Porsche 911 2019 speedster

2019 Porsche 911 Speedster review

International first drive

Rating: 8.8
$604,800 Mrlp
  • Fuel Economy
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Porsche has produced the first new 911 Speedster since 2010, and while it's hugely expensive, it's also the first proper GT-based Speedster and one of the most exciting 911s ever.
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At ten-tenths with your right foot flat to the boards while the tacho needle is dancing around the 9000rpm mark, you’re not thinking about the 375kW and 470Nm you’ve got at your command. No, you’re 100 per cent under the hypnotic spell of the 4.0-litre flat-six howl at full noise in the brand-new Porsche 911 Speedster.

That is, until you’re finally jolted out of that mechanically induced trance when suddenly a flock of birds are spooked on a sunny Sardinian afternoon in Italy, and you’re quietly asking yourself, “Does it get any better than this?".

Well, no, not today. Maybe not ever, unless you’re lucky enough to have a lazy $604,800 lying around. But even then, there are no guarantees you’ll end up with a new Speedster. You see, Porsche is only building 1948 of them (the year Porsche commenced production) and Australia will likely end up with around just 20 cars against at least 60 expressions of interest – that’s money-on-the-table kind of interest, if you’re seriously wondering.

Porsche Speedsters have always been rare collectibles, but none more so than the 911 Carrera version based on the Type 993. Only two of these were ever produced: one for Ferdinand Alexander Porsche himself, and the other for US comedian and actor Jerry Seinfeld. His was essentially custom-built using a turbo-wide 4S Carrera body with manual transmission and 18-inch wheels.

Interestingly, for such prized possessions, they haven’t always been objects of rare beauty, though. At least, not like the hardcore 911 GT cars Porsche has produced in similarly small numbers over the years. Put that down to the fact that when you decide to chop the top of that iconic 911 shape, it’s akin to lopping the top off a perfectly formed egg. It just doesn’t look right, aesthetically.

And then there’s the Speedster design element itself adding further design misfortune to the 911 shape, with its generally unflattering humpback-style butt. Only the most recent 997 version sought to reduce the bulge, with a lower-profile form that went some way to improving the car’s top-down looks.

What’s more, Porsche hasn’t exactly been consistent with the Speedster nameplate, either, with sometimes decades between models. No surprise, really, when you consider at one stage in the late ’80s to early ’90s, Porsche senior management even considered retiring the 911 completely.

Going back even further, it wasn’t Porsche that got things going with the Speedster in the first place. That came only after US importer Max Hoffman convinced the carmaker there was a market for a lightweight roadster priced under USD$3000, and only then did Porsche decide to build the first production-series version known as the 356 1500 Speedster priced from just USD$2995.

Thirty-four years would pass before the next Speedster would emerge – the first to be based on the 911 (G-series). That was 1988, and only 2103 examples were ever built, but only for those buyers prepared to shell out a significant 110,000 German Marks.

In 1992, the 964 series emerged as a more serious performer armed with a 3.6-litre flat-six producing 184kW and a top speed of 260km/h. This time, Porsche only built 930 of them, and of those, just 15 with a wide body and a price tag of 131,500 Marks to match.

Speedster buyers would then have to wait until 2010 for the next opportunity to snap one up, when the 997 version arrived in even smaller numbers. Although unveiled at the Paris Motor Show with much fanfare, Porsche would only produce 356 cars equipped with a 3.8-litre flat-six producing 300kW and a top speed of 305km/h. It was priced from a whopping 201,682 Euros.

Porsche teased us with a 911 Speedster Concept in 2018 as a celebration of ‘70 years of Porsche Sports Cars’, but that was really a production-ready road car packing 368kW from its 4.0-litre flat-six.

The new 911 Porsche Speedster borrows heavily from the concept, yet disappointingly loses the bonnet-mounted fuel filler cap and old-school Talbot side mirrors – no doubt due to safety requirements as well as practicality concerns. Pity, because both those features would surely have made this car even more desirable, if the Singer is anything to go by.

