Respect. Caution. Fear. Tension. Panic. Relief.
That's a typical mindset sequence you’ll likely go through approaching no-holds-barred supercars like the wild Porsche 911 GT3 RS and the equally mad Lamborghini Gallardo 570-4 Superleggera. Even Walter Rohrl, the lanky superstar who can beat God on the Nordschleife, admits that the sharpest street-legal scalpels still stir his tummy whenever he approaches them, ignition key in hand.
Although the advent of ESP has dropped our collective blood pressure, cold sweat remains a constant companion on a day like today – leaden skies recurrently rearranged by gale-force storms as we drive through flurries on shaved Michelin Pilot Sport cup tyres (Porsche) and track-pattern Pirelli P Zero Corsa rubber (Lamborghini), both requiring about 10 degrees above freezing for a semblance of grip and traction.
Duck, limbo in, lower yourself into the Sparco tub, stretch out, breathe out, relax if you can. No, the Gallardo cockpit isn’t made for tall fatsos whose Golden Gym membership expired in 1972. Almost the entire passenger cell is lined with black suede-like Alcantara. The door panels, the transmission-tunnel cover and the seat buckets are lightweight carbonfibre. Nice touches include bespoke instrument faces, body-coloured stitching and piping, aluminium pedals and a meaty steering wheel with an ever-so-slightly squared bottom.
The Superleggera treatment sheds 70 kilos, raising power-to-weight to 313kW/tonne. Engineers fitted polycarbonate rear side-windows and backlight, and an engine compartment cover, rear diffuser, front splitter, full-length undertray and extra-wide rocker panels from carbonfibre. Add the stacked, non-adjustable Countach-style tail spoiler and, all in all, the radical material mix helps to push down the kerb weight to 1340kg, which is not bad at all for a fully loaded V10-engined AWD super-coupe.
The GT3 RS has no rear seats, no air-con, no radio, no apparent noise insulation, no central locking, not even proper inner door latches (they’re red fabric ribbons). It’s race-car minimalism, with narrow, thinly padded seats that take less than a day to transform your behind to baboon red-and-blue. The five-point harness – standard with the Clubsport pack – is for eunuchs only, while the delete-option roll cage looks like red scaffolding. Inside and out are a patchwork of RS 3.8 badges and decals.
From the outside, the ultimate two-wheel-driven 911 looks gaudier than its brother in arms from Sant'Agata. Subtle it’s not. The adjustable double-decker carbonfibre tail rudder is an attention-getter par excellence; wingwork that hates automatic car washes but does, in combination with the aggressively shaped front apron, provide enough downforce even for those courage-testing high-speed autobahn esses.
Other changes over the GT3 include wider tracks (26mm front, 44mm rear), a synthetic rear window and engine compartment lid, a ram-air induction scoop, and a pair of big-bore exhaust tailpipes. Also contributing to the 25kg weight saving over the 1395kg GT3 are a silencer made of titanium, a single-mass flywheel, a low-calorie single-function steering-wheel and composite transmission tunnel cover.
Still, in character and configuration, the two could hardly be further apart. Superleggera versus GT3 RS, that's RWD versus AWD, aluminium spaceframe versus predominantly steel, mid-engined versus rear, V10 versus flat-six, 5.2 litres versus 3.8, direct versus indirect injection, automated versus manual transmission, double-wishbone versus multi-link suspension, and fixed versus variable aerodynamics.
The tight-fitting Superleggera redefines the demarcation line between pain and pleasure, frustration and lust, punishment and reward. It’s an extremely intense driving experience. The instant throttle response launches you forward like an ejector, the ultra-quick steering feels like a high-voltage handshake, and the merciless brakes threaten to inflict whiplash. The suspension holds the road like an unsprung magnetic field. Its exhaust system temporarily impairs your hearing, its chassis blurs vision, and gearchanges yank your hair backwards at 8500rpm sharp. Its phenomenal grip and traction make the orange wedge stick to its flight path as if inertia, mass and G-force were totally negligible dynamic commodities.
