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Pity the Boxster and Cayman’s perpetual crawl out from the shadow of the 911 in constant effort to be accepted as bona-fide heroic Porsche sports cars. And that’s despite what sometimes seems like their maker’s best efforts to keep them on the back foot and in the dark. The slow, evolutionary creep of adding 10kW here and shaving one-tenth of a second there improving the breed lacks the kind of resonance needed to break that ‘poor man’s and woman’s Porsche’ stigma.
It’s the blessing of an inherently brilliant chassis that’s been the Boxster’s and Cayman’s curse. When this current generation launched the old naturally aspirated, six-powered pre-turbocharged form, Porsche made a fair song and dance that the platform was inherently more dynamically capable than that of the flagship 911, thanks to the interplay of wheelbase, track, a lower centre of gravity, and engine placement forward of the rear axle for more ideal weight balance.
And so the junior twins play to a formula that promotes dynamics first and tends to squash output, performance and sheer acceleration into far less significance. Porsche stymies the Boxster and Cayman's potential so as not to tread on the coat-tails of 911’s halo. Hamstringing the Cayman/Boxster with 2.5-litre four-cylinder power rather than the 911's fulsome turbo sixes is an easy tactic.
But as the latest and greatest 2018 Porsche 718 Boxster GTS or 2018 718 Cayman GTS prove, if you continue to steadily evolve goodness, it eventually becomes greatness, regardless of the wider prevailing perception.
If fitted with optional seven-speed dual-clutch PDK and using the standard-fit launch control, either coupe or convertible will launch from a standstill to 100km/h in 4.1 seconds. The glass half-empty viewpoint is that this improves on the current 718 S variants by just one-tenth of a second (there’s that evolutionary creep).
Glass half-full perspective, though, is that 4.1sec is bloody quick outright, just 0.2sec shy of dipping into the heroic threes. It’s also a formidable six-tenths quicker than the old naturally aspirated six-cylinder Boxster and Cayman GTSs. It’s particularly quick for an also-ran sports car model line powered by a four-cylinder engine that, by its dynamics-skewed formula, was never designed and engineered for sheer head-smacking acceleration.
And should all elements remain equal in balance true to formula, a lift in the 718’s already heady dynamic talent to match the rise in performance should elevate the Boxster/Cayman to bona-fide hero status in GTS form.
Porsche chose the smooth, twisty mountain roads of southern Spain on which to demonstrate the new Boxster GTS’s newfound mettle, and the excellent 26-corner Ascari race circuit nearby on which to unleash its Cayman GTS coupe twin. And the nutshell summation of our first taste of both cars is that the GTS enhancements trade a little bit of sweetness and intimacy in the 718 experience for a tangible increase in focus, vibe and ferocity.
Those changes? A redeveloped inlet duct and ‘optimised’ variable-geometry turbocharger, with higher peak boost than an ‘S’ engine (1.3bar versus 1.1bar), lifts power by 11kW to 269kW. Peak torque is 430Nm across a broad 1900–5000rpm range with the PDK version, though opting for the standard six-speed manual drops the figure to 420Nm…and slows the 0–100km/h claim by half a second to 4.6sec. The top speed for any flavour of GTS you like is 290km/h.
Lowered (10mm) firmer PASM active suspension is standard – a 20mm dropped ‘sport’ option is offered – as is PTV torque vectoring with an integrated mechanical limited-slip differential. Wheels are 20-inch ‘Carrera S’ style with 235mm front and 265mm rear Pirelli P Zero rubber, finished in GTS signature black much like so many of the cars’ trim highlights and details, headlight and tail-light innards and various badges.
Sport Chrono is also standard, which adds the aforementioned launch control, dynamic engine mounts, four drive modes (Normal, Sport, Sport Plus and Individual), rev-matching on downshifts, a ‘loose’ PSM Sport stability control tune and, if PDK is fitted, a Sport Response function for, to quote Porsche, “the fastest possible unleashing of power and boost pressure” – a sort of overboost – for up to 20 seconds.
First to try is the drop-top version. Inside, the cabin is typical modern Boxster, cosy and form fitting, with design still tied to the old Porsche button fetish rather than the slick minimalist take adopted by the new Cayenne and Panamera. The brief is lashings of Alcantara – a personal favourite effect – with double-stitched leather in abundance and ‘GTS’ monikers on the seats and driver’s instrumentation.
Our example is a strange spec: optional one-piece mechanical-adjust race buckets in lieu of the standard-fit two-way-electric, body-hugging ‘Sport Plus’ seats. Given our car has optional carbon ceramic brakes – 350mm discs all round, six- and four-piston calipers – instead of the four-piston 330mm/299mm regular anchors, and there’s no reversing camera, it’s clearly ticked boxes to suit circuit work. It even has basic one-zone air-con rather than proper two-zone climate control.
Also lean is the assistance systems list. Multi-collision brake, or automated braking assist after a collision is instigated, is standard, but there's no AEB. Blind-spot monitoring is standard, but there are no active-intervention systems on show. Even cruise control and a rear-view camera are optional in some markets.
