LET’S REFLECT ON THE ABSURDITY of the moment: Late last year, this magazine sent your narrator to Europe for the launch of a 700-hp, rear-engine, two-wheel-drive, turbocharged Porsche. Three laps into the day, your narrator found himself casually doing 170 mph on the front straight of the Algarve International Circuit. (Big place, ballsy corners, used for F1 testing, Portugal.)
This story originally appeared in the February, 2018 issue of Road & Track - Ed.
An hour or so later, at that same track, your narrator was choogling over that same pavement, hurtling into Turn 1 in a sudden rainstorm, let’s say maybe hypothetically perhaps experimentally with stability control off.
And maybe then your narrator, a competent driver but by no means a genius or some kind of Hamilton-Alonso-Schumacher, started executing tidy little drifts. Almost to his surprise. In this 700-hp turbo Porsche. In the rain, at speed, as if he were some kind of hero.
After one particularly greasy and happy little uphill slide, I took my foot off the throttle for a beat. I looked around the cockpit and considered the glut of 600--hp production cars recently tested by R&T. It was not a short list. The most innocuous machine on that list was a 707-hp Dodge sedan.
We are no longer at a point where a 700-hp production car is an oddity.
We are no longer at a point where a 700-hp, factory-built Porsche is limited to places like Le Mans.
We are no longer at a point where you have to be a wheelman-genius to glimpse the genius-wheelman behavior in a 700-hp anything.
We live in strange times.
Meet the 2018 Porsche 911 GT2 RS. In Porsche-speak, “GT” denotes track focus, as with past 911 GT2s, the 911 GT3, and the Cayman GT4. The RS suffix—for rennsport, or motorsport— indicates a nontrivial bump in speed and focus. And the 911 part just represents a six-cylinder, rear-engine German device with throwback personality and a silhouette born in the 1960s. Maybe you’ve heard of it.
RS Porsches are serious cars. They offer noisy cabins and unforgiving suspension, comfort traded for feedback and track speed. America has seen some of Porsche’s RS cars, but not all. The last one sold here was the 500-hp 2016 911 GT3 RS: 8800 rpm, a chassis that razored through corners with prejudice, and a sound like hell’s trombone.
The 2018 911 GT2 RS is currently the only GT2 model on offer in the United States. It is basically the GT3 RS idea filtered through the prism of the 580-hp 911 Turbo S. Plus bonkers. At 700 hp and a claimed 3241 pounds in its lightest guise, the GT2 offers 120 more horsepower than a Turbo S, a 286-pound diet over that car, and two driven wheels to the Turbo S’s four. The latter change helps cut weight and maximize purity. GT Porsches are meant to ape the great Porsche racing cars, virtually all of which are rear-wheel drive.
This weaponized range-topper costs $294,250, more than three times the price of a base 911 Carrera. In the hands of Porsche test driver Lars Kern, a GT2 RS recently lapped the Nürburgring Nordschleife in 6 minutes and 47.3 seconds. This is nearly 10 seconds quicker than Porsche’s discontinued, 887-hp 918 Spyder hybrid, which cost close to $1 million new.
Perhaps you remain unimpressed. Consider the last GT2 RS, launched in 2011: That car, built on the previous-generation 911, made 620 hp. It was faster than purple bejesus. Porsche says the 2018 GT2 will beat it to 186 mph by almost seven seconds. The new car is just seven horses shy of a Dodge Challenger Hellcat but more than 1200 pounds lighter.
Alternate perspective: The average household refrigerator weighs 200–300 pounds empty. The 2018 GT2 RS is thus Hellcat thrust, minus the weight of at least four refrigerators.
The weight loss over a Turbo S comes through a host of touches. Ditching the driven front axle saved 110.2 pounds. The hood is carbon fiber (4.4 pounds saved), the roof magnesium (2.2 pounds). The rear seat is gone (21.2 pounds), as is a lot of sound deadening. There are carbon-shell seats, carbon hood hinges, and carbon intakes for the throttles and intercooler (dropping 30.9, 1.8, and 3.1 pounds, respectively). The GT2’s glass, carpet, and wiring harness are lighter. Its muffler is titanium. Optional deletion of both air-conditioning and the infotainment system saved another 41.9 pounds.
