While we’ll get to drive the Cayman GT4 on track, our launch drive in the 2019 Porsche 718 Boxster Spyder is a glorious jaunt through the Scottish Highlands, with scenery as eye-catching as the rag top Porsche I’m weaving at speed through tight country back roads.
Our road drive takes us from Knockhill Racing Circuit, past the outskirts of Dundee, up through Perth and on to beautiful Pitlochry at the edge of Cairngorms National Park. It always blows my mind how many people who live in other parts of the UK haven’t been to Scotland; the scenery, the roads, the towns are all absolutely stunning.
Back to the muscular 718 Boxster Spyder. The minute there was even a hint of the Spyder becoming a production reality, potential owners started calling dealers, leaving cash deposits and demanding to be put at the head of the waiting list. All for a car that hadn’t been officially confirmed at that stage. So, its popularity is hardly an issue worth arguing and it will sell, there can be no doubt about that.
I’ll state early that I’m not a Boxster buyer - I’d definitely be putting my money down for the Cayman GT4 - but don’t you dare call the Spyder a ‘pretend Porsche’, a ‘hairdresser’s car’, or whatever other cheap shot you can conjure up.
Its 4.0-litre naturally-aspirated flat six delivers 309kW and 420Nm of torque. Zero to 100km/h is claimed at 4.4 seconds, 0-200km/h in 13.8 seconds, and a top speed of 301km/h blow those nasty barbs clean out of the water.
Even I’m forced to admit, that while the styling might not be my favourite execution within the broader Porsche stable, those are some formidable numbers. And there is something exclusive about the Spyder that resonates.
Still, I’m not entirely sold on the styling, especially from the rear three-quarter with the roof up, and the complexity of the rear buttress section of the retractable hood means it is a little fiddly, but there is no doubt the Spyder looks like a special car. Yes it looks better with the roof down - every drop-top should - but it looks pretty appealing with the roof up too, despite the mechanical nature of the fitment.
I almost feel like for this outlay though, I shouldn’t have to do any work at all, but then again, the Spyder is designed for a different kind of buyer. A buyer who probably won’t care that he/she has to open and close the roof manually. You wouldn’t buy the Spyder if you did care, put it that way. There’s no doubt a conventional Boxster, is easier to use in that sense.
I’ll counter my opinion though, with the adoring comments and looks the Spyder was getting with the roof up or down, whenever we passed through, or stopped in at, a Scottish village on the drive loop. Sure, people love Porsches in general, but there was some serious love on the road for the new Spyder.
Crucial to its appeal though is - once again - the way Porsche has designed day-to-day ease of use into something that is so formidable at speed. The Spyder doesn’t feel too low to get into or out of, there’s a useful boot at the rear, and a deep trunk up front, comfortable seats, cupholders that work, wireless smartphone charging and above average visibility. That’s even the case for rearward visibility with the roof in place.
Our test car had firm, fixed back racing seats that weren’t too narrow for average backsides, and weren’t too hard to get into or out of either. The satellite navigation worked perfectly, so too Apple CarPlay, and there’s a wireless charging dock - although the largest smartphones won’t quite sit flat. I mentioned visibility, but that’s an important one when you’re driving a LHD sports car on the left side of the road, in a new environment that you aren’t familiar with. Even with the roof up, the blind spots aren’t heinous.
The steering wheel is a thing of Alcantara-clad beauty, perhaps even a little thinner than you might have expected, the switchgear has that standard solidity that Porsche manufactures into every component and the slick gearshift is so satisfying, you’ll be changing gears for the sake of it - the automatic throttle blip doesn’t hurt there either, just like the GT4 on track. In fact it might even be more satisfying with the Boxster because you’re changing gears more often.
With the top down, auto blip selected and the exhaust open, you can delight in the wailing naturally aspirated engine as you plunge into and out of tight corners with surety. The Spyder is so composed, it’s almost effortless - the role of driver reduced to the most basic of inputs. Accelerate, shift gear, brake, turn in, do it all again. Your only choice is how rapidly you want to cover the ground.
And what an engine the 4.0-litre, flat-six is on the open road. Debate rages long and hard over the merits of forced induction versus natural aspiration, and while that relentless surge of mid-range torque that only a hairdryer - um, I mean turbocharger - can deliver is missing, the superbly linear power delivery and second wind through the mid-range when the engine comes on song, is bloody satisfying. If ever there was a glowing endorsement for the old way, this is it.
We talk about Lambo’s V10 engine a lot, and perhaps we should sit the Porsche flat-six into that Pantheon also, the deep thrum, the smooth surge right up to redline, and the way it revs so freely is utterly addictive. It’s matched by a peerless manual gearbox, with six beautifully spaced ratios and a clutch pedal that is also near perfect. This is driving the way it was meant to be experienced, in the purest sense. The only negative is the $200k entry price means it isn’t open to everyone.
Despite the sports tuned suspension system, which definitely errs on the side of firm, the Spyder is utterly unruffled by nasty surfaces. Everything about the chassis feels incredibly solid, and whilethe ride is firm over the worst surfaces, I never found it uncomfortable or wished it was softer.
Our ride drive is shorter than we would like it to be, and I can’t wait to sample the Spyder on local roads, if we can get our hands on one before they’re all snapped up by ravenous buyers. Rest assured, the latest special Porsche is indeed, special. And its limited numbers should ensure desirability and street cred.
If the Spyder isn’t for you, that’s fine, the GT4 is available. If however, you want to hark back to the evocative 550 Spyder made famous by James Dean - without the rather abrupt end - then this is the car for you. It’s everything it should be.