2018 Porsche 911 GT2 RS review: the Widow Maker returns

WHAT IS IT?

The alpha male of the 911 range. It’s the GT2 RS, a car infamously known as the Widow Maker and, in this fourth-generation form, as the most powerful road-going 911 ever built. Power comes from the same basic 3.8-litre twin-turbo six used in the Turbo S, only tweaked to produce 515kW/750Nm, sent solely to the rear wheels. Meaning it should be a bit of a handful…

WHY WE ARE DRIVING IT
To see just how much of a handful it is. Porsche happily admits it wanted the GT2 RS to be an animal; a car that commands respect. Even Mark Webber, who helped with the GT2’s development and is used to driving F1 cars, warns this is a machine that should be approached with caution.

2018 Porsche 911 GT2 RS rear
MAIN RIVALS
McLaren 720S, Ferrari 812 Superfast, Ferrari 488 GTB, Lamborghini Huracan Performante, Porsche 911 GT3 RS

PLUS: Prodigious speed; powertrain immediacy; braking performance and feel; chassis dexterity; edgy personality
MINUS: Prodigious price tag; cost of Weissach pack; tyre noise; exhaust drone

2018 Porsche 911 GT2 RS side
THE WHEELS REVIEW

IT’S NOT quite a gasp, more a sharp, involuntary hiss that rushes through my teeth as I hit the brake pedal at 290km/h and watch, wide-eyed, as the shimmying silver rump of a 918 Spyder grows ever larger through the windscreen. Porsche’s reborn 911 GT2 RS is fractionally better under brakes than its four-year-old hypercar (thank a lighter 1440kg kerb weight), but for a heartbeat I panic, worried I’ve left it too late to hammer the left pedal. A finger of white hot fear flashes up my spine as I quickly calculate the cost of this potentially monumental cock up ($1,500,000 + $645,700 = $2,145,700) but then the GT2’s Michelins bite, the moment passes, and we’re off again: me in the GT2 chasing Porsche’s test driver as we climb and turn around Portugal’s Portimao circuit.

It’s a demanding track this, made more so by the GT2’s prodigious performance. Forget for a moment that this is a car infamously known as the ‘Widow Maker’ and consider the numbers: 515kW/750Nm, two swollen turbos, rear-wheel drive and a Nurburgring lap time of 6m47s, which incidentally makes it the fastest production car ever to lap the Green Hell. If the naturally aspirated GT3 RS is the scalpel-sharp, track-honed member of the 911 family, the GT2 is the slightly unhinged one. The scary one.

Porsche proudly admits it wanted the GT2 to be wild, to command respect, and even Mark Webber, a man au fait with Formula 1 cars and who helped develop the GT2, says it needs to be driven with a degree of caution.

2018 Porsche 911 GT2 RS  alex inwood driving
It’s enough to make you think Porsche’s 911 flagship will be boosty, edgy, unforgiving, unpredictable. Yet strangely, it’s not. Well, not intimidatingly so. Yes this is a car that demands your full attention when driven quickly, but it’s no window-licking, straightjacket-wearing lunatic. It’s easier to explore the outer edges of grip than I expected, to hold small slides on corner exit and revel in the sheer power and tsunami of torque delivered by the twin-turbo six. It’s the same basic 3.8-litre unit used in the Turbo, only tweaked to produce 118kW more in a body weighing 155kg less. Bigger turbos account for most of the leap in grunt, helped by bespoke pistons, a modified crankcase, a reshaped carbonfibre air inlet and a free-flowing titanium exhaust, the latter saving 7.5kg over the rear axle. There’s a water-spray cooling system too, fed by a 5L tank housed in the boot, that shoots water onto the larger, redesigned intercoolers to help reduce charge air temperature.

Deploy all this at the track and the results are remarkable. I can’t think of a stronger factory-spec turbocharged engine on sale, or one with a louder exhaust note. Genuinely engaging turbo motors are rare, and while it mightn’t have the spine tingling howl or stratospheric top-end of the GT3’s free breathing 4.0 (max engine speed here is 7200rpm), the GT2 is angrier, with a blunter, guttural soundtrack that seems to come from deep within. And the way it accelerates is ferocious. Porsche claims 0-100km/h in 2.8sec but it’s how the GT2 piles on speed beyond three figures that’s most impressive. Even at 290km/h at the end of Portimao’s long straight it’s pulling just as hard; no fuss, no unnerving wobbles or hiccups, just pure, unrelenting speed. This makes it wildly addictive on track, but point the GT2’s jutting front splitter at the public road and it requires a slight recalibration. Suddenly, even gentle squeezes of the throttle, or swift prods to execute an overtake, result in velocities that will have the authorities scrambling for their infringement pads. The strengthened 7-speed PDK gearbox, which uses shorter ratios and elements from the 918 Spyder, plays a part here too, delivering swift upshifts that barely interrupt the torrent of acceleration.

