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We drive the 2020 Porsche 718 Spyder: Don't call it a Boxster

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Article by Vu Nguyen
Photos by Damon Lowney

The 718 Spyder brings what we love about the Boxster and then some... In fact, a lot of some. The third iteration of the modern Spyder is what enthusiasts have been yearning for since Porsche started putting turbo flat fours into the Boxster. In addition to the distinctive lines and bodywork, the Spyder, along with the Cayman GT4, marks the return of the naturally aspirated flat six to Porsche's mid-engined lineup, and now it even sports the same suspension underpinnings of the coveted GT4.

Enthusiasts will rejoice that the 2020 718 Spyder includes a new athletic, high-revving, sweet-sounding naturally aspirated 4.0-liter flat six producing 414 horsepower. To put that into perspective, that is just one horsepower less than the 2007-2008 997.1 GT3. The GT3 front and, unlike the 981 Boxster Spyder, GT4 rear suspension underpinnings and rock-solid chassis make this drop-top equally impressive in the handling department. In fact, dare I say that the I found the overall performance of the Spyder sportier than its big brother, the 992-gen 911? The 911 has really grown in size the last couple generations, and I find 911s that don’t come out of the GT-car department lean more towards grand touring than back road or race course prowess.

Video: A GT4 without a roof? We put the Porsche 718 Spyder on a lift to find out

Before I go deeper into the performance of the Spyder, allow me to elaborate on how this sub-911-priced Porsche is in fact quite special. The car looks amazing with the top down as you would expect with most convertibles. The huge double-humped tonneau cover/trunk lid is a piece of artwork. The Spyder is the first convertible I find even more attractive with the top up, especially with the red top our tester had. The contrast of the red over GT Silver Metallic is the perfect amount of flair over the otherwise fairly mundane exterior hue. And the “sails” that extend to just ahead of the rear wheels and secure the top to the body is unlike any other modern car. The red highlights continue to the interior leather of the car. Though not a Porsche Exclusive Manufaktur build, the bright leather still elicits a sense of specialness. Although I understand Alcantara is used in sports cars as a grippier alternative to leather, I am still not a fan of it. Just give me standard smooth or perforated leather. The uncluttered interior was refreshing, although the layout is starting to age. Perhaps we were spoiled living with the 992.

You cannot have a conversation about the Spyder without explaining why a six-figure Porsche requires you to manually put the top up or down. You’ll find yourself explaining that this follows the theme of a Spyder and saves weight in a critical area of the car (yet compared to the truly threadbare top of the original Boxster Spyder, this one’s more for looks). Non-enthusiasts will proceed to roll their eyes. As for top operation, other than remembering to pull the top close enough for the header to latch (insert panic moment here when I first tried to put the top thinking the top would automatically hook in place), the procedure to go from coupe to convertible was pretty easy. Once you do it a few times, learn where to exactly press the hidden button at the end of the sail pieces, you figure out the choreography necessary to only have to walk to each side of the car once. Compared to the Carrera 4S Cabriolet we recently tested, this top is not as friendly for daily use, but I bet few folks will daily a Spyder. 

They will, however, appreciate the Spyder for its performance as much as its looks. On that front, the flat six offers useable real-world performance that makes driving a fun, sensory experience. The motor is every gearhead’s dream. The responsiveness and power are hard not to like, and the torque starts low in the rev range thanks to the quite large 4.0 liters of displacement. The exhaust note is intoxicating under full load, but I did notice that it fell flat between 2,000-4,000 RPM, when you’re just casually driving in traffic. I found myself wishing the exhaust would continue its beautiful tone no matter what the driving conditions happened to be.

This was the second time I’ve driven a manual Porsche with automatic rev match for an extended period, and it’s awesome. Do I feel like I’m cheating a bit? Yes, but who cares. The fact that I can barrel into a corner, downshift from third to second, and maintain complete composure of the chassis without doing the heel-toe dance is simply awesome. It literally made me giggle each time. Speaking of shifting, the shifter travel is short and precise. It does feel a bit heavier and notchier than I’d prefer, though I certainly would not trade this manual for PDK. Although I love PDK as a feat of engineering, and for its quicker shifting and ability to adapt to all types of driving conditions, the romance of shifting your own gears fits the personality of this car perfectly.

The topic of a too-tall a second gear was a common discussion point of the last Spyder and will continue to be for this generation. Certainly, the car’s acceleration would benefit from a shorter second gear, but for back-road and canyon-carving speeds, I enjoyed having the broad range that the tall second gear offered. I was able to put it in second and simply focus on the road, brake, and steer. If you plan to track your Spyder, I can see why you might wish Porsche delivered it with shorter ratios.

GT cars sometimes get a bad rep for being unlivable on the street. Some point to the lack of insulation, more mechanical noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH), and rougher ride. This does not apply to the Spyder, which technically isn’t a GT car but shares so much with the 718 Cayman GT4 that it’s hard not to see it as one. At no point did I feel that the car gave up refinement for sportiness. I found the suspension perfectly livable and compliant, and when pushed to the edge the suspension was unflappable. I did not get track time with the Spyder, but I can imagine that it would feel right at home there as well.

Yes, it’s based on the Boxster, but the experience is truly unique in Porsche’s current model lineup. Like a mononymous celebrity, there's no doubting why this 718 is simply called Spyder.

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