As any car enthusiast will tell you, cars are better when they come with a manual gearbox. But modern automatics are so good and so quick to shift that the figures would suggest otherwise. So, in a bid to find out whether 'stick-shift' really is king of the hill, we tried out the manual version of the ultimate purist's sports car: the Porsche 911 GT3.
In the Metal:
It's a horrible cliche, but this GT3 version of the 911 really does feel like a road-going race car. Not only does it have the ground-grazing front splitter, the enormous rear wing and those vents in the bonnet, but it also comes with a raft of less obvious changes to differentiate it from the rest of the 992 line-up. There are body panels made from carbon fibre-reinforced plastic, lightweight windows and a lighter sports exhaust system, for starters.
Inside, the rear seats have been removed, while the front seats have been swapped for some fabulous carbon-fibre buckets. They give you quite an uncomfortable chop across the bum when you're getting in and out, but they hold you in beautifully and they're surprisingly comfortable.
To enhance the sporty feel further, the GT3 also gets lashings of Race-Tex microsuede trim, which adorns the seat centres, steering wheel rim and gear selector, while there's leather on the head restraints, and dark brushed aluminium trim on the dashboard.
But although it all feels race-spec, you still get plenty of equipment. A navigation system is included as standard, as is two-zone climate control and an instrument cluster with two digital screens. Keyless start and cruise control are present and correct, too.
Hiding behind the overgrown parcel shelf where the rear seats should be is the 4.0-litre engine that forms the beating heart of the GT3. It's an old-school flat-six that eschews turbochargers in favour of displacement, and the noise it makes is glorious. Just starting it up is an aural treat.
But aside from making nice noises, that engine really exists to propel the car towards the horizon at break-neck speed. With 510hp it can accelerate from 0-100km/h in 3.9 seconds - a limited more by the speed of the driver's gear changes than the power of the engine. The seven-speed PDK automatic gets you to 100km/h in just 3.4 seconds, but what's more important - quicker acceleration or more driver engagement?
The GT3 is the purest form of the 911, and the manual gearbox only adds to that sensation. It's a sharper, tighter transmission than the seven-speed manual gearbox used in the rest of the 911 range, and it's all the better for it. Not only does it have a slicker motion than the standard transmission, but the gear lever itself is shorter, making every change feel snappier.
That sits well with the GT3, which feels more aggressive and short-tempered than even the GTS cars. Everything about it is brusque to the point of being obnoxious, which gives it a slightly prickly demeanour. Yes, that sentence could have described a person, but it doesn't; it describes a car that accelerates, stops and corners with a savagery that leaves little consideration for the comfort of the occupants.
It rides with similar savagery, too, although that can be forgiven in a car that's designed to lap a racetrack. Potholes are to be avoided, and even small undulations will snatch at the wheel like a twitchy driving instructor. But on a circuit, none of that matters. The smooth surface means you have bags of grip, the fat tyres give you traction for days and the sheer power means the next corner will arrive at an alarming rate of knots.
And because it's a manual, you can experience the full force of that brutal 4.0-litre engine instantly. There's no need to crudely bang your way down the ratios with paddle-shifters before hitting the pedal on the right. Just pick a gear, match the revs and away you go. Simple.
That's why the half-second gulf in 0-100km/h times is slightly misleading. Yes, the automatic GT3 is surely faster from a standing start, but when you're mooching through the countryside in 'normal' mode, the manual transmission makes it easier to plan ahead and make that mighty punch available from the moment you hit the gas. It makes overtaking laughably easy.
Of course, you can do all that with the PDK transmission's paddles, but there's something more satisfying about the mechanical interaction you get from a manual gearbox. You get the feeling that you're alone with the car - there's no electronic brain trying to do things for you - and that makes it immensely rewarding when you get it right.
And that's what the GT3 is all about. Even on a track day, the aim isn't really to set lap times; it's about having fun, and the manual GT3 is going to fill that brief far better than its faster and more complicated sibling.
What you get for your Money:
The GT3 is incredibly expensive. With a list price in excess of €230,000 before options, it's a costly plaything. You can't even save some money by choosing the manual, because the six-speed stick-shift transmission is a no-cost option. And a quick glance down the kit list suggests there isn't a huge return on investment.
With no rear seats and similar standard equipment to the standard 911 (a car that costs almost €80,000 less), the specification doesn't look that impressive, but that isn't the whole story. This is a driver's car, and that 4.0-litre flat-six engine is the main event. You can't get that in a basic Carrera.
On an even more positive note, there's also an argument for this being the most practical 911 variant. Of course, the lack of rear seats means there's only space for one passenger, but those seats aren't especially useful at the best of times, and getting rid simply means there's a bigger space for luggage. Add that to the 132 litres of luggage space already afforded by the 911 and you end up with plenty of room for your bags - even if travelling light is not your forte.
On paper, the manual GT3 falls well short of the standard set by its automatic sibling. But this car is designed for people who love driving on high days and holidays; it was never really intended for the school run or shopping trips, but for track days and back roads. It's all about smiles per mile. So while the automatic GT3 might set the faster lap times, the manual feels more rewarding, more involving and, crucially, more fun. If you've shelled out more than €230,000 for what is effectively a toy, that's what matters most.