Modern cars offer a level of configurability that wouldn’t have been possible even ten years ago. But honestly, when they’re so competent in their default form, what does changing the settings really do? How much does activating “sport mode” truly gain you in lap times? When was the last time your neighbor engaged Sand mode on their Defender? The truth is, the more options we’re presented with, the less we’re inclined to use them. For the most part, they’re ultimately gimmicks, designed to give the driver a sense of unprecedented control over their surroundings.
Then the 2023 Porsche GT3 RS comes along, pulverizing my theory under a crushing ton of downforce.
Full Disclosure: Porsche flew me to England’s Silverstone Circuit, where they put me up at a Hilton Garden Inn. Scoff all you want, but this Hilton Garden Inn overlooks the main straight of the track. Plus it has a nice balcony. Porsche was also kind enough to provide food, a helmet to borrow, and a GT3 RS for me to briefly drive. But I didn’t earn any HHonors points for my stay.
The GT3 RS is no mere sports car. It’s a race car masquerading as an object of lust and desire. It’s a track weapon bearing a full assortment of armaments. It’s an aerodynamic marvel, manipulating every single molecule of air within reach to do its bidding. And it is unequivocally the pinnacle of what Porsche can accomplish as the sun begins to set on the internal-combustion engine.
At the same time, it’s also one of the most bewilderingly complex road-going instruments I’ve ever encountered.
But First, Let’s Start With The Easy Specs
- A GT3 RS starts at $225,250, including destination fee. The one I drove was heavily laden with options, bringing its as-tested price to a staggering $304,350.
- 4.0-liter naturally aspirated flat six
- Redline: 9,000 rpm
- 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission
- Rear-wheel drive
- 518 horsepower
- 342 lb-ft torque
- Curb weight: 3,268 lbs.
- 0-60: 3.0 sec (manufacturer estimated)
- Active aerodynamics
- Zero cargo space
- Check out all the crazy high-speed tech here!
Now Let’s Talk About Configuring Those Settings
Straight out of the box, the GT3 RS is ridiculously easy to drive. It’s a highly amplified version of every other model in Porsche’s lineup: abundant power, incredible grip, sublime steering, and a chassis that makes you cry uncle. If you were to never touch a single button anywhere in the cabin, your life would be none the worse for it. The car makes us all look like heroes, even if our capes resemble a lobster bib.
But look. Look at all those buttons. Four of them gracing the lower half of the steering wheel, begging to be pushed, their surrounding dials aching to be spun. Engage any of the four and their adjustment settings appear correspondingly on the instrument cluster.
The top right one, Drive Mode, is fairly straightforward, featuring Normal, Sport, and Track.
The yellow-ringed one just below adjusts the electronic stability control and traction control. ESC has three settings alone, gradually reducing the electronic interventions until they’re fully deactivated. Traction Control has eight gradations to fine-tune wheelspin.
A lot of choices, but it still makes sense!
The blue-hued PTV dial on the left tweaks the torque vectoring, providing eight settings each between “Coast” and “Power.”
The beauty of torque vectoring is that a car can instantly send more twist to the drive wheel with superior traction. And when a car features traction patches as fat as the 335/30R-21 rubber on the GT3 RS, it’ll take a lot of twist to break that traction. But torque vectoring can also help in deceleration (a.k.a. “coast”) situations as well — for example, slowing the inside wheel to help turn-in.
Finally, the red PASM knob on the top left goes beyond simple damper stiffness. Way beyond.
This is where things get interesting.
Normally, when you engage the sport suspension mode on the majority of performance cars — including on Porsches with lesser versions of PASM — this setting modifies the compression and rebound values on the dampers at all four corners, increasing the shock piston’s resistance to movement. And for most mere mortals, this stiffer setup is totally adequate.
But say you’re in a situation where you need a more compliant entry, but not at the cost of additional understeer. Or perhaps you need a little less grip at one end of the car, but not the other. Or maybe the best line around today’s race track is achieved by hammering over the apex curbs. The GT3 RS enables you to adjust compression and rebound settings along eight steps, separately, on the front and rear axles. That means you can have one end of the car set to full soft compression and maximum rebound, while the other end is set to the complete inverse.
Why would anybody want this level of control? Dialing back the compression offers more compliance, allowing the suspension to soak up impacts instead of transmitting them to the cabin. But if you also dial up the rebound, it allows the rear weight transfer to linger over the rear tires longer. In this case, that would permit the outside rear tire to stay planted for maximum traction (and thus, maximum acceleration) coming out of a corner. But too much rebound can cause the car to skitter and lose traction. It’s a delicate, finicky game.
No other car enables you to fine-tune the suspension’s behavior to this extreme, on the fly. That’s amazing. And if you don’t know what you’re doing, it can be really fucking daunting. Look, the last thing I recommend is for you to start twisting the dials willy-nilly on your $300,000 (before dealer mark-up) track toy. Short of employing a pit crew, the only way to understand how these variations affect drivability and lap times is to spend a lot of time — a lot of patient time — with the GT3 RS on the track.
In a car that contains so many extremes — carbon-fiber body panels, active aerodynamics, a rear wing big enough to pick up Voyager 2 transmissions — it’s the infinitely adjustable nature of these settings that truly shows the race-car roots of the GT3 RS.
Eight is Not Enough
Sadly, I did not have the luxury of ample track time with the GT3 RS. There’s the art of racing in the rain, and then there’s eight measly lead-follow laps on a cold, slick day at Silverstone. Though we had the pleasure of chasing Porsche factory-team racing pros driving non-RS GT3s around this iconic track, their sense of self-preservation was thankfully equal to mine. With sporadic rain throughout the day and temperatures hovering in the low 50s, the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires could never generate enough heat to properly stick to the saturated tarmac. And when I’m focused on simply making the line without spinning out, the thought of adjusting any of the GT3 RS’s many settings is the furthest thing from my mind.
This being England, the rain stopped just long enough to get in one semi-decent lap. Meager rays of sun scattered down on the pavement and the lead car shot ahead, blasting down the Hangar Straight at full throttle. The flat six sings to 9,000 rpm again and again, the PDK cracking off shifts as effortlessly as flicking a cigarette. In this brief stint at triple-digit speeds, the aerodynamic advantages of the GT3 RS were immediately noticeable. Though the pro driver in the GT3 maintained a solid lead, his car’s rear end wagged skittishly on the slippery tarmac. Behind the wheel of the GT3 RS, however, I felt nothing but stability. The car hunkered down as over a ton of downforce kept it firmly planted. To celebrate this victory, the deluge returned, and we once again curtailed our speeds.
Frustrating as those precious few laps may have been, they were still quite illuminating. Though the RS-tuned 4.0-liter may only be marginally more powerful than the standard GT3's on paper, the engine now offers more power over a broader rev range. It’s an eminently flexible powerplant, though hardly docile. Even at idle, this engine chuffs out its very clear and vocal priorities. And even at slower, rain-hampered speeds, the GT3 RS demonstrates a quicker turn-in and more composure than its non-RS sibling.
2023 Porsche 911 GT3 RS: Verdict
My brief taste of the fiendishly good GT3 RS was enough to glimpse the massive potential it offers in the right hands. The true beauty of this car is, if you choose to drive it on the track with only its default settings engaged, you’ll still have a thrilling time. The active aero bits would handle the atmosphere; the electronics would handle the rest. But if you’re itching to go beyond button-pushing and steep yourself in the physics of racing, the GT3 RS is the ideal instrument on which to learn.