In this age of turbochargers and automatic transmissions, nothing screams “purist” more than a naturally aspirated engine with a manual gearbox.
Both are becoming endangered species, but the stick shift seems to be going extinct faster as Supercar manufacturers from Ferrari to McLaren have excoriated it and the accompanying clutch pedal for the more languid automatic alternative.
But for now, there is still one brand that understands the visceral attraction of hand and foot coordination and is making it available again for its high-end model: Porsche has reintroduced the six-speed manual transmission for its street-legal race car, the 911 GT3.
The GT3 is a high-performance version of the 911 rear-engined, rear-wheel-drive coupe. As a motorsports model, it transitions so easily from road to track and back again that the phrase “Arrive and Drive’’ springs to mind.
When Porsche introduced the current 991 generation GT3 four years ago, it eschewed the manual gearbox of the previous generation and made only the PDK transmission available. But for the second edition of the car, the 991.2 GT3, the stick shift is back.
When accelerating from zero to 100kph, PDK automatically changes gears so quickly that it can shave more than a second off the century sprint compared with a manual transmission.
Now, the PDK (Porsche Doppelkupplungsgetriebe or Porsche Double-Clutch Gearbox) is smooth and fast, delivering the automotive equivalent of machine-sliced bread, versus an untidily sawed-off loaf. When accelerating from zero to 100kph, PDK automatically changes gears so quickly that it can shave more than a second off the century sprint compared with a manual transmission.
So if you’re in a race car like the GT3, why wouldn’t you want something that helps you to go faster more efficiently? Because with a manual gearbox, a driver can revel in the mechanical joy of changing gears while listening to the soundtrack of the high-revving naturally aspirated horizontally opposed six-cylinder boxer engine.
Yes, the engine has no turbo and it has been enlarged from 3.8 litres to 4.0 litres – the biggest displacement for a road-going flat-six. It now produces a maximum of 500hp (up 25hp) and 460Nm of torque, or an increase of 20Nm. Porsche has deliberately optimised the unit for higher engine speeds, which means it screams all the way up to a hair-raising 9,000rpm.
There are some key differences between the manual and auto 911 GT3, though. As mentioned, the PDK swaps cogs quicker, resulting in a zero to 100kph acceleration of 3.4 seconds – versus the manual’s 3.9 seconds. But the PDK has a marginally lower top speed of 318kph versus 320kph. And because of the weight of the transmission, the PDK version is also 17kg heavier than the manual car at 1,430kg.
Apart from the stats, there are some engineering differences as well.
The PDK comes with an electronically controlled rear differential lock. On the other hand, the manual gets a mechanical rear differential lock, with the locking action at 30 per cent under traction and 37 per cent in overrun.
Tuned for motorsports with a lightweight body, the new Porsche 911 GT3 is a thoroughbred racer that is closest to a ballistic missile with a steering wheel.
The PDK also has another trick up its electronic sleeve – Paddle Neutral. This function releases the PDK clutches and interrupts the power delivery from the engine to the powertrain. It is achieved by the driver pulling back on both gearshift paddles at the same time. But as soon as the driver lets go of the gear-shift paddles again, the clutch re-engages instantly. There are two advantages to this.
The first is that if the car is understeering through a bend in wet conditions, the handling can be neutralised by pulling back on the paddles, thus transferring weight back to the front axle and gaining extra cornering force for the steered wheels.
The second is that the GT3’s rear end can be deliberately destabilised when cornering dynamically – just as it is possible when using a traditional clutch with a manual transmission. Of course, Paddle Neutral can also be used for optimising acceleration from a standing start, like a manual car using the accelerator and clutch pedals without intervention from the electronic powertrain or driver stability control systems.
Tuned for motorsports with a lightweight body, the new Porsche 911 GT3 is a thoroughbred racer that is closest to a ballistic missile with a steering wheel. It is still one of the best cars for driving on both the road and track.
Except it’s a lot more fun now.