“We are keeping the naturally aspirated engines for the future,” says Porsche’s 911 line boss August Achleitner in Cape Town at the launch of another 911. So relax, we can start off on a positive note, and anyway, the weather is beautiful here, the roads even better.
“So let me say,” Achleitner goes on with assurances, “as long as we are using normal aspiration in racing, we will use normal aspiration on the road. If we make a change, for environmental reasons and so on, then we have to make a change. But today, no.”
Well, almost. The new 911 GTS is turbocharged.
Since Porsche released the updated 991 generation 911 a year and a half ago with a bunch of force-fed Carreras leading the way, the Zuffenhausen carmaker’s had no trouble convincing the public of the virtues of turbocharging. Last year sales of 911s went up by 2 per cent to over 32,000 vehicles delivered, which accounts for about 13 per cent of total Porsche production.
This year the numbers will get a boost with the new GTS in Coupé, Targa, Cabriolet, all-wheel drive and two-wheel drive form to choose from. In just a year and a half of rollouts Porsche’s expanded its all-turbocharged 911 range (until Andreas Preuninger’s GT department cars came along with free-revving naturally-aspirated flat-sixes) to 19 models.
This leaves the GTS in an interesting position, if you’re interested in that sort of thing, because it no longer cleanly bridges the gap between the Carreras and the GT3s. Not now that it’s turbocharged and that according to Achleitner the upcoming GT3 will remain naturally aspirated.
A proper GTS is a Coupé with a seven-speed manual, and both Achleitner and Le Mans winner Marc Lieb agree (Marc’s also on hand in Cape Town to offer tips on not crashing at the old-school Killarney circuit where a runoff area is a line of towering bluegum trees). So that’s the one I’m trying because according to the experts it’s the best representation of a GTS.
The badge was actually first applied to a racecar in the Sixties. Fifty years later with people doing backflips after Porsche put a Volkswagen VR6 engine in an SUV, Zuffenhausen started looking at milking opportunities. Porsche dusted off the 1963 904 GTS badge, and the name reappeared on a Cayenne in 2007 to now denote particularly sporting iterations across the Porsche line-up from the SUVs through the four-door Panameras to the mid-engined roadsters.
In terms of desirability and performance the GTS 911s are still the best 911s outside of the GT and Turbo cars. Look at prices of used 997 GTSs to see there’s weight in that argument. The argument being to just fully spec a Carrera S.
Basically, but not quite. The new 911 GTS begins with a wide-body, that is to say the wider track of AWD Carreras, regardless of whether you want your GTS two- or all-wheel drive. This makes it 44mm wider than a regular 911, and with a sports chassis equipped the GTS is 20mm lower than a Carrera. This is then amplified by the exaggeration of the 20in black-finished wheels off a Turbo S.
The parts raid continues — Sport Chrono is standard on every GTS and about the only option you need mulling over is the rear-axle steering system also off the Turbo cars. It was fitted on our tester and you can feel it in a way that through long turns you instinctively leave the steering angle alone even when opening the throttle through because the rear’s already busy tucking in.
Those black wheels otherwise set the tone, with more black everywhere, and smoked taillights, black GTS logos, blacked-out intakes and a central exhaust pipe in black. Inside there’s more black, which I don’t mind — 911s always seem to work best without tarted-up interiors, letting you get on with the job of driving in a perfect seating position and with excellent outward vision and no glitz all over the dash to distract.
With that hard edge to it, exclusive new Pirelli track-rated tyres and special steering tuning, I’m not sure the GTS is all that ideally suited to the refinement of the 9A2 3.0-litre twin-turbo engine.
The pedals feel familiar too, even if you’ve never sat in a 911, because they’re so right, the accelerator floor-hinged feels so right in its spring and travel, but there’s no way it can match that nervous twitch from the naturally aspirated flat-six in the old GTS.
Accelerating through the gears you still run out of revs quick enough and even in PDK-equipped cars you’re snapping at the paddles behind the wheel often. In the manual seven-speed, the throw is second-best to the Mazda MX-5 but that’s about the highest praise a manual ’box can get. There’s no trouble with seventh, way out there if you can stretch for it, and don’t forget to breathe. You won’t be hard in fourth on a nice road somewhere only to miss fifth and find seventh by mistake because there’s resistance pushing back unless you’re trying to find it directly from sixth. Clever.
With all the optional 911 tricks applied here — including a standard sports exhaust with a loud-switch that only leaves you reminiscing about the raspy old NAs — it’s no wonder the GTS feels very GT3-ish around Killarney and settles so solidly over big kerbs and big bumps around the little 3.3km circuit. Tight hairpins and off-camber big sweeps around the back of the circuit are no trouble.
Around Cape Town and the countryside there’s no reason to go beyond S to S+ with the plastic knob on the steering wheel (too much of Porsche’s wheel is plastic, good plastic, but plastic). That’s where that Carrera-GT3 bridge comes in. The GTS ride is solid, or even plain stiff, but with no tram-lining and wandering on Africa’s tight, crowned roads.
With that hard edge to it, exclusive new Pirelli track-rated tyres and special steering tuning, I’m not sure the GTS is all that ideally suited to the refinement of the 9A2 3.0-litre twin-turbo engine. Of course it’s been boosted up here and the GTS application even gets specific turbochargers, to deliver 450bhp and 550Nm of torque which is well over Carrera S numbers, by 30bhp and 50Nm respectively. That’s actually as much power and way, way more torque that the naturally aspirated 997 generation GT3 RS. With the sorted chassis and sticky rubber and all the rest of it, you do wish there were more revs in it though, more mania.
Considering the values of old 997 GTS models and the premium they command over regular Carreras, the new GTS makes a lot of sense anyway. You basically get a loaded 911 Carrera that’ll be worth way more than if you had just loaded up a 911 Carrera… Remember, options don’t appreciate. Badges do.