Although the Lambo is the quicker car everywhere, the 911 feels quicker. It’s noisier, looks rawer and boasts the most extreme normally aspirated street-legal boxer engine ever conceived in Weissach, developing 335kW at 7900rpm. Redlined at 8400rpm, the 3.8-litre unit requires a steroidal 6750rpm to whip up its 430Nm torque peak. Pushing the Sport button frees an extra 35Nm in the handy 3000-6000rpm range (why is this some ‘bonus’ feature?). It’s 11kW up on the GT3 and peak twist action remains unchanged, though it requires an extra 500rpm. The higher rev level, reduced exhaust back pressure and lower-ratio gearbox cogs provide 15-percent-greater urge in the bottom five gears, improving the 0-100km/h by 0.1sec (4.0sec), but dropping top speed a smidge to 312km/h.
A bit of chip tuning has squeezed 419kW at 8000rpm (up 7kW) out of the Lambo, with an unchanged 540Nm at 6500rpm. By reprogramming the thrust mode of the E-gear transmission for 5000 take-off revs and a minimum of wheelspin, the Superleggera shaves 0.3sec off the 0-100km/h acceleration time for 3.4sec. Top speed remains the same at 325km/h.
Lamborghini still offers the classic manual, but says the take-up rate has now dropped to under two percent. How come? Because there are no tangible performance or efficiency benefits – apparently the manual’s seven percent thirstier – and because the paddleshift makes it a lot easier to cut that torque pie expertly into six even slices. The pulse rate of the gearing is also more relaxed than the GT3 RS’s out-of-breath gearing.
The Superleggera may be loud and loose and hard and harsh, but unless you pull out all the stops and switch off all the driver aids, it won't take you for a pupil-widening cannonball ride. This is, in fact, a quiet car. Unlike the Porsche, which, in city traffic, is handicapped by its raw modus operandi, the Lambo doesn’t baulk at extensive stop-and-go frustrations.
With a clear road and a push of a button, it’ll perform one head-turning race start after another. Its Corsa mode, which lowers the ESP threshold and raises the rev limit, is arms-forward, head-down, hips-back stuff: every full-throttle upshift sends a judder through the aluminium monocoque, kicks butt with a vengeance, and makes the 19-inch Pirellis leave their initials etched on the tarmac in first, second and, occasionally, third gear.
The Lambo feels Remington-sharp and yet Band-Aid-invulnerable. The GT3 RS, despite a comparatively ancient design, is still sensationally young at heart, making for a fascinating blend of archaic and intoxicating. It’s archaic because of the indecently heavy potato bag-clutch, the bag-full-of-antlers six-speed transmission and the hard-to-modulate optional ceramic brakes. Intoxicating thanks to the wailing six-pot chainsaw kraftwerk, the dreams-come-true steering, which is intuitive from the shoulder blades down to the fingertips, and the masterfully balanced chassis that can still dance along the limit of adhesion as gloriously as the very first Carrera RS 2.7.
True, the seven-speed PDK box available for other 911s would be quicker, more convenient, more efficient and much higher tech. But the old-fashioned manual ’box is a more spontaneous, immediate and transparent tool, and the considerable effort it demands matches the other controls perfectly – not just steering, brakes, and tyres, but also eyes, ears, brain and bravery. Especially brain and bravery.
The 570-4’s genes are more visceral than those that make the 560-4 and the 550-2 tick. This applies in particular to the decidedly tauter damper calibration, the fatter anti-roll bars and lower-tolerance knuckles, suspension bushings and steering-arm mounts. It’s a set-up inspired by the Blancpain Super Trofeo race series, so you don't only get superior body control but also enhanced precision and more grip than the g-force meter inside your head is prepared for.
Also new are the spidery 10-spoke 19-inch wheels (with titanium bolts and bearings) shod with special-compound Pirellis. On aggregate, the track-oriented footwear saves 13 kilos in weight. The fastest Gallardo relies on an unchanged 30:70-percent torque split, with 45-percent rear diff lock.