Unlike Speedsters, with the exception of the very first 356 series, the new one is a beautiful thing to look at in any form – that’s roof up or down. There’s no more humpback-style rear end to polarise onlookers and Porsche enthusiasts alike. That’s been replaced with a double-bubble roof cover with two beautifully moulded streamliners that give it a distinctive Speedster look compared with a standard 911 Cabriolet.

And, while it might pay homage to old-school Speedster values like the purist weight-saving formula and minimalist comforts, make no mistake, this latest version is a product of cutting-edge technology from body to engine and everything in between.

Take said engine and roof cover. It’s the largest and most complex single carbon-fibre panel ever produced by Porsche, and even with all the add-ons like vents and the mechanism itself, it still weighs just 10kg, though it feels even lighter to pick up.

It houses a simple yet sophisticated soft-top that’s manually operated from outside the car and takes all but 20 seconds to deploy. That said, it nearly didn’t make it into the production series. In fact, one of the development engineers asked about protection from the rain, and was reportedly met with the following answer: “You’re not driving fast enough”. We like their way of thinking.

The bonnet is carbon, too, and it couldn’t weigh more than 6kg, while the carbon-fibre guards feel like they’re no more than three kilos – painted. Speedsters have always been strictly two-seater open-tops, and this latest version is no different. It looks sleeker than a 991 Cabriolet because the window frames are shortened and the windscreen is lower by 50mm, which produces an unusually low fly line like the 356 Speedster.

The carbon-ceramic brake discs are enormous (410mm front, 390mm rear) and look the part behind the tricky central-locking, forged 20-inch wheels that shroud the equally large yellow calipers of our tester.

Ours also came with the Heritage Design Package, which not only includes classic gold Speedster script on the rear lid and B-pillars, but also a host of other design touches like the Cognac leather upholstery on the beautifully styled composite bucket seats and trim. Also included are large racing-style numbers – though we’d tick the no-cost delete box on those in the interest of good taste alone.

The cabin is refreshingly simple with no infotainment system in standard guise, though if you feel the need, it’s a no-cost option that includes navigation, 150-watt sound system and Porsche’s brilliant Track Precision App. Actually, for that alone you'd better go ahead and tick that box too, but leave the racing numbers. Please.

Thankfully, there’s no PDK option, as good as that is. The Speedster is only available with a six-speed manual transmission. Mind you, it’s the best manual transmission we’ve ever used. Seriously.

That’s more than enough about the features and tech. You don’t buy a Porsche 911 Speedster for that stuff. You buy it for the thrill of the drive, and that’s exactly what you get from the moment you climb aboard.

Oh, there is one thing about those racing-style GT3 buckets. Don’t get me wrong, I love them and wouldn’t have it any other way, but that’s only if you don’t use it as a daily, which I’m betting most owners won’t. The side bolsters on the seat cushion are very, very aggressive, and if you’re in and out of them every couple of hours (and you won’t be), then even if you’re in good physical shape, it’s going to get tiresome.

But that’s the only chink in what appears to be a faultless piece of design – deliberately so, I might add. Mind you, I’m not complaining. Not on your life. Same goes for the lightweight door-pull straps. You get used to them.

Thankfully, Porsche still requires owners to insert the key fob and turn to start the engine. It’s not something you ever tire of, even as an owner, because that’s precisely when the fun starts. The 4.0-litre naturally aspirated flat-six may as well be exhibited next to a Steinway & Sons piano or a Stradivarius violin for the music it plays alone.

Wind it up to 9000rpm (as we did on every possible occasion) and there are few better man-made sounds in the world. For me, it’s nothing short of trance-inducing, and the Speedster only serves to enhance the experience – tenfold.

If Porsche has created one of the most outstanding pieces of automotive engineering in the PDK transmission (and it has indeed), so too has it triumphed in the creation of what will go down in automotive annals as one of the most exciting manual gearboxes you’re ever likely to use in a road car. Never mind the 17kg saved over the dual-clutch...

