Porsche 718 2020 boxster gts 4.0

2020 Porsche 718 Boxster GTS 4.0 review

International first drive

Rating: 8.2
$175,200 Mrlp
  • Fuel Economy
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Porsche's 718 GTS 4.0s are crackers on-track. But how does the naturally aspirated, manual-only Boxster fare as a road car?
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When Porsche made the paradigm shift in powertrain format for its 718 Cayman GTS and Boxster GTS twins, its choice of Estoril Circuit in Portugal was a wise one. The racetrack’s flowing mix of fast and tight corners, and near-kilometre-long pit straight, allowed what’s a return to naturally aspirated motivation, by way of high-revving 4.0-litre boxer power paired exclusively with a six-speed manual gearbox, to be exercised and demonstrated to its fullest, driven as intended.

Spoiler alert: the new 718 Cayman GTS 4.0 is utterly brilliant on-track. (Read that story here.) Not merely the powertrain that seems at its best with its legs properly stretched well beyond legal road limits, but the rest of the track-friendly package that robs from the hardcore GT4 version, and adds a lot of go-faster gear over the more all-rounder S versions of the roadster and coupe that pays genuine dividends at white-knuckled pace off-street. And you can read about our track test of the Cayman version here.

But it would be silly to go to the expense and trouble of flying in Aussie scribes from across the planet without demonstrating the road-going chops of its GTS reformulation. Porsche chose the 718 Boxster GTS 4.0 exclusively for a course looping out across the Sierra de Sintra and down along the Portuguese coastline to Cascais, west of Lisbon.

Porsche picked a similar Cayman-track, Boxster-road combination for the last 718 GTS launch in Spain in 2017, back when the first of this current ‘982’ generation fitted a turbocharged 2.5-litre boxer four with a choice of manual or PDK dual-clutch transmissions. I happened to be there. Outright, the old turbo GTS was actually faster – 4.1sec for 0–100km/h with PDK versus today’s 4.0 manual-only’s 4.5sec best – and, importantly, its lean, boosted powertrain made for an experience as satisfying on the road as it was around Spain’s Ascari racetrack.

But after having the six-pot, six-speed manual Cayman GTS 4.0 blow my socks off once strung out on-track, I have some doubts about how its Boxster clone will fare on a much tighter road-going leash.

Why? The big question mark is the engine. It’s dry-sumped, current 911-derived, direct (piezo) injected, features a dual-mass flywheel from the 911 GT3, and revs to a lofty 7800rpm cut-out after arriving at peak power at 7000rpm. But it doesn’t make peak torque – that of primary balanced driving benefit – until 5000rpm. And even then, the engine produces a hardly hellacious 420Nm, which is precisely what the tamer Boxster S makes much lower in its turbo 2.5-litre four’s rev range. In fact, in Aussie spec, the GTS 4.0 is just 0.1sec quicker to 100km/h manual for manual, and the Boxster S is actually one-tenth quicker with a PDK.

Sure, if 0–100km/h prowess is a primary drawcard, Boxster/Cayman territory is perhaps a dumb place to go shopping. But if you’re after what’s essentially a road-going two-seater sports car, the $26,200 you’d save off the Boxster GTS 4.0’s $175,200 list price opting for an equally quick S model is hardly chump change. That’s before taking into consideration that the turbo 2.5-litre S (7.4L/100km PDK/8.2L/100km manual) is markedly more fuel-efficient per hundred on a combined cycle than the naturally aspirated 4.0-litre GTS (10.9L/100km).

Much of that extra $26K-odd splurge for the aforementioned go-faster gear certainly proved its worth in Cayman form on-track, mostly above 100km/h and at speeds fast approaching the neighbourhood of either GTS 4.0's 293km/h v-max. But here’s the thing: either GTS only needs six forward ratios to get damn close to 300km/h, which seems awfully long-legged faced with 110km/h speed limits.

Beyond the Boxster S, the GTS also adds firmer, lower (20mm total drop) adaptively damped ‘PASM’ suspension against the S-spec's 10mm-lower chassis, and adds a torque-vectoring mechanical LSD and dynamic gearbox mounts not offered on lower-grade Caymans. Brakes are huge six- and four-piston monobloc calipers with larger 350mm and 330mm discs front and rear.

Meanwhile, Sport Chrono, usually a $3770 sting, is standard issue, bringing with it track-savvy Sport Plus drive mode, a wheel-mounted mode selector, throttle-blip rev-matching on downshifts (Sport and Sport Plus), and a ‘loose’ PCM Sport stability-control calibration.

Of course, the GTS gets an inimitable look, too. This includes black-accented details, sporty bodywork enhancements front and rear, ‘twin-tract’ exhaust outlets, satin-finish 718 Sport-style 20-inch wheels, and tinted bi-xenon dynamic headlights and (static) tail-lights outside.