If that’s not enough, money brings more. Order the GT2 RS’s $31,000 Weissach package, you lose another 40 pounds. In European markets, this becomes 60 pounds lost, because the package swaps the GT2’s standard steel roll hoop (unavailable here) for a titanium one. Regardless of where you buy the car, Weissach brings carbon anti-roll bars and end links—in person, these look like spacecraft porn—a roof panel and shift paddles in carbon, magnesium wheels, and even lighter carpet. Plus headrests stitched with tacky outlines of Porsche’s Weissach test track. (If you are the kind of person who wears a watch the size of a pie plate, take the stitching and carbon. If you aren’t, save the cash and use it to rent a vacation house on Lake Como or something. The standard GT2 RS drives basically the same, and that stitching looks silly as a rubber hat.)
The rest of the chassis is essentially GT3 RS: a seven-speed version of Porsche’s outstanding PDK dual-clutch automatic; stiffer springs, anti-roll bars, and dampers; 20-inch front alloys and 21-inch rears. Those rear wheels, just over a foot wide, wear 325-section tires, three centimeters shy of the rear rubber on the last Dodge Viper. There is no manual gearbox, as Porsche no longer offers its RS models so equipped. Factory representatives say this is because the sub-brand is focused on lap times, result trumping feel. PDK is simply the quickest option.
Either way, the engine’s blammo is unimpeachable. The GT2’s 7200-rpm, 3.8-liter flat-six is essentially a Turbo S mill with more air re-hosed down its gullet. The twin variable-geometry turbochargers are 16 percent larger on the compressor side and 15 percent larger in turbine; they feed larger intercoolers that inhale 27 percent more air through reworked ducting. Peak boost is 22.5 psi, 24 percent more than that of a Turbo S. The exhaust-manifold primaries are 30 percent larger, and the pistons have been redesigned, dropping compression from 9.5:1 to 9.0, to work with the added boost. An intercooler spray draws from a reservoir in the trunk and just generally looks the business next to your luggage.
As with all new 911s, you cannot see much of the engine. Opening the stumpy decklid just gives you a plastic cover and two electric cooling fans, each of which looks innocuous and out of place, as if stolen from a giant laptop. Removed from the car, the engine appears ugly and overgrown, as if God had designed it to live at the bottom of the sea and never see sunlight. You marvel that it fits in the rear of a 911. You would marvel if it fit into a Freightliner.
This is one of the small wonders of the modern 911—the car has ballooned since its 1960s birth, but it never seems large enough to hold the engine that defines it. Beholding the GT2 RS for the first time, on a sunny Portuguese morning, I asked Frank Wiesmann, Porsche’s American PR rep, a question about wheel size. “In a 911,” he said, “packaging is always the problem.” His comment alluded to yet another issue created by the throwback layout of the world’s most famous sports car: Because the engine lives in a relatively small space, penned in by cockpit and bumper, turbocharger diameter impacts wheel size, impacts plumbing efficiency, impacts everything.
Maybe you’ve never thought about this. I hadn’t. It only serves to make the packaging Tetris crazy impressive. To say nothing, in this case, of the 553 lb-ft result.
Maybe it’s the joy of making an expensive car relatively free of compromise, but for a Porsche launch, the GT2 event was uncharacteristically laid-back. Standing trackside, GT-car chief Andreas Preuninger noted that the GT2 should “feel turbocharged.” Other carmakers, he said, disguise turbo engines, making their power deliveries as linear as possible. Preuninger punctuated this statement with a dismissive shrug, as if his new car were some kind of hairy, laggy weirdo. It is not. There’s a whisper of delay at low rpm if you do dumb things with the throttle—big load and surprise right-foot stabs—but the compounding, madhouse rush after is so substantial, it’s hard to care. It’s paired with madhouse thrust off the line and well into triple digits. Peak torque comes from 2500 to 4500 rpm; the dyno chart shows that grunt tapers after that. There is so much world-altering shove from there to redline, no one with half a brain will care.
The consistency is the strangest part. The engine is brutally effective, but so much a nonevent as to almost be disturbing. The exhaust is equally nondescript—gruff, chesty, quieter than you expect. It resembles the huff of a 935 but rarely seems appropriate for the power on tap.
All of this is way more than any reasonable human can exploit on a public road. If the GT3 feels like mere overkill, the GT2 blitzes into comic excess. You mostly just glide through corners at double the speed limit while barely leaning on the tires. Even with relatively short gearing for a supercar— first gear is good for 40 mph—full-boost outings are limited to momentary triplings of the speed limit. After which you feel somewhat sheepish, because you only nudged the car awake.
If I’m honest, the experience just made me miss the GT3. Partly because the GT2 doesn’t make that car’s obscene yowl, and partly because the 500-hp model requires a smidge less driver insanity to feel alive. Maybe the situation improves as road quality goes to hell. As with most RS Porsches, the GT2 sports a lot of rebound damping and stiff springs, so pavement heaves occasionally fly an axle. But our Portuguese test roads—where Porsche gave us access to the GT2—were largely smooth, because Porsche is not stupid.
