The Long Read: Ford GT meets 911 GT3 RS

You tend to hear the new Ford GT long before you see it. The car generates a steady hum that has nothing to do with its motley, race-pumped V6. It is produced instead by an expectant, smiley throng that materializes wherever and whenever the car is parked for longer than 30 seconds. It's a trick the GT pulls off even in a deserted lay-by on the Peak District - and in my experience British ramblers do not typically convene at any vehicle not dispensing tea and/or biscuits. Yet there they were, like Gore-Tex moths to a flame; agog and amazed at the skunk-worked homologation sprawled beneath the blue oval.

Not the best looking rear out there
Not the best looking rear out there
Of course its pedigree (and the homage paid to it in the car's styling) is easily famous enough for some set questions. Yes, it's like a GT40. No, a new one. No, it's made in Canada actually. Very fast. Nope, it's a twin-turbocharged V6. Yes, those are air vents. No, that's carbon fibre. Very expensive. Yes, of course, snap away.

As an anecdotal measure of the car's barefaced charisma, this is striking; not just because the car is tremendously popular with the general public, but because it is so head-swiveling popular that more often than not it utterly overshadows the presence of a pastel-shade Porsche 911 GT3 RS in the same stretch of gravel. Perhaps that's to be expected given that the GT is an impossibly rare £420K supercar and the Porsche (to a layman's eyes) is just a big, brightly-coloured 911. Nevertheless to those of us taking the Ford GT pop quiz ahead of climbing aboard, it is unquestionably the proximity of the RS - the lofty benchmark of road-going race thoroughbreds - that makes this whole exercise so pant-wettingly exciting.

Race car first, road car second
Race car first, road car second
Details, details...
Certainly, Ford did not have the Peak District in mind when it committed itself to building the latest GT. The car is made in Ontario because that's where the race team, Multimatic, is located, and they've been tasked with manufacturing all 1,000 examples of the car because they built the GT FIA GTE racer - which won its class at Le Mans last year. That was the core purpose of Project Silver (yes, after the Lone Ranger's horse): to achieve a win at the world's most illustrious endurance race half a century after the original GT40 chalked off the famous, Ferrari-shaming whim of Henry Ford II.

Consequently, much like its forebear, the street-legal GT has been reverse engineered to work on the road rather than the other way around, making it something of a novelty in its class where the racing machines are now typically converted from on-sale fare - as the contemporaneous 911 RSR was from the GT3. Brass tacks; Ford's approach is very good for finishing at the top of an elite-level podium, but potential less advantageous when you want to get from, say, Stockport to Sheffield in gratifying, entertaining and ultimately unmolested haste. In short then, that's why we're here: to learn whether or not one of the most track-focused supercars of recent years can rival the remarkable synthesis of usability and finesse that gets massaged into even the most savage 911.

Quite a tight squeeze for two
Quite a tight squeeze for two
Sparse, meet sublime
If the flagrant go-faster intent of the GT has not already been loudly broadcast by the rake of the windscreen, or the extraordinary scoops gouged from the bodywork, or the active aero rear wing or the outrageous wafer-thin strut of composite linking roof to wing, then the cabin confirms it with an abstemious shrug. For starters, there's a sizeable, shin-high sill - a beautifully flat half-foot of darkly radiant weave that clearly speaks to the exquisite, super-strong/light nature of the passenger cell you're sliding into - but one nevertheless that your correspondent still traverses with all the elegance of a gorilla climbing into a canoe. While the 911 might lack the engineering swagger of dihedral doors and has to wear its roll cage like a halo brace, the RS is no more difficult to get into than a low-riding hot hatch.

Once in the GT driver's chair, you'll need some guidance. The GT's seats are fixed, meaning that the adjustability comes from a movable back rest and steering column, and a pedal box that moves fore and aft via the stiffest fabric lever this side of a drogue parachute. In the Porsche, the standard 911 fixtures abound: the sensational analogue dials; the elbow-high, feature-festooned centre console; the uncluttered, unbettered steering wheel; the extraordinary sense of solidity - all of its nudged infinitesimally toward hard-edged perfection by Alcantara and textile door handles.

