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2020 Porsche 718 Boxster GTS 4.0 first drive review: Back at the top of its game

Porsche's 718 Boxster and Cayman models finally get the engine they rightfully deserve.

Green and mean.

Porsche

One of the advantages of going to the launch of a car is that some of the people responsible for engineering the new machine are often on hand for questioning. And so at the recent launch of Porsche's new Boxster and Cayman GTS models, I was able to sit down to dinner with Markus Baumann, the teamleiter entwicklung Boxermotoren (or manager of development for Boxer engines). Not being one to beat around the bush, I dove right in as soon as they'd dished out the bread rolls.

"So, what are the differences between the engines in the GTS and the Spyder?" I quizzed, readying myself for a lengthy and technical answer.

"They are mechanically identical. Just software changes," Baumann replied.

"Really?" I quizzed still more penetratingly.

"Yes," he replied, sticking to his guns.

This was unexpected. Like a dog with a bone I persisted.

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"Any changes to the exhaust?"

"No"

I decided to broaden my field of enquiry.

"Are the gearbox ratios any different?"

"No, they are the same."

And so, with forks not yet lifted to attack fishy starters, my rigorous interrogation had seized up. Perhaps the lack of variance shouldn't be surprising because, on paper, the 4.0-liter flat-six engines aren't so different. The 718 GTS puts out 394 horsepower at 7,000 rpm, which is just 20 hp down from the 718 Spyder (and 49 hp up from the Boxster S with its turbocharged flat-four). Torque is 309 pound-feet, which is identical to the Spyder (and S). Yet I'd thought there might have been some changes.

The following morning, with the roof down and the engine oil nicely warm from a few minutes of pottering along a dual carriageway, I turn onto a test road that I've gotten to know relatively well over my years of visiting Portugal. Second gear, a clear stretch of tarmac, a flex of the right ankle and, well, the reality lives up to the theory.

The sound is every bit as glorious as in the Spyder, while the shove feels just as instantaneous and insistent (helped by the fact that the GTS is actually 33 pounds lighter). It's probably been a couple of months since I last drove a Spyder, but even if it was only a couple of minutes I think I'd struggle to detect any differences. Certainly a 0-to-60-mph time of just 4.3 seconds is a negligible 0.1 second tardier. The top speed of 182 mph is admittedly a yawning 5 mph slower than a Spyder, but it's still fast enough to mess up your topknot if you've got the roof down.

As far as the rest of the package is concerned, it's almost identical to the previous 718 GTS, which is no bad thing at all. The suspension's rear spring rates have been adjusted slightly to accommodate the different engine, but otherwise it's business as usual, with a beautifully balanced chassis setup (20 millimeters lower than a Boxster S) that flatters and encourages. Grip levels are high, but you can confidently commit the front end to a corner and easily feel the point where the tires are beginning to scrub a little, so that you can choose between reining things in or unweighting and unsettling the rear end.

Its handling is not quite as precise and responsive as a 718 Spyder, the GT-department car giving you a greater sense of connection at the edge of grip and being a bit more engagingly playful. But if you hadn't driven the more expensive car, you'd be hard-pressed to find fault with the GTS.

The new GTS' interior is identical to the old one.

Porsche

And if you glance up at the sky to notice darkening clouds gathering overhead then you have a distinct advantage in the GTS. Where the Spyder driver will need to search for a convenient place to pull over and leap out in order to extract and erect the roof, the GTS pilot merely needs to slow to 31 mph and tweak a button. And it would be a shame to get the interior wet, as the steering wheel, gear stick, seats, door panels and transmission tunnel are all clad in softly tactile Alcantara. If you want to up the sporting ambience even more, then you can spec sport bucket seats, while the optional GTS interior package adds a smattering of carbon fiber and turns the rev counter, seatbelts and stitching either carmine red or "crayon," a color we know in the US as chalk.

I did, very briefly, drive the Cayman GTS 4.0 on track, and although a full review of that will come later, my few laps of Estoril did nothing to suggest that it is anything other than the equally talented fixed-roof twin sibling that you would expect. Given that there is no deterioration in handling with the Boxster, however, that is the one that I would always choose. Being able to lower the roof and better hear that fabulous naturally aspirated engine is something that really appeals to me.

Expected to start just under $90,000, the Boxster GTS 4.0 is not a cheap car, yet with the addition of two cylinders and the removal of two turbochargers, the GTS returns to the level of greatness found in the old 981 GTS. And in doing so it makes a good case for being a great value -- one of the most complete sports cars on sale. 

Porsche

Editors' note: Travel costs related to this story were covered by the manufacturer, which is common in the auto industry. The judgments and opinions of Roadshow's staff are our own and we do not accept paid editorial content.