Basic Instinct

No wings, no automatic gearboxes, just one 9000rpm free-breather and a torque-billowing turbo sweetheart... letís find some roads


ITíS EARLY on a very chilly morning. In an ideal world the alarm clock would have been set much later. But with two new, wingless 911 Porches to play with, it seems like one of those Gen Y, first-world problems. Still, the firing order of the flat sixes suggests we wait a minute for the cylinders to collect themselves and for everything to thaw.

Once Iím somewhat coherent, my thoughts immediately turn to the frosted yellow Carrera T idling away. The relatively scant, in 911 terms, power output of 272kW (and 450Nm) from the twin-turbo, 3.0-litre flat six is matched to a rather high asking price of $238,400 Ė almost $18K more than the base Carrera on which itís based. No doubt itís bound to generate maximum return on investment Ė for Porsche especially Ė given its special-model status. Although, itís too early and the air is too cold for my brain to comprehend value equations.

The Carrera T is the first Porsche marked under the recently introduced heritage banner (the next model is believed to be the GT Speedster due for release later this year). Itís current counterpart is the GT3 Touring which, when you break it down, is a de-winged 991.2 911 GT3 with the spirit of the 911 R (including the naturally aspirated 4.0-litre flat six with 368kW/460Nm). In the Carreraís case, the T suffix stands for Touring, which makes you wonder and question why the GT3 Touring isnít badged GT3 T.

Perhaps the Carrera T moniker was also revived to commemorate the rear-engined modelís first victory at the legendary Rallye Monte Carlo 50 years ago. To celebrate the feat, we travelled to the Maritime Alps high above Nice where the midday temperature hardly nudges double digits Ė hence both cars are shod with soft-compound winter tyres.

Leading the way is the new $326,900 911 GT3 Touring, which follows the same less-is-more theme as the Carrera T. It swaps the dinner-table wing for the stealth spoiler set of the 911 R, adding black accents to the light clusters front and rear. Inside, the roll cage makes way for 918-inspired carbon-fibre bucket seats and even more Alcantara. Fans, and indeed buyers, of the marque have every right to be justifiably miffed given that Porsche has, essentially, created another 911 R at a reduced price.

Inside, the Carrera T gains a bespoke, colour-coded cabin trim boasting yellow belts, yellow fabric door openings, yellow stitching and yellow 911 embroidery. The infotainment system, rear seats and air-conditioning can be fitted free of charge, but those checking the scales closely will delete them. Every gram counts; which explains why our test car has a big black hole in its centre stack. It all depends if you want comfort or ultimate performance out of your 911.

The Carrera T loves tight corners, short climbs, deep dips and surface variations

While the GT3 Touring can only be had with a sixspeed manual, the Carrera T is offered in two- or three-pedal guise. Sadly, Porsche chose the seven-speed manual íbox over the closer-ratio six-speeder of the GT3. Although the extra ratio does cut revs on the highway, its action isnít overly engaging. Itís because this particular set of cogs is painfully slow, vague and excessively longlegged. In other words, while the Carrera T is supposed to be a back-to-basics, old-school experience, youíre better off with the self-shifting seven-speed PDK.

In many ways, the GT3 Touring would also be better off with PDK Ė but it isnít offered. Walter Rohrl, who owns the collectable 911 R, calls the decision to tie the Touring specification to the manual gearbox ďimpoliteĒ. I call it unfortunate. Why, you ask? Because the PDK version is not only more relaxed, itís substantially quicker. Okay, it must be said that finding the right balance between the rather heavy clutch and the sticky gearstick is an emotional exercise. But is it really more emotive than effortlessly paddle-shifting up and down the rev ladder? Itís a hard one to judge. (ED: Hang on, Georgie boy, we whinge when they axe the manual and then we whinge itís not PDK when they bring it back? Tough crowd!)

Then, of course, thereís the time factor. According to Porsche, the 368kW GT3 Touring can do the 0-100km/h sprint in 3.9sec. Thatís lightning fast for sure, but then, the 272kW, PDK-equipped Carrera T is only 0.3sec slower to the same marker (4.5sec for the manual). Conversely, pitch the three-pedal Touring against the winged two-pedal GT3 and the deficit is five tenths.

Put stick against stick and, unsurprisingly, the GT3 Touring will drive circles around the Carrera T Ė despite Porsche speeding up the gearing of the latter. However, the Carrera T is a car thatís bound to grow on you Ė if you can accept the price premium. Yet, high up in the hills, the question I canít seem to get out of my mind is why Stuttgart paired the Carrera T package with the bottomrung engine. The answer is because the blend of the 309kW/500Nm Carrera S engine with PDK would have been too close for comfort to its bigger brother. Adding salt to the wound would be the fact that the beefier turbocharged Carrera S also gains 40Nm against the naturally aspirated 4.0-litre unitís 460Nm in the GT3.

