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2020 Porsche 911 Speedster quick drive review: Sweet, sweet swan song

The Speedster is a sensational reminder of everything the 991-generation Porsche 911 does right.

2020 Porsche 911 Speedster
Everything about this is glorious.
Steven Ewing/Roadshow

It doesn't take long to fall in love with the Porsche 911 Speedster. Wind the free-breathing flat-six engine up to its 9,000-rpm redline in third gear and you'll immediately want to slow down so you can do it all over again.

The Speedster is the very last chapter in the story of the 991-generation Porsche 911. We're well into 992 territory now, yet this Speedster exists as a sort of encore presentation of the 991's greatest hits. It uses the company's best engine, best gearbox and best chassis, and it all comes together in a way that feels truly special.

That screaming flat-six is the same 4.0-liter engine you'll find in the 911 GT3 Touring, but has individual throttle bodies for each cylinder, which improves throttle response, and a lightweight exhaust system. This setup makes 502 horsepower and 346 pound-feet of torque, not to mention one of the greatest soundtracks available anywhere. Indeed, most of the Speedster's mechanicals are shared with the slightly softer, more road-focused version of the GT3, and I think that's the right decision. Like the Touring, the Speedster is designed to be an ultimate expression of what Porsche can build for the road, not the track.

The fabric top stows under the huge decklid, and yes, you have to open and close it manually. (You'll survive.)

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

To that end, you can only get the Speedster with a six-speed manual transmission. The spec-sheet-obsessed among you will naturally argue that the GT3 is quicker with Porsche's PDK dual-clutch transmission, and you're right. But when you aren't trying to shave milliseconds off lap times, the ever-so-slightly quicker shifts don't make much of a difference. Besides, the GT3 is simply more enjoyable to drive with a manual gearbox. The clutch is perfectly weighted and the shifter is a tactile delight. The auto-blip rev-matching works perfectly, too, and it can be turned on or off with the touch of a button, for those who like to heel-and-toe. Quite frankly, I think a PDK option would dilute the experience.

The Touring suspension means the Speedster is a touch softer than a GT3, and again, this seems like the right move. It makes me more willing to drive the Speedster more often. The standard chassis setting makes this car amenable to running errands or traveling long distances on the highway, and the progressive power delivery of the flat-six means the car isn't always trying to run away from you.

But when it is time to drop the hammer (and the top) and really get 'er going, the suspension is beautifully sorted. Put the Porsche Active Suspension Management in its sport setting and you'll get a bit more of an edge. All sorts of feedback comes through the chassis and the steering, letting you know exactly how much grip is available at the four fat contact patches of the Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires.

The interior's best feature is the six-speed manual shifter in the center console.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

Despite its tremendous performance potential, the Speedster is hardly daunting or intimidating. The longer I drive this car, the more in tune with it I feel. It doesn't take long until I'm braking later for corners, the carbon-ceramic stoppers quickly scrubbing off speed. I'm carrying more and more speed through turns, too, thanks to this wonderfully communicative chassis. This isn't a car I want to flog mercilessly -- yeah, it'll slide around a corner when provoked, but I find the experience much more enjoyable when I dial in the perfect downshift-brake-turn rhythm. The Speedster absolutely rewards good, skillful driving. If you want to do burnouts, buy something else.

The Speedster is about 110 pounds heavier than an equivalent GT3 Touring, which seems odd for a car so focused on reducing weight, but I'm going to let it slide. After all, the upside to the added heft is the joy that only convertible driving can bring: a closer connection to the sights and smells and sounds of the outside world. Opening and closing the roof is a bit of a song and dance, but ditching the mechanical assist helps save weight. The single-piece rear decklid is a cinch to open and close, and since it's made entirely of carbon fiber composite, it only weighs 22 pounds.

Which brings me to a controversial take: I'm not completely sold on the Speedster's appearance. The chopped windscreen is great and doesn't affect visibility in the slightest, but man, that decklid is huge. Look at this car from the rear three-quarters view and there's a massive expanse of Guards Red real estate between the cockpit and the bumper. I'd hardly call it bad, but it's a little awkward from some angles. Even so, I totally prefer this to the hunchback of the 911 Carrera Cabriolet.

Otherwise, the design is all GT3, from the 20-inch centerlock wheels to the middle-mounted exhaust tips. The hood and front fenders are also made from lightweight carbon fiber, and thankfully, like the GT3, the Speedster comes with a hydraulic lift, which can quickly raise the nose a few inches so you won't scrape on driveways or speed bumps.

This is an amazing way to say goodbye to the 991 911.

Steven Ewing/Roadshow

The interior is all GT3, too. The doors have the same storage nets and fabric pull handles, and the fixed carbon seats are wide enough to comfortably accommodate those of us with a more, um, ample carriage. Everything I've ever said about a 991-generation 911 is true here: The materials are lovely, the ergonomics are great and Porsche's older infotainment interface is... well, not nearly as good as its new tech.

Any small complaints I might have don't really matter in the grand scheme of things. This car is superb -- a stunning reminder of all the reasons I've loved driving the 991 GT3, but with a slightly more approachable demeanor and the added bliss of being able to put the top down on a gorgeous afternoon.

Yes, it's expensive: At $274,500, it costs nearly as much as two GT3s -- and that's before you add the $24,510 Heritage Design Package, which you 100% should. Of course, price doesn't matter for a car like the Speedster. You buy one because you want one and, well, because you can. My only hope is that all who plunk down for one don't relegate it to garage queen status. The Speedster simply begs to be driven every single day.