Tested: 2020 Porsche 718 Spyder Is Music to Our Ears (2024)

Some cars are for winning races. Some are for winning attention. The Porsche 718 Spyder is for winning souls.

It's not the quickest car in the 718 Boxster/Cayman family. Or the most structurally stiff. But what it lacks on the spec sheet, it returns in deep and meaningful allure. We spent two days firing through the Spyder's six-speed gearbox, kissing 8000 rpm with its flat-six until our ears rang, and bending Southern California's Sierra Nevada roads to our will. No turbos, just a manual transmission and a 414-hp 4.0-liter flat-six with enough character to merit a documentary. What more could we ask for?

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The color is called Gentian Blue Metallic, costs $650, and looks stunning against the colored rocks of the Sierras.

HIGHS: An internal-combustion aria, still pulling hard at 7500 rpm, sublime manual transmission.

Central to its appeal, and at the core of what it once meant to be a mid-engine Porsche, is the Spyder's sound. Its intake note—especially in the meaty zone above 5000 rpm—is a slice of internal-combustion magic usually reserved for Porsche's immediately sold-out models. It begins as a hollow bellow then builds to a screaming rage by redline. Hello, sharpness, our old friend. We're glad to talk with you again.

Now, to fully grasp this most refreshing Porsche, imagine standing on one of the many switchbacks on Sherman Pass Road, 8000 feet above sea level in California's Sierra Nevada. A low bawl builds in the distance. The sound of 8000 rpm. Once in view, the roadster brakes sharply, bangs off an instant downshift, and rotates, casting a net of gravel across the aging tarmac. And then it's gone. The noise slipping away, bouncing off the valley, eventually a warm memory.

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The 718 Spyder wants your car-loving soul. If the engine's sound doesn't get you, the car certainly will with its weighty, precise variable-ratio steering that feeds cornering forces and available grip into a stream of information pulsing through the Alcantara-wrapped rim. Carbon-ceramic brake rotors cost as much as a decent used Civic, but paired with Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 summer tires, they can stop this 3136-pound convertible into yesterday.

LOWS: Burdensome tire and road noise, lacks low-end torque, fiddly top operation.

You're conscious of the mass in the middle of the car as you move through a corner, but it never feels as if something tragic and telephone-pole-related is about to happen. Brake late and aggressively and the Spyder won't scrape its chin on the road. It is stiff, but the adaptive dampers are so well matched to its springs that there's not a corresponding penalty in ride quality, despite it being 1.2 inches lower than a base Boxster.

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Even in a place where grip is inconsistent and the surface far from perfect, we find confidence. Sherman Pass Road—with its off-camber twists, broken seams, pointy rocks disguised as pine cones, and crumbling road edges—isn't for novices, and the Spyder isn't a starter sports car. Without turbos to provide low-end thrust, the 718 requires real work to go fast here. You need to hold gears to redline, commit to the throttle over crests, and trust that those brakes were worth raiding your child's college fund. The higher we climb, the more we miss the earth's oxygen. Effortless acceleration at 4000 feet becomes more of a chore at 8000. But hearing the engine work harder and longer is no burden.

The Spyder makes the sprint to 60 mph in 3.8 seconds, which is a couple of ticks behind a Boxster GTS powered by a 365-hp turbocharged flat-four and equipped with the launch-control-enabled dual-clutch automatic transmission. But we're okay with trading stopwatch ticks for experience.

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It's not all glory, though. The Spyder's pairing of a softtop with huge, sticky Michelins creates some major tire noise. It's loud enough to drown out Sammy Hagar's "I Can't Drive 55" at modern freeway speeds. And the multistep, mostly manual top operation is slow and laborious for a car catering to this income bracket, even if it looks completely stunning. Those are the downsides of the Spyder. Possibly you'll be willing to bear its vices. And maybe even its sticker.

Spyders start at $97,650. Outfitted with $8000 carbon-ceramic brakes, $5900 carbon-fiber seats, a $2320 nav system, and more, our test car is a $120,530 ask. If that seems like a lot of money for a Boxster, that's because it is. But we've spent time in many Porsches, and this one has the rewards of the rare ones that cost even more. The rewards of open-air freedom, mid-engine balance, and a flat-six that you'll hear long after the drive.

Tested: 2020 Porsche 718 Spyder Is Music to Our Ears (5)

Clean Solution

To meet stringent Euro 6 emission stand­ards, European models of the 718 Spyder and Cayman GT4 are fitted with two particulate filters, one for each bank of cylinders. Euro 6 allows for only one-tenth of the previously allowed particulate emissions. On European models, the exhaust gases are forced through the filter walls, trapping soot that is burned off later. United States models use a straight-through filter design without the expensive, soot-trapping precious-metal coating. This makes them inert and nothing more than sound attenuators. Porsche keeps these on U.S.-bound 718 Spyders and Cayman GT4s so it doesn't have to change the specification of the muffler.

Tested: 2020 Porsche 718 Spyder Is Music to Our Ears (6)



2020 Porsche 718 Spyder

mid-engine, rear-wheel-drive, 2-passenger, 2-door convertible

$120,530 (base price: $97,650)

DOHC 24-valve flat-6, aluminum block and heads, direct fuel injection
244 in3, 3996 cm3
414 hp @ 7600 rpm
309 lb-ft @ 5000 rpm

6-speed manual

Suspension (F/R): struts/struts
Brakes (F/R): 16.1-in vented, cross-drilled ceramic disc/15.4-in vented, cross-drilled ceramic disc
Tires: Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2, F: 245/35ZR-20 (95Y) N1 R: 295/30ZR-20 (101Y) N1

Wheelbase: 97.8 in
Length: 174.5 in
Width: 71.0 in
Height: 49.6 in
Passenger volume: 49 ft3
Cargo volume (F/R): 5/4 ft3
Curb weight: 3136 lb

Rollout, 1 ft: 0.3 sec
60 mph: 3.8 sec
100 mph: 8.7 sec
130 mph: 14.7 sec
150 mph: 21.6 sec
Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 4.6 sec
Top gear, 30–50 mph: 6.3 sec
Top gear, 50–70 mph: 6.2 sec
¼-mile: 12.0 sec @ 118 mph
Top speed (mfr's claim): 187 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 150 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 1.06 g

Observed: 19 mpg

Combined/city/highway: 19/16/23 mpg

Tested: 2020 Porsche 718 Spyder Is Music to Our Ears (7)

Josh Jacquot

Reviews Editor

Josh Jacquot has more than 20 years’ experience writing about and testing cars for various automotive publications.

Tested: 2020 Porsche 718 Spyder Is Music to Our Ears (2024)
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