Spoiler alert: It’s exceptionally good
Words by: Adam Allen
The Boxster- er, 718- has really come into its own.
Just look at this thing, taking in every vent, every flare. It looks serious and purposeful and I is easily the best looking iteration of the 718 (nee Boxster) we have ever seen. For those with a snide comment at the ready about this model being a ‘chick car’ (not a cool reference, by the way) or that it’s meant for those who can’t afford to step up to a 911- the legions of you, ahem, purists know who you are- we would like to slap you gently across the face with a white glove, gentleman style. That’s because the folks who say that kind of stuff likely have never driven a Boxster/Cayman; if they had, they would understand the error of their ways. They’d come away with the feeling that only a monumental misjudgement can impart this car. Some folks- Porsche faithful or otherwise- maintain that these two actually eclipse their flagship big brother in terms of driving fulfillment.
This car is different and yet it’s the same…
The 718 Boxster S currently resides at the pinnacle of the model range and it is to be sure, an undeniably brilliant car. It has an excellent chassis, is plenty quick and looks great. Its Achilles heel is evident when you toe aggressively into the throttle, and not because it isn’t quick (this thing is no slugs, ladies and gentleman) but rather the sound and response you get from the flat four engine on board that have been integral to the lineup 2016. For those lamenting the sonorous wail from the older, less powerful flat sixes Porsche has an easy fix. They simply pluck the 911’s turbocharged six from the assembly line, scrap the turbos and punch out the displacement to a broad-shouldered 4.0 litres. Then they hitch the engine to a surgically precise 6-speed manual gearbox and then proceed to gift the Spyder with the suspension and brakes from the GT3. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is a recipe for something extraordinary and far beyond the already inherent excellence of the platform. They add a hybrid power/manual top that looks good both up and stowed away, and then the takeaway a bunch of stuff. Proximity entry, push button start, vented seats? Yeah, you’re not gonna find any of that stuff here. The old adage when something is “greater than the sum of its parts”? It’s pretty much referring to the 718 Spyder.
This may come from Porsche’s GT program but it isn’t exactly a GT car.
Allow us to clarify- in this case we mean GT as in ‘Grand Touring’. Normally this type of car is designed to cover the most distance as possible at high speeds swathed in comfort. While you could use the Spyder for just that purpose (it has two trunks, after all) those expecting typical Porsche levels of luxury will be disappointed. This is a car that embraces its minimalist vibe with intensity. There are no frivolous luxury and convenience features, nor (thankfully) are there the typical nanny suite of driver assistance tech. This is a car that is laser focused on one thing: delivering a 100 proof undistilled exercise in driver satisfaction, so don’t expect Lexus levels of refinement either. On the highway, driving it borders on the cacophonous with lots of wind and road noise overlaid with the sticky Michelins throwing pebbles into the wheel wells and thrumming along expansion joints. It’s a refreshing change to not be isolated from what’s going on around you, but understand that this is no stripped out base model; you still get touchscreen infotainment with navigation, a great stereo and even heated seats and steering wheel. The seats, steering wheel and gear lever are trimmed in Alcantara which sends our race car vibes and feels grippy and substantial. In terms of ergonomics and layout, you quickly get accustomed to where everything is and how it works and once that happens the interior becomes an afterthought- it is merely the best place to slot yourself into at the controls of a truly brilliant sports car. Oh, and don’t bother looking for a means to adjust the driving modes because there isn’t any. Comfort mode is for creampuffs, and there’s no Sport or Sport Plus because the whole freaking car is Sport mode.
Enough already. What’s it like to drive?