The Ford has no patience (and presumably no budget) for such niceties. The load-bearing nature of the dashboard is barely concealed. It looks and feels much like it is: a carbon-fibre beam indignantly made to wear buttons and an infotainment screen. In its hollowness and hardness and wanton Spartan-ism, there's a quirky hint of Lotus Elise about the GT - not least because if someone crawls in next to you, you're reminded just how slender the cockpit of this 2m wide car actually is. In other ways it brings to mind the unyielding laser-focus of the Lamborghini Aventador SV - although it's significant that the Italian hypercar did not need suffer the cluttered switchgear of the Ford's steering wheel, nor the dial-style gear selector scavenged from Lord knows where, nor the unsophisticated look of the digital readout where an instrument cluster should be. Furthermore, save for a mobile phone-sized perch, there is nowhere to put anything that you'd prefer not to be rolling around in the footwell, and nor is there anything elsewhere deserving of the word 'boot'. What there is instead is the barely filtered, bare-arsed and not unlikable sensation of sitting in the bowels of a properly formidable piece of modern machinery - one tolerant of your comfort and wellbeing, but no more beholden to it than a rocket is of its payload.

Lava Orange meet Triple Yellow
Lava Orange meet Triple Yellow
Sound, hold the fury
The sentiment extends righteously to a number of ways in which the GT functions. The 3.5-litre V6 - which claims 60 per cent commonality with the comparatively humble unit that powers an F-150 Raptor - whirs and chatters on startup, settling into the kind malevolent anti-purr that speaks volumes about the time not spent tuning it for use beyond a pit lane. Porsche's 4.0-litre flat-six has a malcontented edge to its idle too - but like coffee before cream, this is engineered-in bitterness; dip the throttle and you'll locate the pure-bred falsetto quick enough. Ford's steroidal V6 rarely stops being stridently huge, and by the time you're moving the passenger cell is working like an echo chamber for the road noise too - introducing a volume and coarseness that sets it apart from a primary level of insulation apparently inherent in a 911's build even with the sound deadening removed.

Then there's the GT's trick, two-piece suspension, an ode to mechanical pragmatism if there ever was one. In its extreme modes - i.e. Track and V-max - the car will drop 50mm; drop being the operative verb for the half-second hydraulic plummet downward. The nose lift does the same going the other way - no gooey wait for an imperceptible electric motor here, the GT has its splitter clear of the deck before you can say 'jack'. All of this is accompanied by an industrial 'pssst'; the kind of noise you'd imagine Porsche barely tolerating in Zuffenhausen, let alone on the cars delivered to paying customers.

Nevertheless, the RS does not have it all its own way. Its seven-speed PDK transmission may nail standing starts like an Arctic Hare but it can be grouchy and heavy-handed when pulling away conventionally, and even with the convenience of rear-wheel steering there's a sobering slow-speed heftiness emanating from the oversized back axle. In stark, unexpected contrast, the GT is amazingly well behaved at a saunter, a talent it plainly owes to the dual-clutch Getrag transmission which replaces the sequential 'box used in the race car. There's none of the RS's low rev surliness either; peak torque may not arrive until 5,900rpm, but the V6's blowers are plainly spinning healthily at far more modest crank speeds.

Chasing the 9,000rpm redline gets addictive
Chasing the 9,000rpm redline gets addictive
Mosey on down
The GT's most palpable asset though is the level of suppleness orchestrated by the chassis. With the coil springs at full travel (they're effectively locked out in Track mode) in Normal, and the adaptive dampers set to Comfort (an additional selection) the car can be relied upon to traverse most British roads not just adequately, but with a nullifying pliancy that would be hard to imagine when first apprised of its circuit racing bent. True, it falls short of the eerily cultured ride quality of McLaren's mid-engined lineup, and the car is so taut beyond the suspension's largesse that when the wheel control finally runs out it does so with a voluble clatter - but up to this point and in the groove, the GT conjures up a level of composure roughly commensurate with the first generation of Audi R8; that same fast flowing, high-grip, high-confidence fusion of body poise and directional assurance.

Crucially, regardless of the background racket or the harshness or the car's proportions (or the LHD-only status exacerbating them) this makes the GT keenly drivable on British roads. Factor in the basic amenability of the powertrain and the undemanding effort of a 2.5 turns lock-to-lock steering rack, and the big Ford rarely threatens to overawe a cautious driver. Dispense with the caution and the car gets extremely busy turning all the latent gruffness into some extraordinary hustle. Certainly it doesn't need more than a few feet to confirm that in a modest corner of a national park populated by walkers and feral mutton clouds, a flabbergasting, silicon-age valvetrain plays second fiddle to massively energetic forced induction.

