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2020 Porsche 718 Spyder review: A better Boxster and then some

Roadshow logo Roadshow 5 days ago Steven Ewing

a car parked on the side of a mountain: The 2020 Spyder is Porsche's most hardcore 718 model yet.

The 2020 Spyder is Porsche's most hardcore 718 model yet.
© Provided by CBS Interactive Inc.

The Porsche 718 Spyder is expensive, and its convertible top is kind of a pain in the ass to operate. With that out of the way, let me tell you about one of the finest sports cars I've ever driven, the Porsche 718 Spyder.

Research the Porsche 718 on MSN Autos | Find a Porsche 718 Boxster/Cayman near you

This isn't just a more powerful Boxster. The standard 718's turbocharged, flat-four engine is gone. In its place, there's a newly developed, 4.0-liter, naturally aspirated flat-6, which is essentially a bored-out, turbo-less version of the 3.0-liter H6 that powers the new 911 Carrera. It makes 414 horsepower and 309 pound-feet of torque, and is offered exclusively with a six-speed manual transmission.

a car parked on the side of a mountain© Steven Ewing/Roadshow

2020 Porsche 718 Spyder is the Boxster, but better

Porsche's spec sheet claims the 718 Spyder can accelerate to 60 mph in 4.2 seconds. But that's not the number that matters. Instead, focus on the 8,000-rpm redline, and the fact that the 4.0-liter engine absolutely loves it if you rev the bejesus out of it in each gear. I don't really care how quick the Spyder is in a straight line -- though make no mistake, it's certainly no slouch. More than that, though, I love that you can punch the throttle at 6,000 rpm in second gear and slam it into third as the needle kisses 8,000, the flat-six engine screaming behind you. It's this powerplant's best attribute.

Nifty tricks like stop-start tech and cylinder deactivation supposedly help with efficiency, though official EPA fuel economy numbers aren't available as of this writing. Even so, this car simply begs you to drive it harder and harder; I saw numbers in the high teens most of the time. If you're really concerned about miles per gallon, the 718 Spyder is not for you.

Then there's the transmission. The gearbox offers short, crisp throws, and the clutch pedal is just the right amount of heavy. The pedals themselves are spaced properly for heel-and-toe downshifts, but if you're not super-skilled with that art, the 718 Spyder can automatically blip the throttle for you.

a car parked on the side of a mountain: The 718 Spyder shares many of its chassis components with the Porsche 911 GT3. Steven Ewing/Roadshow© Provided by CBS Interactive Inc. The 718 Spyder shares many of its chassis components with the Porsche 911 GT3. Steven Ewing/Roadshow

Like the engine, the Spyder's chassis isn't just a better-bolstered version of a regular 718. The two-setting adaptive dampers and much of the suspension's hardware is shared with the 911 GT3. Less-intrusive stability controls, brake-based torque vectoring and a limited-slip differential are also on hand to make the Spyder as sharp as it can be.

It all works beautifully. On a smooth stretch of California canyon roads, this car absolutely kills. I hate when people use the term "telepathic" to describe a car's steering, yet I can't think of a more appropriate way to describe the Spyder's action. The wheel is brilliantly weighted, and there's absolutely no question about how much grip is available at the front axle. The car moves like an extension of your brain; as soon as you think about cutting left for a corner, the car's already there. It's not twitchy. It's not overboosted. In fact, if I'm to register any complaint about the steering, it's that the wheel itself is covered in Alcantara, so it's just going to get gross after lots of use (though that's more of a personal preference than an actual nitpick).

The Spyder sits 1.2 inches lower to the ground than a standard Boxster, and it rides on 20-inch wheels, which look downright massive in the 718's compact frame. Those rollers are shod in Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires, which are some of the grippiest, best-performing tires you can buy today. Combine all that with the 718's inherent mid-engine balance and low center of gravity, and this is a hard car to upset when driven with gusto.

The adaptive dampers are surprisingly compliant in their default setting, though remember I'm testing this car on pristine stretches of Southern California pavement; my Detroit-based colleagues might feel differently. Still, the Spyder's suspension won't punish you should you need to run a couple of errands on your way home from the track.

a blue car parked in a parking lot: Powerful, carbon-ceramic brakes are set behind 20-inch wheels. Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires offer tremendous grip. Steven Ewing/Roadshow© Provided by CBS Interactive Inc. Powerful, carbon-ceramic brakes are set behind 20-inch wheels. Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires offer tremendous grip. Steven Ewing/Roadshow

In the chassis' more aggressive Sport setting, body roll is nonexistent, and the Spyder absolutely hugs even the tightest of bends. You can carry a ton of speed through each corner, and the taut chassis, not to mention those outstanding tires, won't ever let you slip.

