Return of the 911 driver's Porsche "A rear-engine, rear-drive sports car? No way, no how, it'll never work." Or so the thinking went as early critics questioned the wisdom of the Porsche 911's unorthodox layout. How could a car with its engine hanging over the rear axle do anything but go straight? Now some four decades later, the 911 continues to defy conventional thinking by getting better with each new generation. In current 996 guise, Porsche's oldest model line enjoys its broadest appeal to date, offering a unique blend of sports-car performance and GT manners. Forty years of evolution have not only turned the 911 into a faster car than its predecessors, but also a much more composed and civilized one. Civility is certainly not a bad thing, but for hard-core 911 drivers, sometimes it can be too much of a good thing. Compared with previous iterations, some feel this latest, more driver-friendly version has taken some of the old-school challenge out of driving a 911 quickly. For this cadre of serious 911 devotees, Porsche has created the 911 GT3. Originally developed as the basis for Porsche's GT3 Cup and GT3 RS race cars, the street GT3 is pure sports car. It's faster and more responsive than a standard Carrera, more involving than the Turbo and quicker around a corner than the GT2. Like the famous '73 Carrera RS 2.7, the light, lean GT3 exists solely as a driver's car. Low and lean, the GT3 sits 1.2 in. lower than a stock Carrera. A simple turn of the key immediately tells you there's something different going on in back. Blip the throttle and the car shudders slightly, the exhaust instantly barks in response. The engine sounds menacing, almost air-cooled in nature. A quick look at the numbers shows the GT3's 3.6-liter flat-6 pumps out 380 bhp at 7400 rpm and 285 lb.-ft. of torque at 5000. Better still, it revs to a remarkable 8200 rpm. To achieve such high rpm, Porsche engineers have gone to great pains to reduce the engine's internal reciprocating mass. If it moves and can be lightened, then it has been. The pistons, piston pins, valves and titanium connecting rods have all been pared down to save weight. This enables the engine to rev more freely, along with significantly improved throttle response. Other enhancements over the standard Carrera include a new two-stage resonance intake system, revised engine management, different cams, a new VarioCam system with a wider range of timing adjustment and a less restrictive exhaust. The standard dry-sump lubrication system has also been upgraded to handle the increased lateral loads associated with track driving. Out in the open, the GT3's 380-bhp bark translates into serious speed. One trip through the gears quickly highlights the engine's rev-happy attitude and excellent flexibility. Strong midrange pull starts at around 4000 rpm, then builds to a crescendo from 6000 right up to redline. Revs climb with an unbridled sense of urgency accompanied by the edgiest exhaust note this side of the Carrera GT. Grab a gear at 8000 rpm and the close-ratio 6-speed transmission delivers a quick, crisp and refreshingly mechanical shift. Similar to the GT2's gearbox, the GT3's unit features steel synchronizers in 3rd through 5th gears plus its own transmission oil cooler. Compared with the standard 911, shifting requires a little extra effort, but feels more positive and direct. Gear ratios have also been spaced to suit the engine's higher-revving capability, which helps the GT3 streak from 0-60-mph in a blistering 4.2 seconds and reach a top speed of 190 mph. To ensure none of the engine's enthusiasm gets lost in translation to the chassis, the GT3's suspension setup is tuned for speed over comfort. Firmer shocks, springs and anti-roll bars maintain an intimate connection with the road, yet manage to retain enough compliance to keep from being unbearably harsh. This setup also lowers the car by 1.2 in., dropping the center of gravity accordingly. Rubber-isolated strut-top bearings are replaced with steel uni-ball counterparts to reduce deflection under extreme cornering loads. For the track-driving aficionado, camber and ride height can be changed to suit street or track use, while 5-position front and 4-position rear anti-roll bars add an extra level of personalization to suit different tracks, conditions or driving styles. Its 380-bhp flat-6, above, launches the GT3 from 0-60 mph in just 4.2 sec. Well-bolstered power sport seats, below, provide much- appreciated support on both street and track, while the rest of the GT3's cockpit never strays far from its Carrera roots. Braking is handled by massive 6-piston calipers up front (with 13.8-in. rotors) and 4-piston stoppers (13.0-in. rotors) in back. Performance is never in question with zero fade and trademark 911 stability, stop after stop. ABS steps in as needed and serves as the only electronic driving aid on the GT3. There's no traction control or stability control here, not even as an option. For the well-heeled and weight conscious, the GT3 can be ordered with Porsche Ceramic Composite Brakes, which add an extra $8150 to the pricetag, but offer a weight savings of nearly 40 lb. Hit the road (or track) and the GT3 comes to life in a wonderfully harmonious sonata of speed. Chassis and drivetrain work together as a whole, frenetically rushing you from one corner to the next. It still possesses the 996 platform's stable nature, but thanks to its stiffer, more responsive chassis tuning, everything feels more direct. Any changes in throttle inputs have an immediate effect on chassis dynamics. Roll out of the gas slightly in mid-corner and the front tucks in while the tail lightens up. Roll back on and rear grip returns. Like its racing brethren, the GT3 can be braked hard and deep into turns, repositioned with a little throttle modulation, then happily drifted out at exit. For more casual motoring, the GT3 makes no secret of its sporting intentions. The track-tuned suspension and ultra-wide tires (235/40ZR-18 front, 295/30ZR-18 rear) tend to follow pavement seams and undulations on anything but the smoothest surfaces, giving the car a somewhat active nature on city streets and back roads. This behavior is noticeable at first, but quickly forgotten as it becomes yet another part of the GT3's special personality. At any speed, the close connection between engine and chassis requires smooth steering, throttle and brake inputs. Ham-fisted driving normally forgiven in a Carrera isn't as easily tolerated in the GT3. This is not a machine that suffers fools gladly. It demands respect from all who sit behind the wheel, rewarding the skilled pilot with a driving experience unequaled by any modern 911. Inside, the cockpit is standard-issue 911, save deletion of the sunroof and back seat to reduce weight. The radio/CD, power windows, central locking and air conditioning all remain for the sake of comfort and convenience. They're joined by Porsche's excellent power sport seats, which add a welcome show of support during serious cornering. Externally, a GT3 Cup-derived nose, aerodynamically optimized side sills and a fixed rear wing quickly identify the GT3 as more than just a tarted-up Carrera. Functionally, the new bodywork reduces high-speed lift at both ends of the car while also providing additional airflow to the front brakes and radiator. The wheel design is also new, a look the GT3 shares with the '04 GT2. 2004 allocation of GT3s is 750 cars for North America. Priced at $99,900, Porsche's latest (and greatest?) 911 isn't cheap, but given its stirring performance, will most surely sell out. In this latest iteration, the 996 platform finally gets to show its full potential. Quicker, stiffer and graced with an intoxicating new powerplant, the 911 GT3 clearly illustrates that Porsche still knows how to build a true driver's machine. In the name of weight savings, the power sunroof and rear seats have been left out of this sportiest of modern 911s. Fixed rear wing has 3 adjustments of rake for extra downforce.