A while back I arranged with a mate in Melbourne to test his 997 Porsche 911 GT3 for AUSmotive. Then, a couple of weeks before I arrived he did something stupid and traded it in. True story! But it’s okay, because he managed to come up with what I soon discovered was a worthy substitute. As the title suggests it was a 911 Carrera GTS.
Only thing was, I was sworn to secrecy for a time, for a number of reasons which I shan’t bore you with here. The test took place late at night, actually it was probably early morning, and it was all a bit The Fast and the Furious. It was quite exciting. And that’s even before I’d set eyes on the car.
You see, due in part to being based in Canberra, it’s not that easy for AUSmotive to arrange access to press cars. You also have to remember that this humble website isn’t exactly the first thought that comes to mind of those handing out the keys. Least of all the no doubt lovely and sincere folk at Porsche Cars Australia. (Do you think they’re reading?) So, with grace and great appreciation I have to strike when opportunity presents.
Enough background, time to share. This test would be my first 911 experience. Indeed, it was my first Porsche experience. I was anxious, excited and just a little bit nervous.
Actually, it reminded me of a time pre-AUSmotive when another friend had lined up an overnight test of an Audi RS4 Avant. When I went to collect it from the dealership it was, to put it politely, or not, pissing down rain. It was home time and there I was sitting on the forecourt blocking the only exit as the dealership staff were waiting to leave. I was taking a moment to get acquainted with the car and was a little stressed.
Thankfully, that moment quickly passed and I was soon coming to grips with the RS4, one of my dream cars. Although, at first, it didn’t really live up to my very high expectations. It just didn’t feel that quick. Of course, the longer I spent in the car the more smitten I became. I was hooked.
Apologies, back to the 911. Prior to the 997 I’d held a healthy respect for 911s and for Porsche as a manufacturer, but was still a Ferrari man, to draw a Holden–Ford comparison. The more I saw of the 997 the more I liked it. It was, I thought, the first 911 that looked almost perfect. And, finally, Porsche had worked out how to make a decent interior.
My mate arrives and there it was. A Porsche 911 Carrera GTS. White with black wheels, as pictured here. A near perfect execution of a near perfect car. I made sure I took as long as I needed to pore over its every detail. In doing so I noticed the first genuine symptoms.
Soon, the key was handed to me and my mate was in the passenger’s seat ready to play tour guide along Melbourne’s now empty streets.
I’m sitting in a 911!
I really was like a starstruck kid. Sure, I’d driven more expensive cars for AUSmotive before this, but none had the cachet, the heritage or the ability to induce the illness that a 911 does.
Of course, there’s no such thing as just a 911, but the Carrera GTS was made to bridge the gap between the more raw and pure GT3 and the entry level Carrera models. It was special because it was a 911, but it was also a special 911.
Compared to a Carrera S the GTS brings almost 20kW more from the delightful 3.8 litre flat six, now with a smidge over 300kW. It also uses the wider track and body of the Carrera 4 all-wheel drive. There’s little doubt that second point contributed to what I was about to discover.
Driving between the barren city towers, over the bumps and tramlines, I was immediately surprised at just how easy the Carrera GTS was to drive. The ride was more compliant than I anticipated, the manual box easy to use as well. Already you could tell the steering was direct, communicative and possessed all the feedback you could hope for.
There was another friend in convoy with us and as I glanced in the wing mirror to check his progress I noticed the rear flank of the 911. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. It was perfectly shaped and quickly reminded me where I was sitting.
Jerry Seinfeld once said to George, “Looking at cleavage is like looking at the sun, you don’t stare at it. It’s too risky. You get a sense of it and then you look away.” Well, this was like staring at cleavage with no sun. It was also another symptom.
After a while, and well within the city limits, we found ourselves at a road that can only be described as a tarmac oasis. Melbourne locals will know exactly the road I am referring to and it was an ideal location for this secret affair. No holds barred, the clothes were off and we were about to get naughty.