Transcendent. Revelatory. Intoxicating. You can the dig as deep as you like into the auto journo’s trusty cache of adjectives that are designed to send shivers down the reader’s spine and you may find they don’t realistically capture the essence of driving this car. We’ll try, but you should be aware that from where we stand, this is the best car (and the Cayman GT4, natch) Porsche currently builds. Helping to deliver the mainline dose of adrenaline is the aforementioned 4.0 litre naturally aspirated engine mated to the 6-speed manual that comes with an Auto Blip feature. While it works flawlessly and will make any driver look good, we kind of chuckled to ourselves at this feature because the demographic this car is made for likely already covet rev-matching their downshifts already without the help of electronics. It helps that the pedals are perfectly spaced apart and rowing the gear lever is a pleasure that never gets tiresome. There’s a problem with the gearing Porsche has chosen and doesn’t feel completely right for the car- you’re doing way over the national posted highway speed limit at 2nd gear’s redline- but even in a gear you would assume to be too high the engine snaps to attention and responds with linear power. Turbos are great and all, but you need to wring out a naturally aspirated motor of this caliber to see what damage they do to driving enjoyment. One of the biggest faults of turbocharging is that it muffles sound. You will have no such problem when you open the taps in the Spyder. Not only is it loud- you can hush the exhaust, but why you would do that we are not sure- the soundtrack that emanates from the two exhausts is mesmerizing. It’s a bevy of whirrs and mechanical thrum that rises in volume as the tachometer climbs, shrieking its hard edged crescendo at the 8,000 rpm redline. Those that have been to a sports car race and have taken in a 911 at full chat barreling down the straights will find familiarity in the musical score. Although it doesn’t approach the craziness of the GT3 engines buzzsaw bawl it is damn near close. Then there’s the steering. Oh, Porsche, why must you ruin the experience for so many other cars with your perfectly calibrated electronic power steering, rife with feedback and precision? Which lead us to wonder aloud: could this be the best steering rack in the entire automotive kingdom? We’ll leave that to you to decide, but it certainly gets our vote. And the GT3 suspension and brakes, when teamed up with the mid-engine platform? Magic. Seriously, if you can find a car on sale today that doesn’t cost more than a large single family home that handles as brilliantly as this car, please let us know- we’d buy it on the spot. The Spyder car is so tight, so alive, it feels as though each and every nut and bolt has been torqued down to within millimeters of their maximum tolerance. Gewarheads perptually bicker over who makes the best sports car and then get all misty eyed for the good ol’ days. These folks should stop kvetching posthaste because the 718 Spyder solves the problem. Seriously.
What might go wrong?
This is awkward. We can find fault in every single car that we drive. But here’s the thing: when we sat down to analyze this car in the most thorough way possible, we came up empty handed. We wanted to be the voice that goes against the grain and not join the herd of sheep that sing the Spyder’s praise at the top of their lungs: but resistance proved to be futile. An easy target that incites our bellyaching usually comes from Porsche’s heart palpitation-inducing pricing. Yet we can’t look anyone in the eye and say that the asking price is ridiculous because it is genuinely worth very penny. And we couldn’t say that the lack of bells and whistles makes you feel like you settled for something less, like it might threaten to diminish the experience- but it doesn’t. OK, fine, if you really hold our feet to the fire, we’ll say that the power/manual top is borderline silly. But other than that? There’s really not much. Actually, nothing.
Should I buy a Porsche 718 Spyder?
Enthusiasts will overwhelmingly answer this question in the affirmative, because who doesn’t need a naturally aspirated flat 6 that spins to 8,000 rpm lashed to a peerless 6-speed manual gearbox underpinned by a chassis festooned with GT3 bits? Pretty hard to say no to all that. This car will not be for everyone, we’ll sternly caution. The firm ride, copious road, and wind noise and lack of luxury features will no doubt turn some folks off. As pro driver Andy Pilgrim said after flogging a Spyder on a road course, he came away smitten but accurately proclaimed that this car is for a small audience but that each and everyone who do buy the 718 Spyder will be instantly captivated by it. In fact, this car is so sensationally good that we think this is the best Porsche you can buy today, and yes, we’re acutely aware that the 911 exists. The Spyder is a car that worms its way into your heart- trust us when we say it’ll be a long time before we drive anything else that comes close to its purity and pedigree and bringing out the warm feels. The Porsche 718 Spyder, then, becomes more than a car- it becomes the opened floodgate to unleash floods of dopamine directly at all the synapses in the driver involvement sector of your brain. It will make you smile each and every time you twist the key, whether you’re doing 20 or 200 km/h. It is a truly special and captivating machine.
2020 Porsche 718 Spyder – Specifications
- Price as tested: $126,975
- Body Type: 2 passenger cabriolet
- Powertrain Layout: Mid engine/rear-wheel drive
- Engine: 4.0 litre horizontally opposed 6-cylinder, DOHC, 24 valves
- Horsepower: 414 @ 7,600 rpm
- Torque (lb-ft.): 309 @ 5,000 rpm
- Transmission: 6-speed manual
- Curb weight: 1,420 kg (3,130 lbs)
- Observed Fuel Economy: 13.4/100km (18 mpg)