On start-up it sounds fitter and bolder than lesser 718s. The GTS package fits the so-called sport exhaust system, with a flap control amplifying the note from loud to louder either manually or automatically depending on throttle input. Raspy, metallic and now less WRX-like, it's tuned in unison with the engine specifically for extra crackle on the overrun.
On the move, the engine is urgent in response and gloriously linear in a manner few turbo fours can match, with oodles of low-rpm energy. Don’t get me wrong comrades, I’m with you all the way in the lament of the loss of natural aspiration, but this is the 2.5-litre flat four at its best – show it a slithering back road and it’ll impress the most ardent sceptic.
Thrust is assertive and satisfying, but it’s the smooth curvature of energy delivery and the willingness to rev hard to seven grand and beyond that’s both useful and addictive. Particularly tied to the positive, if not quite rifle-bolt slick, six-speed cog-swapper. From hairpin to straight to sweeping corner, there’s enough guts underfoot to leave it in third gear and maintain rapid progress as the road speed flows up and down. The rev-matching, too, is a handy ally in the heat of the moment.
The chassis is nothing short of brilliant: communicative, pinpoint accurate, lithe and extremely engaging. The linear and moderately quick steering, too, really anchors the engagement between driver and the road below. What is patently clear is that the dynamic trickery at play – the PASM, the torque vectoring, the mechanical diff tuning – does an amazing job of generating herculean grip from those Pirellis without robbing the ‘life’ out of the handling package.
What’s also clear is that despite the newfound potency of the engine and its willingness to lunge the drop-top toward the horizon, there’s still not quite enough poke to power-oversteer out of corners on throttle input alone. The underlying theme – the formula – is still one of more chassis than engine prowess.
On road, at least, the Boxster GTS experience rewards with fizzy vibe and satisfying point-to-point pace, yet feels more planted and idiotproof than, say, a mid-spec 911. Yes, the suspension is very taut, though not with some nice initial compliance and deft damper control that maintains such impressive tyre grip when the tarmac turns lumpy mid-corner. I doubt it’d be any slower than a Carrera S across the kinds of narrow twisties southern Spain offers in abundance.
The track reveals a different complexion of the same fundamental character. Our circuit Cayman has PDK but lacks the race buckets and carbon-ceramic anchors of our Boxster tester. Interestingly, launching the coupe hard out of pit lane, the exhaust sounds a good few decibels quieter, though it's still bold and clear as it bounces around the cabin space.
The task is to chase down – well, hanging on precariously – to the tailpipes of a Porsche instructor’s 911 Carrera S, a slightly daunting task given that a) old mate is pulling few punches with his pace, and b) the patchy dampness in plenty of dangerous places from heavy rain downpours the day before.
The Cayman GTS – and presumably its Boxster twin – become far more lively and animated once you pile on nine-tenths racetrack pace. Or more if I’m to prevent a 911 disappearing off into the distance.
It certainly feels damn quick, though a clear measure of just how quick the Cayman is soon comes to light. In some corners, the 911 yaws and swings its tail with more animation than the Cayman does. In other areas, generally firing out of the corners, the Carrera S steals the march. But all evidence suggests that, on balance of a lap, they’re quite equal for outright pace.
As on the road, the Pirellis load up more lateral grip than you expect – it’s an easy car to adjust the line with if you’ve entered a corner too hot on a trajectory too shallow. Push the friction friendship too hard and either end of the car will shift off line by barely more than a tyre’s width, it’ll recover grip quickly, and the sheer responsiveness of the chassis allows immediate correction using minimal input from the steering and pedals. It’s an utterly intuitive and cooperative car to drive on the ragged edge, even in mixed track conditions.
Besides the loose stability-control calibration that never seems to rob the Cayman of thrust, it feels as if the tuning of the torque vectoring has been played with. It’s more eager to slide the rear entering corners, and easier to point the nose in the desired direction when lifting off the throttle or trailing the brake. But even if this 718 dances and shimmies with more enthusiasm than I remember, there’s still not enough squirt from the engine to induce heroic powerslides without purposefully unsettling the chassis before plunging the right foot.
It’s easy to come away from the GTS satisfied and with grins aplenty by the experience on the road or track. Like all great sports cars, it rewards what the driver puts in, and gets better and better the closer you push it to its limits. That said, by nature of its friendliness, it’s not the last word in sheer, white-knuckled thrill rides, essentially because its engine doesn’t overpower its dynamic talents.
At $173,100 for the 718 Cayman GTS and $175,900 for the 718 Boxster GTS (before on-roads or forking out an extra $5980 for PDK) when the pair land in Oz in March, it’s a not insignificant $27,600 stretch above their respective ‘S’ variant peers. For some buyers, the on-paper gains the GTS offers won’t stack up. For others, there’ll be enough justification in the harder-core spec, the bolder vibe and added cache to warrant the extra splurge. But there are rarely free kicks in Porsche Land: want more, pay more.
Yes, it’s a lot of coin for a poor man’s or woman’s Porsche. But these flagship 718 versions deserve – and deliver – far more than that unwarranted stigma implies.
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