With the new Porsche 911 GT3 RS, it is not the obvious elements that are the most interesting. No one is going to miss the preposterously large wing and decals plastered over the rear wheel arch. No, to understand what the RS is really about, you have to look past these items and get into the detail of the thing.
With the previous 997 GT3 RS there were whispers that perhaps it wasn't sufficiently different from the regular GT3. You see, Porsche produces the RS model to homologate parts used in its racing models, so while in mechanical potential the two cars differ quite considerably, for road car customers the discernible alterations have been limited to a Plexiglass rear window and wider rear arches.
This time around, Weissach has tried a little harder. There's still no glass in the rear window, but there is more punch from the engine: 444hp, a 15hp gain. And, for the first time, the 44mm extension to the rear width is accompanied by a 26mm gain at the front.
But, has Porsche gone far enough to justify the $20k premium (from $112,200 to $132,800) it's asking for an RS? And, if so, has it gone too far and made a car that can no longer be used and enjoyed on the road? These are just two of the questions in search of answers as we exit Nice airport and head for the hills. Well, that and just how far up the Route Napoleon we'll get before the 54-degree temperature drops to zero and Michelin Pilot Cups meet snow.
For the moment, though, value judgments take a back seat, because when you're driving a GT3 RS, it is difficult to concentrate on anything else. Not because it is especially demanding – in many ways it is a surprisingly easy car to drive – but because it is so all-consuming.
The flow of information is so rich and unfiltered that you can't help but listen. There is the noise, a wonderful mixture of mechanical whirs and induction gasps. Next to the GT3, you hear more (because of that rear window), but the sound is also different. The RS gets a titanium exhaust and uses a single-mass flywheel, both on grounds of weight. Together they produce a more irregular, unsettled idle and a snappier throttle response.
But your ears have it easy compared with the bombardment of information being channeled through your hands and backside. There are lessons to be learned here that every car manufacturer could heed, not only those making sports cars.
For drivers who want to know what's going on with the car beneath them, few things are more important than seat position and steering wheel. A seat should be able to be set low, and regardless of how good the actual steering system is, the driving experience will always be improved with a steering wheel that is round (not flat-bottomed) and without excessive padding.
The GT3 RS gets these two elements spot on. You sit there, high enough to see out, low enough to feel bonded with the car, the wheel exactly where you want it.