Porsche 911 S/T 2023 review
A big birthday is a good excuse for a big birthday present, and the Porsche 911 S/T is the company’s 60th anniversary gift both to itself and to 911 fans. It’s a pricey present, however, and one that’s not for everyone: referencing the 911’s birth year (or the 901, pre-name change, if we’re being pedantic), 1963 cars will be built globally. In India it’s priced at Rs 4.26 crore (before options).
Its name is taken from the classic Porsche 911 S/T, a competition package for the 911 sold from 1969 to 1972. In effect it combined the engine from the 911 S (the biggest of the time) with parts from the 911 T (the lightest 911 of the time), plus plexiglass windows and lightweight body panels. Various 911s with the S/T pack competed in circuit racing, rallies and hill climbs. The 911 S/T was, in many ways, the forerunner of the now-mythologised 2.7-litre Carrera RS.
The new Porsche 911 S/T has a loosely similar philosophy in that it takes the relatively light, wingless 911 GT3 Touring as its base and adds the engine from the new 911 GT3 RS but, uniquely, combines it with a manual gearbox. It’s the lightest 992-generation 911 Porsche makes, weighing in at 1380kg wet, or circa 1270kg dry. It’s approximately 38kg lighter than a manual 911 GT3 Touring in its lightest possible specification.
Unlike the original S/T, however, it is not intended to be a track car. It’s set up to be fun and engaging at road speeds and Porsche has no plans to record a Nürburgring lap time (although during development the car has recorded searingly quick times at test circuits, insiders say).
‘It’s a B-road blaster,’ Andreas Preuninger, Porsche’s director of GT cars, tells evo. ‘I don’t want to see the car on a track, because it doesn’t belong there. It’s not an RS, and it’s not a GT3 with a wing. Around the Nürburgring, I don’t have a clue how fast it is.’
Like the regular 911 GT3, the S/T uses the standard 992 bodyshell (the 911 GT3 RS, and the 911 Sport Classic, use the slightly wider shell from the 911 Turbo) but the naturally-aspirated engine is the very same as that in the active-aero, track-focused GT3 RS. It has around 15bhp more than the regular GT3 engine, with altered cams and a different cylinder head design for a 518bhp total, retaining the same 9000rpm redline.
Top speed is limited to 300kmph partly because of the absence of stability-enhancing rear-wheel steering, and partly because of the absence of a large fixed rear wing (although there is a new gurney flap across the 911’s rump, attached to the active pop-up spoiler surface as per the GT3 Touring, which pops up at around 129kmph, or manually via a button on the dash).
This is the first time the modern GT3 RS engine has been combined with a manual gearbox, and the six-speed transmission has been given shorter ratios than the 911 GT3, by around eight per cent across the board. The biggest transmission change concerns the clutch, however. The lightweight clutch and single-mass flywheel is unique to the S/T, reducing rotating masses by 10.5kg (and since that’s rotating mass it’s a virtuous circle, quite literally). The smaller clutch is around half the weight of a normal GT3 Touring’s, and inertia is said to be reduced by as much as two thirds. The differential has been tweaked too, with different lock settings on coast and power.
Another change is the removal of rear-wheel-steering: this saves 7kg, and allows a smaller, lighter battery to be fitted too, since there’s less electric power demand from the rear-steer system. Aside from dietary reasons, it underlines the S/T’s mission of purity: no big wing, no PDK, no turbocharging, no all-wheel steering.
The dampers remain electronically controlled; in fact, the S/T uses exactly the same springs and dampers as the GT3 Touring, however the software has been comprehensively reworked. Porsche says a top chassis engineer spent 12 months retuning the PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management) software for the S/T. If so, that shows how much freedom (and budget) Porsche and its GT division enjoys, as well as how much dedication has been lavished on this car.
As per the 911 GT3, it’s a double-wishbone set-up at the front (with the aerodynamic wishbones from the RS) and multi-link arrangement at the rear. The S/T doesn’t use the same centrally mounted radiator as the RS, however, so it has a full-size front luggage compartment.
All cars get green dials, like the early 911s and recent Sport Classic edition, and there’s a further optional Heritage Pack (costing Rs 14.42 lakh) exchanging the Porsche badges for the ’60s-era design, the S/T badges in gold and kitting out the interior in unique trim, roof lining and the body and wheels in special paint colours. CFRP bucket seats are standard but the four-way adjustable sports seats from elsewhere in the 911 range are a no-cost option.