Inside, the interior benefits from lashings of Alcantara, a choice of red or light grey ‘Crayon’ stitching, seatbelts and instrumentation, and a specific ‘GT’ steering wheel. But the main differentiator in the cabin is the race-style Sport Plus seat design – certifiably track-centric pews with huge side bolsters and largely mechanical adjustment.

Owners can choose a softer, more-street-friendly spec by opting for more comfort-leaning 14-way-electric Sport seats and 10mm-lowered ‘regular’ sport suspension from the Boxster S for no added cost. But our Carmine Red tester, though, gets the harder-core standard-issue GTS gear, plus the addition of pricey ($17K-odd) ceramic brakes amongst its long list of extras. That doesn’t exactly fill me with positivity as we exit the Estoril Circuit gates and point the Boxster’s nose towards the charming town of Sintra in the mountains, by way of narrow Portuguese back roads.

With much surprise, the presumably highly strung, hard-revving Boxster GTS 4.0 actually makes for a pleasant touring machine. Even in the tight, cobblestoned one-way avenues of Sintra after some misadventure with the sat-nav. In Normal drive mode, engine barely ticking over, the normally raucous metallic engine note is more a dull thrum that barely registers with onlookers, the multi-model exhaust system earning its keep. It is a firmly set chassis, no doubt about it, but with the dampers at their softest setting the ride is impressively supple (enough), even across Sintra’s cobblestone patchwork.

What’s really neat, though, is that its beautifully linear 4.0-litre six is effortlessly tractable and supremely responsive and progressive at low RPM, nowhere near the five-grand mark where its 420Nm peak arrives. An engine designed to get better and better the harder you rev it shouldn’t be this cooperative merely ticking over. With its clever VarioCam camshaft control calibration weaving magic with the direct piezo injection system, evidence suggests that Porsche went to some lengths to make it not simply dramatic, but quite driveable, too.

It’s easy to presume natural aspiration is an unsophisticated solution, though the 4.0 boxer proves itself to be old-school in character alone. It fits a petrol particulate filter and adaptive cylinder control, is Euro 6d compliant, and can shut down a bank of cylinders, alternating between the two banks, on the fly to improve consumption and emissions under light load and low RPM. The only real downside to any of this is that the engine does make a low drone once it drops three cylinders, though it’s only a slightest of annoyance and it can be defeated by turning off the stop-start functionality.

Despite the featherweight ‘GT3’ flywheel, the engine doesn’t flare at the touch of the throttle and maintains good low-RPM inertia so as not to inadvertently stall. The clutch bite is nice and progressive, its action isn’t overly heavy, and the gearbox’s tightly gated shift is as pleasantly slick and positive in throw around town as it is at high engine speeds. It’s a completely placid and virtually foible-free car in the thick of traffic – even the ‘overkill’ ceramic brakes are bereft of cold squealing or annoying abruptness.

That said, the Boxster GTS 4.0 habitually maintains its characteristic sports car mojo, no matter how sedately it’s driven.

Climbing out of the mountains, the course ahead opens up, if not enough in road width or line of sight to properly flex its muscles or scratch too deeply into its dynamic talents. It tracks like a slot car, never threatening to break the adhesion of those Pirellis or smothering its keen telepathy between the driver and the road.

It doesn’t demand much cog-swapping, even let off the chain in response to the ebb and flow of the coastal road curves. There’s enough shove and sheer RPM head room that you keep it in third gear, and modulate an impressive breadth of road speed by simply squeezing the throttle like it's some sort of giant volume control for pace.

Fluid. Organic. Analogue. All of the finest characteristic traits the Cayman GTS 4.0 demonstrated on-track continue to translate through its Boxster twin on-road. Even at a dull roar, when a car of this type isn’t exactly in its perfect element.

If there’s anywhere you can get caught short, though, it’s that the powertrain format doesn’t suit on-a-whim bursts of acceleration you sometimes need for overtaking in short opportunities. Slicing past buses and trucks along a short piece of coastal road just isn’t this car’s forte.

There’s not much else to discuss about the Boxster experience that hasn’t been combed over in reviews past. The cabin space, practicality, the neatness of the electric roof actuation, and its general appointments are all familiar 718 ‘982’ fare. It’s a fairly bare-boned package that fits enough surfeit equipment, be it the latest 7.0-inch high-def’ infotainment system with Apple CarPlay, or the slim suite of assistance and safety gear including multi-collision braking, blind-spot monitoring, a reversing camera and parking sensors.

In short, you’re buying into the 718 GTS 4.0 experience – in either body style – for a finely polished sporting experience wrapped around its soulful new powertrain. And for this, it delivers as much as you can reasonably expect for and more.

Of course, the Boxster and Cayman continue to live in the shadow of the 911 in the eyes of cynics and diehards. Yet, with all but the 992 GT3 having gone the turbocharged route, the fitment of a big 4.0-litre N/A six and manual-only gearbox to the GTS in regular series production brings a new complexion to the 718’s place in Porsche sports car hierarchy today.