There are few things better at making you feel guilty than driving a new Porsche 911 GT3 through the centre of a busy town. Even if you don’t actually start mouthing apologies as the stares accumulate, you will still wish to shrink ever further down into its racing bucket seats until, ideally, you actually disappeared.
And it’s not just that it looks likes it’s just come straight from Silverstone nor even that it sounds much the same way too. It’s that you know something your unwanted audience does not: this car may look like it’s breaking the law when parked, but it’s actually way more naughty even than that.
There’s not much you can do to prepare yourself for it. Pore over the specification sheets and you’ll notice the engine has expanded from 3.8 to 4.0 litres relative to the last GT3 of 2014, and its output from 475 to 493bhp. But in this era of hypercars, that’s not so much these days. You’ll discover a manual gearbox is once more available (customers were not shy in letting Porsche know how they felt about its decision to make the last GT3 with just two pedals) and that it’ll reach 62mph in 3.9sec (or 3.4sec with the paddle-shift transmission). And in a world where sub-3sec runs are becoming increasingly commonplace, that’s more fast than feral.
But none of this says a word about this car’s character and its addictive nature. Moreover, in an era where almost all performance cars have relatively low-revving, slow-responding engines that are aurally rarely better than pleasant, the GT3 offers a naturally aspirated motor plucked straight from the engine bay of the latest racing 911. It sounds so good at 7,000rpm you can almost feel little red horns stretching the skin on your scalp, but it will go all the way to a preposterous 9,000rpm, by which stage you may find yourself a helpless disciple to its devilish ways.
So you’d better take it somewhere it can be exercised safely and without causing offence. Ideally a race track. And it’s possible that on the way you might ponder whether it’s really worth it: you could, for instance, spend £16,000 less on a better equipped 911 GTS with only a little less power and lot more torque. It will be all of 0.2sec slower to 62mph, but where the GT3 suffers from considerable engine and tyre noise at a constant cruise, the GTS is among the most refined 911s there has been. And it has rear seats, which are handy; the GT3 does not, even as an option.
But not even a 911 GTS, a car that not long ago earned the full five stars, can approach the GT3 when it comes to the provision of pure driving pleasure, and not just because its smaller turbo engine lacks the snarling, howling, shrieking soundtrack of the GT3. Indeed the more you drive the GT3 the more you realise the engine is just the most obvious of its talents. You may not notice it at first, but at least as impressive is suspension tuned to a different level of sophistication to that of more ‘normal’ 911s.
The levels of grip are beyond anything any sane person would choose to use on a dry road, but where Porsche has been clever is not to destroy the ride quality in the process: it’s firm but so beautifully damped the car is actually as comfortable as its more modestly attired stablemates. And if you do go somewhere you can drive it on the limit, you’ll discover that the way it responds, its poise, balance and feel, is closer to that of a thoroughbred race car than even quite sporting conventional street machines.
Make no mistake, this is the most hardcore GT3 yet, and not just because of that lunatic engine. As Porsche converts itself into an SUV and luxury car manufacturer, this seems to be the company’s way of reminding the world that it’s not forgotten where it has come from, and that such extreme sports cars remain a small but integral component of where it’s going.
Message received, understood and enjoyed.
Porsche 911 GT3
TESTED 3,996cc, flat-six-cylinder, seven-speed paddleshift gearbox, rear-wheel drive
PRICE/ON SALE from £111,802/now
POWER/TORQUE 493bhp @ 8,250rpm/339lb ft @ 6,000rpm
TOP SPEED 197mph
ACCELERATION 0-62mph in 3.9sec
FUEL ECONOMY 22.2mpg/14.6 mpg (EU Combined/Urban)
VED BAND (£2,000 first year, then £140)
VERDICT For the money, no other car on sale that can be used every day offers close to this level of driving pleasure. As close a relative to a pure racing car as any fully equipped, tolerably practical road car can come.
TELEGRAPH RATING Five stars out of five