2018 Porsche 911 GT2 RS steering wheel
The real magic, however, lies not in this insatiable appetite for speed, but in how the GT2 drives. Suspension changes include stiffer springs and softer anti-roll bars than the GT3 for a set-up that’s closer to Porsche’s cup car, and the results are rock-solid body control and unerring grip during steady state cornering. Rear-wheel steering does its bit to aid stability, as does a unique calibration for the chassis electronics tasked with containing the forces sent through the specially developed Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2s (265/35R20 front and 325/30R21 out back) - the rears claiming the crown of the widest tyres ever fitted to a 911.

There’s aero trickery afoot too. Like the GT3, the GT2 uses the wide body from the Turbo but the aero package is more aggressive, with wider intakes at the front and on the bulging haunches, taller carbon fins over the front wheel arches and a huge, adjustable rear-wing.

2017 Geneva Motor Show: Porsche 911 GT3 revealed

Those seeking an even more hostile appearance and performance bent can tick the optional Weissach pack that, for $70,000, adds magnesium wheels, a carbon roof in place of the standard magnesium one, carbon anti-roll bars and suspension couplings and a titanium rollcage. You also get carbon spokes on the steering wheel and carbon shift paddles, a six-point racing harness, plus bonnet stripes and PORSCHE spelled out on top of the rear wing. All up the pack saves 30kg, bringing the GT2’s kerb weight down to 1440kg (just 10kg more than the GT3 RS, despite the extra hardware), and Porsche expects 80-90 percent of owners to go for it. “When you’re spending this kind of money you don’t care,” says Frank Walliser, vice president of Porsche motorsport and GT cars. “When you can get something that makes your car more special, you just do it.”

2018 Porsche 911 GT2 RS gear
I’d feared that being so heavily turbocharged would mean the GT2 would feel boost-heavy and have crippling levels of lag. Instead I’m stunned at the engine’s response; at how the power ramps up as the tacho sweeps through the rev range. There are no engine modes to play with, just a PDK Sport setting for the gearbox and a button for the dampers and another for the exhaust, and while there is some lag low in the rev range (peak torque arrives between 2500-4500rpm), the base engine is strong enough that it never really feels off boost. And because the power delivery is so immediate, with small adjustments on the throttle quickly altering the car’s attitude, you have the confidence to attack in the GT2.

But it’s the clarity of feedback that defines the experience. Information fed through your hands, feet and bum provides an uncommon connection to the tyres; to understand, for example, that after eight laps the hot Michelins aren’t quite as crisp as they were when you started. The standard carbon-ceramic brakes are a highlight too, not just for their sheer 918-avoiding stopping power, but for the feel through the pedal and their unwavering performance.

Porsche 911 Hybrid building charge

Yet despite the obvious highs, the GT2 isn’t as intuitive or as forgiving to drive on the limit as a GT3. Perhaps it’s the weight of the turbos, but you’re more aware that the GT2 is rear-engined; that a significant portion of the car’s mass is positioned behind the rear axle. And despite the immediacy of its controls, if you lift mid-corner or get too greedy on corner exit, there’s an edginess lurking beneath the surface that harks back to GT2s of old.

2018 Porsche 911 GT2 RS  racetrack
On the road, things are surprisingly civilised. There’s no escaping the track-focussed suspension is taut, but it never crashes through. And while you do notice the lack of travel over big bumps, the body is tightly controlled, at least on Portuguese back roads. It feels as amenable as a GT3, only arguably easier to drive quickly. Where the GT3 comes alive high in the rev range, the GT2’s huge reserves of torque make it an instantly gratifying experience, as the PDK quickly and intuitively cycles through the ratios to keep the engine in its fat mid-range. Only a high degree of road and tyre noise, and a booming exhaust drone under light load if you leave the exhaust button switched on, detract from what is an otherwise perfectly acceptable on-road experience.

So is the GT2 RS the ultimate 911? If your measuring sticks are pure speed and excitement then yes, absolutely. Nothing in the current range comes close for white-knuckle exhilaration or delivers such an adrenalin hit. Whether it’s as rewarding or as pure as a GT3, which costs significantly less, is debatable, but the GT2 RS feels analogue, mechanical, special and while not as scary as its forbears, remains a car that demands a certain level of respect. It is, quite simply, the alpha male in the 911 range.

2018 Porsche 911 GT2 RS Specs

Model: Porsche 911 GT2 RS
Engine: 3800cc flat-six, dohc, 24v, twin-turbo
Max power: 515kW @ 7000rpm
Max torque: 750Nm @ 2500-4500rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch
Weight: 1470kg
0-100kmh: 2.8sec (claimed)
Economy: 11.8L/100km
Price: $645,700 (162,600 more than a Turbo S cab)
On sale: Q1 2018

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