FIRST DRIVE: Porsche 718 GTs buck evolutionary trend

718s are cars for enthusiasts who love to drive, and especially drive fast

Published: July 11, 2019, 9:05 AM
Updated: November 23, 2021, 4:05 PM

2020 Porsche 718 Cayman GT4

EDINBURGH—The new 718 GTs are heavier than before, and they have bigger engines. This isn’t the way cars are evolving these days, when new models find extra ways to save weight, and every engine is a turbocharged 4-cylinder. What’s going on?

But these are the sporty 718s – cars for enthusiasts who love to drive, and who especially love to drive fast. Porsche already makes hybrids to offset the emissions demands of government, and soon it will be making the all-electric Taycan, so it can afford the occasional foray with large, naturally-aspirated engines.

The 2020 Porsche 718 Spyder and 718 Cayman GT4 have their 4.0-litre flat-6s mounted in the middle of their redesigned chassis, and although Porsche thought about turbocharging them, it went the non-turbo route to satisfy the purists. As well, there’s no lag when you step on the throttle. And they sound great.

New engine, and new design

The engine was developed just for these cars, derived from an existing flat-six but basically new. It’s slightly larger even than the previous GT4 engine, which was 3.8 litres.

It creates 414 hp, up from the 350 hp of the Cayman S and Boxster S, but with the same 309 lb-ft of torque as those smaller fours. The extra power helps punch the GTs through to 100 km/h from standstill in 4.4 seconds, which is 0.2 seconds quicker than the smaller siblings. Both the convertible Spyder and the coupe Cayman GT4 have the same acceleration times thanks to sharing the same 1,420-kg weight; the Spyder’s roof has no heavy (and costly) electric motors to raise and lower it. You need to get out of the car and fix it manually into place.

The real advantage of the new 718 GTs, however, is in their aerodynamic design. A diffuser underneath the rear of the car is claimed to increase downforce by up to 50%, accounting for 30% of the total weight at the back axle. Combined with a full GT chassis for both models that runs 30 mm lower than the regular 718s, it means the car sticks to the road like glue.

Keeping it simple

There are no drive mode settings for the Spyder and GT4 – Porsche assumes their drivers want Sport all the time. These are cars designed for the track, after all. You can press a button to permit automatic rev-matching for the manual transmission, and you can press another button to open the baffles and make everything louder. Noise is a big part of this car, and Porsche doesn’t try very hard to quieten the experience in the cabin. You can firm the suspension, and you can turn off the Traction Control and Stability Management, but you’d better know what you’re doing. Unlike other Porsches that will switch the nannies back on when you start to lose it, Off is Off with these versions. Good luck.

On the track with the coupe

How is it to drive? I settled into the tight and non-adjustable bucket seats – an extra-cost option over the standard sport seating – and set out with the Cayman GT4 onto the Knock Hill track here to find out. I didn’t push it, though. Rain was lashing the Scottish Lowlands and both traction and visibility were very limited. Yes, I hit 160 km/h on the back straight of the short and undulating track, and no, I never felt overly concerned, but this was not the time to be a hero.

I did, however, ride as a passenger with Porsche race driver Mark Webber and he showed what’s possible when you know what you’re doing. He drove hard over the super-slippery curbs, and wiggled comfortably around the final hairpin, chatting all the way. The car didn’t put a wheel wrong.

In any case, the Cayman GT4 has already proven itself in ideal conditions on the Nürburgring, which it lapped in 7 minutes, 28 seconds. This is 12 seconds faster than its GT4 predecessor. Porsche says the larger engine’s extra power accounts for three of those seconds, but the other nine seconds were trimmed by the improved aerodynamics of the vehicle, holding more tightly to the asphalt through corners.

The entire movement of air through and underneath the GTs is a hard-fought science. A new splitter at the front cuts more effectively through the wind, and large intakes force cooling air back to the engine, or over the brakes. The Cayman GT4 has a prominent fixed wing at the rear to press the car down, while the Spyder has a smaller, retractable wing that pops up automatically at 120 km/h.

On country roads with the convertible

I drove the Spyder in much better conditions through the countryside, top down all the way. The sun came out for a few brief moments and locals commented that “Scotland’s summer is happening on a Tuesday this year.” I saw one other convertible that afternoon – we waved at each other in brotherhood.

When the roof is down and tucked into place beneath the large rear trunk lid – there’s a bigger trunk in the front, where most cars have their engines – the Spyder sounds terrific. Press the button to open the baffles and it sounds glorious. It defaults to the quieter sound when the ignition’s been turned off in order to keep the neighbours happy.

There is a peculiar change in sound, however, somewhere around 3,000 to 4,000 rpm, and that’s because the big six-cylinder engine has cylinder deactivation. One bank of cylinders shuts itself off if the engine isn’t under load in order to save fuel. It’s not true deactivation because everything keeps spinning, but no fuel is fed to the plugs in that bank. If the engine stays on a light load, then the deactivated bank will swap with the other every 20 seconds or so to make sure nothing overheats.

It’s a little simpler for Porsche to manage this because the new 718 GTs have piezo injectors, which can feed the cylinders with atomized fuel in an ultra-precise way. This also helps to save fuel, as does the standard start-stop technology, though this is more to keep governments and regulators happy for overall fleet consumption. Nobody buys a 718 GT to try to save on gas.

Is it worth it?

These are drivers’ cars, pure and simple. They’re available only with a six-speed manual transmission (there’s not the physical space to fit the seven-speed), but Porsche now says it will offer the PDK automatic transmission in the near future – probably in the next model year. It was surprised by how many drivers want the paddle-shifted PDK, but it’s a little quicker in its performance times, and no driver can shift as fast in a manual. Not even Mark Webber, who heel-and-toed around the track at his customary elevated speed.

Should you spend the extra money on a 718 GT? After all, at $110,500 for the Spyder and $113,800 for the Cayman GT, they’re almost twice the price of the basic 718s.

It all depends, of course, on whether you want to take your car to the track. If you’re not bothered, any of the less expensive Boxsters and Caymans will give you more comfort and convenience, and better value for money. If you want to take it to the track, however, then it may well be worth it. You’ll give 911 drivers a run for their money, and pretty much everyone else too.