Probably one of Porsche's worst kept secrets, the 911R was officially announced today. It's the stuff dreams are made of, in an increasingly turbocharged world. 500 horsepower, a near 9000 rpm redline, manual transmission only, and a curb weight of 3021 lbs, if you accept the car sans air conditioning. No rear seats, magnesium roof panel, no extraneous frippery, just a naturally aspirated motor connected to the road through a foot controlled clutch pedal. Lightweight bucket seats, that come in a single size, houndstooth interior paneling, etc. What a gorgeous car, and it must be so amazing to drive. It's the 911 people are drooling over... Except for a few things - the price - $184,900 + destination charges, and the availability - none.
Apparently, Porsche decided to make the ultimate 911, but make it available only to a select number of buyers - initially, those who purchased a 918. So, you happened to have $845,000 laying around and decided to spend it on Porsche's hybrid ultra car, and since you couldn't get a manual transmission in that car, you'll be the first to be offered a chance to purchase a 911 R. Except that, given that Porsche decided to only build 991 of them, they will be an instant classic, which, in this car crazed silly market, will mean instant markups, possibly even to the 918 owners, and surely to anyone looking to pick one up second hand. The GT3-RS on which this car is based, is $10,000 cheaper, and is trading hands at around $300k on the second hand market right now. Figure $20k of that is options but that is still a solid $100k of markup or profit for flippers.
This is really a terrible place to be in. Porsche makes some pretty amazing cars, even the most basic of which are still quite enjoyable to drive, but when they pull something really special out, they limit the accessibility to very few people. I was really disappointed when I found out the real price and specs. It's really a GT3 widebody (not the wider turbo/GT3 RS body, that has the holes for intercoolers (in the turbo) and intakes (for the GT3RS). The motor is pure RS, but I have trouble believing that the 475hp unit out of the GT3 couldn't have done just a good a job powering the car.
I was really hoping for an accessible model. Take the GT3, rip out the 4 wheel steering, the PDK transmission, the huge wing, and put back the rear seats, and call it the R. Price it at $130k, right above the 911 GTS, so you get 45 hp for that $15k and make it manual only, and it would sell like hot cakes. Porsche could probably make 3000+ of them per year and enthusiasts would snap them up... it would also kill some of the ridiculous used car market for GT3s.
Maybe this is all actually a marketing exercise - maybe this really is a preview of an accessible model for the relative masses, one that mere mortals can walk into a Porsche dealership and really enjoy.
I spent some time on a twisty road in a GT3, and I was bored completely stiff after about 20 minutes. The problem was that the GT3 has gotten so good that it's really pointless to drive on the street because the only way you can have fun is to go so fast that you'd likely kill yourself and everyone around you straight off. Plus, going to jail on a sunny afternoon is not a great start to the weekend. The PDK transmission is practically a mind reader, if you could actually think that fast, and the 4 wheel steering makes the car so incredibly stable that you feel like you're God-like in the level of control you have. It's just not that fun until you find yourself tripling the suggested speed limit and pushing Go Directly to Jail speeds. The motor sounds amazing and has gobs of power everywhere with ultra sharp throttle response, and a power curve that keeps pressing you into the seat until redline only to do it again. It does it so naturally and smoothly that you want to keep repeating it, only by now, the scenery is blurring by so fast you're in the next county before you realize you've warped through some live stock and a few Miatas. I really wanted to love the car, and I did, but you'd need a race track with a decent amount of run off, a helmet and ideally a nice roll bar to really enjoy the car properly.
What if you could put that amazing motor into a slightly more compliant chassis with smaller, less grippy tires with more progressive breakaway characteristics? What if you could sing that motor up to 9000 rpm through a manually shifted transmission? What if you could turn in, knowing the chassis would roll just enough to remind you that you're hauling ass, and just maybe, kick the tail out around a tight hair pin? I think the lower priced 911 R could do that, but Porsche decided to build the car such that regular buyers will never even have the chance to over pay for one.
That said, Porsche did finally make an ultimate backroads car as well - the Boxster Spyder. Most of the press didn't really get the car - driven back to back with the GT4, the GT4 is stiffer, more purposeful and made more sense. It was the baby GT3, available with a manual transmission, with as fast a Nurburgring ring time than the GT3 from last generation. The GT4 got all the attention, but I really think that the press miss understood the Boxster Spyder.
The Boxster Spyder is the Porsche that most people should buy, to really understand what makes Porsche cars special. Sure, it has some weird compromises, such as the more arcane top since... well, the last generation Boxster Spyder, but Porsche finally put the 911 motor into the mid engine car. Rather than making an inherently strange engine configuration work, they took a superior layout and made it amazing. The Spyder weighs the same as regular Boxster but has a whopping 45 horsepower more, but really that motor doesn't make only 375 horsepower... maybe at 10000 feet and 100 degrees. It is just about every bit the 991 C2S motor, in a much lighter chassis.
Porsche didn't increase the tire size, rather put a conventional suspension on it, for compliance and some degree of ride comfort, and gave it the ability to slide a bit, with conventional Pirelli P-Zero street tires rather than DOT legal race tires on the GT4 and GT3. This car is really amazing on a back road - The Boxster Spyder enjoys one of the best engine notes Porsche has ever produced, this symphony of induction noise and a snap crackle pop exhaust overrun every time you lift off the throttle. And, Porsche put some extra effort into the shifter - it's the closest thing to a Honda S2000 shifter that has ever come out of Europe. Light in action, with no slop or play, direct feeling, with short throws and positive engagement. The Boxster Spyder is an amazing joy to flog on a back road. The GT4 cousin is obviously going to perform better around a race track, but the level of grip the GT4 produces is completely unusable on a twisty road. Plus, the Spyder's exhaust is much easier to hear with the convertible top.
But... here again - we run into a similar issue. Porsche decided to make very few Boxster Spyders, likely less than 1000 for the world, possibly less than 750. Production has already switched to the turbocharged 4 cylinder 718 Boxster. The biggest problem was price - add a few basic options, like navigation, heated seats, and a decent stereo, and you're looking at $100k after sales tax. It's by no means an inexpensive car, and you really have to 'get' Porsche to want one, as by the numbers, there are many faster and higher performing cars for less money. A lot less.
Hopefully Porsche will realize that some of these specialty models have a broader appeal than just the upper echelon of their customers. It will be interested to see how the new turbocharged crop of Porsche Sports cars turns out - the 718 Boxster and Cayman, and 991.2 will no longer be available with naturally aspirated motors. Porsche finally got the sound of the 991.1 and 981 down pat, only to clog up the exhaust with turbo hardware. In and of themselves, the new cars sound great, but they pale in comparison to the first generation naturally aspirated cars.
None of these cars will even be truly volume cars, and maybe the thought of selling 3000 cars vs 991 of them is a rounding error in the grand scheme of things, but as an enthusiast looking for some love from the new cars is tough given that most people can't afford them and even if they could, couldn't actually buy one without having purchased a nearly $1M sports cars. Let's hope the philosophy trickles down into the normal cars a bit more too.
Silicon Valley Dad, who loves cars, cooking, clothes and cameras