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The Top Gear car review:Porsche 718 Spyder
For:Looks superb, drives with impeccable precision
Against:Like its GT4 sibling, its engine's lost character
What is it?
It’s a delightful nod to the past. The Spyder badge is famous in Porsche history, having being attached to some truly evocative road and race cars dating right back to the Fifties, while the engine is a hark back a little more recently in time. A time when Porsche Boxsters came with lovely, rich, sonorous six-cylinder engines and not flat-fours devoid of soul.
Oddly enough, this isn’t a Boxster. While it follows in the footsteps of two generations of Boxster Spyder, this one’s been named 718 Spyder. It’s a move that lacks logic – the 718 badge was brought back to Porsche’s range in an attempt to attach some emotion to the four-cylinder switch, so making such a big deal of it on a flat-six-only car is curious. But let’s just put it down to some marketing plan that our little brains will never understand and get on with digesting the spec of the car.
Because what a spec. The Spyder’s gradually ramped up the aggression with each passing model. The first, launched in 2010, had a roof so delicate and flimsy that you couldn’t drive the car at speed with the fabric in place. The second was introduced in 2015 alongside the first Cayman GT4, and while they shared an engine, the Spyder’s was detuned by 10bhp and its suspension setup came from the softer, less track-focused Boxster GTS. A more substantial (though still fiddly to operate) roof could at least cope with its top speed this time around, though.
And now we get to 2019, the renamed 718 Spyder, and a car that’s basically a more voluptuous, convertible version of the 718 Cayman GT4 (yep, they kept the Cayman bit in its name). So its 4.0-litre flat-six puts out the same 414bhp, the suspension is just as hardcore and identically set up to its coupe sibling, and there’s even a rear diffuser that does proper, actual downforce. The first Boxster to ever provide that.
While the engine might look – on paper – to have parachuted down from the Porsche 911 GT3 and Speedster, it’s actually a modified version of the 3.0-litre twin-turbo engine in the very latest ‘normal’ 911s. The turbos have been binned, its capacity bored out and there’s even been some cylinder deactivation worked in. It operates solely through a six-speed manual gearbox.
This is a different kind of engine for a Porsche Motorsport special; anyone who’s experienced the joyfully unfinessed low-speed manners of something like a 911 R will feel like they’re stepping into an S-Class here. It’s smooth, polite and utterly professional. Its redline sits at 8,000rpm.
It’s quick – 0-62mph in 4.4secs, 187mph top speed – but actually no quicker than regular Boxsters thanks to the Spyder actually weighing more, at 1,495kg. That’s despite its much simpler roof mechanism.
It’s electric for the first few seconds of its operation, but once the huge rear panel has clunked up you have to walk around the back of the Spyder, hoik it up, then manhandle the fabric roof up and down before clunking the panel back into place. It sounds involved, but is reasonably simple, though naturally all has to be done at a complete standstill. Should you encounter a light rain storm you might be inclined to just ramp the heating up and stoop a little lower in the cabin.