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2018 Porsche 911 GT3 6-Speed Manual: First Drive Review

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author photo by Michael Harley July 2018

Computer-controlled automatic gearboxes are faster and more efficient than their manual counterparts -- that's an established fact. So why would anyone deliberately choose the less-capable option when buying one of the world's finest sports cars? Blame the counterintuitive action on human emotion.

Reversing a decision made in 2013, Porsche surprised its loyal followers last year when it announced that its upcoming, track-ready Porsche 911 GT3 model would once again be offered with a traditional manual gearbox. The old-school transmission, a no-cost alternative to the modern dual-clutch "PDK" automated transmission, promised to reestablish the human-machine relationship that had been eliminated years earlier. Porschephiles -- the brand's loyal enthusiasts -- rejoiced.

All the Greatness of a GT3

Enhanced from the standard 911 model range, the GT3 is a specially tuned variant that has been engineered for duty on a racing circuit. Under its rear decklid is a naturally aspirated 4.0-liter flat-six that's rated at an even 500 horsepower and 339 lb-ft of torque (the engine happens to be the last remaining nonturbocharged engine in Porsche's lineup). The all-aluminum power plant is an absolute jewel -- turbine-smooth and engineered to deliver an astonishingly high redline of 9,000 rpm.

Complementing the powerful engine is a full array of go-fast upgrades to the already sporty 911 chassis. These include 20-inch wheels, a lowered and tuned suspension, sport seats and tweaked aerodynamics on the wide-body 911 chassis. More specifically, the automaker adds a tall rear wing (raised even higher for 2018, for improved downforce) and alters the front lower splitter and rear lower valance to improve high-speed airflow and engine breathing. Lastly, Porsche Communication Management (PCM) and the Porsche Track Precision App are standard technology -- allowing those who race their coupes to do post-race analyses on their smartphones.

Enhanced With a Manual Gearbox

Physically speaking, there aren't any visual clues that differentiate the manual GT3 from its automatic sibling. Both share the same muscular sheet metal, aggressive appearance and identical 20-in wheels (those seeking a more discreet version of the GT3 should check the "Touring Package" option, which eliminates most of the boy-racer -- yet effective -- aerodynamics). The commonalty also holds true within the cabin, though there are three small exceptions. First, the sliding PDK lever on the center console has been replaced by a traditional gearshift lever. Second, the speedometer no longer has the gear-selector (PRNDM) indicators. Lastly, there's the obligatory third pedal on the floor -- this sports car is a two-foot workout.

Vehicle Dynamics That Excite

Twist the key, traditionally located on the left side of the steering wheel, and the flat-six fires to life with an eager roar. The engine is angry, notably shaking the chassis as it idles impatiently. The clutch is firm underfoot, but not too heavy, and its engagement is linear and precise. This shift lever is equally faultless, with a mechanical feel that rewards each shift with a satisfying positive snap. (Porsche has been building the 911 for more than 50 years, so it has perfected the steering-wheel, shifter and pedal locations -- all are precisely where the human body wants them to be.)

Floor the accelerator and the 911 GT3 is snappy off the line. While its naturally aspirated power delivery doesn't match the instant low-end torque of today's turbocharged engines, thrust increases dramatically as the tachometer spins around the dial -- few vehicles accelerate as quickly once the flat-six hits 5,000 rpm. Handling is razor-sharp, with immediate turn-in, and body roll is literally nonexistent. Cornering grip is phenomenal, with a chassis balance that belies the vehicle's rear-engine architecture. And the standard brakes, which require a bit of heat before they work optimally (Porsche uses a track-ready pad compound), feel capable of stopping a runaway train.

The two-mode suspension dampers deliver a very firm ride that's stiff but never feels punishing or abusive -- the road drone from the wide tires, fitted with sticky Michelin tires, is a much bigger annoyance. And speaking of aggravations, the massive rear wing completely bisects the view out the rear window. Yet will any owner care?

Driving Engagement That Thrills

The PDK-equipped GT3 is faster, but that becomes irrelevant after 30 seconds behind the wheel of the 6-speed-manual GT3. With both arms, and both legs, employed as an integral part of a near-perfect driving machine, driving becomes a completely unique experience. Run the glorious engine to redline, depress the clutch with the left foot, flick the right wrist to shift and then use the right foot to blast out of the next corner while the left hand applies minor course corrections to keep the nose properly pointed. Every micro-action by hand and foot is met with a counteraction by the chassis. There is zero slop and no play. The GT3 is so good -- so precise and responsive -- that the experience is completely enthralling.

A Manual Gearbox That Delivers Emotion

This is a sports car completely transformed by a manual gearbox. While the PDK-equipped GT3 retains its single focus -- to deliver the fastest no-compromise laps -- the manual-equipped GT3 relinquishes seconds in exchange for driving pleasure. It is untainted emotional satisfaction. While automakers such as Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati and McLaren have pushed to remove the fallible human from the equation, Porsche has invited us back in. The 2018 Porsche 911 GT3 with the manual gearbox may be the most intense and engaging sports car on the road today -- it's purely magical.

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2018 Porsche 911 GT3 6-Speed Manual: First Drive Review - Autotrader