Manual Belabored

  • Paul Dean

From day one in 1948, when the pudgy, pioneering Type 356 emerged from Gmünd, Austria, through all the variations of the undying 911 up until the 2013 911 Turbo S model, Porsche has sold its sports cars with at least the option of a grip-and-shove manual transmission. The 911 GT3, which was introduced in 1999, was an especially strong argument for heel-and-toeing, double-clutching, and the fancy footwork of three-pedal motoring.

But the 2014 GT3, which went on sale at the end of last year with a base price of about $130,400, is not available with a manual transmission. And an automatic Porsche—wailed a small yet noisy band of diehards and bloggers—is motoring heresy.

Andreas Preuninger, the head of Porsche’s GT series production, wore a light, weary smile as he addressed the issue last fall in Germany, during the car’s media launch. He has been explaining his decision to go full automatic since the GT3 was unveiled at the 2013 Geneva International Motor Show. “What I don’t get,” he said, “is that these are people who don’t own the car, have never driven it, but have told us that we have misrepresented it as a Porsche because it doesn’t have a manual transmission.”

What this fifth-generation GT3 does have—in addition to a new 3.8-liter flat-6 boxer engine that produces 475 hp—is a 7-speed, dual-clutch PDK (Porsche Doppelkupplung) transmission. And while there is no clutch pedal for the dual-clutch PDK,  paddle shifters mounted to the steering wheel and a center-console gear shift both operate the sequential gearbox. That said, the PDK does include the dreaded full-automatic mode. 

“A manual just is not the way to be fast,” Preuninger said. And because the GT3 is intended for high-performance driving—according to Porsche, 80 percent of GT3 owners spend track time in it—the goal was to make the car as fast as possible. “Before you judge it,” he said, repeating what he has been telling critics since the car’s introduction, “experience it, understand it. Then if you don’t like the car, get angry.”

Thus the conversation ended and the driving began, on back roads and twisty two-laners across southern Germany and the Swabian Jura. Forget the silliness over an automatic transmission; a short time into the drive, this new, wider, longer, lower, and much bolder GT3 quickly presented cause for a more sophisticated debate about robotics taking over the driving experience. Is this a plus or minus for the marque’s image? Let’s call it progress. The GT3 remains edgy enough to demand the full attention of any enthusiast, but it will wag a finger at serious transgressions and keep the driver safe.

The GT3’s mechanical miracles are abundant. Porsche has upgraded the steering to an electromechanical system that is deft and a new apogee of point-and-punch direction changing. It also is the perfect companion to fully automatic and speed-sensitive rear-wheel steering. When the car is traveling slower than 30 mph, the rear wheels turn in opposition to the front wheels. At speeds faster than 50 mph, all wheels turn in the same direction. The system reduces the steering radius by as much as 1.5 degrees.

(continues)