The re-introduction of a naturally-aspirated flat-six to the 718 Cayman and Boxster is more significant than its survival in the GT4 and Spyder for one key reason: we thought it was gone for good. But Porsche has found a way with the new GTS, delivering an atmospheric, mid-engined sports car in series production format - and without the input of its Motorsport department.
Though understandably controversial, the previous flat-four GTSs were always sublime driver’s machines. The coarse soundtrack of the 2.5-litre 718 GTSs will forever divide opinion, but the calibre of the chassis was beyond question; a fact that makes the introduction of a 400hp 4.0-litre engine even more significant. That virtually the same motor already features in the more expensive GT4/Spyder does it no harm either. Ditto the standard-fit six-speed manual gearbox and limited slip diff. And the smaller asking price.
It’s handy too that the 2020 718s also looks great. The shape has evolved gently since the 981, but now, with those darkened features, 20-inch wheels wrapped around Pirelli P Zero boots and 20mm lower than standard PASM chassis, both the coupe and convertible have grown into a look that’s as purposeful as it is pretty. The dimensions and wheelbases are the same as before, and they’ve gained only 20kg over their four-pot predecessors at 1,405kg apiece. It’s the twist of the key that completes the picture, though, confirming that the 718 is once again accompanied by the familiar tick-over chatter of a Porsche flat-six.
Naturally it’s a detuned version of the 420hp 4.0-litre that powers the GT4 and Spyder, here with 400hp at 7,000rpm, 800rpm below the limiter. That’s a 35hp improvement on the old flat-fours, while 310lb ft of torque is also better, just. The lack of a turbo inevitably means that twist is produced from 5,000 to 6,500rpm, some 3,100 revs later than the previous GTS. Straight-line performance is actually slightly better, with the 718 4.0s hitting 62mph a tenth quicker at 4.5 seconds.
While the technical changes underneath are exciting, there are no significant updates to the cabin, which very clearly belongs to Porsche’s previous generation. There are buttons galore on the centre console, the infotainment screen is barely bigger than some smartphones and you get a largely analogue instrument cluster. So it's not going to appeal to your average 15-year-old, but everyone else will likely appreciate the tactility and authenticity of such a layout. After all, there’s nothing quite like a proper rev counter, manual gear lever and three pedals, is there? We have nothing bad to say about the bucket seats or positioning of the controls, either. For yours truly, it’s spot on.
Once up and running the engine craves attention. It. Sounds. Lovely. Particularly in the Boxster, for obvious reasons, being purposefully gravelly at low revs before the intakes just over your shoulder gargle under load and take advantage of the lightweight internals as it breaks out into flat-six song. It’s razor sharp and wonderfully responsive all the way through the rev band, particularly above 5,000rpm, where, unencumbered by a turbocharger, it rushes headfirst toward its redline.
All this is good because inevitably the GTS is going to ask for a bit more effort from its driver. The new motor pulls fine from tickover, but where the previous 718 sprinted from apexes in virtually any gear, the 4.0-litre version wants an extra downshift if you're to get the best of it. This is no bad thing, of course, because that six-speed manual is utterly fabulous to use, thanks to its absurdly positive shift action and auto-blip function. Managing the latter yourself is hardly any more onerous thanks to the zippy engine, although a PDK option will arrive later this year if you'd like to go quicker still.
Crucially, the scene-chewing new powertrain doesn't overshadow the 718's celebrated ensemble cast. There are frequently times when the respective limits of engine and chassis arrive together, and in these moments, the GTS 4.0 is utterly magnificent. We were restricted to driving the Boxster on the road and the Cayman at Estoril Circuit (more on that shortly), so we can’t say for certain whether the convertible sacrifices some outright performance to the tin top. But in the prevailing conditions, it doesn’t feel like it. Indeed, the Boxster’s ride is really rather good; firmer than other 718s thanks to its shorter spring travel in the PASM configuration, but never harsh and there’s no noticeable flex.
Click the dampers into their stiffer setting and the body control is fantastic. You can tip the Boxster into bends and encroach on its mechanical limits with confidence thanks to a) clarity of feedback and b) the mid-engine balance which has been on show since day one. On the road, it is welcomingly neutral, wanting only a light press of the throttle for the sort of easily controlled rotation that makes a mockery of the engine being mounted anywhere else. At Estoril the Cayman reveals a miniscule amount of safety understeer on corner entry if you really hammer in. But rather than washing the car out, it simply eliminates the chance of any snap oversteer and offers the driver an opportunity to get greedy on the power and bring the 4.0-litre back into play. As in the slightly faster 718 GT4/Spyder, it’s up to you how greedy; the GTS 4.0 is not a car to spit you off the circuit.
It’s worth noting that while the standard 350mm/330mm steel brakes are very strong and perfectly up to the job of quick road driving, the optional carbon ceramics feel like a worthy upgrade for those planning on taking their cars on track. Half a dozen fast laps resulted in no fade, even when glued to the rear of a 911 Carrera S. The pads work well from cold and the pedal feel gets better and better the harder you push; although then again, they are a £5k option.
If there’s a complaint among all this easily-won praise, it’s that the GTS’s overall limits are higher than the cheaper Alpine A110’s, so accessing those dynamic talents does require another level of commitment on the road. For some that’ll be a deal maker rather than breaker - but for others, the delicacy of the A110 remains on another level. That being said, thanks to the immediacy of the 4.0-litre and the physical control rendered by the manual transmission, it’s not like the 718 GTS 4.0 is lacking in approachability. Cliche or not, the GTS wraps around its driver like fireproof race suit and juggles playfulness and predictability absurdly well. What more could you ask for from a sports car playing second fiddle to something more expensive? No-one would call the model cheap in either format, but nothing else you could have for the money feels as rewarding or as sophisticated. Which makes the GTS seem like fantastic value.
As far as first impressions on the continent go then, this one’s about as good as it gets. Obviously there is some extra scrutiny to come when we drive the car in the UK - especially the Cayman - but the odds of it failing the B road test are short to none. We won't have long to wait anyway - first deliveries are due by April. If you're already on the wait list, consider us green with envy.
SPECIFICATION - PORSCHE CAYMAN/BOXSTER 718 GTS 4.0
Engine: 3,995cc, flat-six
Transmission: 6-speed manual, rear-wheel drive
Power (hp): 400@7,000pm
Torque (lb ft): 310@5,000-6,500rpm
0-60mph: 4.5 seconds
Top speed: 182mph
Weight: 1,405kg (DIN)
CO2: from 246g/km