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2020 Porsche 718 Spyder First Drive

Pure Purist Convertible Joy

What is it?

Quite simply, the 718 Spyder is the Porsche Cayman GT4 in open form. As gorgeous as the last Boxster Spyder was, it always lived in the shadow of its Porsche Motorsport GT4 relation. Its status within Porsche as a regular production model denied it many of the special mechanical bits that made the GT4 such an appealing car.

That is no longer the case, and the Spyder is now the GT4's equal. It's a fully fledged Motorsport product, which means it, too, gains suspension derived from the 911 GT3, while the 4.0-liter non-turbo flat-six doesn't lose anything in power compared to its Cayman GT4 coupe relation.

That all-new engine powering it has 414 horsepower at 7,800 rpm, allowing it a claimed 0-60 mph time of 4.2 seconds and a top speed of 187 mph. Top speed is the only area where the Spyder concedes any performance to the GT4, and it's only an insignificant 1 mph. There is a slight increase in weight, but at 3,206 pounds, the open-topped car is only 7 pounds heavier than its coupe alternative. Unless you're a Formula 1 team, that weight difference isn't worth commenting on.

If there's one area where the 718 Spyder's lesser numbers actually count, it's on the pricing. At $96,300, it's $4,200 less than that Cayman GT4, and that difference buys a lot of sunscreen.

It's worth noting that this Spyder is not a "Boxster Spyder." Dropping the Boxster name from the 718 Spyder is intriguing, as if Porsche is subtly moving this hardcore model away from its 718 Boxster relations. Certainly, it looks a bit different thanks to its more overt aero styling and large rear clamshell. The visual changes and the Spyder badge signal it as a more focused model that's lighter and a touch more compromised as a result.

The chief compromise centers around the roof. It's simpler, and it does without much of the sound-deadening and insulation found in regular Boxsters. It's also manual. First hit the button unlocking the roof from the windshield top, then fold it down and stow it in the Spyder's unique rear clamshell compartment. Doing so is easy enough and worth the effort, because opening up the Spyder adds another dimension to the multi-faceted driving experience you get with the new GT4, and one that is arguably even more enjoyable.

2020 Porsche 718 Spyder

Why does it matter?

The 718 Spyder gives open-topped driving fans a car to aspire to since the recent limited-edition 911 Speedster is probably out of your reach both in price and availability. At the official unveil, GT department boss Andreas Preuninger admitted the 718 is "a third of the price of the 911 Speedster, but it's definitely not a third of the car."

This 2020 Spyder not only pleases the Porsche loyalists with legitimate performance gains, but it also cures one of the 718 Boxster's most significant ailments: the sound. From day one, we were turned off by the coarse and uninspired rasp of the four-cylinder. We longed for the previous generation's flat six-cylinder in the same way that classic rock devotees long to hear their kids blasting AC/DC instead of Ed Sheeran.

The Spyder is the answer to the question, "How far can you take the Boxster platform?"

2020 Porsche 718 Spyder

What does it compete with?

The 718 Spyder doesn't exist in isolation among rivals, but the rivals that do exist roughly in performance or price offer very different driving experiences. Audi's TT RS Roadster might present a more bombastic performance at a lower price, but it has nothing like the 718 Spyder's driving purity. BMW currently doesn't have an offering in its Z4 lineup to take on the Spyder, though M models will exist in time. The closest in price is Corvette's Z06 3LZ convertible, which is just $145 more than the Spyder and possesses 250 hp more. That's a different animal altogether, though.

The 718 Spyder's biggest competition arguably comes from the Cayman GT4, especially now that it offers the same mechanical specification. Open or closed, then, Spyder or GT4, the decision used to be very clear-cut, but now the balance has tipped in favor of the Spyder.

2020 Porsche 718 Spyder

How does it drive?

In a word, spectacularly. Expectations were high as soon as Porsche announced the Spyder was no longer the GT4's poor relation. Having all of the GT4's driver appeal with the added ability minus the roof makes a hugely compelling case for the open car.

As performance cars become increasingly sanitized, the 718 Spyder is a brilliant riposte. The focus here is not on outright power or the numbers associated with it. If you want those, check out some of the competition discussed above. What it does deliver is a pure hit of driving engagement. And when you're behind the wheel, you'll not care one bit that many could better its 4.2-second 0-60 mph time for less money, or that others can offer significantly more power.

It's all about the details with the Spyder, which doesn't come as a surprise really when you consider it originates from the same Porsche toy box as the GT3, GT3 RS and GT2 RS. The suspension sits 0.8 inch lower than any conventional Boxster, on parts borrowed from underneath the GT3. It's taut as a result, but that doesn't translate to brittleness or compromise. The damping is such that the Spyder's chassis is able to cope admirably with even some horrendously poor road surfaces on our test-drive route in Scotland.

That fine control of the wheels and body is more remarkable in the Spyder than the GT4, primarily because it's more difficult to achieve in an open car. You'll never notice any difference in the rigidity between the two cars. Porsche's people do concede that there is a difference elsewhere. As while the GT4 develops actual downforce, the Spyder, with its differing rear aerodynamics, "doesn't produce any lift." The GT4 will feel a bit more stable if you're maxing out on the autobahn in its mother country. But everywhere else, that talk of downforce difference between the two cars is exactly that, talk.

The focus on driver engagement is obvious from inside the cabin. Aside from the usual ability to switch off traction and stability control, an exhaust button for a more inspiring-sounding exhaust and an auto-blip that rev-matches your downshifts, there are no selectable driver modes. There is a Sport option for the chassis, but selecting that anywhere other than the track only adds unwelcome frequency to the otherwise supple, controlled ride.

Simple, then, is the watchword, and that is no more obvious than with the steering wheel. It's round and has no buttons or paddles. At least not yet. Currently, the Spyder is only offered with a sweet-shifting six-speed manual. Its mechanical precision makes it among the best manual transmissions we've ever driven, whether you're wringing out the 4.0-liter to its heady 8,000 rpm maximum or just cruising in traffic. If that still doesn't appeal, be patient, as Porsche has admitted that the Spyder will be offered with a seven-speed paddle-shifted PDK in the next year.

But until then, that manual makes for a hugely engaging and immersive driving experience. It's helped with the detailed steering feel, massive grip, huge chassis balance and poise, as well as the enthusiastic response from the 4.0-liter non-turbo flat-six engine. The engine's ample low-rev torque helps mask the lengthy ratios in the transmission, which are the only slight negative in the Spyder and GT4's makeup. Those long gears remain a small blemish, and, says Porsche, are a technical necessity to allow the Spyder and GT4 to pass global economy and emissions regulations. It's a price we're happy to pay to have such an engaging, involving driver's car on the road.

2020 Porsche 718 Spyder

What else should I know?

That lightweight roof does require a bit of manual labor to stow, so you'll need to be parked to do so. It's thin, too, which means even when it's up you're still a lot closer to the sounds around and from the car. But it's not a hardship, considering that the 4.0-liter flat-six's melodious, characterful boxer tones are something to be savored. Having the correct engine singing behind you in the Spyder, rather than the somewhat muted and uncultured noise from the 718 Boxster models' turbocharged flat-fours, is reason enough to buy it.

2020 Porsche 718 Spyder

Edmunds says

All the fanfare will inevitably be centered around the Cayman GT4 model during the launch phase because of what came before it. But now that the Spyder is the GT4's equal, it really shouldn't be ignored. Indeed, it's now the purer driving car, as opening up the roof only adds to the hugely thrilling driving experience. That it's cheaper only adds to its appeal. Offer us the keys to both and it's the Spyder's we'd grab, and we don't think we'll be alone in that.

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