Consensus still out on the ultimate Porsche 911
A test drive of the Turbo S Exclusive Series and the GT2 RS offers a snapshot of how the German car maker is growing and perhaps fracturing
What's your definition of the ultimate 911? Here, at perhaps the world's most famous hillclimb event – the Goodwood Festival of Speed – Porsche offered two options: the 599-horsepower Exclusive Series of the mighty Turbo S, and the most powerful road-going 911 ever made, the new 691-horsepower GT2 RS.
More than a pair of twin-turbocharged expressions of all-consuming speed, what we have here is a snapshot of how Porsche as a company is growing and perhaps fracturing.
Both cars are based on the standard 911, a car that has swelled into a grand tourer over the years but one that still holds a recognizable shape. Porsche recently built its one-millionth 911 and these two ueber-neunelfers show not a focusing of its best-known model, but a divergence.
First, the Turbo S Exclusive Series, as hand-finished by Porsche's Exclusive Manufaktur workshop, in-house at its Zuffenhausen headquarters. Capable of running to 100 kilometres an hour in 2.9 seconds, and on to a top speed of 330 km/h, it is the theoretical zenith of the 911 Turbo, a car that delivers on the promise made by the twin-turbocharged 959 supercar. It is crammed with technology, from Porsche's active suspension management, rear-steering, active body-roll compensation, and carbon-ceramic brakes.
It is, in short, the technological tour de force you'd expect from Porsche. However, with only an additional 27 hp and no extra torque versus the standard Turbo S, the Exclusive Series' main enhancements are cosmetic. The signature golden yellow paint is draped over an aerodynamics kit, there are ridges of carbon fibre everywhere and twin black stripes complete the look.
The result is vulgar. The Turbo S isn't supposed to be one of those dinner-plate-sized wristwatches favoured by those with deep pockets and shallow tastes – it's meant to match ultimate capability with complete discretion. Squired up the hill at Goodwood by Formula One driver-turned-endurance-racer Mark Webber, the Exclusive made enough speed to pip a Lamborghini Aventador S, but also managed to look as if it was trying to be as loud as the Lambo.
To put a positive spin on its golden egg, Porsche brought legendary German driver Walter Roehrl on stage, and asked him to compare the Exclusive with the 935 he once drove. The 935 was a factory racer developed from the original whale-tailed 930, a fireball-spitting, laggy, insanely overpowered monster. It, too, had turbocharging, a flat-six engine and a Porsche badge on the nose. To suggest any further connection to the luxury-oriented Turbo S Exclusive is a bit silly.
Happily, something worthy of the comparison soon arrived, blasting past the stage with a surging bellow. As unsubtle as the Exclusive, but in all the right ways, the new GT2 RS takes the circuit focus of the established GT3 and adds massive turbocharged power.
Porsche claims a Hellcat-like 700 hp, although it's measuring things in Pferdestaerke, metric horsepower, which reads a little high. Whatever the case, the GT2 RS is a machine where the carbon fibre is not a fishing lure for the moneyed, but a functional part of the car.
Despite being rear-drive only, the GT2 RS pips the Exclusive acceleration to 100 km/h by one-10 th of a second and has a higher top speed of 340 km/h. This makes it the fastest and most powerful road-going Porsche ever (with one possible exception, more on that in a bit).
Designed for track work, the GT2 RS is deeply slashed and vented, with the front fenders looking as if they'd been attached by an axe-wielding madman. The previous iteration of this car had a bit of a reputation and was dubbed the Widowmaker. Porsche claims this one is perhaps a little less ill-mannered, while not being tame in any way.
Poke around the exterior and exposed engineering is everywhere. The titanium rear exhaust doesn't bother to hide its noise-reduction flaps, the front-hood scoops direct air to the underbody of the car and the uprated cooling system includes water spray for the intercooler at high temperatures.
Inside, the GT2 RS loses the rear seats in favour of a half-cage (not a factory option on Canadian or U.S. cars) and gets deep carbon-fibre, fixed-back bucket seats. The only transmission available is a reworked version of Porsche's excellent seven-speed, dual-clutch gearbox, and the centre console features single buttons to engage a more aggressive transmission program. You can also completely defeat both stability control and traction control, at two levels.
I pull Roehrl aside to remind him of a uniquely powerful road-going 911 variant of the past: the single road-going 935 variant built for his friend, Canadian F1 team owner Walter Wolf. That car featured race-car construction with the full leather interior from a 930 swapped in. It had 750 hp at 8,200 rpm and went 338 km/h on the Autobahn – in 1979.
Surely not a machine for the faint of heart, and neither is the GT2 RS. And, happily, head of Porsche GT cars Andreas Preuninger hinted that the stated 340 km/h top speed of his latest creation might be a little conservative.
It's Preuninger that should give any Porsche performance fan hope. On the back of both GT2 RS machines shown at Goodwood was a discreet motto: "Made in Flacht." The sticker refers to a small town 25 kilometres west of Weissach, the closest place to the Porsche Motorsport Development Centre.
"We are like a little island, a little company within the company," Preuninger says. "With a small team, we can make decisions more quickly. I'm happy to say we are given quite a long leash."
In the old days, Porsche was much like the products it made: small, eager and obsessed with motorsports. Driving an air-cooled 911 requires operating without much of a safety net, but it's a nimble thing, able to change direction quickly.
By contrast, the modern company is more like a Panamera or Cayenne. It's a massive operation, filled with thousands of processes, hundreds of staff, projections of the future, highly complex and with multiple factors always being sifted and considered.
Yet, contained within this larger organism, the GT team is determined to produce cars that are uniquely focused. For those – most of us – who won't be able to afford the GT2 RS's mammoth price tag, it's nice to know that the ultimate 911 is still a track weapon, not a gold-trimmed bauble. And, with a new GT3 and GT3 RS launched this year, the GT team must surely now turn its attention to the Cayman and Boxster. An ultimate Porsche within reach? Perhaps it's not such an exclusive proposition.
The writer was a guest of the auto maker. Content was not subject to approval.