The haters and conspiracy theorists are probably limbering up already. But, yes, we like Porsches here at PH, especially ones built under Andreas Preuninger's watch at the GT department. Not because of any financial arrangement or doe-eyed favouritism. Mainly because the cars are bloody good. And Preuninger is the very model of a PH-friendly senior engineer.
Like his cars, he assumes a base level of competence before offering you the time of day. But once satisfied you're on his wavelength opens up with the kind of passionate, straight-talking insight that gets the PRs wincing and hastily jotting down notes into their Blackberrys. He seems to like the Brits too, visibly relaxing when we're trooped in for the ritualistic motor show round table, conspiratorial, mischievous and always ready to hammer home a point with an expertly-deployed profanity for extra emphasis.
Stage set, it turns out he's very keen to talk about his team's latest creation, the
, and what it means for future GT cars, Porsches in general and also the buying habits of the purist customers it's aimed at. First up, who are they exactly?
People left unmoved by modern sports cars, basically. He begins a lengthy dissection of why they leave purists like him and us cold - quickly checking himself mid-flow to make it clear he's talking about competitor products not - ahem - other cars in the Porsche range - and how, though faster than ever and technically clever, a connection with the driver has been lost. "If the feel is lacking I don't think people will be very enthusiastic about it," he says, flatly.
Some does apply to Porsche products though. And his admission that with the 991 GT3 and RS they "lost some purists along the way" is perhaps surprisingly frank. But his reasoning for this is sound. "If you look at the 996 GT3 range and the 997 GT3 range we were in the lucky position of being able to address the same two customer groups with the one car - the purists and the track rats as we call them." But this changed with the 991 he admits. The motorsport mentality meant the new cars were always going to use technology to go faster - hence PDK, four-wheel steering and the rest - and new customers were attracted as a result. "But we lost the people that really drive for the driving's sake, just to feel something in the car, just to experience moments of joy," he says, echoing many of the sentiments expressed by both media and long-standing GT Porsche customers.
As a result, a significant number of these people are no longer buying new Porsches. They're buying old ones, or paying people like Singer to 'reimagine' them into the best of both worlds. Great for those servicing that need and existing owners sitting on rising residual values. Not so much for Porsche's bottom line.
So was a 911 R always in the plan for the GT range? Or a reaction to this backlash? "It was our idea to do it from the time we were building the GT3," he says. When they started playing with a manual 991 GT3 development mule - yes, they had one - removed the wing, added some lightweight components and threw in some RS bits, he says, the potential was immediately clear. "It got better and better and better and at the moment it was appropriate, we presented it to Mr Mueller [then head of Porsche before the emissions scandal bounced him into the top job at VW] and he liked it!" he explains. An accelerated 13-month development schedule dictated a loose grip on the reins from the board but, after the reception for the Cayman GT4, Preuninger and his team had it.
While it sounds temptingly simple to just cherry pick the best bits from the GT3 and RS, strip the wing off, stick some decals on and give it a badge referencing an iconic 'driver's' 911 there was, inevitably, a lot more to it. The six-speed manual shares a casing with the Carrera's seven-speed but the internals are all-new, the shift more accurate and all-important interaction honed. Six gears are enough and more inutuitive than seven too, he says - you should know where you are in the gate without having to look at your hand.
And the ratios they control - especially given criticism of the GT4's long gearing? "In gears one to four it is about the same as the GT3's PDK, which is not considered a long-geared car," he says. "Fifth onwards is a little longer because the GT3 is a seven-speed car."
Although the spec is generous (check the configurator for the full pricing geek out) with PCCB brakes and a titanium exhaust standard and carbon-backed seats a no-cost option there is one box you have to tick to get the full experience, says Preuninger. And that is the lightweight single-mass flywheel and uprated clutch - a £2,024 addition to the base price of £135,761. It has a sense of the last manual GT3 - the RS 4.0 - in that there is some "shudder and clatter" but Preuninger describes this as "a joyful and positive sound because it informs you of what is going on." Without it you don't get the full hard-wired connection to the engine he says. So why not have it as standard?
"It's a good question," he shrugs, "but we found out we have clients that don't like this. It's not a costly option, we just wanted to make everyone happy. I think for the true motoring guy that wants a car for the sake of driving ... he needs it." There's perhaps a sense of mischief here too. You may have the money. Your stock may be high enough with your dealer to be on the list. But Preuninger has still left a final qualifier to see if you really are R'd enough to appreciate it properly.
To that end it saves over 5kg of rotating weight off the crank, significantly improving response but - if previous experience of cars like the 3.8 and 4.0 RS is anything to go by - also demanding real skill and coordination to exploit properly. There's auto rev-matching to spare your blushes if you can't keep pace. Unlike the manual Carrera, where you can only disable it in Sport+ if you turn the PSM off,
Preuninger has insisted on a simple, standalone on/off button.
The manual also saves 20kg over PDK, and from a favourable place in a rear-engined car. Is it better balanced than a GT3 or RS as a result? "It's different," he deflects, tactfully, going on to explain how this and the different aero balance were major challenges requiring complete recalibration of suspension, stability control, steering geometry and the set-up of the rear-wheel steering. Speaking of which, wouldn't it be more purist to have ditched it? He agrees in principle, it was tested but the agility the four-wheel steering brings to the long-wheelbased 991 is worth the circa 20kg weight penalty. Indeed, agility is a point he keeps coming back to. This may be a 200mph car, but it's one built for the fabled 'twisties' too. And you'd hope it would be, what with the combination of the lightest 911 package available (just 1,250kg dry - 40kg less than a 458 Speciale and 80kg less than a 650S by the same measure) and the most powerful normally aspirated engine in the range.
All very well, but word on the street suggests UK allocation has already been offered to those who failed to get an RS and, even then, is oversubscribed to multiples of what each Official Porsche Centre will get. Which assumes they'll all get even one - not necessarily a given. If there's demand for cars like the R will its influence reach - relatively - more mainstream 911s then? "If the reaction of the market is as strong as we imagine we have to think of a way to be able to produce a car like that in higher numbers," says Preuninger. It won't have the celebrated R badge. But if it shares just a little of its spirit that can't be a bad thing.