Uncluttered dash for a 911
Uncluttered dash for a 911
Were there room to repeatedly indulge the RS's 9,000rpm redline, this would likely not be so obviously the case - the 4.0-litre unit being so deliriously climactic in gear that it covers up for its 156hp deficit by having your heart stationed almost permanently in your mouth. But the GT doesn't require a build-up. In Sport mode (which doesn't affect the ride height, but stiffens the damper response) the V6 has an anti-lag system keeping its end up, and with the turbines endlessly spinning there's no swell or sag to speak of, just a herculean saw-edged surge that manages to be progressive and savage and biddable in raucously unequal measure.

That the GT makes this kind of race-grade, unrefined shove seem even halfway exploitable on the public highway is naturally among its most endearing talents. At speed, the car doesn't feel ungainly or perilous or incomplete; even in its half-mast mode it is just deft enough in its control weights and feedback to gently flatter the mediocre driving ability of a mere mortal, making the absurd traction and speed it carries through corners seem like harmonious, easy-to-get-to aspects of a formidable whole that's only really being hinted at.

It's terrifically easy to start liking a lot. Then you get back in the Porsche. Then you swiftly remember what the entire dynamic canvas looks like when it's laid out before you with the candidness of an unfolded picnic blanket. The steering - hydraulic, consistent and literal in the GT - tiptoes up to another plane: ebullient, immersive and knotted with physicality, the RS's electric-powered rack is brusquely alive; a slam-dunk accomplice for a rear-engined chassis that never, ever lets prodigious mechanical grip overshadow the idea that its relationship with the road is adjustable. There's always the sensation - brilliantly marshaled, when you consider the CPU computations involved in carrying it off - that you're doing the heavy lifting when it comes to keeping £200K worth of tangerine bodywork from cultivating the scenery. In this regard the RS is never distant or detached - and precisely because it isn't, you never ever get tired of it.

Which would you have on a B-road?
Which would you have on a B-road?
Dotted line
It is this palpable, pulsating quality that the GT doesn't quite live with on a B-road. But perhaps that's alright. Hardly anything else with four wheels and a roof does. Given the long drive home in the offing, its forthright lack of practicality ought to really be another avenue of comparative merit - so too the 911's superior civility and its larger, better appointed cabin - yet by the end of play none of these blows seems particularly telling. Even with its relative shortcomings laid bare, the GT still looms exceptionally large in the imagination - not least for its scintillating performance and look - but mostly because Ford has succeeded in hot-wiring a race car with a workable, drivable usability that doesn't blunt the obsessive, no-compromise intent that made it such an intriguing proposition in the first place. Track mode and a lap timer would doubtless assist in leveling the playing field - yet even without them the GT feels every bit a singular, swing-for-the-fences effort. It's really quite something.

: 3,497cc, twin-turbo V6
Transmission: 7-speed, dual-clutch automatic, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 656@6,250rpm
Torque (lb ft): 553@5,900rpm
0-62mph: 2.8sec
Top speed: 216mph
Weight: 1,385kg (dry)
MPG: 14
CO2: N/A
Price: £420,000

PORSCHE 911 GT3 RS (991)
 3,996cc flat-6
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto (PDK), rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 500@8,250rpm
Torque (lb ft): 339@6,250
0-62mph: 3.3sec
Top speed: 193mph
Weight: 1,420kg DIN
MPG: 22.2mpg (NEDC combined)
CO2: 296g/km
Price: £131,296 (£145,626 as tested comprising Lava Orange exterior Paint £1,805, Club Sport Package £NCO, Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes £6,248, LED headlights with Porsche Dynamic Light System Plus £2,262, wheels painted in black silk gloss £393, Sound package plus £396, Porsche Communication Management [inc. Navigation module] £2,141, Sport Chrono Package including Track Precision App and prep for Laptrigger £1,085)

Or you could have...
Ford GT
Ford GT
Porsche 911 GT3 RS Ultra Violet
Porsche 911 GT3 RS Birch Green











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Comments (59) Join the discussion on the forum

  • culpz 11 Oct 2017

    I do like the Ford GT but the 911 GT3 RS is a real dream car for me right now. Especially after seeing one in Miami Blue, flying around Anglesey at a recent track day that i did. I'd love to be silly, have one as my only car and daily it about everywhere. One day, hopefully, one day biggrin

  • Smitters 11 Oct 2017

    Wow - what a read. Genuinely, a really well written piece. Thanks!

    Also, the rear end looks like a disappointed Transformer. But then you can't see it from the driving seat.

  • GranCab 11 Oct 2017

    Who wrote this article ... Barbara Cartland ???

  • Nic Cackett 11 Oct 2017

    Cheers lads. The chiffon gown did have to be donned for this one...

  • Tuvra 11 Oct 2017

    The more I see the GT the more I dislike it frown

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