Halfway through a week-long loan of a Porsche 718 Spyder, the penny dropped. To be specific, it happened after a long drive.
There I was, sitting at a café, wistfully admiring its beauty, unlike my usual self.
The Porsche vying for my attention was neither a 911 nor a GT-series car. Just a 718, in fact. It felt funny, as I'd recently accepted 911s were a must when it came to buying a Porsche.
I'd just come out of a tumultuous personal relationship. One with my first Porsche. A few months ago, I bought a 1990 Porsche 944 S2. Finished in 'Gletscherblau' metallic, it was one of only approximately 128 ever delivered to Australia. Despite being both incredibly rare and fantastic to drive, I found it hard to establish a relationship with.
I can't cry foul at the specimen I purchased. In fact, what initially attracted me to 944 ownership was my budget. It enabled me to buy the best example of the best version. If I applied my budget to a similar-era 911, I'd be buying the least desirable version in likely the worst condition.
Having read numerous reviews of the time, and even some more contemporary reflection pieces, it seems the 944 has aged gracefully: 50/50 weight distribution, sensible water cooling, and in my case an epic in-house Porsche 3.0-litre twin-cam motor.
So I bought what was agreed by many to be one of the best S2s available. It had been comprehensively restored by Australia's best 944 specialist. After all, I wanted a driver, not a project.
The S2 model is the pick of the bunch. Sure, Turbo versions are out there, but these are often fraught with issues, and known to be unreliable. The naturally aspirated S2 version is just as quick, with none of the headaches.
It also picks up most of the mechanical and cosmetic upgrades from the Turbo model, including the later-model 911-style dash, bigger brakes, as well as improved styling.
The perfect classic Porsche, perhaps? One that'll start on the key every time, air-conditioning that will blow cold, and will remain fun to drive and affordable to own.
What's not to like about a 944 S2?
For most, nothing. For me? Not much. I just found it hard to love.
I'm not exactly sure why. The big boss at CarAdvice loves a good Porsche, and he reckons it's because the three numbers on the back didn't read 9-1-1.
He has a point. Despite arguably being the better car, it never escaped the shadow cast by the other. 911s have a mystical allure about them that's too big to be quantified into analysis.
Let's try, and call them '911-isms', shall we?
Air-cooled, flat-six, savage throttle response, perfect styling, Houndstooth trim, round headlights, pop-up spoiler, Becker audio, Fuchs wheels, the movie Bad Boys, I go on. These are what we call 911-isms.
So here I am admiring a non-911 realising the opposite is true. Now you understand the penny, and why it had dropped.
Every car enthusiast experiences this at least once. A moment when looming thoughts, and a thick, preconceived notion, cast from the opinions of those who you respect, falls apart.
For me, that was the 944 S2. I genuinely questioned myself after. Wondered whether I'd had it all crossed up?
Then came the 718 Spyder, restoring my confidence. It made me realise:
- My car barometer didn't need recalibrating, and
- Some of the best Porsches don't need 911 on the back.
I believe the 718 Spyder is the thinking person's 911. Before getting carried away, let's ring-fence this argument and square up some posts.
Enter Porsche 992 Carrera.
It comes with a 3.0-litre flat-six turbocharged engine and eight-speed PDK transmission. Power is 283kW, torque is 450Nm between 1950–5000rpm, and 0–100km/h dusted in 4.2sec.
Despite being great, it missed out on a couple of critical 911-isms as we identified above.
First, is the sound. It's turbocharged. No argument, it doesn't sound as good as a naturally aspirated 911. I've had the recent pleasure of driving a 992 Turbo S. It sounded far from pleasant.
You can forgive it, though, given its gut-wrenchingly brutal performance. With the Carrera, you get far less but a similar noise. Case closed.
Second, no manual transmission. This one you can argue, so let's engage. PDKs, or dual-clutches in general, have a time and place. Modern performance cars are incredibly huge in terms of ability. A dual-clutch simply allows you to maintain focus on the art of driving, while exploring the new depths of rapidity on offer.
I'll bring up the 992 Turbo S again. You don't want it with a manual. You'd die, for sure. I like my life, so the PDK makes sense here.
However, with something more explorable, likely spending most time on the road, a manual can be rewarding. It can also make an occasional car even sweeter, or instead remind you of the good ol' days.
However it floats your boat, the manual is still relevant. A 911 Carrera strikes me as a place where a self-shifter could have pretty long legs. Think otherwise? Give me a hiding in the comments below.
We now land at the ultimate issue – price.
A bog-stocker 911 Carrera hardtop starts from $236,300 before on-roads. If you want to talk drop-top, you're up at $258,200. That's before you indulge in options, too.
A prerequisite, no? Who aspires to 911 ownership, gets there, and says "Oh, what colours are free? I also want cloth seats and no Sport Chrono, thanks".
Let's just pretend you order a bog-stocker, in one of the 12 free colours. $258,200 neat, before on-roads.
Now let's look at what you're missing out on.
The 718 Spyder takes a Cayman GT4, chops the roof off, and becomes more road-focused.
Now, in the right position, lies a 4.0-litre naturally aspirated flat-six. This engine is indeed the same as found in the Carrera, but stroked out and freed from the shackles of forced-induction.
The result is 309kW of power, 420Nm from 5000–6800rpm, and 0–100km/h smashed in just 4.4sec. A touch slower, but far more magical. Sparkly is its power band, crisp is its throttle response, howling is its exhaust.
If anything, this powertrain channels big 911 energy more than 992 Carreras. It's an incredible package, becoming more so at every 100rpm increment over 7000. It's beautiful, with a linearity almost forgotten by other modern-day sports cars.
Is it ever a pleasure to entertain such an engine? Upon fire-up, there's an uncorrupted treble-laden tenor. Straight off the header, the tune takes its path through various bends, catalytic converters and mufflers, yet escapes relatively pure.
Through the midrange it sounds old-school. Like a Beetle, perhaps. Up top, its pipes sound as if they've been struck by the biggest hammer. It's truly musical, and a product of fantastic exhaust resonance harmonising with actual engine noise.
Even at idle, there's some rotational clatter from pulleys and rattle from the driveline. Aural miscellanea coming together in consonance.
Its only ugly side, ironically, stems from the manual gearbox. The spread between gear ratios is too far apart.
In other words, it'll do 138km/h in second gear. It doesn't allow you to explore the upper end of its powerband on the road, legally. It also caps the amount of times you're able to row the transmission. This is sad, as it features a textbook-perfect shift action.
Others may say wringing every last cent through a seemingly endless tachometer is joyful. Instead, I see it going from a huge fine and loss of demerit points, to potential jail time, way too quickly.
Negatives aside, what an engine and transmission combo, though.
Exotic as it is, the 718 Spyder starts from $196,800 with a six-speed manual. It's over $60,000 cheaper than a drop-top Carrera. And, you get the Sport Chrono package for free.
I say exotic, because the 718 Spyder looks and feels it. Its big air dam up front, offset-perfect wheels, and unique take on convertible roof all contribute to extraordinary.
A hugely compelling car. Engine in the middle, where it should be. Flat six, naturally aspirated, and with a manual.
We haven't even discussed the Spyder's hardware yet, which includes brakes and uprights lifted straight from a 911 GT3. The stuff a regular 911 yearns for.
The 718 Spyder is the thinking person's 911. I'll see you in the comments.