There are lots of different ways to frame an old versus new twin-test like this one. I could point out that both the current Porsche 911 Carrera S manual and the 997-generation 911 GT3 (in this case the earlier model with the 3.6-litre engine) have gear levers that you must push and pull yourself, plus clutch pedals that keep your left leg occupied. Their on-paper performance is almost identical as well, both recording 0-60mph times of a fraction over four seconds and each running just beyond 190mph.
The two cars are not a world apart in terms of price either. The new one costs £97,450 before options, while a 997 GT3 as good as this one with so few miles (this example has only 18,000) could fetch a broadly similar amount.
But actually I just want to know this: if you buy a brand new 911 Carrera S, are you getting even a taste of the fizzing, frothing tactility and sense of occasion that you find so abundantly in a 997 GT3 (which for a lot of people, including myself, is peak GT3)? And on top of that, do these cars very clearly hang from two branches of the same family tree, or are they in fact held aloft on different trunks altogether?
Few things illustrate so vividly just how the 911 has grown over the last decade and a bit like seeing a brand new one parked alongside a 997. But one thing does so even more than that: sitting in one and then the other. In the older model you feel you can reach across the cabin and open the passenger door without stretching. You sit low, but you peer over a dashboard and bonnet that rise so reluctantly from the car's floor that you have an almost unimpeded view of the road ahead, and so you actually feel a little perched on top of the car.
Meanwhile, in the 992-generation model you feel the width across the cabin, sense all the metal and glass over your shoulder and eye the road over tall door tops and a high-rise dash. That gives a sense of sitting right on the car's deck like a racing driver, but so too does it hinder your view of the road surface immediately forward of the front bumper.
The new car's interior is plushly upholstered and ambitiously designed as if by an architect, with different textures, levels and three-dimensional shapes. It's enough to make the 997's cabin seem about as interesting as a plain brick wall. In both, however, you feel the integrity and durability that have been 911 hallmarks for decades.
I last drove one of these 3.6-litre 997 GT3s back in 2008 (in fact, such a car was only the second 911 I ever drove, the first being a 997 GT2 half an hour earlier). But somehow it all seems so familiar: the clutch pedal that doesn't budge when you squeeze it, only arcing downwards when you really force it; the gearshift that feels overly heavy until you learn to be deliberate with it; the hefty steering, which reminds of those unassisted racks from years gone by; and the ride quality, which at low speeds around town is tough and unyielding enough to make you wince.
And there are the immediately familiar noises, too, like the suspension that clunks and thuds over bumps, the road noise at speed that makes a phone call all but impossible and the drivetrain that chunters away unhappily behind you. There is no duality about this car, no hidden side to its character. It is overwhelming a hardcore, uncompromising road-racer, designed and engineered for a singular purpose.
Showing the GT3 a good road and driving it hard is like releasing a prisoner from a stress position. You feel it exhale and stretch as its spirit begins to soar. All of those things that made it seem like hard work only moments ago all suddenly make such sense. Through the steering you read the grip down at road level as though it's printed in black and white on the page in front of you, while the ride settles and no longer feels firm, but controlled. Bumps merely cause the body to jink this way and that, rather than thudding uncomfortably through to the cabin.
If you didn't know already, you'd guess right away where the engine was. You feel it most under hard acceleration in first and second gears, the very light front end seeming to rise into the air until the front tyres are barely in contact with the asphalt. And when thundering at speed towards a tight corner, you're aware of the need to brake in a straight line, giving the car the time it needs to compose itself before you ask it to dart into the bend.
As much as anything, this is the kind of car you must work hard in. If you aren't busy, if your mind is elsewhere and not in the moment, you'll be driving neither quickly nor well. Downshifts are a good example, for only when you roll your ankle to blip the throttle firmly to match the revs and time the shift accordingly does the manual 'box become a bonus and not a burden.
You realise what it means to drive a car rather than merely operate it. Without your skill, attention and effort, the GT3 would be little more than a noisy, uncomfortable and recalcitrant machine. Perhaps that's why it is as rewarding as it is.
