If you’ve been paying attention to the sports-car world in the last few months, here’s something you already know: The most-hyped sports car on the market today is the Porsche 911R. It came out last year with an original MSRP of around $160,000, but some have traded hands on the secondary market for $500,000 or more. There are currently three or four listed on Autotrader, and the lowest asking price is $470,000.
This may make it the single greatest investment in history aside from a winning lottery ticket.
In order to find out what all the hype was about, I decided it was time that I — a seasoned car reviewer who recently drove a plug-in hybrid Cadillac — should drive a 911R. So I did, thanks to Platinum Motorcars in the Detroit area, an excellent dealership that includes everything from Ferraris to muscle cars. My 911R drive came courtesy of a client of theirs, and when I got in, it looked brand-new. It smelled fresh. It still had the “remove before using infotainment system” decal on the center screen. It had just 600-something miles.
I needed to be really careful.
But just why did I need to be so careful? Why does this thing cost a half million dollars? The basic gist is this: A few years ago, Porsche got rid of the manual transmission in its most exciting 911 variants, the GT3 and GT3RS. People complained a bit, but they still sold really well, and that seemed to be that. And then, Porsche decided to bring back the stick shift one more time, for one more special car. They’d call it the 911R, and it would use the GT3RS engine. But it would also have the classic 911 look — the clean coupe style without the GT3RS’s huge wings and aero bits. It would include the aforementioned stick shift. And, maybe most importantly, it would be limited to just 991 units for the entire world.
The market jumped on this. While sticker prices started at $160,000, the idea of an ultra-limited-production 911 with a GT3RS engine and a stick shift was like solid automotive gold, especially in today’s era, when the stick shift has become highly desirable. People who desperately wanted a 911R couldn’t get one, and people who did get one — mainly owners of the 918 Spyder supercar — saw an investment opportunity. During the height of the 911R craze, a few reportedly sold for $600,000. Remember, just a year earlier, the sticker price was less than a third of that.
And this leads me to my driving experience: It was amazing.
This car is everything Porsche purists say it is, and you can see why the hype is there. Some of us — myself included — don’t really love all the craziness of the GT3RS; the huge wing, and the weird air inlets, and the huge front spoiler, and the stripped-down interior. Well, the 911R ditches all of that, and it keeps only the good parts: like, for example, some of the stripped-down interior. In sum, the cabin is the perfect combination of luxury and stripped-down lightweight, combining a rear-seat delete (who needs those, anyway?) with gorgeous hand stitching. It’s excellent.
And this perfect combination also applies to the drivetrain: The 911R keeps the GT3RS’s engine, so it does zero to 60 in something like 3.7 seconds — but you get to shift it yourself! So you get all the speed and the acceleration and the sound of a GT3RS, but you’re rowing the gears on your own. What could be better?
The styling, perhaps. Once again, the 911R is the perfect combination: You get a more aggressive look than a normal 911, with a sportier front bumper, and center lock wheels, and other little updates here and there. But you don’t have to put up with the massive rear wing, and the aero stuff, and the giant GT3RS chin that juts out and catches on just about every curb.
In other words: You get the best parts of the look (the clean 911 design), and you give up the worst parts (the spoiler). You get the best parts of the powertrain (the horsepower and the stick shift) and you give up the worst parts (the automatic transmission). And you get the best parts of the interior, without putting up with too much in the way of rock-hard seats and ultra-stripped down interior panels. And here’s another benefit: Since all the GT3RS aero stuff adds drag, the 911R is more slippery — and that means the R is the fastest 911, with a top speed of more than 200 miles per hour.
It’s … perfect.
And it drives pretty close to perfectly, too. Handling isn’t quite $500,000-exotic-car precise, but it’s not far off. The engine sound is truly tremendous, with nothing lost in translation from the GT3RS. And the shifter action is wonderful: so intuitive, so easy, so simple. I’ve always said everyone should learn how to drive a manual transmission in a 911, even though nobody actually gets to have this experience, and the 911R is perfect proof of why this is: The clutch is linear, the shifter is fluid, and nothing feels too notchy or too kinked.
Except for the price. Yes, the 911R might just be the perfect 911 on paper. Yes, the 911R might be the perfect 911 in practice, too, when you’re behind the wheel. But FIVE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS?! It’s insanity. It’s overhyped. It’s too much.
Five hundred grand really should buy only the best of the best — the ultra-limited-production exotic cars, like the Ford GTs, and the ultra-special-edition Ferrari and Lamborghini V12s. You shouldn’t spend that kind of cash on a 911, that looks like a 911, that’s going to have nearly 1,000 units built, that’s going to soon be devalued by the next new, cool 911 to come out of the factory. Think of it this way: The 911R’s current values place it closer in price to the 918 Spyder than its original MSRP. And that’s just crazy.
Yes, I think the 911R is the best 911 I’ve ever driven. Yes, I think the 911R is gorgeous, and awesome, and fun to drive, and quite possibly the perfect combination of 911 traits. Yes, it’s a special car, and it’ll always be a valuable one. And yes, it isn’t worth $500,000. But it sure is amazing. Find a 2017 Porsche 911 for sale
Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.