GT3’s company: Which generation of hardcore Porsche 911 is best?

What could be better than a day spent driving a Porsche 911 GT3 on deserted English country roads?

Normally, I might struggle to answer that, because for at least the past 10 years, when there has been a GT3 in production, there has never been any problem naming my favourite car on sale. Today, however, the answer is as clear as the sparkling skies above our heads. What’s better than a GT3? Three GT3s.

Now that Porsche has revealed the new 992-generation 911 GT3, we’ve been looking back at previous generations to trace the model’s lineage. This story was originally published in August 2015.

We have gathered immaculate, stock-standard versions of all three generations of 911 GT3 to answer a question that is not as simple as it sounds: which best defines Porsche’s vision of a lightweight, track-tuned yet street-sensible driving machine? It’s not simple, because cars don’t automatically improve from generation to generation.

Was the last Jaguar E-Type as good as the first? Not even close. Today’s BMW M3 Competition is far quicker than the original, but better? That’s at least open to debate. But is there really anything a modern GT3 can learn from its forebears? That’s what we’re here to find out.

The 991 generation, we know plenty about. We know about its 9000rpm redline and a dual-clutch automatic gearbox as good as any on the market.

We know how its four-wheel steering preserves the benefits of its extended wheelbase while mitigating its drawbacks. We know what an extraordinarily effective and usable weapon this is – how well it deploys its 469bhp, how easy it is to manage on unforgiving roads. We know about its five-star road test, too.

What of the others? It’s hard to believe that the previous GT3, based on the 997 iteration of the 911, was first shown in 2006, or that the Gen 2 version we’re using today has been around for twelve years.

It was the last to use the blue-blooded old ‘Mezger’ race engine, completely different from those in all other normally aspirated 911s of its era and equally unrelated to that in all modern 911s, GT3 included. It offers 429bhp from its 3.8 litres, 40bhp less than the 991 offers from a similar (but not identical) capacity, a deficit offset only in small part by it being 35kg lighter.

Still, don’t read too much into the fact that its 4.1sec 0-62mph time is 0.6sec slower than the modern GT3’s. That says far more about the 991’s launch control and instant-shift transmission than the far smaller real performance gap between the two.

The same cannot be said for the 996-generation GT3, which also has a Mezger engine, albeit a fifth of a litre shorter in stature. It’s 54bhp shy of the 997 and 94bhp off the 991’s power, and although it’s lighter than both, it’s only a mere 15kg below the 997’s weight. Its 4.5sec 0-62mph sprint is quick, but it’s still a like-for-like 10% slower than the 997.

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If you just want to have fun, however, save the money and spend instead time trying to find the right 996 GT3 Gen 2. But if you want a car that does both, the compromise candidate trying to appeal equally to the head and heart, the 997 GT3 Gen 2 has the most convincing manifesto of them all.

Porsche 996 GT3 Gen 2

0-62mph 4.5sec; Top speed 190mph; Economy 21.9mpg; CO2 emissions 328g/km; Kerb weight 1380kg; Engine 6 cyls horizontally opposed, 3600cc, petrol; Power 375bhp at 7400rpm; Torque 284lb ft at 5000rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual

Porsche 997 GT3 Gen 2

0-62mph 4.1sec; Top speed 194mph; Economy 22.4mpg; CO2 emissions 298g/km; Kerb weight 1395kg; Engine 6 cyls horizontally opposed, 3797cc, petrol; Power 429bhp at 7600rpm; Torque 317b ft at 3250rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual

Porsche 991 GT3 Gen 1

0-62mph 3.5sec; Top speed 196mph; Economy 22.8mpg; CO2 emissions 289g/km; Kerb weight 1430kg; Engine 6 cyls horizontally opposed, 3800cc, petrol; Power 469bhp at 8250rpm; Torque 325lb ft at 6250rpm; Gearbox 7-spd dual-clutch automatic