FIRST DRIVE | 2020 Porsche 718 Cayman and Boxster GTS models get added bark and bite
Make some noise for the sports car, because the truth is that like many other types of vehicle, the sports car has been undergoing some changes in recent years. It’s all driven by emissions, fuel consumption, electrification and a buzzword often used to describe family hatchbacks: downsizing. There are still muscular V8s out there, but the world is changing with models such as the BMW i8 hybrid and all-electric Porsche Taycan.
Futurists are happy, traditionalists perhaps less so, but the car industry has its hand firmly in the game even if it feels to some as though the rules keep changing. This is why Porsche when it launched the latest-generation 718 Boxster and Cayman, switched to a turbocharged four-cylinder.
More downsizing. The 718 is a great car, typically over-engineered to make it the best it can be in terms of performance, handling and even practicality. But not sound. It’s like cracking open that beer in the back of the fridge to find it still has all the taste, but it’s gone just a little flat. This was a sore point for us when it was launched. It lost not only the great sound of its predecessor, but the sound you expect from a sports car of its ilk.
Now Porsche is not going to admit a slight error of judgment — that it downsized the appeal of the 718 — but here we have the new GTS versions of the Boxster and Cayman, and if you think they sound good on paper, they sound even better in real life.
The main reason is that Porsche has thrown out the four-cylinder for the GTS and instead dropped in the 4.0l, six-cylinder boxer engine that debuted in the Boxster Spyder and Cayman GT4 in 2019.
It’s pure, naturally aspirated power based on the 3.0l engine from the 911. To get the most of its 294kW and 420Nm, you need to send the rev needle to between 5,000 and 6,500r/min to push the peak torque through the rear wheels, and go all the way to 7,000r/min to feel the crest of the power. If that doesn’t make purists salivate then how about this: it uses a six-speed manual gearbox. It also has the same exhaust from the GT4, with twin pipes at the rear instead of the single, central exhaust of the regular models. Nice one, Porsche.
It looks the part, with typical GTS styling, from the dark-tinted rear lights to black badging and 20-inch black sports wheels. The interior gets the GTS treatment too, with Alcantara on the seats and steering wheel and GTS badging and stitching. It’s all a bit darker, a bit more menacing, a bit more Gran Turismo Sport.
The Porsche Active Suspension Management sports chassis with adaptive damping can lower the car by up to 20mm, though there is the option of a more comfortable version that only lowers the car 10mm. There’s other clever standard stuff too, such as Porsche Stability Management (or “Porsche Save Me”, as one engineer referred to it), the Sport Chrono package and active drivetrain mounts, torque vectoring and the Porsche Track Precision app for when you take to the circuit.
Fortunately, we had a circuit to take to in the form of the famous Estoril Grand Prix track. A couple of corners to get settled in and it was time to play in that torque band.
The gear changes are short and accompanied by an addictive overrev. It stretches its legs on the long straight, but be prepared to play with the gears even though it provides ample power to pull away in the midrange.
It rarely becomes unsettled, excellent steering providing great feedback and the stability system working hard as the realisation dawns that the GTS loves living on the edge. We weren’t allowed to turn the stability controls off, but unlike with many rival sports cars, it’s not nervous or intrusive — the car wants to enjoy the drive as much as you do, but it’s paying attention in case it’s needed.
From the track it was time to head for the hills in the Boxster GTS. Narrow roads and small villages kept things sedate at first, where it proved its GT character by being smooth and comfortable, typical of every generation of the Boxster. Top down and the wind noise was acceptable as we headed up into the mountains that look down on Portugal’s capital city.
Then the roads opened up and the sound of the flat-six echoed off the hillsides. Plenty of torque meant it could flow through corners but play with the gearbox and it’s a rewarding thing, gripping well and only feeling the bumps when they’re at their worst.
The sports seats hold you well but are also comfortable and, honestly, we could probably have driven all day without feeling like we’d need a chiropractor. There’s a great deal more practicality than you might expect in a sports car, even reasonable luggage space.
The GTS is also not short on mod-cons, with Porsche’s connected touchscreen infotainment system for when you want your tunes to compete with the boxer engine’s soundtrack.
While Porsche is already taking orders for the GTS models, deliveries only start around the middle of the year, priced at R1,164,000 for the Cayman and R1,175,000 for the Boxster. If you’re put off by the manual gearbox (we’re not going to judge you), engine boss Markus Baumann tells us there will be a PDK dual-clutch automatic available towards the end of the year.
Porsche isn’t going to say it got things a little wrong with the regular 718 models and the sales figures show it’s receiving plenty of love. They are great to drive, but in switching to a six-cylinder for the GTS, the company has given it back its character, its soul. They tick off all the things that define what a sports car should be — and that is worth making a noise about.