traction control system is, therefore, strictly verboten.

This is encouraging. Rumours had been circulating that the RS had been tamed; that, by giving it an automatic gearbox and the laid-back character for a trip to the corner shop for a newspaper, pint of milk and cheeky finger of Fudge, engineers had taken the mojo from one of the most thrilling sports cars money could buy.

As with the latest GT3 on which it is based, the RS has a dual-clutch, seven-speed automatic transmission. Some dyed-in-the-wool enthusiasts will be unhappy about this. Previous versions of the 911 GT3 and GT3 RS were widely viewed as the last bastion of driving purity, cars that put man in charge of the machine.

2015 Porsche 911 GT3 RS review by Sunday Times Driving's James Mills

A lot more has changed. We hear from a panel of men in Porsche-branded polo shirts and black slacks who share their exhaustive technical knowledge with, well, exhaustive enthusiasm that the 4-litre engine has titanium con rods, uprated pistons and valves, lightweight cylinder heads and a high-strength steel alloy for the crankshaft that has come from the engine of Porsche’s LMP1 Le Mans-style racing car. The mission? Make it indestructible.

New tech includes a pit lane speed limiter. This means that, should you ever find yourself pulling into the pits and looking for the correct crowd of men wearing balaclavas and waving boards in your general direction, your attention needn’t be distracted by maintaining a prescribed speed limit. Handy, perhaps, for the local McDonald’s drive-thru.

The wide bodywork is from the 911 Turbo, and when combined with 12½in-wide wheels (from the Porsche 918 Spyder hypercar) and vast, 325/30 Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres – engineered with a dual compound just for this car – it gives the RS the widest track and largest contact patch with the road of any 911 yet.

We hear from a panel of men in Porsche-branded polo shirts and black slacks who share their exhaustive technical knowledge with, well, exhaustive enthusiasm

More significantly, the wide rear track allows the engine to be force-fed air through air intakes in the rear wheelarches, a process Porsche claims can generate an extra 10bhp for the engine at high speeds.

There’s a 1.1mm-thick magnesium roof, chosen because it’s lighter than aluminium or carbon-fibre. The back windows are fashioned from polycarbonate, saving 3.5kg compared with glass, the front wings and the back spoiler are made from carbon-reinforced plastic and, as is the tradition with lightweight Porsches, the internal door handles have been replaced by simple fabric straps. The list goes on.

Porsche 911 GT3 RS interior

That’s not to say the RS weighs as little as, say, a Lotus Elise. The Renn Sport (Racing Sport) began life before the GT3 was even a glint in Porsche’s eye. The first was the 1973 Carrera RS, which had a 2.7-litre, flat-six engine that sung its heart out at 6300rpm as it delivered 207bhp. It was more than sufficient to make the 997kg sports car one of the fastest on the road and allowed Porsche to beat competitors on the racing circuit.

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Today’s RS is a different animal altogether; it’s a lot heavier, weighing 1,420kg, but boy does it fly, with the 4-litre engine summoning up more than twice the power of the original – 493bhp – and revving to 8250rpm.

It’s also a heck of a lot more expensive. In 1973 drivers needed £6,112 (about £72,000) to buy Porsche’s ultimate machine. Now you won’t get away without spending less than £131,000 – though that is still good value against today’s competition.

All this is somewhat academic if you haven’t already got your name on the waiting list and deposit placed with a dealer; your only hope is that a speculator wants to sell their place in the queue. Porsche won’t say how many it will make – only that the production run is comfortably sold out.

If you’re one of the lucky few, it should be a good investment. Over the past few years, RS Porsches have been a better investment than gold.

2015 Porsche 911 GT3 RS review by Sunday Times Driving's James Mills

None of this matters as much as the driving experience, though. And the initial impressions from the road are of a surprisingly civilised car. The engines of past RSs would fire to life with a small explosion, shake the cabin and grumble and grouch like someone with a serious chest infection. Now the 4-litre flat-six sounds more subdued, as though a teacher has told it off and sent it to sit in the corner of the classroom until it can behave.