And all of that before we mention the engine. At around 4,000rpm the chuntering and grumbling make way for a low howl, which builds from there to a hard-edged, flat-six yowl beyond 8,000rpm that could only be the cry of a GT3. There is always a gravelly quality about this Mezger engine, a gruffness that means it never seems too refined. It's strong, too, the forces it exerts upon you in its upper reaches in the lower gears enough that you never crave more power. Ultimately, this is an engine that's so well matched in character to the firmness of the ride and the weight of the steering and the resistance of the pedals that you can't imagine, and nor would you want, any other in its place.
After all of that, the new 911 Carrera S feels like something else altogether. Is it actually a luxury car? A grand tourer, maybe? Compared to the GT3 you sit in a sort of 2+2 lounge, in leather-trimmed seats that bend to accommodate your frame, unlike the upright, fixed-back, slim-hipped buckets in the older car that demand you bend to suit them.
The clutch pedal feels as though a spring has become unattached, the pedal seeming to fall into the carpet under the dead weight of your left foot alone. The gear lever flops around its gate loosely and the steering wheel twirls in your hands as though it's not connected to the wheels at all. The ride is calm, the engine quiet. You wonder if the lineage extends only to the three-digit numeric in the model name the cars share.
In Sport mode the Carrera S wakes up a little. It begins to ride with more purpose, bumps in the road making themselves known while the body tracks the shape of the road, leaning in corners only slightly. There is real precision in the steering but no feel to speak of, while the sheer agility and response that underpinned the energetic way the GT3 found its way along the road are echoed in the newer car's mannerisms. It too is responsive and alert, just not to the same degree.
Nor is there the same grip to lean on, or the same feeling of weight over the rear. After the GT3, you drive the Carrera S as though it's mid-engined, never having to make allowance for its unusual layout. The gearshift, meanwhile, is actually very good with the slick, springy feel that marks out all Porsche manuals other than those belonging to GT cars.
Most of all, I was amazed by how unalike these two machines actually felt. I could scarcely tell they were variations on the same basic theme, for in the characters they present to you and the sensations you feel aboard each of them, there was almost nothing in common.
Almost nothing. Though the Carrera S has a far more modern engine with twin-turbochargers and a muted soundtrack - with, it must be said, perhaps the sharpest throttle response and most linear power delivery of any turbo engine in production today - there is a moment just beyond 6000rpm where the exhaust note hardens, the engine seems to climb to another level and the car surges forcefully towards the horizon. In that briefest of moments, you realise that for all the differences there might be between two versions or two models from different eras, a 911 remains a 911.
Even so, it is a gulf that separates one from the other in terms of how thrilling these cars are to drive. But when one of those is a 997 GT3, how often is that not the case?
SPECIFICATION - PORSCHE 911 CARRERA S (992)
Engine: 2,981cc, twin-turbo flat-six
Transmission: 7-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 450@6,500rpm
Torque (lb ft): 391@2,300-5,000rpm
0-62mph: 4.2 seconds
Top speed: 191mph
Weight: 1,480kg (DIN)
Price: £94,350 (as standard; price as tested £108,523 comprised of Gentian Blue Metallic for £876, Black/Iceland Green two-tone leather interior for £422, 7-speed manual transmission and Sport Chrono Package for £0, Electric slide/tilt sunroof for £1,238, Electric folding exterior mirrors for £240, PASM sports suspension (10mm lowered) for £665, Sports exhaust system (tailpipes in black) for £1,844, Brake calipers in black (high-gloss) for £581, Front axle lift system for £1,709, LED Matrix main headlights including Porsche Dynamic Light System Plus for £2,054, ParkAssist including Surround View for £1,196, ioniser for £203, 14-way, electric sports seats with memory package for £1,599, Heated GT sports steering wheel in leather for £383, Porsche Crest on headrests for £161 and BOSE Surround System for £1,002.)
SPECIFICATION - PORSCHE 911 GT3 (997.1)
Engine: 3,600cc, flat-six
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 415@7,600rpm
Torque (lb ft): 298@5,500rpm
0-62mph: 4.3 seconds
Top speed: 192mph
Price: £79,540 (2007)
1 / 12