As with many press launches, there was not a lot of track time. We were allowed a handful of laps in the dry and a handful in the aforementioned rainstorm. Both environments produced glorious and silly pace. The steering is talkative and transparent. The brakes, ceramic rotors and an epically consistent pedal, never seem to change or flinch. You can ease up to ABS intervention by the micron or jam straight into it, grinding down from 170 mph, lap after lap. The brakes don’t care, they just yell information into your toes, then beg for more abuse.
Given the weight distribution and grunt on tap here, the indifference to treatment is amazing. The only thing the GT2 really demands is a half-smart right foot and slow hands in the beginning of a corner. If you’re sloppy, even on warm tires, the engine will spit the rear tires loose. A quick pop of the pedals, or ham-handing the car over an apex, will slide the nose or tail. The front tires take patience and trail braking to set in a slow corner. The GT3 RS was similar; this just adds brimstone.
And is just another sign of progress. The last GT2 had thinner margins, a chassis with less tolerance for mistakes or sloppiness. You had to leash-hold it through corners, and the nose got light at high speed. Much of the change is likely related to the longer wheelbase of the current-generation 911, its more midmounted engine and refined suspension geometry. Whether the old car sounds more interesting to you probably says a lot about your personality.
As for a 2018 GT2 in the rain: If you are not afraid of 700 hp, you have nothing to be afraid of. Which, given the blueprint—a 1960s silhouette! Most of the mass chilling next to the muffler! Five hundred and fifty-three pound-feet!—is itself a glorious and disorienting achievement. The nose and tail move early and often if you don’t treat the car’s weight with respect. But everything happens gradually, with long warning, almost friendly.
Who knew a stiffly sprung, 700-hp 911 could be a sweetheart in the wet? Or anywhere else, for that matter?
So many questions. Should outlandish cars feel outlandish? From an engineering standpoint, is a machine like the 911 a problem to be perfected, or simply managed, fundamental quirks left alone? The GT2 hits that rare trick of somehow feeling both ludicrous and entirely ordinary. It’s not the drama bomb of a Ferrari or the atomic-plastic vibe of a Corvette Z06. Save the huge wing and a bit of transaxle clatter, you almost forget what the car can do.
Whether you like that sort of thing is also a matter of taste, but it’s apparently a shock independent of your talent. On my first day in Portugal, the GT2 media program included dinner with former Formula 1 driver Mark Webber. He owns a 2011 GT2 RS and recently retired from driving Porsche’s 919 Le Mans prototype. We sat at the same table. Webber was amazed, he said, at the 2018 GT2’s breadth of envelope. How forgiving and normal it feels, versus its predecessor.
I chuckled and poked at my salad. “Yeah, but you’re supposed to say that.”
He gave me what can only be described as a microscopically surprised look. “No, I’m serious.”
Perhaps former F1 drivers are regularly impressed by road cars; the few I have met are generally not. I decided I liked Webber. More so minutes later, when he told a charming story about putting his mother in the passenger seat of his 1974 Carrera, then driving like a goon until she blared at him to slow down and not kill them both. Some things are apparently universal.
Crazily, if 700 hp is your bag, you are currently blessed with choice. Consider the Dodge Hellcat, the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, the Lamborghini Aventador SV, the McLaren 720S. Also Bentley’s Continental Supersports, Ferrari’s 812 Superfast, and the upcoming Corvette ZR1. The variety is remarkable, and that’s not even the entire list.
How to choose? Setting aside money, perhaps you just want the Fastest 911 in History; that’s the GT2, full stop, and guten Tag to you. If you want a Porsche and don’t need 700 hp, the current GT3 sounds more animal, feels more alive at low speed, and can be had with a clutch pedal. It is less of a blunt instrument and possibly more satisfying to rail on.
But it isn’t a GT2. And neither are those other 700-horse unicorns. They don’t bring the 911’s odd history and profile, or the absurdity of power paired to mass scaffolded out by the taillights. Decades from now, when we are all chauffeured by robots and have evolved beyond dementedly powerful personal transportation, we will remember this thing. If only for the sheer scope of its nuttery.
The last GT2 RS was limited to just 500 examples. The current model has no production cap, but even if it quadruples the old car’s volume, most of America will never see it in person. So tell your children: For a moment, we knew beasts like this. They were monstrous, but not monsters. Fierce but not fearsome. Ridiculous but oddly normal. And that may have been the best part.