I couldn’t say the acceleration was brutal, but not once did I think, “y’know, this could do with more power” as one sometimes does when testing cars. The throttle response was pretty damn good as well. It’s a quick car, that’s for sure.
As noted, I got a preview of the car’s steering capabilities on the outward journey. Now that the ultimate destination had been reached, the thrill of experiencing the Carrera GTS change direction—giving me the feedback to know, exactly, when to push and when to yield—was everything I had hoped for.
You may think describing steering feel as a thrilling experience is a bit daft. You might think it’s a word better used to describe snap-your-neck acceleration. But just as a tyre is the only thing between you and the road, the steering wheel is the conduit between you and the car. Sure, transmission feel, pedal placement and seating position play their part—all of which could not be faulted by the way—but if you have dead steering feel, more often than not, you have a lifeless driving experience. No such problems here and at the time I couldn’t have been more alive.
Another symptom, of course, and an invitation to push the 911 harder.
Through bumpy corners the Carrera GTS felt light up front. There was no real understeer as such. It was just light. That’s a genuine 911 characteristic and to be expected when you bung the engine behind the rear axle.
“You have to learn to trust a 911,” came the Yoda-like advice from the other seat. And it was great advice too. That light feeling, at first, is quite unsettling, but if you put your faith in the car, within the laws of physics, naturally, you’re rewarded with a high that’s genuinely hard to beat. And it’s a feeling you don’t want to let go.
All the interactions with the car, be it steering input, gearchange, whatever, they all work together in perfect unison and all contribute to an increasing trust; I was becoming one with the car. A cliché that may be, but also the most accurate description.
Don’t get me wrong, I know a 911 can bite and they can bite hard. But on a city street, in good driving conditions, you’d have to be well overestimating your ability to make things go tits up in this car.
There’s just so much grip.
Massive rear tyres make the most obvious contribution, of course, and as your trust in the front end develops so does your exploration of its adhesion. Where’s the limit? How far do I have to push? Every car has its boundaries but I was unable to find it within myself—in my mate’s new car costing as much as a small city unit—to break the borders of common sense.
As a general comment on Porsches, and certainly for the Carrera GTS, with its standard sports exhaust, the induction sound was just right. In a world of sublime sounding V8s and V10s the 911 is an anomaly that’s hard to fathom. If you were charged with creating the world’s best engine note you’d be lucky to go anywhere near the ingredients offered by Porsche’s famed flat-six. Yet, there’s an undeniable appeal to the way they sound. When you’re in the driver’s seat, traveling at full noise, there’s nothing you’d rather be hearing than a 3.8 litre 911 engine. The GT3 RS 4.0 being the single exception.
After completing the course offered by that tarmac oasis a few times, I drove it again for good measure. Alas, it was time to head home. But I was having so much fun! Like a kid who’d just had his PlayStation taken away, I had to comply, but I wasn’t happy about it.
Driving back I was reminded of that day I collected the RS4. Then, it was a timely reminder that meeting your heroes doesn’t always follow the overworked script you have created. I ended up really liking the RS4, but I needed every one of the 24 hours I had with the car. With the 911 Carrera GTS there was no delay. The driving experience was immediately satisfying and actually surpassed my expectations. It really was that good. Better, in fact.
The 911 Carrera GTS is a mighty sports car in every sense. It is at home in any road context you can throw at it. I can’t tell you what it is like to track the GTS, but I can guess it would be very, very good. A match for the highly acclaimed GT3? Perhaps not. Herein lies the beauty of the Carrera GTS, it fills the space, however small, between the Carrera S and the GT3. Which, you’ll recall, is exactly what Porsche intended.
There was one downside however. It started with the symptoms collected on this drive. And with subsequent time behind the wheel of the superb Cayman R, I have now developed, as another friend calls it, Porsche madness. It’s a disease, but one you’re happy to have.
Like your first kiss, you never forget your first 911 experience.