The Porsche, too, is equipped with a slip-limiter that varies its assistance between 28 (full power) and 40 (under trailing throttle) percent, to minimise lift-off oversteer. To soften the dramatic effect of the de-throttled weight transfer and to enhance fast-corner stability, the RS is fitted with dynamic engine mounts which vary, within milliseconds, from rigid to compliant. Other worthwhile changes are bigger brakes featuring aluminium chambers, a specifically tuned semi-active PASM suspension and a rather unusual 245/35 front and 325/30 rear tyre size combination.
The 911 plays a catchy jam session of new and familiar tunes. Idle speed has an erratic pulse of a remarkably uneven firing order, the lightweight flywheel hums along out of tune like a tipsy supporting act, and the multi-vocal intake and exhaust systems deliver a particularly noisy rendition of their trademark shouting match. It’s this aural background which makes the Porsche feel fast even before you have dared to engage first gear.
The RS is kind of an unplugged GT3, and since it depends on even higher revs to deliver, the impression of time-warp speed becomes almost physical as you work that resinous gear lever through the gate. Although 4500rpm already sounds illegally fast, this engine needs whipping past 6500rpm before it explodes. If you haven’t seen 8000rpm in fourth (or, better still, in fifth) you will never understand the moral conflict hardcore turbo fans go through after a taste of GT3 RS blood. It takes a while to get used to that full-throttle machine-gun staccato, the blat-blat overrun, the shriek-then-yell sequence triggered by ambitious downshifts, but the non-musical talents of the most special 911 are indeed easier to befriend.
Guess what? It’s the Lamborghini which makes you work harder, sweat earlier, fear more sustainably. And thus, for a truly uncompromising driving machine, look no further than its German tarmac-peeling rival.
This Superleggera is stiff, edgy, impatient, snappy, aggressive, a corner-greedy pothole-hater, ever-ready to pick a fight and always on the prowl. Like the 911, the Italian needs to be pushed to shed idiosyncrasies like the lumpy low-speed ride, the grotesque tramlining and the initially passive handling. But as soon as the wide track, the long wheelbase and the low centre of gravity push open that critical velocity window in a concerted action, Dr Jekyll becomes Mr Hyde.
Fitted with a homogenous blend of 235/35 and 295/30 tyres, the Gallardo indulges in a rare creaminess of motion where minor inputs yield major effects. It’s beautifully modular, gifted with sensuous steering, a sensational speed-induced stability, an almost feline feeling for the complexities of the road surface, and magic manoeuvrability. True, the Superleggera has an embarrassingly clumsy turning circle, and its brittle front axle lacks the compliance Porsche has thankfully rediscovered for the GT3 RS. But the Lambo’s brakes are more progressive, torque feed is more seamless, and a hot clip doesn’t automatically demand superhuman driving ability.
Respect? Yes, and plenty of it, especially since we have not had any track time with either car. Yet. Despite tenacious grip, supreme sure-footedness and the most complete active safety net money can buy, it never hurts to recall your own inadequacies.
Caution? Depends. We found some useful environments: a deserted supermarket car park, an empty access road to an under-construction industrial estate, a 90-degree bend in the back of nowhere. But even with ESP off, the Lambo needs acres of space and, ideally, a low-friction surface before it can be coaxed into serious attitudes. The black box in the Porsche first switches off stability control and then traction control, which is a pro-safety, anti-entertainment approach.
Fear? Oh yes. On cold tyres, breakaway strikes like an electric shock, and we're not just talking rear ends here.
Tension? Only when you think about the weather forecast. Or the values of these playthings. The Porsche costs 145,871 Euro without goodies, the Lamborghini a more serious 208,726 Euro. The mere notion of these numbers can affect collar size, armpit moisture, pulse rate, and more.
Panic? Nah. Except the last 25 kays driving on packed snow...
Relief? You bet. The first glass of red has never tasted better than an hour after we left the two test cars grazing safely in their shelter.
The winner? Take the Porsche if you are brave enough. Or good enough. Take the Lamborghini if it fits your size and style. In terms of overall competence, both contenders score a solid 10. In terms of value for money, however, you may be better off with a base GT3 and a lower-frills 560-4. Quite a bit better, in fact.