Getting underway, low-speed damping feels decidedly firm, in both standard and Sport modes (accessed via the same dashboard switch, or touchscreen menu, as the normal car) but remarkably well controlled. Even more so at higher speeds. We’re testing the S/T in southern Italy, on the remote, hilly, hairpin- (and pothole-) strewn roads used during part of the car’s final sign-off process. The classic Fiat Panda 4x4s is the locals’ car of choice around here, so narrow, pockmarked and steep are some of the roads.
There’s not a stark distance between the standard and slightly stiffer Sport damper modes (‘In fact, we should probably have given ‘Sport’ a different name in this car,’ Preuninger ruminates); this isn’t a car where you press the button and feel an exaggerated change for the sake of it and Preuninger says that on bumpy roads, traction can actually be improved by selecting Sport, because the stronger rebound can keep the rear tyres in better contact with the tarmac. The S/T doesn’t get unduly upset by mid-corner bumps, either; and there are a fair few of those around here.
An instant standout impression, more so than the suspension, is the steering, however. It’s been retuned with a different ratio, in deference to the absence of rear-wheel steering, and it’s remarkably direct. Even in hairpins, you don’t necessarily need to move your hands from quarter-to-three. Despite its responsiveness, it’s anything but oversensitive, and does a great job of filtering out the worst of these scarred roads’ cambers without losing out on feedback and information. Preuninger says the benchmark for the S/T’s steering feel and response was the 997-generation 911 GT3 RS 4.0.
The whole thing is compounded by a sensation of enormous front grip. We’re on soft Michelin Cup 2 tyres on a hot sunny day but, even so, I’d say this is the most positive, responsive front end of any road-going 911 I’ve driven. It’s remarkable.
The S/T is fitted with Porsche Carbon Composite Brakes (PCCB) as standard, with good feedback right from the top of the pedal – not always the case for ceramics. They contribute to the overall weight-saving, along with thinner glass and carbonfibre-reinforced plastic (CFRP) used for the roofskin, doors (same doors as the GT3 RS, with the built-in aero channels), front wings (bespoke to the 911 S/T, without the vents of the RS), and rear anti-roll bar, among other components. The optional half rollcage is made from CFRP, too. The S/T rides on magnesium centre-lock wheels (20 inches at the front, 21 at the rear; the only other 911 that can be specced with them is the GT3 RS with the optional Weissach Pack) which also contribute to the fine suspension control at speed.
The biggest standout, steering aside, however, is the effect of that lightweight flywheel. Revs not only flick up swiftly when you tread the floor-hinged throttle pedal, but drop immediately when you lift too. It’s almost like a switch. As a result, you need to concentrate hard on your timing when changing gear; it’s easy to let the revs drop to idle before lifting the clutch for upshifts, resulting in a slightly jerky gearchange – or likewise on downshifts. The engine’s crisp response means it’s easy to send the revs upward with the edge of your right foot while you shift down a gear, but if you don’t move the lever quickly enough the revs will have dropped again by the time the clutch pedal comes up. It demands practice and concentration but the satisfaction of a perfect shift is immense – and the excellent automatic throttle-blipping rev match software is on standby at a press of the touchscreen to take care of things if you fancy a break.
The transmission sounds thoroughly raw; at idle, there’s a pronounced clutch rattle, much like an older 911. Like a few all-time-great old Porsches, the engine and drivetrain sounds like a gently shaken cutlery drawer at low revs before clearing into a spine-tingling rasping shriek at higher revs. It’s reminiscent of the Mezger engine of the original 996 GT3.
Going all the way to 9000rpm actually demands a bit of willpower as well as space, such is the intensity. The shorter gearing means you’re more likely to use more of the engine’s full rev range, and lends the S/T a greater sense of urgency than the GT3. The mid-range feels mighty, in fact: above 3000rpm is where it starts to pull hard, then it gets a third wind around 6000rpm at which point it’s a thoroughly intense experience. As is the S/T as a whole. It’s the sort of car one might imagine couldn’t exist in 2023.
Downsides? It feels very big on the road (it dwarfs a 996-generation 911, for example) – but that’s the case with all 992-era cars. Like all 911 GT3s, there are no rear seats, so you can’t take your family with you. And the always-on intensity might be too much for some. But it will make the 911 S/T irresistible to others. Then there’s the Rs 4.26 crore price, and the limited availability – both making the car’s specification possible, and making the chances of owning one vanishingly small.
On that note – at the time of writing (September 2023), Porsche dealers haven’t yet had their assignment of cars, so the S/T is not technically sold out. So it is still theoretically possible to buy one, but buyers will probably have to make a pretty solid pitch to their local dealer.
Incidentally, there won’t be a 60th Anniversary edition 911, as there have with previous generations – this is the only ‘birthday’ car for the 992 generation. It’s quite a way to mark the occasion.