The most accessible and best balanced Porsche 911 this side of the turbo has always been the GTS Ė and it still is. Having said that, the Carrera T does, on certain roads and conditions, make the adrenalin flow even faster Ė with one caveat. To make it shine it requires specific turf. It loves tight corners, short climbs, deep dips, blind crests and sudden surface variations.

Okay, theyíre a bit pricey, but the three options that make all the dynamic difference are the carbon-ceramic brakes, PDK and rear-wheel steering. Why do you need the hyper-expensive brakes? Because they slash stopping distances, add stamina and return unflinching pedal travel and pressure. The benefits of the PDK have already been explained, but adding steer to all four wheels makes the car turn in with a newfound velocity. It also helps the wheels juggle torque and noticeably increases the high-speed stability. In a nutshell, all three options are key confidence-enhancers. And we all know that confidence is the prerequisite for going really fast on winding roads.

The ESP system has four settings Ė each with a distinct persona. ĎOní means just about anyone could get behind the wheel and drive quickly. PSM Sport raises the bar to such an extent that itíll grab your attention if youíre not careful, while ASR off is strictly for seasoned opposite-lock artists. Finally, ASR and ESP off is reserved for the likes of Walter Rohrl, a man who freely admits he is faster these days with ESP on duty.

The absolute climax is staged from 6000 to 9000rpm where the extra grunt of the atmo six puts the Touring in a league of its own

Unlike generations of rally drivers on these roads, in a modern context, we must always be prepared for oncoming traffic. Be it a courier driver, a dallying grandparent or absent-minded youth, todayís perils simply come in different forms. With a camera rather than pace notes clutched in his trembling hands, my passengerís facial expressions say ĎIím not ready to die yetí. Although one can now almost sniff the limit of adhesion, the front end still turns in with vigour as it bites and hangs on. The carbon-ceramic brakes allow us to hone in on the GT3 Touring at the end of straights and a quick flick into first gear shoots us out of tight hairpins. Even though there is nowhere near enough space to shift into fourth and briefly stretch its legs, the torque wave is a reassuring 4300rpm wide, enticing you to surf on it in higher gears as the grey stealth fighter in front reaches for its 9000rpm redline.

The GT3 feels about as comfortable on this roller coaster ride as the Titanic on the Yarra. No, this has nothing to do with the wider hips (44mm) or the lower stance (down 25mm). What sets the two 911s apart is the difference in character. While the Carrera T is more Sport than Touring, the GT3 Touring prefers plenty of room to move, open-radius corners and a topographic rhythm composed for high revs rather than low-end torque. The 4.0-litre flat six needs to be near its peak to shine, but at 6500rpm in first gear itís a war between engine and transmission. The same could be said for second gear. Below 4000rpm, this mechanical masterpiece wilfully works to rule. The ensuing 4000 to 6000rpm bracket pairs a fast rising torque curve with an even sharper throttle response. Is it explosive ecstasy? Not quite yet. The absolute climax is staged from 6000 to 9000rpm when relentless urge, beautiful noise and that awesome kick in the butt finally puts the Touring in a league of its own.

The Specs

Aggro atmo vs torquey turbo

If pragmatists, purists and Porschephiles could have things their way, these two chapters of Touring history would have to be slightly rewritten. Starring in the edited script would be a moderately more expensive Carrera T powered by the 309kW Carrera S engine and a GT3 Touring available with PDK. ďDream onĒ is Weissachís official answer to such proposals. The makeshift option is to de-spoiler a GT3 and fit the Touring kit Ė a move Porsche intends to make as difficult as possible.

So what other choices are there? One could wait until 2019 for the next 911 (dubbed 992), which is claimed to muster 294kW and 331kW as Carrera and Carrera S respectively. Or consider the 2021 GT3 replacement, which gets a turbocharged 410kW (est.) engine mated to an eight-speed PDK box. A left-field option could be the 991 plug-in hybrid when it eventually bows.

In the case of the 911, which turns 53 this year, living in the past makes for such a charming alternative

What would I do? Iíd be nice to a rich aunt, buy a paint-to-sample GT3 Touring and keep it until the coffin lid shuts. In case that aunt isnít quite rich enough, one could always opt for the upcoming 718 Cayman GT4. Truth be told, Porsche and turbos are as much a part of now as they are the future. But in the case of the 911, which turns 53 this year, living in the past makes for such a charming alternative.