Porsche 911 Carrera T or 911 GT3 Touring? Matt Farah and Spike Feresten Go Looking for the Answer
One is the touring version of the racy 911, the other’s the racy version of the touring 911. Which recipe reigns supreme?
“They slice this cheese pretty thin, don’t they?” says my friend—comedian, producer, podcaster, and legendary sitcom writer Spike Feresten—as he settles into the driver's seat of my borrowed 2018 Porsche 911 Carrera T.
Noticing that it’s fundamentally an identical setup as his GT3 Touring, Spike asks, “Are these the same seats?”
They aren’t: his GT3 actually has the heavier adaptive power seats, not the T’s manually-slid, cloth-covered thrones. They do look the same, though, as does the downsized GT steering wheel, the carbon-trimmed dashboard, the console full of button blanks, and a shortened manual shifter.
Spike has nodded to what many of us enthusiasts have seen for a while: the 911 is now available in nearly fifty flavors, from leathered-up, turbocharged tourers with eighteen-way seats, all-wheel-drive, and power convertible tops; to minimalistic, naturally aspirated, big-bored and manually shifted surgical scalpels. Sometimes they’ll make a less racy version of the crazy one, other times a more racy version of the ordinary one. Today, Spike and I are out driving examples of both: the new 911 GT3 Touring, and the 911 Carrera T, which also stands for Touring but isn't meant to be said in the long form.
I’ve not driven any of the newest 991.2 GT cars, and he hasn’t been behind the wheel of a base model since he was writing for Letterman in the early 90’s. So we trade.
I had spent all week in the Carrera T. If you search back far enough in my Twitter feed to when this car was announced, you may find the words “cash grab” mentioned. After all, this was a very thin slice of cheese. Situated in between the base Carrera and Carrera S, the T model offered the lightest combination of options possible, outside of the GT family.
According to Porsche, my Carrera T weighs 3,142 pounds, just 28 lbs more than the GT3 and anywhere from 20 to 180 pounds less than a Carrera, depending on options. It has lightweight glass, reduced soundproofing, and lightweight door panels. You can drop another 20 pounds by optioning in the carbon bucket seats and deleting the rears. In the real world, none of these weight-reducing options have any discernibly negative effects on the experience inside, and they should just do this with all the cars.
Out back, you get the base Carrera’s twin-turbo 3.0L six, making 370HP and 331 pound-feet of torque, and getting it down through the seven-speed manual gearbox and limited-slip Porsche Torque Vectoring differential. Then, there’s PASM suspension, the sport exhaust, 20-inch Carrera S wheels, and a standard short-shifter. My tester also had the optional (and wonderful) $2499 rear-axle steer system, magnificently effective at simultaneously improving turning radiuses in tight scenarios while adding high-speed stability at the other end of the performance spectrum. Rear axle steer is not available on the standard Carrera—at all—so this greatly improves the T’s value proposition. I also got the $7,500 carbon-ceramic brakes, bringing the total of my tester from $102,000 (base) to $112,000. I found the ceramics a little grabby in traffic, but as Spike said: “You need to get the ceramics; it makes the car so much easier to sell—all the second-hand buyers want them.” It pains me to agree, but I’d wager you see 50 percent of your money back at resale for those brakes. Plus, when you’re on it, they are excellent.
The Carrera S, with 50 extra horsepower and 50 extra torques, is $3,000 more expensive than the T, but that’s a base-for-base comparison, and the T comes with a lot more standard stuff, and some stuff—weight reduction, exclusive colors, optional carbon seats—you can’t get on the S at all.
“It feels so light on the road,” Spike remarks, while I take in the passenger-seat experience from the right side. The Carrera T has a lot of give to it; unlike some of the GT cars—the 997 GT3 comes to mind—the Carrera T is designed truly for everyday use, which is how I used it.
In one week I put nearly 600 miles on my tester and found it to be good at everything. The ride is better than most performance sedans; the engine beats like a good Swiss watch and is more refined than most luxury cars; and the steering is both light and heavy, in all the right ways. Though the 991.2 generation of 911s is bigger than it’s ever been, the car still manages to shrink around you at pace, and the aforementioned rear-steer system seems to magically shorten the wheelbase at precisely the right time. The PASM suspension, which sits 10mm lower than the standard Carrera on adjustable shocks, offers excellent body control even in the “Comfort” setting, which is where I prefer it for California backroads. (In fact, I found no benefit to the ‘Sport’ shock setting whatsoever, as the Carrera T has wonderful grip over uneven pavement.)
