I've always tried hard to not like the Boxster. It's too dainty, I tell myself. Like wearing ballerina pumps or eating chocolate liqueurs. Open-top sports cars should either be excruciatingly lightweight or powered by an ear drum-rattling V8, those are the rules. Moreover, I'm conscious of looking silly in it. And this was particularly true of the GTS because everywhere I went I had a stupid smile on my face. Like I'd just discovered my cheek lining tasted of Werther's Originals.
I could hardly suppress it. After all it was the product of scandalous, straightforward, look-at-that-toddler-with-his-cardboard-box enjoyment. I've experienced this unfortunate feeling in a Boxster before. I distinctly remember driving the 2.7-litre 981 at launch and almost whooping at the accumulative effect of having 7,400rpm behind my head while the airflow knowingly tousled my fringe in front. It was maddening.
The follow-up 982 was better than that car - but also helpfully worse, too. We all know why. Porsche built arguably the best four-cylinder engine in the world at the time. Didn't matter. The new Boxster was as emotionally fulfilling as an electric whisk. It had been made even more delicate and was therefore easy to dismiss. Of course its dastardly manufacturer quickly realised this fact and immediately set about plotting its way back into my guilty pleasure list. Classic Porsche.
So we have the latest GTS, with a 4.0-litre flat-six and 400hp and a six-speed manual and it's bliss. Just really undeniably lovely. It even has little imperfections that you can bashfully talk about so you sound like a newlywed gently chiding your other half for being too wonderful. Save for its new motor, it does this without springing any colossal surprises either. It looks like a Boxster, albeit one 20mm lower than standard on 20-inch wheels, and feels like a Boxster to sit in, albeit one with a £2,096 interior pack and £1,242 Alcantara pack optioned.
Everything works as you'd expect. The old-fashioned dashboard switchgear greets your finger with a heavy-duty click. The dials are real (save for the one which is a screen, which is exactly as many as you need) and the seating position exceptional. The cloth roof peels back very quickly and with minimal fuss. The new motor turns over keenly. Granted its idle probably isn't as assertive as some people would like, but there are unquestionably six horizontally opposed cylinders back there, and that's enough to be getting on with.
It doesn't take long for the charm offensive to snowball. The new unit is a joy to interact with. The old flat-sixes were brilliant, but I remember them being a bit cantankerous at low revs if you weren't sympathetic with Porsche's spring-loaded clutch; the 4.0-litre though is hyper smooth and always happy to turn your clubfoot sensitivity into a placid glide. The way it builds speed from there is wildly likeable. Presumably it is the larger displacement (alongside all manner of internal sorcery) that has the naturally-aspirated motor feeling so eager so early - either way, it picks up wonderfully, with no bagginess or hesitancy and certainly never with a mechanical clatter that has nothing to do with forward progress. Here engine note and road speed rise in glorious tandem, hot-wired to the ball of your goal-scoring foot.
The GTS doesn't actually get round to delivering its 310lb ft torque peak till 5,000rpm, but you won't be counting the seconds. It's too good at crisply surpassing your expectations ahead of time. Of course it would be even better at it if it wasn't for Porsche's preoccupation with Tolkien-length gear ratios. This is a familiar failing in the Boxster (and Cayman) and isn't debilitating enough to dwell on - but the fact is you get to spend too little time beyond 5,000rpm because to do so in any gear beyond second requires you to carry too much speed. The car still feels geared for the autobahn, not your favourite B-road.
This is a shame, because elsewhere the GTS is equipped to make your favourite B-road seem like the Col de Turini. It handles sublimely. It is direct and incisive and tactile in heightened measure, yet doesn't seem to ever strain for any of it. Being mid-engined obviously helps, although how Porsche has extracted so much pliancy from 20-inch wheels and a few trifling centimetres of suspension travel is beyond me - especially when it manages to deliver it under load, mid corner. The GTS is an object lesson in wheel control, and it is by virtue of its acutely well-judged compromise that you have the dynamic freedom to enjoy virtually any road surface at virtually any speed.
Hence the ridiculous perma-grin. Which will not be shared by Porsche's rivals in the open-top sports car class. The Boxster was already a hard act for anyone to follow and the GTS simply edges the model closer to a class of one. It starts at £66,340 in the UK, which is a sizeable jump from the £56,000 a Boxster S will cost you. But courtesy of the naturally-aspirated flat-six the GTS is easily £10k better than its sibling. It's easily among very the best convertibles available for any money. Whether I like it or not.
SPECIFICATION - PORSCHE BOXSTER 718 GTS 4.0
Engine: 3,995cc, flat-six
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 400@7,000rpm
Torque (lb ft): 310@5,000-6,500rpm
0-60mph: 4.5 seconds
Top speed: 182mph
Weight: 1,405kg (DIN, without driver)
CO2: from 246g/km
Price: £66,340 (as standard; price as tested £75,860 comprised of Carmine Red paint for £1,658, Alcantara Package GTS Carmine Red in conjunction with GTS interior package for £1,242, Roll-over bars painted in exterior colour for £357, LED main headlights including Porsche Dynamic Light System Plus for £1,397, Electrically folding exterior mirrors including courtesy lighting for £210, Automatically dimming interior and exterior mirrors with integrated rain sensors for £345, ParkAssist including reversing camera for £1,086, Speed limit indicator for £236, Cruise control for £228, GTS interior package for £2,096, Two zone-automatic climate control for £539, ISOFIX child seat mounting points on passenger seat for £126.)
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