What do we have here then?
The last mid-engine sports car with an internal combustion engine from Porsche. Which, when you think about it, is a rather heavy and depressing thought. But while Top Gear’s resident bugle player puckers his lips to play The Last Post, we may as well tell you what this – the 718 Spyder RS – is all about, as it’s one hell of a way to wave off some pistons.
I’m all ears…
The Spyder RS (not to be confused with Porsche’s old Le Mans car, the RS Spyder) is the Cayman GT4 RS’ soft-top sibling. And, as you may well know, the GT4 RS makes one of the best sounds on the planet thanks to the high-revving, naturally aspirated, 4.0-litre flat-six from a 911 GT3 race car and some clever intake trickery shoved behind your head. We’re glad to inform you the Spyder RS has that engine.
But its positioning in the Porsche pecking order is a bit more complex and confusing than you’d think. Technically the RS Spyder is a juiced up 718 Spyder (Porsche dropped the Boxster name, though it’s still a Boxster to us) but don’t confuse this with its coupe cousins because it’s not the same as what the GT4 RS is to the GT4.
See, where the wonderfully immersive and tactile GT4 RS was created and focused for track use, Andreas Preuninger and his GT department see the Spyder RS as something softer; a road car with a race engine to be used and enjoyed on the street, preferably with the roof down.
Hallelujah! So Porsche hasn’t simply taken a tin opener to a GT4 RS?
If you look at the Spyder RS’s stats against a GT4 RS there are remarkable similarities as the engine and drivetrain are shared. The 718 Spyder RS has a GT4 RS equalling 493bhp (that’s 79bhp more than a normal Boxster Spyder) and has 332lb ft of torque. Predictably, it’s PDK-only – as per the ‘RS’ doctrine – but the gearing has been shortened for the Spyder RS to add more engagement and allow you to flick the steering wheel-mounted paddles more often. Or, alternatively, shift the sequential stick in between you and the passenger.
Long story short, you can dance between ratios in the seven-speed dual-clutch ‘box more freely, which is a win. But that shorter gearing hasn’t changed the 0 to 62mph time: that’s seen off in 3.4 seconds and 124mph is reached in 10.9 seconds. And you better get your toupee glue ready as the top speed is 191mph with the roof off. But there’s been quite a bit more engineering going on under the partially carbon fibre surface.
What has Porsche changed then?
Firstly, as it’s made for cruising canyons/b-roads and not smashing tracks, it’s not as aero-obsessed. That’s why a decision was made to hacksaw the GT4 RS’ big fixed rear wing off and replace it with a supersized ducktail spoiler that Preuninger affectionately calls the ‘swantail’. It really looks rather smart. To balance out the rear aero loss, they’ve fitted a stunted front spoiler. However the main difference for the Spyder RS is that it has revised, softer suspension.
Coming with Porsche’s Active Suspension Management (PASM) as standard, the RS Spyder sits 30mm lower than a 718 Boxster Spyder. Where the GT4 RS with its GT2 RS damper rates could be too extreme (on UK roads it’s too stiff and fidgety), the Spyder’s dampers have been knocked back to evoke a more relaxed and road-friendly set up, changing the attitude of the car. Plus, if you want to tailor your geometry further, you can crack out the spanners and adjust the ride height, camber, track and anti-roll bar yourself.
I’m guessing it’s heavier than the GT4 RS?
Given soft-tops usually require chassis stiffening, motors and what not, you’d normally be right. But you’re wrong. The RS Spyder is actually lighter than a GT4 RS. Hitting the scales at a healthy 1,410kg, it weighs 40kg less than the standard 718 Spyder with PDK and is actually five kilograms lighter than the tin-top 718 Cayman GT4 RS.
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As you can imagine, Porsche stripped out what they could to bring the weight down (doing away with a headlight cleaning systems and fitting thinner carpets and glass and adding fabric door pulls, natch) but – unlike RS’ of the past – kept luxuries like air-con and a radio.
If you want to get even more fussy with the weight saving, you can spec the Weissach Package’s 20-inch forged magnesium wheels which are 10kg lighter than the standard forged aluminium wheels. That’ll cost you £22,247 on top. Want to add ceramic brakes on top of that? That’ll be even more. But the single biggest weight saving is the roof, which is a work of engineering art.
Talk to me about this roof. It looks rather flimsy and fiddly.
Given we had to endure a 30-minute training session (where a stern German man shouted ‘tension’ at us a lot) to learn how to get the thing up and down, we were wary too. But manually operating the fabric roof is far simpler than you think once you’ve done it a few times.
Coming in two parts, there’s two roofs depending how angry the weather is. There’s a ‘bimini top’ which protects you from sun and general rain, then a separate ‘weather deflector’ rear window for when things get biblical. The main roof structure clips on to the top of the windscreen via a carbon fibre shelf which is gorgeous in its execution. In fact, in this era of carbon fibre engine covers and mud flaps, it may be the most authentic use of the material we’ve seen in a while.