The 718 Spyder comes standard with a set of six-piston front and four-piston rear brakes with steel rotors, though Porsche will sell you the beefier carbon-ceramic setup seen here for a not-insignificant $8,000. The ceramic discs offer right-now stopping power, but are easy to modulate around town, even if they do give off a characteristic low-speed squeal.

Big wheels and brakes are only a couple of the visual cues that set the Spyder apart from other Boxsters, and taken as a whole, I think this is the best-looking car in the 718 range. Its long rear deck is prettier than the one on the 911 Speedster, the dual humps resolving cleanly at the rump with a small ducktail spoiler. The nose has larger air intakes below the running lights, and the fascia wears more attractive, three-opening design. A link to Porsche's GT models, the 718 Spyder has a small outlet just ahead of the hood to channel air up over the car after it flows through the radiator.

Step inside, and it's basic Boxster appointments, save for the generous helping of Alcantara and a couple of weight-saving measures, like fixed-bucket seats (a $5,900 option) and fabric pulls in place of proper door handles. Onboard tech is handled by the same Porsche Communication Management software you'll find in other Boxsters, with a 7-inch touchscreen in the middle of the center stack. The graphics are crisp and the response times immediate, but this isn't the newest version of PCM, and this system is indeed showing its age. If you want embedded navigation, that's a $2,320 upcharge, though if you're an iPhone user, you can bypass this and just use the map software found in Apple CarPlay. If you're an Android fan, however, you're out of luck as far as smartphone connectivity is concerned.

a motorcycle parked on the side of a car: Alcantara here, Alcantara there. Steven Ewing/Roadshow© Provided by CBS Interactive Inc. Alcantara here, Alcantara there. Steven Ewing/Roadshow

Of course, I'd be remiss not to discuss the roof, which is quite complex. Let's run through the steps:

  • Hold the unlock button on the key fob to unlock the window frame latch and open the rear deck lid.
  • Press the tab on each of the fabric fins to release them.
  • Connect the fins to the back of the top next to the top corners of the rear window.
  • Lift up the deck lid from the rear.
  • Fold the roof back into the compartment.
  • Fold the plastic flaps down by the roll bars.
  • Shut the deck lid.

Closing the roof is basically the same procedure, just backwards. When it's time to latch the roof closed at the windscreen, you hold the convertible top button on the center console and an electronically operated latch seals everything shut. With the roof on, the car is as pleasant inside as any other Boxster with its top up. It's just a little louder.

Yes, that's quite a process, but after opening and closing the top multiple times over the course of a long weekend, I got used to it. And in a weird way, it kind of makes the whole car feel more special -- there's a stronger connection to open-top driving, even if most folks just see it as a hassle. If you're not a top-down-all-the-time kind of person, just buy a Cayman GT4.

a car parked on the side of a mountain: Give me this car for a canyon run any day. Steven Ewing/Roadshow© Provided by CBS Interactive Inc. Give me this car for a canyon run any day. Steven Ewing/Roadshow

Personally, I'd have the Spyder. With the top down, every sensation is heightened. The exhaust growl is louder. The world feels closer. You can hear the tires clawing into the tarmac as you quickly connect turn after turn on your favorite canyon road. If I were tracking this most hardcore of 718s, I'd likely choose the Cayman GT4 -- a coupe is always stiffer than a convertible, and safer should things go belly-up, too. But as a weekend driver, a super-sporty second car, I'd pick the Boxster every time.

That said, you'll pay for the privilege. At $96,300 to start, the 718 Spyder is $13,500 more expensive than the incredibly competent Boxster GTS. And being Porsche, it's not like you're getting a whole lot more in the way of standard equipment for that price either. You'll need to pay extra for niceties like bi-xenon headlights ($1,500) and automatic climate control ($770), and don't even think about adding driver-assistance features -- there aren't any to be had. Plus, this test car has little bells and whistles like headlight washers ($300), silver seatbelts ($360) and that fantastic shade of Gentian Blue ($650) that jack up the price even higher. All in, the 718 Spyder I'm testing costs $120,530, including $1,350 for destination. That's twice the price of a base Boxster.

Research the Porsche 718 on MSN Autos | Find a Porsche 718 Boxster/Cayman near you

Yet somehow, the 718 Spyder feels like it's worth every penny. The driving experience is truly something amazing, and far more so than what you get in one of the turbocharged Boxsters -- even the GTS. The Spyder is slightly harder to live with, but it's doubly exciting to drive. This isn't just a better Boxster. It's all that and more.

This was originally published on Roadshow.

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