FIFE, Scotland – What the purists don’t mention when demanding new models created specifically with them in mind is that, in modern terms, a “purist’s” car is actually a bit of a chore to drive. Yes, words like “engaging” and “visceral” often best describe modern cars that forgo varying levels of contemporary comfort and convenience in pursuit of back-to-backs thrills, but a lot of the time these cars only really come into their own when conditions are just right.
The Alfa Romeo 4C is a prime example. While spectacular in terms of point-and-shoot accuracy on a billiard-smooth, tight and twisty track or mountain pass, in nearly every other day-to-day driving scenario, the compromises conceded in search of achieving this level of purist pleasure come glaringly to the fore.
For a company that persistently makes mention of the benefits of its nevertheless mighty impressive PDK dual-clutch transmission, the decision to launch the new 718 Spyder and Cayman GT4 exclusively with a six-speed manual gearbox is refreshing. While a PDK-equipped version of each car is, indeed, being developed (and likely at least 12 months away), this initial nod to the purists will no doubt be appreciated; even if the PDK version will likely go on to outsell these first models.
Having driven the 718 Boxster GTS extensively on its international launch 17 months ago, my outtake from that experience was that the often-underestimated entry-level Porsche had been granted a compelling edge in terms of a GTS treatment that added both visual highlights and a healthy upgrade in performance from its turbocharged four-cylinder engine. I even went so far as to say that, fitted with an optional manual transmission, it was my favourite of the two 718 GTS siblings, losing little in terms of dynamic ability compared with the Cayman, while offering added real-world appeal in the form of its electrically operated fold-away roof.
Fast-forward to July 2019 and the 718-generation Porsches burbling to life outside my Scottish Highlands hotel’s reception area appear distinctly more menacing than the baby blue Boxster GTS I drove at the Mediterranean. We’ll get to the exhaust note (even at idle) later but, firstly, the bespoke rear lid on these cars represents a nod to the company’s noteworthy heritage, in this case its notorious 550 Spyder.
Low and wide, the new 718 Spyder gains a purposeful-looking new front splitter complete with extended lip, large intakes and vertical “blades” at each end that open to the inside of the front wheel arches. Model-specific 20-inch alloy wheels are fitted with 245/35 ZR20 tyres (bespoke Dunlop or Michelin items, depending on stock when your car leaves the production line) up front and 295/30 ZR20s at the rear.
But the real party trick of the new Spyder (and its Cayman GT4 sibling) is its specially developed rear diffuser that features an aggressively angled central section emanating from as far below the rear section of the car as its mid-mounted engine will allow. Far wider and deeper than is possible on a rear-engined 911, the new 718 GT cars generate 50 percent more downforce at the rear than any previous Cayman or, indeed, Boxster derivative. While the Cayman GT4 boasts an adjustable fixed wing, the Spyder makes do with a subtle retractable item.
True to its name, the 718 Spyder features a manually operated canvas roof that, while simple enough to operate, isn’t designed to be raised or lowered in a hurry. That said, it was with speculative eyes glancing towards heavy Highlands clouds that my co-driver and I opted for an all-or-nothing approach to our Spyder experience.
And those aforementioned eyes were widened somewhat with the first blast of the throttle pedal...
Powered by a new naturally aspirated 4,0-litre six-cylinder engine adapted from the current (992) 911 family, the 718 Spyder and Cayman GT4 are seen as entry-points to Porsche’s GT range and, as such, have been granted levels of performance and drama befitting this Flacht-based division. That said, and like all members of the GT clan, a level of respect needs to be applied during the "getting acquainted" phase of this new relationship, especially with cold tyres and decidedly damp Scottish asphalt.
Boasting 309 kW and 420 N.m available from 5 000 to 6 800 r/min, the reward for initial patience and a steady build-up in confidence is an increased sense of connection to every aspect of the new Spyder, from its short-throw gearlever to its forgiving default stability control setup and, indeed, its inherent dynamic ability.
From the simplicity of the standard (Alcantara-covered) steering wheel to the fact there is only one (default) driving mode, you quickly forget whether or not you optioned an audio system while desperately seeking the next appropriate opportunity to listen to the chorus associated with an 8 000 r/min redline. Indeed, this is one of the few times I wouldn’t necessarily recommend an upgrade in the exhaust system, such is the richness of the standard setup. Those with keen ears will also note a change in tone once this drivetrain deactivates one bank of cylinders under light load, with a view to improved overall fuel consumption.
Upgrades to the Spyder's underpinnings include the front suspension from a GT3, as well as GT-family brakes.
I think people are going to be surprised by just how potent the new 718 Spyder is. While it’s to be expected that the fastest Cayman to date (and let’s not forget that both the other current members of the GT family, the GT3 and GT2, feature RS upgrades within their ranks) would exploit the impressive levels of balance and composure associated with its fixed-roof mid-engine packaging, where the Spyder blasts all the senses is with just how much more aggressive, playful and, indeed, "pure" it is compared with other members of 718 Boxster family to date.
Concentrating on each notchy gearshift, each wonderfully linear adjustment of throttle, each brilliantly precise steering input, all prevailing grip levels and how my hair was looking with the crisp Highlands air brushing over the top of it, driving the new 718 Spyder was both exhilarating and exhausting at the same time – exactly how a car built for purists should be.
FAST FACTSModel: Porsche 718 Spyder
Price: R1 343 000
Engine: naturally aspirated, 4,0-litre, flat-six
Power: 309 kW @ 7 600 r/min
Torque: 420 N.m @ 5 000 to 6 800 r/min
0-100 km/h: 4,4 seconds
Top Speed: 301 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 10,9 L/100 km
CO2: 249 g/km
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Maintenance Plan: 3 year/100 000 km
See Full Porsche 718 Boxster price and specs here