First drive: The Porsche 718 Spyder is the ultimate summer track car
What is it?
For driving enthusiasts, Porsche makes some of the most desirable cars on the planet. The 911 might be the halo model, but the smaller, nimbler and more approachable Cayman, with its optimal mid-engined layout and compact dimensions, is just as sought after.
Then there’s the Boxster, the entry level sports car that fills the more leisure-focused role. Previously, the Boxster Spyder was completely separate from the Cayman models, but now they all fall under Porsche’s ‘718’ sports car banner, so this new 718 Spyder is essentially a drop-top version of the ultra-performance-focused Cayman GT4 – an intoxicating recipe.
Under the skin, the Spyder shares its mechanicals with the Cayman GT4, making this only the second Porsche convertible with GT roots, following the 911 Speedster.
That means the Spyder shares the GT4’s active suspension management system, making it 30mm lower than a standard 718, with a limited-slip differential helping get the power down. It’s also got a six-speed manual transmission, a lightweight manually operated roof, and a rear spoiler that deploys at high speed.
What’s under the bonnet?
In 718 models, the engine sits in the middle of the chassis to help optimise weight distribution. In the Spyder, it’s a naturally aspirated, 4.0-litre, straight-six-cylinder engine that’s good for 414bhp and 420Nm of torque, with 0-60mph taking 4.2 seconds before going on to a top speed of 187mph.
Porsche has come under criticism in some quarters, as many of its 718 models use a gruff – yet still mighty powerful – four-cylinder engine. However here, the mighty straight-six returns, and it’s an utterly glorious engine.
As engine revs climb there’s a refined yet aggressive rasp that accompanies your charge to the red line. The experience is only amplified by having the roof down, with the sonorous combination of engine and exhaust note encouraging you to resist the urge to shift up too soon. It’s rapid too, feeling every bit as quick as the figures suggest.
What’s it like to drive?
There is a caveat to this drive, and that’s the fact that what with this drive event being in Northumberland in November, the weather was atrocious. At one point the relentless rain did break off – just as we encountered fresh snow on tyres better suited to sunny track days.
That being said, the car still felt special, which is testament to just what a machine the Spyder is. Slip into the cosseting seats and it’s immediately apparent this is a driver-focused sports car, with a spot-on driving position and slim, Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel.
It’s so sharp to respond to steering wheel inputs, the tyres revealing a real sense of urgency even on sodden tarmac, while the six-speed manual is one of the best in the business. Couple this with that glorious engine and, even driven on its tiptoes as the weather dictated, there’s enough excitement to elicit a massive grin – and a quick pit stop to pick up a lottery ticket.
Perhaps the only criticism is one that’s long been levied at Cayman models, which is the gear ratios. The top of second gear will hit licence-losing speeds, meaning you either have to drive everywhere in that gear, or shift up and not make the most of all those revs.
How does it look?
All of Porsche’s 718 models have a sleek sense of purpose to their design, but the Spyder is surely the best-looking of the lot. It takes the features we already know and love but couples them with retro-inspired rear buttresses that elevate the cool levels to 11, while a subtle aerodynamics package hints at the performance within.
Then there’s that roof, which looks almost as good in place as it does when tucked behind the driver’s head, thanks largely to the way it locks in place either side of each buttress. It is, however, quite a faff to use. It requires pivoting the whole rear section of the car up to be folded within it, but with a couple of locking sections that take more than a moment to get in place.
What’s it like inside?
The 718 Spyder is typically Porsche inside, which is to say there are plenty of lovely materials and an ergonomically perfect layout – though here there’s more of a focus on the essentials, rather than creature comforts here.
There’s an Alcantara-wrapped steering wheel and Alcantara-upholstered sports seats – upgradeable to full bucket seats on request – which feel properly racey. The lightweight ethos continues into the fabric door pulls that replace the heavier door handles, and the infotainment system that can be deleted at no cost to save weight.
What’s the spec like?
Opt for a fully ‘basic’ 718 Spyder and this feels like an utterly brilliant deal coming in at just under 75,000. Standard equipment includes all that Cayman GT4 running gear, 20-inch alloy wheels, sports seats, swathes of Alcantara and the infotainment system.
However, naturally, you can massively increase this price in the options list, with some of the pricier options including a series of seat upgrades that range from £1,734 to £3,788, ceramic brakes for £5,597, and LED headlights for £1,397. You can also spend up to about £1,500 on various Alcantara pieces, including the sun visors, while £2,769 gets you the Burmester surround sound system.
There’s no two ways about it, the Porsche 718 Spyder is a special car. It just feels right from the moment you set off, with its beautifully judged manual gearbox and sonorous engine that makes you want to take the long route home – every day.
The weather could and should have put a dampener on our day with the car – both literally and metaphorically. However, the fact we came out the other end grinning from ear to ear despite never bothering the car’s true limits is perhaps the best indication of just what a glorious machine the Porsche 718 Spyder really is.