2021 Porsche 718 Boxster GTS 4.0 review: Who needs a 911?
Some cars are just so satisfying that waxing poetic does them no justice. Case in point: the 2021 Porsche Boxster GTS 4.0. It's a two-seat convertible with a 4.0-liter flat-six engine, a manual transmission, rear-wheel drive and a whole host of technologies aimed at making the driving experience as pure and sharp as can be. It's amazing. On we go.
Lifting the door handle -- blissfully not one of those electromechanical finger-pinchers from the latest 911 -- I'm met with every expensive material under our yellow sun. A $2,160 investment yields soft, flawless leather on about half the car's surfaces, with the remaining bits clad in Porsche's Race-Tex suede -- not my personal preference, but a suitably racy one. Combined with one of my favorite paint colors, Chalk ($2,580), and a blue roof, the Boxster GTS exudes sophistication. But marveling over material choice isn't the point here, so I take command of the steering wheel (also suede-wrapped), stick the six-speed manual transmission's lever into first gear and set off.
I make it about 5 feet and I'm already enamored. The clutch packs the right amount of weight and has a clearly defined and communicated bite point. Combined with a throttle that's never too sensitive no matter the mode, starts are buttery smooth every time, with successive gear shifts feeling just as satisfying. Putting through my neighborhood is an impressively sedate affair; even though I have the standard dual-mode exhaust pegged on Loud nearly constantly, low-throttle moments keep the decibels on the hushed end of the spectrum, with just a hint of that trademark flat-six rasp.
That's not what the GTS is about, though, so I drop the top (it'll lower at speeds up to 31 mph) and head for my usual testing loop, a several-mile collection of straight and sinewy pavement that tests the chassis and powertrain in equal measure. This is where the Boxster GTS is supposed to be, and it shows. The naturally aspirated H6's 394 horsepower and 309 pound-feet of torque are never overwhelming. It's all so incredibly linear; I mash the accelerator to the firewall and am met with push that feels like it never runs out, even as the engine starts screaming (and I mean screaming) its way to its 7,800-rpm redline. Turbochargers are fun and all, but this detuned GT4 motor is just so damn satisfying in its predictable, approachable madness. It never feels like too much power, it's just the right amount, even though the tall gearing makes it staggeringly easy to hit extralegal speeds over the course of a single cog.
The sound and the fury only comprise half of the equation. This mid-engine drop-top is about as perfectly balanced as a sports car can be. The adaptive dampers ride 10 millimeters lower than a standard Boxster, but there's still ample suspension travel to soak up some of the more annoying bumps on the road. Whether the system is set to its softer or stiffer setting, the rigid chassis never feels like it's one weird road undulation away from being unsettled. The speed-sensitive steering ($280) provides the right kind of feedback as I approach the limits of adhesion, and its weight is well suited to the kinds of antics this car goads the owner into doing. My tester's optional ceramic composite brakes ($7,410) could overcome tidal forces if so inclined, and while they might be overkill for the street, they don't squeal in low-speed, low-heat situations like some other carbon stoppers do.
Honestly, the whole experience just… gels. Ample sight lines keep my eyes focused on the road while my hands and feet work in near autonomy, seeking (and nailing) one corner after the next. Gear shifts are as immediate as limbs will allow, and the Boxster GTS' baked-in rev-matching downshifts ensure nothing gets unsettled as the speedometer sheds numbers. I've been lucky enough to drive some impressive metal this year, including a couple supercars, but nothing has felt as perfectly tuned to the driver as the 4.0-liter GTS.
Even with the meat and potatoes out of the way, there's still a lot to say about the Boxster GTS from a livability perspective. Not only is it decently soft over bad roads, there's a decent amount of storage space inside, with two door-card pockets per side and a center armrest deep enough to store (or, for $560, wirelessly charge) a phone. Both the frunk and trunk are suitably capacious for groceries, weekender bags or… I don't know, tennis rackets? The cup holders fold out from the passenger side of the dashboard, which is clever, but they're flimsy and generally incapable of firmly securing anything remotely bulky. While the EPA hasn't yet rated the GTS 4.0's fuel economy, the same engine in the 718 Spyder elicits 16 miles per gallon city and 23 mpg highway, which really isn't too bad, and I expect the slightly lower-powered GTS to achieve about the same, if not a bit more.
The Boxster GTS isn't the most tech-forward Porsche, but it does OK for itself. The 7-inch screen on the dashboard runs an older version of Porsche's infotainment system, and while it looks outdated, it still has a few tricks up its sleeve, like standard Apple CarPlay (sadly, Android Auto remains out of reach) and, if you drop $2,320, embedded navigation with 4G LTE connectivity. The small screen on the right side of the gauge cluster brings audio, navigation and basic vehicle information closer to my eyes, which is appreciated. My tester's $990 Bose audio upgrade has no problem overpowering wind noise at highway speeds with the top down without losing fidelity, but there's also a $4,690 Burmester option if you want some top-tier sound.
On the safety front, nothing is standard, but you can plunk down $700 for blind-spot monitoring and $1,670 on adaptive cruise control, the latter of which is only available in conjunction with the $3,730 Porsche Doppelkupplung dual-clutch automatic.
While I respect Porsche's ability to have so many options available for buyers to truly customize their cars -- a PR rep told me last-gen Boxster GTS buyers spent an average of $18,000 on options -- the lack of standard features can feel more appalling than anything. This thing costs $90,250 (including destination) at the minimum, yet I still need to pay for keyless entry ($800), buttons on the steering wheel ($470) and electronically folding mirrors ($330), stuff that's standard on your garden-variety Hyundai. Just because you can charge for something doesn't mean you always have to. But for every person decrying this nickel-and-diming, there's someone who's more than willing to spend $3,690 on deviated stitching and body-color seatbelts.
Of course, it's easy to send the price to the stratosphere without trying. My personal choice for a Boxster GTS 4.0 would rock the same color combo and wheels, although I'm more of a full-leather-interior kind of guy. The Premium Package adds a few safety systems and creature comforts like keyless entry and blind-spot monitoring, and the embedded navigation is generally worth the cost of admission. The final bill of sale lands at $100,910, about 15 grand beneath my tester without losing the important bits.
The 2021 Porsche Boxster GTS 4.0 is in an interesting little corner of the segment in that there isn't much in the way of direct competition. BMW 's front-engine 2 Series convertible doesn't come in M2 flavor, and while the Z4 M40i is a closer competitor, it lacks the precision of the GTS. With the exception of the delightful (but expensive) AMG GT lineup, Mercedes-Benz 's roadsters each have one foot in the grave. The closest mid-engine competitor is, honestly, probably the eighth-generation Chevrolet Corvette , which is cheaper by a fair bit, although that refers to both price and quality in comparison to the GTS. The 911 would also be a semi-competitor on price, but the base 911 doesn't deliver the outright glee that this hopped-up two-seater does.
It's a weird world where I consider the Porsche Boxster GTS 4.0 to be a value, but it is. You will be hard-pressed to find a more engaging and interesting car under $100,000, and if you do, there will undoubtedly be sacrifices required. Putting a flat-six back into the GTS line has resulted in a car that will likely stand as the best thing I've driven all year, and it'll probably give the entirety of 2021 a run for its money, too. It's just that good.