991 Porsche GT3 – Chris Harris

Porsche gave Chris Harris the exclusive opportunity to drive the new 991 based GT3 and it brought up a lot of philosophical discussions about the cultural acceptance of automotive technology. Lets start with the things that were easy to like. Porsche widened the front axle on the 991 to improve turn-in grip and that decision pays dividends with the GT3 as well. Chassis agility is further enhanced with a new rear steering system that works opposite of the front wheels below 50 mph and in parallel above it. The new 3.8 liter engine is lighter and makes more power thanks to a 9,000 rpm redline. More grip, better balance and improved power to weight ratio never makes anybody unhappy.

Controversy with the new car comes from Porsche’s decision to use electric power steering and to only offer the PDK dual-clutch transmission. In an effort to reduce fuel consumption, Porsche has switched to electric power steering in the new Carrera and Boxster. Chris’s opinion of the system in his previous reviews of both of those cars is that it doesn’t have quite the feel of a traditional hydraulic system but it was adequate. He was worried about it letting down the GT3 going into the test but it seems the steering wasn’t a problem. The better chassis balance goes a long way to improve the perception of steering response but Porsche was also able to recalibrate the existing hardware improve its feel. The PDK issue is a little less resolved. Yes, the car is much faster with the dual clutch box operated with a paddle shifter. Yes, more people will buy the car with the PDK. No, the hardcore manual transmission purists do not care about any of those things. It’s all about the perception that manuals give the most in-depth control to the driver because that’s how it was for a very long time before the advent of the dual-clutch transmission.

Ultimately you have to have driven a car with a manual transmission at race speeds to truly appreciate what a dual clutch transmission can do. There will always be a place for stick shifts for driver training and as an inexpensive and less complex alternative to an automatic for a street car. The fact of the matter is that dual clutch transmissions are measurably faster and allow the driver to consistently extract more out of the car. It’s for that very reason that most race cars now don’t have clutch pedals. I think the hesitancy to accept dual clutches boils down to people being afraid of giving up unique skills that they’ve already mastered. Take heel-toe downshifting for example. Among car guys, it’s a pretty well known technique that most of us know how to do correctly. It’s a trained skill for operating three pedals, a shifter and the steering wheel all at the same time to go around corners faster. Non-car people don’t understand the importance and can’t execute it properly without training. However, put them in a dual clutch transmission car and they can intuitively do things correctly and be just as fast as somebody who understands the importance of rev-matching. That means that being able to heel-toe is no longer something special.

I find there’s an interesting parallel between the adoption of dual-clutch transmissions and the acceptance of electric vehicles. Like manual transmissions, combustion engines are something that we’ve been mastering for a very long time. We’re pretty good at building them now so it’s very hard for us to give them up for something completely new and better. Even the best of combustion engines are well under 50% efficient. In what other field would we happily accept anything close to that abysmal? My opinions of engines and oil are posted on the RX-8 EV Conversion Page┬áso I won’t go into them here. I will leave you with a quote to ponder, though: “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” -Alvin Toffler

Source: DRIVE on YouTube