It feels mechanical yet it's impossibly light to shift at the same time, while feeling custom-made for my very small hand. At warp speed, up or down the ratios, it’s a very short shift mechanism. There are no favourite gear ratios in the Speedster, not on these roads, although third seems like a very versatile gear for evenly flowing roads like those in Sardinia with plenty of curves to crush.

The pedal box is perfectly placed for expert heel-and-toe shifting, and for sure we started out that way and we’d encourage you to do the same. But if anyone starts to close in on you from behind, go ahead and hit the ‘auto-blip’ button and thank us later, because this, folks, is the ultimate expression of the manual gearbox.

There’s the sound, too. You’ll find yourself shifting down for no good reason at all – just to hear the blip, again and again. It was almost stupid to downshift in some places, but we did it anyway. It’s just pure addiction. This is where Speedsters have got one up on their 911 GT siblings – and that includes my all-time favourite GT3 RS. It’s that engine noise coming at you from all sides that makes it such an intoxicating thing to drive.

Then there’s the throttle response, and that’s off the charts, too. It’s the reason I chose a naturally aspirated Carrera S over the latest turbocharged model, but the Speedster hits new highs that even go beyond the same-series GT3 Coupe, literally. It feels like you’ve got a Bluetooth connection between the throttle and your motor neurons – at least, the ones that control your right foot.

That’s because Porsche has made a few changes to this Gen-III Speedster engine, like the 250-bar direct injection, individual throttle bodies for each cylinder, and a new lightweight exhaust system with two particulate filters that comply with Euro 6d emissions requirements.

But, let’s forget about emissions for the moment. It doesn’t seem to matter what gear you’re in or where you are in the rev range – there’s always an instant and perfectly metered response to throttle movements. That is what makes this car such a spectacularly rewarding thing to drive. The quicker the better in my book. It all comes down to the modified intake system with individual throttle valves for that lightning-fast acceleration out of corners.

The numbers (375kW and 470Nm) don’t matter. In fact, they mean nothing when it comes to the Speedster because this is a proper Porsche GT car, and it feels every bit that way right from the get-go. The fact that it needs all of 4.0 seconds flat to go from 0–100km/h is also an irrelevant fact, because the feel-good factor is 10 out of 10. Not that it ever feels anything but quick, mind you.

And for those that might rightly be thinking the Speedster isn’t as sorted in the handling department thanks to its soft-top body, think again. While I don’t have any rigidity numbers to suggest any such weakness in the handling department, I also can’t think of a single moment during a two-hour B-road blast at maximum pace when I could feel any compromise to body control or cornering grip. In fact, traction, even in the tighter turns, felt huge. And we were pushing hard...

Proper engineering sorcery comes from the stupidly good ride/handling balance, especially during the morning's drive over similarly rubbish roads like the local stuff here in Australia. ‘The bumpier the better’ should be one of the catchphrases for this car, because no-one except Porsche seems to be able to perfect what is still a black art of suspension tuning in the sports car segment.

That was tested from both the driver and passenger seats with a car riding on aggressive Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 road tyres, which generally affect ride comfort in a negative sense. But not this car. And that was hitting mid-corner bumps taken under exceedingly high loads with the car’s adaptive dampers in the more aggressive Sport setting. Yet still the car was perfectly settled, meaning you then pushed even harder without conceding any grip. Really remarkable stuff.

It’s a hugely expensive car that is easily outpaced by lower-priced versions in the 911 range, and yet such a limited production run has ensured that all 1948 cars are already spoken for. And that’s by buyers that haven’t yet driven the car.

It clearly demonstrates just how low on the priority scale outright performance figures can be. In the end, the Speedster is a purebred road car and one of the most accomplished sports cars on the planet, as well as one of the most enjoyable cars ever from behind the wheel.

I never thought I’d ever say that about a 911 soft-top, but this car is a spectacular triumph in every regard bar its sky-high asking price.

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