Porsche's 911 GT3 is a terrific tarmac terrier

2018 Porsche 911 GT3 (Porsche)

Porsche builds sports cars, and only sports cars.

Everything in the German car company’s line, from the short, stubby Boxster to the long, luxurious Panamera, is a sports car. Everything that comes out of Porsche’s Stuttgart factory is an attempt to unite car and driver and narrow the gap between road and track.

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The 2018 911 GT3 closes that gap nicely. It’s a daily driver likelier than its predecessors to drive its owner to the track.

It certainly pushed me in that direction. The entire time I had possession of the GT3, I felt like I ought to get off the street and onto a closed course — or at least stop driving as if I were running hot laps at Willow Springs.

At root, this is an extremely modern version of a very traditional car — a naturally aspirated, rear-wheel-drive two-seater, available for the first time with a manual transmission.

The 2018 version features engine upgrades borrowed from the company’s GT3 Cup racing model and its street-legal cousin, the GT3R.

Lighter-weight, and higher-revving, this new iteration of the naturally aspirated, four-liter boxer engine found in earlier GT3s makes 500 horsepower and 339 pound-feet of torque — 25 more ponies and 15 more pound-feet than in previous models.

On a power-to-weight ratio, those pound-feet are pulling fewer pounds, too. The 2018 model tips the scales at 3,153 pounds, fully fueled, almost exactly the same as the previous GT3. (The stick shift version shaves 33 pounds off that number.) Because of the increased horsepower and torque figures, the car feels quicker.

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Porsche says the new power plant will push the car from zero to 60 miles per hour in 3.2 seconds, and to a top speed of 197 miles per hour, in the automatic transmission version, or in 3.8 seconds and to 198 miles per hour in GT3s fitted with the manual gearbox.

The GT3’s engineers would like their car to stay on the ground while it is achieving these impressive speeds, so the vehicle’s chassis and body have also been adapted from Porsche’s race models.

The body, based on the Carrera 4, sits wider and lower than the standard 911, and is made principally of lightweight polyurethane. Many of the more visible parts, though, are hewn from carbon fiber — including the rather conspicuous rear wing. Porsche says this aerodynamic feature provides 20% more ground force than the wing on previous GT3s.

New rubber and improved suspension also help keep the GT3 glued to the road.

All that power, torque and resulting acceleration are made manageable, even for an average driver like me, by Porsche’s “active suspension” system, which keeps the wheels on the ground and, when necessary, automatically engages a touch of rear-wheel steering.

The sensation of control is heightened by the stock sports steering wheel and seats, which are quite stiff and contribute to the engaged, race car feeling of the new GT3. (Fully adjustable seats and plush bucket seats are also available as options.)

The manual transmission, too, will add to the engaged driving experience, and will be welcomed by purists who hated the fact that earlier GT3s didn’t offer a manual transmission option at all. Porsche’s press materials state that the stick shift is offered “at no extra charge,” which is pretty funny considering car companies used to refer to manual transmissions as “standard,” and charged extra for automatics.

Even without the more engaged stick shifting, the PDK transmission is a mechanical wonder, especially when “sport” mode is enabled. This initiates automatic rev matching on downshifts, and increases the race day mood.

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Drivers who want an even more engaged experience can click off the traction control and other electronic babysitters. This will unleash the full, unmonitored power of the six-cylinder engine, and is not recommended for off-the-track driving, I believe, or for amateur drivers like me.

City driving is made easier, on the other hand, by an optional pneumatic nose lift function, essential in some neighborhoods, to keep the 911’s chin from scraping on driveways and even speed humps.

The Guards Red model I drove was bone stock but for heated seats, auto-dimming mirrors and an extended-range gas tank. So the MSRP was only a few ticks above the $146,350 base price.

Those who shopped last year’s model will note a price increase of about $13,000 for the 2018 model, whose base price includes the $1,700 federal “gas guzzler” penalty.

That’s a result of the GT3’s thirsty engine, which gets a combined 16 miles per gallon — a number that can be achieved only by driving the car very conservatively.

No one is going to do that. This sports car, no matter where its rubber meets the road, is an invitation to sporty driving. It demands respect, and commands respect, in equal measure.

2018 Porsche 911 GT3

Times' take: A terrific tarmac terrier

Highs: Improved horsepower, torque and handling

Lows: Low mpg, high MSRP

Vehicle type: Two-door, two-passenger sports car

Base price: $146,350

Price as tested: $147,890

Powertrain: Four-liter, flat six-cylinder gasoline engine

Transmission: Seven-speed dual clutch automatic

Horsepower: 500

Torque: 339 pound-feet

EPA fuel economy rating: 13 miles per gallon city / 21 highway / 16 combined

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