How light is the roof?
7.6kg lighter than a standard Spyder and 16.5kg less than a regular Boxster’s electric roof. To get it up requires extracting it from Quasimodo's hump, latching it onto the screen, unravelling the fabric back, tensioning the mid-section, before slotting in the two tails that provide the buttresses down before clunking the panel into place… and voila!
It sounds involved but is reasonably simple, and far more refined than previous soft-top Spyders. Naturally, all this has to be done at a complete standstill. Unless you’re up for a real challenge. But you could also take the risk (and save yourself 8kg) by leaving the roof at home if you wanted, and just drive faster (and say a little prayer) when it starts raining.
C’mon then, what’s it like to drive?
What do you think given it’s a descendant of Top Gear’s current Performance Car of The Year? It’s brilliant. But different to the GT4 RS. The Spyder RS takes one of the best chassis, engines and setups in the world, then scalps off the roof to make everything more of a sensory experience.
From as soon as you sit in the fixed bucket carbon seat and start the engine, you get a fizz of excitement and energy. But the Spyder RS is a remarkably easy and approachable car to drive: its footprint is dainty, its balance wonderful and it flies under the radar: especially if you spec it in the new Vanadium Grey paint that harks back to the 550 Spyder and 718 RSK Spyder from the past.
But the edges that Porsche’s suspension department has chamfered off by making the RS Spyder that tiny bit more compliant have made a noticeable and pleasant difference. Now, it’s no Rolls-Royce, but day-to-day surface changes, potholes and annoyances like railway crossings that used to send a zap up your spine in a GT4 RS don’t happen in the Spyder. It's not deflected as easily, making it more comfortable to cruise and pose in. Which we’re sure many owners will do given it's got no roof.
With motorsport heritage and nous in its blood, naturally it likes to be pushed if you want to. And you should. That’s where you get the real spirit and charm from the car as it’s not an intimidating beast. It doesn’t have monstrous or manic turbos firing you into the horizon but performance that is fast-yet-not-supersonic to inspire confidence. The steering is delightfully weighted and natural, brakes strong (especially on the carbon ceramics), grip is rib-bruising in the dry (thanks to a sticky Cup 2 tyre, limited slip-diff and torque vectoring) and the gearshift is swift.
The Spyder RS is responsive and immediate in all its actions. Which is what you want from a driver’s car. It allows you to focus on the act of driving; pick your line and have a good time. Meanwhile, having shorter gearing (second now tops out at 60mph, not 70-ish) allows you to play with the engine more. And being naturally aspirated, you need to keep the revs up for optimum performance. But there’s also a real joy in revving that delicious and sinister engine from down low all the way out. Mainly for the noise.
Go on. Talk to me about the noise.
Lots has been written about the sound a GT4 RS makes. And given it’s mainly induction noise sucked in through ducts where the side windows used to be, you’d think it’d be lost on a car without side windows. But see those carbon fibre intakes on the shoulders? That’s what Preuninger calls ‘The Music Boxes’ and they work in the same way as the GT4 RS’s. In fact, the Spyder RS sounds even better than the coupe.
The zingy, zappy, metallic 9,000rpm redline of the GT4 RS can be too much at times: like a mosquito revving a chainsaw in your ear. But lopping off the roof knocks back the resonance in the cabin as you’re no longer stuck in a chamber. It takes that last 10 per cent off and adds more fluidity at the final push for the redline. It’s the most addictive musical instrument in the world to play, like a catnip-covered kazoo.
Should I get one?
The Spyder RS is a deeply talented thing. It has a PHD in feelgood and is a master of appealing to every one of your senses. It’s a purists’ car defined. The cabin is remarkably simple by modern standards, focusing your attention. There are very few buttons to press; just one to activate the sports exhaust, a tougher suspension mode, and to deactivate the ESP or traction control. You don’t have a zillion things to deal with as it just wills you to go out and drive.
Given it’s got a faffy-fabric roof it’s not for every day; especially in the UK where you’d be yo-yoing out the thing on the hard shoulder to put it up. And the handling falls off a cliff if the standard Michelins Cup 2s aren’t warm and dry. But with loads of space in the front and plenty behind the hinged deck in the rear, you could go far with a giant smile on your face. So if you’re into Porsches, like driving and live in a reliable climate, the Spyder RS is a gem that celebrates everything that’s great about driving and internal combustion cars.
Getting hold of one may be harder though. Starting at £125,499 it’s not cheap, though production isn’t numbered. However, Porsche says what will limit how many Spyder RS’ it can build is the carbon fibre components, like those air intakes – sorry – ‘music boxes’.
Now, as this is the last mid-engine sports car with an internal combustion engine from Porsche, I guess we better sack the bugle player and see what rev range is needed to play The Last Post.