Throttle steering is easy as pie, and your “widowmaker” comments, about 911s of yore, certainly no longer apply. You still get the benefits of a rear engine—the power delivery out of a corner, the ability to lean the car on its outside wheels and micro-adjust with the throttle—but the scariness is a thing of the past, especially at this power level versus the available brakes and tires. In the city, it wasn’t the least bit punishing, though without the optional nose-lift system I did have a couple small scrapes on the plastic splitter in steep driveway and parking lot entrances, which have to be taken at angles.
While in the past there was a difference in feel between the “standard” engines and the “GT” engines, those differences are more pronounced now than they have ever been, separated by the use of turbochargers in all the “normal” engines. For me, a car’s usefulness is defined by how wide its powerband is; to a collector, enthusiast, or arbiter of what’s special in the automotive world, a car’s specialness seems to be defined by the opposite: how narrow the power band is—and, more importantly, how the engine sounds in that narrowly useful window. In the case of most Porsche GT cars, the answer to that latter question is “fucking spectacular, thank you very much.” Today is no exception, as following the GT3 through a walled section of canyon is an auditory delight.
The turbo motor isn’t new for this year, but in direct comparison to the GT3, at $44,000 more (that's comparing base prices—really, it's more like another $74,000), it feels like progress, whereas the GT3 feels like manufactured nostalgia. It’s awesome nostalgia—hair-raising, smile-making, brilliant nostalgia—but nostalgia nonetheless.
The turbo engine’s 331 peak torques begin at 1,700 RPM and remain flat through 5,000 RPM. Then you get peak horsepower at 6,500 before redline at 7,400. So that’s a 4,800 RPM-wide power band, with another 900 revs on top. The GT3, by comparison, has a torque peak at 6,000 RPM, power peak at 8,500, and then you bang the redline at nine-large. That’s a 2,500 RPM band with 500 on top—narrow by anyone’s standards, but half of what you get from another, lesser car within the 911 lineup.
That is not to say the lower-revving Carrera T isn’t fast, or isn’t fun. It's loads of both of these things—and in some scenarios, it’s quicker than the GT3. There is a lot of area under that power curve, and there is a flexibility in gear choice with the slick-shifting seven-speed that you don’t really get with the GT3: choose too high in that car, and the Carrera T’s torque will walk it right the hell away from the GT3 out of a hairpin. Unlike the “Turbo” model (now defined by a difference in displacement, rather than the mere presence of turbochargers), you actually hear the Carrera T’s exhaust, not just the two nuclear vacuum cleaner intakes right behind the windows (which aren’t present in the T). In Sport mode, the exhaust pops and crackles like the Fourth of July. In fact, if I had one complaint, believe it or not, it’s that sometimes it’s a bit too much of that, especially at low RPM.
But actually I have two complaints. The other is that the manually-adjustable seat in the T has a fixed bottom angle, and it’s too much angle in the thigh considering the lack of adjustments. Porsche usually nails its seats; this one is a smidge off. But that’s it. And if your body is less broken than mine, you might not even notice. And in other 911 seats, I have never had this issue.
The overarching theme of the 911 T hits Spike and I with equal poignancy: for $112,000 as tested, this feels like a ton of car. Yes, a Corvette Grand Sport will probably beat it around a track for less money. And if you start adding back in a bunch of extraneous options, it’s possible to wipe the weight savings clear off. But if you keep it basic, you get 90 percent of the great things about how the GT3 looks, feels, works, and drives, with a special engine that just doesn't happen to be "once-in-a-generation" special, like the crazy four-liter. The T's engine feels tight and precision-engineered, and every input has just the right amount of slickness. If the Carrera T was the only car in my garage, I could be perfectly happy for a very long time.
Dropping anchor in the GT3 Touring’s 18-way power-adjustable buckets, I notice the metal door handles on the extended leather-covered door cards, not the fabric pulls on the Carrera T.
"Isn’t that stupid? The fabric should be standard on the GT3; it obviously doesn’t cost more to make than metal,” Spike says.
I note that it’s possible, in this configuration, that Spike’s GT3 Touring—the four-wheeled middle finger to anyone who paid double MSRP for a 911R last year—might actually weigh more than the Carrera T, considering those luxury options. I bet those seats are heavy. The rest of the interior, save for the gears numbered six and the revs numbered nine, is identical in both cars. This, clearly, is not where the extra $74,000 went. And it’s not in the special “Touring” package for the GT3 either, which simply deletes the fixed wing in favor of a low-key motorized one, and makes standard a six-speed manual gearbox similar to the one from the 911 R.