The automatic DPK transmission pulls off the line without any drama and shuffles up through the gears like a hyper-miler on a mission to conserve every last drop of fuel in the petrol tank. There isn’t any gear whine and even the fat tyres are relatively quiet at speed. It’s all a bit, well, like a dog with its tail between its legs.

Even with the Club Sport package fitted – which consists of a roll cage behind the seats, racing harnesses and a fire extinguisher – there’s a clear view of the surrounding environment and the suspension gives a comfortable ride.

The engines of past RSs would fire to life with a small explosion, shake the cabin and grumble and grouch like someone with a serious chest infection. Now the 4-litre flat-six sounds more subdued

That’s a pleasant surprise. And if you will be taking delivery of an RS, this may be just what you want to hear. Unlike with past RS models, setting the sat nav and heading off for a track day at the Nürburgring in Germany or Belgium’s Spa circuit no longer calls for support cushions, earplugs and a pack of ibuprofen.

The engine needs plenty of revs before it wakes up and bares its teeth, as the peak torque doesn’t arrive until 6250rpm, but the PDK transmission will jump to attention if the driver flexes the throttle and snap down a gear or several, bringing the car to life.

At this point, a racetrack is required, because from third gear onward the speed will be far greater than the laws of the road permit. Happily, Porsche provided the Bilster Berg circuit, a private track near Hanover.

2015 Porsche 911 GT3 RS review by Sunday Times Driving's James Mills

This is where the car comes into its own – and if it hadn’t, Porsche would have had egg on its face. The rear-wheel steering system feels entirely natural to the point that it goes unnoticed. The only giveaway is that the car never seems to be fazed by whatever challenge the particularly evil layout of the track throws at it.

The RS claws its nose into the apex of a bend with tenacity, cornering speeds are so high the driver is noticeably compressed into the sides of the bucket seats and the weight of the engine and size of the rear tyres give tremendous drive out of bends.

But there is still some bite lurking beneath this composure. Misjudge a corner, entering too fast and easing off the throttle, and the RS will shuffle its tail about the place – at which point it comes as a relief that we’d been instructed to leave the stability control systems enabled.

Needless to say, gearshifts come and go in the blink of an eye; engineers have made the shift times faster and the movement of the paddle shorter, and in manual operating mode the gearbox won’t change up to the next gear when the engine hits its rev limit. And the brakes are powerful enough to have a passenger slamming against their seatbelt.

Then there’s the noise of the engine over the final few hundred rpm of its range, which sets your eardrums ringing and brain fizzing.

Porsche 911 GT3 RS interior

It’s exciting and challenging, and unquestionably faster than even the final, 4-litre edition of the 997-generation GT3 RS, which also had a 493bhp engine. The new car knocks 10 seconds off that model’s lap time at the Nürburgring, lapping in 7 minutes and 20seconds.

Significantly, though, it is less exciting than a Ferrari 458 Speciale and not as challenging as the car it succeeds.

The company counters that drivers who want a Porsche that calls for a greater degree of involvement and physical exertion can buy a Cayman GT4, which has a manual transmission.

The only snag is that, like the RS, it’s sold out. Porsche must be doing something right.

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2015 Porsche 911 GT3 RS specifications
  • Price: £131,296
  • Engine: 3,996cc, 6 cylinders, naturally aspirated
  • Power: 493bhp @ 8250rpm
  • Torque: 339Ib ft @ 6250rpm
  • Transmission: 7-speed automatic
  • 0-62mph: 3.3sec
  • Top speed: 192mph
  • Fuel: 22.2mpg
  • CO2: 296g/km
  • Road tax band: M (£1,100 for first year; then £505 a year)
  • Release date: Sold out


Porsche 911 GT3 RS rivals

Aston Martin V12 Vantage S, £138,000 (click to buy)

  • For Hilariously good fun to drive; V12 sounds glorious
  • Against Dated interior; Vantage GT12 is coming soon but costs £250,000

Ferrari 458 Speciale, £206,945 (click to buy)

  • For Astonishing V8 engine; fun handling; rarity; James May owns one
  • Against Cost makes the 911 GT3 RS look superb value for money