Then you start it, let it settle into an idle, circulate the oil, and zing that bitch up to redline: nine thousand RPM. This is not an engine sold for practicality, or because it’s the fastest way around any racetrack, or because it’s anything besides one of the best sensory mechanical experiences available anywhere at any price. This is an engine that requires sacrifice. They don’t even attempt efficiency by adding a seventh gear for highway economy—only six gears here.
Touring? Please. Mobbing.
Let me put it this way: In order to build and sell this car, Porsche had to make some of its other cars, good to begin with, worse.
Feel me on that? The Boxster and Cayman now have four-cylinder engines so this engine can exist. And that deal with the devil is worth it—it’s that kind of special. That’s where the $74,000 went. Four liters of displacement: the magic number tuners have been using for the last decade to extract maximum naturally aspirated performance from Porsche sixes. Five-hundred horsepower. Of course, it’s very difficult to extract maximum power from this engine anywhere but a remote canyon or a racetrack; even redlining second gear, you’re speeding in nearly every county in the USA.
I drove Spike’s GT3 nearly the entirety of Upper Big Tujunga Canyon, one of the fastest roads in the Angeles Forest, in third gear. Spike, used to such a power band, went the other way and kept accidentally banging the rev limiter in the Carrera T. On this big, fast road, it is possible to keep the engine between 5,000 and 9,000 RPM for ten minutes straight. But in most places that just isn’t the case, and the Carrera T may actually feel quicker if your roads aren’t as big, open, or fast as mine.
The engine is the biggie, but there are other key differences that $74,000 buys you. Front-end grip, for one. The GT3 Touring has wider, lighter wheels front and rear; an even lower, firmer PASM setting; and stickier tires. Additionally, unlike the lesser Carreras, which have lift, even at top speeds with retractable spoilers deployed, the GT3 and even the wing-less Touring have actual downforce at high speeds. Admittedly, the winged version gets an extra 220 pounds of it, but the Touring still does push down rather than lift up—a key distinction compared to the Carreras.
The GT3 is stiffer than the T, but not as much as you’d guess, and still forgiving enough that it could be used every day in all but the shittiest tarmac situations.
“I’m not as confident in the front grip in the Carrera T as I am with the GT3's,” Spike says, and I agree. We aren’t pushing as if we were on a track, but in this remote section of the forest, you’re deep into triple digits in many places, and the GT3’s stability shines bright. Spike says his 2015 GT3 with the wing "is definitely more stable through a lot of these fast bends," but adds: "I kinda like the Touring’s hairiness—a little bit of scary is good.”
While I have driven each of the previous generation GT cars for bits and pieces, Spike has actually owned at least one of every single example, so his experience counts here. Given that I’m not brave enough to drive his 750-mile GT3 Touring fast enough to unsettle it while he sits shotgun (though I have no problem repeatedly taking it to NINE), I take his word for it and concede that yes, this is an incredibly special car.
“As a collector and a driver, you had to get it, right?" Spike says. "Think about it from forty-years-from-now perspective: this is the first year of the Touring option, in the launch color, with the stick. This is going to be a big-ticket item down the road, and in the meantime, we just drive it and it’s great.”
He's probably right about the forty-years-from-now part. With the wingless Touring's understated look, but also with the aggressive lower treatment and wheels, the car is all but certain to age gracefully and wind up in the upper echelons of Porsche worship. And a naturally aspirated engine with a stick shift is forever. If you have the money and you like special Porsches, you simply must get it.
As for the Carrera T, it’s more similar to the GT3 than it is different. It may not have the high-strung engine, but its agility, pace, space, comfort, precision feel, and versatility are second to none. There is no question that, in a vacuum, this is a phenomenal automobile; but what about in context? After pondering the question of why, we finally found an answer.
“Here’s the thing,” Spike says. "If someone pulled up to Bill’s (aka The Malibu Kitchen, where we sit for hours, drink coffee, and talk cars) in a Carrera T, with those cloth seats and a stick, we would know that this is one of us. If it was a regular Carrera, or an S, or a Cabriolet, it could be a dentist or something. But if we’re here on the porch and someone drives up in the T, we, the GT3 folks, know that guy has the same priorities as us.”
And it’s true: the Carrera T isn’t a cash grab, as I originally thought; it simply sits in a small and precisely-carved niche at the lower rung of 911 ownership. Sure, if you have the money and the access, just get the GT3 Touring—it costs more but is worth every penny. But if you can't, get the Carrera T. Go rip up a canyon, or two, or 20, and then come have coffee at Bill's. Park your car right next to the GT3's, and come sit on the porch. You’ll fit right in.